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Perhaps you’re still wondering about our Christmas in Scotland.  Perhaps not.  It seems VERY long ago, but it was pretty golden.  You really should see it.

Kevin explained that we were staying at our friends’ beautiful house in St. Monans, Fife, where we spent a semester two and a half years ago.  This time, they very kindly Christmassed up the place before they left town, so we had a lovely tree to gaze upon, and a gazelle mask with a jolly Rudolph nose.

The Old Kirk, the 800-odd year old church in the village, was our first destination.

The morning Kevin drove the Taylors to the airport, the girls and I decided to catch the nativity service.  I think their faces convey how unfamiliar “church” is to our heathen darlings, but they do love a good play:


We had a week before Christmas to lollygag and visit old friends and locales, then a week after Christmas to do the same, so it was a pretty luxurious stretch of Scotland-time.  It was strange, of course, a return to what was once a home for us.  It felt like both time and space travel, with our girls strangely older and taller in the same places we’d been once before.  But it was also deeply comforting to realize this experience was not lost, that St. Monans was (is) still there, waiting.

As Christmas eve approached, we trotted through the Christmas-lit village  to the Old Kirk again, for the candlelit Carols-and-Lessons service.   It was especially poignant to me that the minister had a terrible cold and so while he rested at home, the service was run by the congregation: different members took turns coming to the podium and reading passages while a lady from the parish kept things orderly and announced each song.

for the archivists among you

The girls loved it, and belted out “The Holly and The Ivy” (my favorite) with great passion.  I was thrown by the different tunes attached to lyrics I thought I knew.  But  Strummer’s enormously loud and totally uncovered yawn at about Carol Ten  had the entire bench quivering with giggles.  And at the end, warm mince pies.  Cups of red wine.    My kind of church service:  no minister, 75% singing, candlelight, and food and drink at the end.

We had a super day in St. Andrews, doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, having tea in places with tea cozies this amazing:

… and then we went to the “Panto” show Kevin mentioned.  Our tickets were a gift from our beloved hosts — the Panto is a British tradition I had no idea about, which was a major hoot, and involved such things as cross-dressing ladies named “Widow Twanky” with a hoop skirt made of underpants, punk rock bad guys, audience participation (“Widow Twanky, you look swanky!” we were to shout every time she was introduced), and other silliness.

We.  Loved.  It.  In fact, the girls still know all the words to the “Boogie Woogie Washer Woman.”  Anyway, then we headed back out into St. Andrews to get some of our favorite Indian food, which  came with Christmas crackers filled with hats, moustaches, and further silliness:

By this point, you must be as ready for Christmas as Barrow and Strummer were.  I suspect the next little bit will look a lot like Christmas the world over.  Cookies and milk, Santa’s haul, blurry photos of little children bouncing around and hugging their swag.  So let’s just do a montage:

cookies, milk, and cheese doodles.


These last two shots remind me how much Christmas in Scotland was really about Ireland.  Santa brought Strummer a bodhrán and Barrow a hurley and ball.  Barrow’s gift to Strummer was a “little Irish luck” cup with a sweetly treacly verse to “A Sister.”  Strummer’s gift to Barrow was a “Galway Fairy,” handmade of wool, fabric, beads, and wire, and bought at the Galway Farmer’s Market. The girls’ gift to me was a watch they had bought on Shop Street, and Kevin’s gift from me was Tribe, a book of photographs of Galway.

After a *superb* (thankyouverymuch) Christmas dinner, we were able to spend another relaxing week together, the girls grooving on their Christmas gifts, Kevin and I enjoying a break from teaching and writing.

princesses discover legos

While the wild Scottish wind kept us indoors much of the time, we took advantage of the bright days to walk the coastal paths and visit the local villages a bit more.

dessert at the Kilconquhar pub

walking to the windmill

new saucer swing!

at the salt pans

striking a pose

old haunts

collected bits of St. Monans to bring home

Scotland was full of hellos and goodbyes, usually happening at the same time.

Our departure was also a return.

Though it took about 22 hours to get home (and all three flights were on time!), it also happened so mind-bogglingly fast.

These last two photos, for example, are right next to each other in my camera :

airport hotel in Edinburgh, January 1, 2012

Rochester airport, January 2, 2012

How did THAT happen?

So it goes.

And so, to quote Billy Pilgrim again (and the Beatles),

Hello. Good-bye.  Hello.  Good-bye.


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we’re back in st. monans

It is always tough to follow one of Anna’s beautifully written posts, but that last one was something else. Yes, we have left the emerald isle and are spending two weeks back in the lovely fishing village of St Monans, in the Kingdom of Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. For those of you who might not know it, we lived here for several blissful months in 2009. We kept a blog about it, so you can reminisce by going here. It is pretty amazing to see, returning to this context, how the girls have changed and gotten bigger. St Monans, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. It is still jaw-dropping gorgeous:

This is a view from the end of the harbor, looking back into town. That is the old kirk to the left. If I had continued the panoramic photo the town would stretch a bit more to the right and then end with the old windmill. Beyond that is the village of Pittenweem. When we decided to go to Ireland for the semester, part of the draw was being able to return to St Monans and hopefully spend some time with the Taylors, whose house we squatted in 2009. But, the Taylors decided to spend their holiday in Egypt and Tanzania. So, once again (!), they are letting us stay in their house and use their car. Their generosity is staggering. Fortunately, we did get to spend 24 hours with them (and their kids Blythe and Archie who are almost exactly the same age as Barrow and Strummer) before they headed south, which was great fun.

It is very much like time travel being here. But we all immediately relaxed upon entering the house. So many wonderful memories about being here and it felt very comfortable inhabiting this space again. Here are the girls, sitting in the kitchen that was so familiar to us (though, back then Strummer was still in diapers and using the high chair):

It has been fairly chilly and very windy, but we’ve still managed to go visit a few old haunts, such as the Anstruther Cheese Farm and Cafe. Please note: Barrow isn’t sad, just listening to Anna quite intently (and observant viewers with insane memories will recall that we happen to be sitting at the same table as we were when Nina and Pa visited back in 2009):

We also made a quick dash over to Elie to visit the harbor, visit some shops, and see our friend Fiona who moved her store from St Monans to Elie a year or so ago. The last time we were in Elie it was May and we were celebrating the ‘warm’ weather by playing on the beach. It was far too cold and windy to play on the beach today, though the girls were definitely willing.

We also stopped by Barrow’s old nursery school to say hello to her former teacher, Ms. Kilbane. It turned out that we crashed right in the middle of their school Christmas party. Ms. Kilbane was so excited to see Barrow and Strummer, she actually squealed in delight when she saw them. And, it just so happened that Santa was there for the party and even had a book in his bag for Barrow and Strummer each. How he knew they were stopping by, I just don’t know!

Santa, Strummer and Ms. Kilbane

Barrow and her book

I think it is fair to say that after they left here in 2009, the girls’ have had many exceedingly fond memories of Scotland, but one of the largest memories in their mind is of ACTION ZONE, an indoor playground in Leven. It is epic in their minds. Barrow has been talking about it non-stop for more than two-and-a-half years. F’real. The place was like nirvana in her little brain. When we told the girls we were returning to Scotland for the holidays, all she wanted to do was go back to Action Zone. And she has asked about a dozen times a day since we arrived if we could go to Action Zone. Now, as you might imagine, Action Zone is actually a shabby, slightly decrepit seaside attraction that really isn’t all that. Four indoor trampolines and a big indoor climber with slides. I was pretty sure she’d be disappointed once she actually went back there.

OHMYBLOG, they freaked out!! They seriously did not stop moving for the entire 2+ hours we were there. They’d slow down to a slight jog to get a swig of water and then they were off again. They were insanely happy and blissed out. I myself spent the entire time smiling and giggling as I watched them go.


Strummer in action

Strummer and Barrow in mid-slide

Don't stop! Go, go, go!

OK, the levitating ball machine WAS pretty cool.

We also had to do some Christmas shopping in St Andrews, so Anna went ahead in the van while the girls and I rode on the double-decker bus. Yet another thing to be blissed out about:

Oh, and if you haven’t noticed yet, the girls are pretty much only wearing Blythe’s and Archie’s clothes while we’re here (thanks, Blythe and Archie!). We went back to St Andrews again on Friday because the Taylors got us tickets to see the pantomime Aladdin. Pantomimes are big deals here and there are established rules (guy in drag, lots of audience participation, etc). It was really fun, as you can tell from the girls rapt attention as they wait for the intermission to be over. We even got a special shout-out during the show (‘The Creadick-Dunns from Geneva, NY USA!’) and candy thrown to the girls:

And we’ve also had fun just walking along the harbors in St Monans and Pittenweem, which we used to do a lot of back in the day:

Just check out this exact same scene from almost 3 years ago (same location, even same scarf):


We also stopped for a photo-op on the wall-bench in Pittenweem that the girls have posed on before:

pit4  ld2

Despite having the rug pulled out from underneath them (there have been a few tears from Barrow about Ireland and her friends back in Galway), the girls are holding up remarkably well:

at the chocolate shop in Pittenweem

It is now Boxing Day and our friends Donald  and Maya (the former pastor at the Old Kirk, and his wife) stopped by for tea this afternoon. It is really nice to see people we knew back in 2009 and feel the warmth of their welcome. I think many people, even Donald, never thought they’d see us again, and I think they appreciate it that we’ve come back.  We made such a strong connection to this area and to this village.

We also had a really nice Christmas yesterday, but I’ll let Anna blog about that later. Until next time, yes, we are so well aware of what a privileged life we lead.

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and … we’re out

I’ve been procrastinating writing this one.  It’s hard to leave a place.   We have in fact already left, yet I still feel like we’re there.  And then again, I also feel Galway was so long ago I’m not sure it happened at all.  In retrospect, our semester in Ireland felt sort of like this:

For the last two weeks before you leave a place, everything you do  is haunted by the understanding that this is probably the last time you’ll ever do that thing in that place, or see that person, or feel that feeling. So you end up feeling nostalgic in advance, missing a place you haven’t even left.

It might kick in at your kids’ last big hurrah at their amazing primary school, where they cut it up on stage as a chicken at the “noisy nativity” play —

…or nail their lines, introducing the preschool show, dolled up as Mrs. Claus:

It might hit you the last time you get to have a cuppa by yourself in the cool winter air of Quay Street.

And you remember how you grew tired of so much time alone, but then you realize it’s over, and you suddenly crave nothing but time alone.

It occurs to you that this could be your last delicious ice-cream bar (“Thomas bar!”) by the Spanish Arch – in the hat that Strummer already lost and Barrow’s feet that cannot possibly fill out those shoes.

It may or may not be  your last stroll down the shop streets of the latin quarter,

but it’s undoubtedly  the last time you’ll see a hat like this one.

This will probably be your last walk with Strummer and the full moon through the Christmas Market in Eyre Square —

and this is certainly your last spiral potato fry.

It might be that you’re hearing your last irish tune in Ireland, or worse, it could be that the last Irish song you hear in a pub could also be the first time you hear the whole place shushed silent and the musicians stop to allow a spectacular  vocalist to re-establish the cruelty of Oliver Cromwell, in the ballad form and a Christmas mood.

This will be your last poetry slam at The Crane.

It occurs to you that this will be your last time seeing Mike, the soft-spoken guy with the peach tattooed on his neck who works at the health food store by day and plays punk bass by night.

And this is your last mid-week glass of pinot with your new friend, the effervescent and perfectly named Sally Blossom, your chiropractor, who invented “Winesdays,” a tradition you plan to uphold in her honor.

And this is your last morning date for a “full irish” (vegetarian version) at Monroe’s, with your sweetie, who’s slightly hungover from his last few pints of Guinness from his last nights out with his Galway music mates.


This is definitely your last meal, on your last night in town, at your girls’ favorite restaurant, which serves “dough balls” for kids only.


And these are absolutely the last moments in the hallway of your apartment, waiting on your luggage for the taxi, which will take you toward your next destination, which you anticipate with deeply mixed emotions.


So that’s how we left it.

But that’s not really how I remember it.

My closing memories of Galway were not that last morning, but the walk we took on a chilly afternoon somewhere a week before, when the girls were cheerful and we were all treated to a spectacular sunset over Galway Bay.

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counting down

We leave in less than four days, so we are at that stage of taking note of ‘the lasts’: the last visit to the Farmers Market, the last story-time at the bookstore, the last get-together with this or that friend. One could be sad about departing, excited about spending two weeks back in Scotland, anxious about traveling, or stressed about packing. I think we are all probably inhabiting the ‘all the above’ category.

But here are some documents of our final days in Ireland. The day after tomorrow, the girls will both be having their Christmas Pageants at school. Strummer’s mostly entails a few songs, but she does have a two-line introduction to the performance (“Those mobile phones have got to go!” and “Please enjoy some Christmas cheer!”). Barrow’s is more of a production, but as a chicken in the manger she has fewer lines than Strummer, but more songs. As you might imagine, there has been lots of practicing and quite a few mock performances. One day last week, they held a Christmas concert in their room. Note how intently Strummer is singing:

A few days later, they did a full-on theatrical performance of Frosty the Snowman. They recited the song while re-enacting the words. In case you can’t tell, Barrow is Frosty with her magical hat and broom:

On Saturday, we went down to (our last) story-time at Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore. We’ve gone more Saturdays than not, and the girls really enjoy it. Here is the scene:

Yes, that is Strummer sitting quite patiently in the back while the other kids crowd the (awesome) reader. Here is another angle:

That afternoon, Anna caught Santa Claus setting up on Shop Street. This is actually a one-man band who has this elaborate contraption, complete with cut-outs of Obama, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael D. Higgins who play along with him. He is always quite warm and sweet to the girls, who demand that we hand over our pocket change to him (and every other busker) whenever we see him:


Lately, we have also witnessed a new trend. A number of kayakers come and work the River Corrib right in front of our apartment. We are between two bridges, and the river is flowing extremely strongly before it heads out to Galway Bay. Right after the first bridge, there are pockets where the currents will hold a boat in place and the kayak kind of surfs the high waves that rush past. There is often a group of kayakers who hang off to the side, waiting for their turn to ride the current.

On Sunday, we had a really big day. In the morning we walked across town to go visit a big toy store. The girls got to find something to ask Santa for, and to pick out one gift to donate to a kid-in-need. In the afternoon, the rains stopped long enough for us to walk along the “prom” down to Salthill. We had a great time, with the girls running ahead most of the way. Well, with Barrow bouncing ahead, dragging Strummer behind her. I think Anna will be offering a separate post that will include some of the fantastic photos she took of the sky during the walk, but here is one of the girls striking a pose:


And here is my gorgeous partner, dressed warmly against the wintery wind blowing in across the Bay.

When we got to Salthill, we went and got a nice snack. Here they are patiently playing while they wait for their HUGE meringue:

And lest you think I’ve done nothing but drink lots of pints, go to shows, and take pictures of my kids, here is a final (yes, this will probably be my last post — until we get to Scotland) photo. Ladies and gentlemen… my office!

please note the tea kettle, tea pot, and tea mug, as well as papers and books strewn about. Evidence of a busy, over-caffeinated mind.

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regarding the weather

The other day, I saw that the blue sky was out, and it looked crisp and cool, so I left the house and walked into the sunlight sporting my fleece jacket and a light scarf.   No umbrella, no hat.  Rookie mistake: I should know better by now.  I was standing in a souvenir shop (we’re close to leaving, so time to rack up the tschochkes) 15 minutes later when the sky turned black and tiny stones of hail started pelting in through the shop door.  I stood in the doorway watching for 10 minutes, thinking, I’ll just wait it out.  When it stopped, I walked in the now-frigid wind to my lunch date.  Whereupon it began to hail again.  And then again.  I walked home in the rain.

walking down Dominick Street to Monroe's Pub for Sunday dinner -- pizza

These are actual weather forecasts:

“Dull and damp at first, but becoming mainly dry for a time today before rain pushes into the west.”

“Tomorrow, Tuesday will be mostly dry with good sunny spells and just a few passing showers.”

“Wednesday will be a windy fresh day, that will gradually turn more showery.”

Sensing a pattern?  How ’bout I draw you a picture?

a typical late September forecast

Okay, how about this one?

... and November ...

Or this?

And, it's December.

Yeah.  It rains a lot in Galway.

Actually, Galway weather is truly fascinating.  I’ve thought about it a lot. It’s almost always either dreadful, or about to be dreadful, or has just been dreadful, so it is the perfect icebreaker.  Everyone you meet, from the cornershop guy to your chiropractor to your lunch date will keep  an amused ongoing narrative afloat.  “Terrible out, isn’t it?”  “Oh, it’s dreadful.”

When I first arrived, I would consult the weather service and get nervous when I’d see “Gale Warning” in red at the top of the screen.  Then I realized it’s always there.  We’ve had a couple of real humdingers, raining sideways in sheets for hours, howling winds with big gusts.

But really, that kind of gale weather has only happened maybe 3 or 4 times.  The rest of the time, we just get …well,  weather. Loads of it. Usually all in one day.

Real Galwegians play football in the rain.

Real Galwegians run triathlons in the rain.

True Galwegians have a cuppa in the rain.

Of course, lots of rain has meant lots of rainbows …

double-rainbow ... from our apartment window

bibi, barrow, rainbow

strum + des = rainbow

And the volatile weather also makes for some spectacular skies.  At the City Museum we learned about one painter who moved to this region specifically to try and render the skies.  You could probably look back at all our blog photos, ignore the cute kids, and look at the skies, and you’ll see what I mean, but here are a couple from one of my favorite sky-days:

And THEN there’s what all that rain does to the GRASS…

soooo greeeeeen

Of course, nasty weather is excellent for particular pastimes.  Like …

pillow forts

soup at the noodle house

baking at home

date nights (by the fire at the Roisin Dubh)

And the weather here also really REALLY makes you appreciate it when the sun comes out.

exhibit a.

exhibit b.

exhibit c.

One of my favorite Galway weather stories is the time we were caught in a gale-storm while shopping  at the farmer’s market.  It had been pouring all morning, and everyone was completely drenched, and then, while I was in line for bagels, the wind picked up and it *really* started to dump, at which point the donut man next-door (whose amazing face adorns the cover of this cool new book of Galway portraits) —

—  shouted, “It’s all right, lads!  It’s clearing!  Yes, I think it’s really starting to clear up now!”  And all of the vendors and customers, all miserable and soaked, collapsed collectively into giggles.

chilly christmassy shop street eve

I blew into my last writing class the other night a few minutes late, bundled and soggy in my winter coat, wool hat with brim, big scarf, and dripping umbrella.  One of my classmates looked up and said, “You’re looking like a real Galwegian, now!”  I was so very proud.

Hey. It's Ireland. Love it or leave it. (Or, in our case, both.)

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the river barrow

When we were preparing to come to Ireland, I discovered that there is a small river in the southeast corner of the country called the Barrow. Well, since that makes it the third place on the planet’s surface named Barrow (after Barrow-in-Furness and Barrow, Alaska), we decided we just HAD to visit it while we were here. So this past Friday, we got a rental car and headed out of Galway. We left after the girls got out of school, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to get very far. So we had booked a B&B in Athlone, about 75 minutes outside of Galway. We booked the B&B solely because of the family loft they advertised. Turns out, it was as cool as we had anticipated:

A long loft, with the kid’s cubby at the end.

Barrow chilling in the chair. The B&B was aesthetically fantastic and inspiring.

And it turns out that Athlone was a pretty cool town too. At least the section we were in, dubbed “Athlone’s Left Bank.” It was a collection of windy streets filled with cool pubs, restaurants and galleries next to the castle and by the cool bridge (which doesn’t quite show up in this photo, sorry).

The next day we continued onto Bagenalstown, which is where we planned to stay the next night. Unfortunately, it was apparent by early morning that both girls were under the weather and feeling rather sickly. This meant that they spent most of the time being terrors and driving us absolutely crazy. Some really atrocious behavior, including a screaming fit in the B&B. But we won’t dwell on that, shall we? No, let’s wipe it from our minds and focus on the collective 36 minutes of the day in which they were darling pleasures. Like, here, when they were dancing around statues dedicated to sewage treatment.

Oh, you think I am kidding? Not at all. They take their discharge, water treatment, and River Barrow quite seriously around here. Here is the plaque for the above sculptures.

The previous weekend, I had to suddenly fly over to Barrow-in-Furness in England for the funeral of a close family friend. It was a sad occasion but one of the constant treats about visiting Barrow-in-Furness is seeing my eldest daughter’s name everywhere. Like here at the train station:

We had the same experience in Bagenalstown and the surrounding area, where the river’s name was constantly invoked.

We spent much of Saturday morning walking along the river. It is a beautiful, peaceful river that has multiple locks and canals along its route. They’ve turned the towpaths into a series of walking trails that stretch along most of the river’s length, with the occasional old mill dotting the riverside.


Along the walk, a flock of ducks starting following our Barrow. If she stopped and went the other way, they’d pull a u-turn too. Here she is being a con-duck-tor.

Here is a just a random photo of when the river and canal come back together.

And here is a close up of Strummer, who expressed a little bit of discontentment that “so many things” were named after Barrow, but she shared a name with only Joe Strummer. But, in general, she was pretty happy with the trip because she got to look out for places where Barrow was written — BECAUSE SHE IS READING NOW!

After checking into our B&B in Bagenalstown, we went for a drive, heading down to the charming Graiguenamanach (pronounced like Greg-a-na-ma-na) and then back to the lovely little Georgian town of Borris (pronounced like Bur-us). We stopped into a restaurant/inn that, it turned out, was hosting a huge wedding reception, so they only had soup and sandwiches available for us in the pub. But the bar and wait staff were exceptionally kind, and it was one of the highlights of the visit. And here you can see how familiar the girls are getting with pub life. They’ve got the bar posture down pat.

Oh, did I mention the amazing sunset we saw on the drive? Here is Anna’s noble attempt to capture it (on my iPhone, since she lost hers during the trip. No worries, she miraculously found it on Monday):

The B&B in Bagenalstown was fine, with the highlight being the over-exuberant puppy named Sammy.

We spent the first part of Sunday morning out for another walk along the River Barrow, this time in the little village of Goresbridge. (Our Barrow, indeed; plus we now know what her name is in Irish)

It had the requisite beautiful old bridge,

with cool steps going up the side of it.

The girls were actually feeling a little bit better on Sunday, which helped enormously. Plus, the beautiful weather boosted everyone’s morale (look at that blue sky!)

Then we drove back to Galway, stopping briefly for lunch (and a wee bit of shopping) in Kilkenny. We drove back by going through the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Now there is something you need to understand about Ireland: the roads are kind of a joke. There are only a few major “motorways” and those are minor four-lane affairs. Most of the major national thoroughfares are only little two-lane jobs, at best. Now check out this map:

You see the R440 between Durrow and Roscrea, right in the middle? That would seemingly be a major road, right? This is what it actually looks like:

OK, so I intentionally skimmed over two little bits, that I now want to end with. The first is the wee bit of shopping we did in Kilkenny. Remember those awesome boots we got the girls at the beginning of our trip here? Barrow’s boots were black, Strummer’s were pink. Well, after constantly wearing them EVERY DAY for the last 3 1/2 months, they both finally gave out. Strummer picked out her new pair a few weeks ago (red with black cheetah spots) and Barrow found her replacement pair while in Kilkenny. Check ’em out:


I am so envious of my kids’ footwear.

And finally I leave you with this (which I came across in a pub; sure wish I had found it in 2009):

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