July 10

A final post from Ireland.

I might post-post some Irish stuff, but for now, this is céad slán. And of course, on our last day here, we went to the Dead Zoo.

I think this face says it better than words.


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June 13

I’m sad.

Very sad, actually. Today marks the 4 week point until we return to the States. Sigh. Okay, so I think it’s only temporary; we’ll be back here for another stint in a couple years. And I like my life in Philadelphia. Truly excellent friends, my teaching gig at UPenn, the corgi. But still.

I’m sad.

So today I’m doing a sad list, one of pathos and melancholy and rue.*

Ten Regrets

1. I never learned to look mahvelous underwater, and now that Esther Williams is gone, it might be a pipe dream.

2. I have only just discovered the delights of Bill Nye (“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”), The Brain Scoop, Hank Green,  I (Am Ever, Ever So Fond of) Science, and poison gardens. What have I been doing all my life???

3. I have never petted a tiger, pangolin, bumblebee, marine iguana, or manatee. I have, however, petted a Monet painting, which was a very, very naughty thing to do.

4. Apparently, nothing I say about anything has any effect whatsoever on Tea Party policy.

5. I have a mindboggling inability to leave peanut butter and expensive cheese in the fridge. Cookies in the cupboard, ice cream in the freezer, pizza in the box: no problem. It’s all yours.** But as soon as I pop a jar of PB for Madam’s lunch or buy a few ounces of crazily overpriced truffle peccorino, I turn into the corgi (“I’ll eat that, so what if it’s for later/something else, yes I know you told me not to but I’ll eat that, you gonna eat that ’cause I’ll eat that, of course it’s not good for me but I’m really really gonna eat that…”).

6. I still haven’t figured out how to incorporate bog bodies into a nice teen hearts and flowers story. I even spent the afternoon in the National Museum in Kildare Street yesterday, doing research and pondering. All I came up with is that Irish visitors stay the longest in the exhibit pods, Americans are most likely to say things like “Eww!” and “That’s disgusting!”, and Scandinavian visitors actually read the display info.

7. I will not be attending any of the Scandinavian Vikingfests this summer.*** No wandering through Trelleborg or Hafnarfjordur watching men and women from all over the world (literally all over; if Americans can don horned hats and big furry vests, why not someone from Japan or Nigeria?) run around in..well, horned hats and big furry vests.

8. I do not understand the appeal of jazz. Or dubstep.

9. I get motion sick in hammocks, most amusement park rides, IMAX theaters, and the occasional beach chair. Which would complicate things greatly if I had any desire whatsoever to retire to the Walt Disney World Resorts or Universal Orlando.

10. I have the ethics of a sloth and the speed of a snail when it comes to most writing projects. And while I quite like sloths and snails, I never aspired to be one. I always thought I would be a lobster.


lobster 2

*okay, the good news is that all these things are either fixed, fixable or, in the great scheme of things, totally unimportant

**assuming Himself or Himself Jr don’t get there first; they consider it a matter of disrespect to leave certain foods unfinished

***there is every chance, however, that we will be attending the Gathering of the Vikings in Clontarf this weekend

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June 1

That’s the pub across the way. They have a telescope. Have a pint; watch the zany family.

10:02. PM.

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Madam: “I can’t sleep. It’s too light!” Me: “Count sheep.” Madam: “It’s not working. Too light.” Himself Jr: “So count black sheep.”

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May 25

The entire Himself family went to Howth for the day. Which, by the way, was Spring. As in: Spring was May 25th this year. That is in no way a complaint about any other day; I pretty much love the weather here all the time (we figure I was Sydney Morgan in a past life– or a puffin), but today was especially nice.

Himself, Himself Jr, the Himself Srs, Brother and Brood all took a boat from Dun Laoghaire. Madam and I took the train. I get motion sick in a hammock. Boats and amusement park rides are, to my philosophical and physical distress, circles of Hell.

While we waited for the boat to arrive, Madam and I happily basked, puffin-like, in the sun on the West Pier.

Yes, yes, Howth is very pretty.

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But this was our fave part of the day:

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As we walked away, Madam was chanting, “Hey, who turned out the lights?! Hey, who turned out…”*


*Only slightly obscure Doctor Who reference.

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May 20

I’m not a plant person. I mean, I eat them with glee. I’ve never met a green veggie I haven’t liked. But as a gardener, if I say “I kill cacti”, it tells you all you need to know.

I appreciate flowers, too. I guess. They’re pretty. But I’m not the kind of person who wants roses (I can think of about 100 better uses for the money and I’m not a floral scent kinda girl). Formal gardens– even informal gardens– rank right down there around muddy Civil War battlefields on my how-to-spend-a-day list. Actually, I enjoy a good poison garden, but there aren’t nearly enough of those around. So when my mother-in-law suggested that we go to Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, I sighed. Inwardly. I love my m-i-l and enjoy the time we spend together, so I figured I’d take one for the Himself Family team, and go. Go we went, covering just about every inch of the 22 acres.

It was pretty terrific.

It was a lovely spring day, the pre-garden lunch was excellent and, best of all, there was something just….well, off enough about a lot of the plants that it made them very interesting and quirkily wonderful. For example:

There are countless rhododendrons in many varieties. A lot are in bloom right now. Yes, yes, very pretty. But I liked this one.


The petals had fallen off, leaving stem clusters that looked like huge spiders.


There were palm trees that looked like the Lorax.




And something that looked blood-spattered.



This was just huge and weird.




The pet cemetery was a little wild and sad.




This California Dogwood, with the nearby Golden Poppies, made me think of home.





And a cork tree, of course, made me think of Ferdinand, who liked to just sit and smell the flowers.




Me? I’d rather sit and smell this.

IMG_0674It’s wild garlic and it was everywhere, cheerful and abundant and fragrant. Ferdinand can have his roses. I like my perfume to smell like dessert and my plants to smell like dinner.


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May 16

It’s every headline and lead-in, the top news story in Dublin today. People arrived in droves to get a look…





The Queen Mary II is achored in Dun Laoghaire.

How can you not love a city whose attention is grabbed passionately and completely not by news of mayhem, scandal, or violence, but the presence of a great big fancy floating hotel?

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May 15

One of my new favorite words is “pinniped”. Which means “fin-footed”. Seals and walruses. There are actually a lot of pretty wonderful words in Linnaean taxonomy (sirenia, nops, ba humbugi…), but that’s fodder for another post. This is about picky pinnipeds.

So, last week was Himself’s birthday. Being Himself, one of the very nice things he decided he wanted to do on the day was to buy some fish and feed our (yes, of course, our) seals at the Coal Pier. Knowing the fish shop there would be closed, we happily went up to Tesco and bought €10 of Icelandic cod, which Himself cut into seal-bitesized pieces.

So, cod in hand, we all went down to the pier. It took a while; the seals don’t hang around in the same way when the fish shop is closed, but eventually one arrived. He was familiar: the big grey bull who’s usually the first to arrive. He has the best “feed me, pleeeeaaassse, I’m starving” face. And he looks like a rotund torpedo, so clearly he knows his business.

Himself tossed a piece of cod. The seal took a sniff. And promptly let the fish sink out of sight. On the off-chance that he was just…well, stupid or something (and while seals might not be the brightest mammals on the ark, they’re not stupid), we tossed another. This time, he grabbed it. And promptly spat it out. Clearly, he wanted something else. Smellier, maybe. Or less smelly. Or local. Maybe he was a locavore. Whatever, he didn’t want what we were offering. For a few minutes, he waited patiently, giving us the big, soft, liquid “Feed Me” eyes. Then he spent a couple more minutes alternately submerging and reappearing. Guess that’s his schtick. He’s learned that if he disappears and reappears he gets more food (“Oh, look, Daddy. A new seal! Feed it!…Oh, look, Daddy…”).

In the meantime, along came another seal: a little smaller, not quite as rotund, but plenty well-fed. We did the dance again. Fish. Sniff. Fish (in case of stupidity). Nada. Didn’t even try.

We tried to feel indignant. After all, we’d spent money, time, and a lot of our ick tolerance trying to do something nice for them. They’re seals, for heaven’s sake. They should be like dogs: willing to eat anything that even remotely resembles food. But in the end, as (fat) Pinniped One and Two bobbed and waited, giving us those big, soft, sad eyes, telling us how terribly terribly hungry they were, how the (fat) little Pinnipeds Three through Seven were waiting weakly at home for Mummy and Daddy to bring them their first meal in days, what we felt was guilty. Next time, we decided, we would bring sushi.


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April 24

I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that, as a matter of principle, I absolutely think there is a time and a place for civil disobedience. I’m all for protest. Although my own march-through-the-streets-while-shouting moments have been far fewer since the time a couple of years ago when, as the police descended, I figured I had to put practicality above politics. Himself was out of town. If I got myself arrested, there would have been a bit of a kerfuffle around collecting my small child from preschool. I casually sauntered away from my fellow protesters. And tried not to feel like a total loser.


I can’t say I ever would have been inclined to join in the protest that has just concluded under the window, but Himself and I watched it for a bit.

Ireland is on the verge of instituting a range of new taxes, including property and water. It’s kinda sensible. It’s also kinda mandated by the solvent European countries, primarily Germany, who want their bailout money back.

On the flip side, no one likes a new tax. And people here already pay a level of income tax that would have most Americans staging a civil war. No one here complains about that, understanding that their (very good) schools, roads, healthcare depend on tax revenue. But new austerity measures are changing the status quo.

So the crowd under my window was shouting (over and over, and then over again) with gusto: ”The water tax is a double tax! Water tax is no way! Time to make the bankers pay! Whose water? Our water!”

Oscar Wilde they were not, but they had excellent cadence and very good diction. And the whole thing was over in half an hour.

And there’s my Irish political update for the week. What follows is the funny stuff that goes with the Irish political moment.

Here are some of the the protesters. They are being herded and posed by the news photographer. It’s a tidy, photogenic town. We have tidy, photogenic protests.


Here’s the gardai (pronounced, for anyone who’s interested, gar-DEE). All two of them, and I’m sure there was only a second to keep the first one company. They’re just making sure everything stays tidy.


Himself looked at one and said, “Wait. He’s got a gun in his belt!”

Irish street police don’t carry guns. To see a gun would be a very serious, very sad thing.


Himself, with a relieved sigh, a moment later, “Ah, no. It’s a notebook holder.”



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April 14

The best street art in Dublin.


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After a week in a car with my children…

I am resorting to a list. Of course I am. We’re all a little bleary, waddling a bit from overconsumption of pub grub, and pleased to still be speaking to each other.

Actually, the kids were great, despite the fact that only one of the hotels had WiFi in the room  (Himself Jr is on a “Steam” kick; if you know what that means, you’re his kinda people) and Madam had a stomach bug that involved her vomiting at least once in each of the four hotels and one of the restaurants. Yay.

My fault. Not the bug, but the fact that we decided to cover the entire northern half of Ireland in six days. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Himself and I used to do that: jump in the car and go to Cork or Kenmare or Clifden–or all of them–just because we wanted to. Of course, that was pre-kids. This time, we were traveling with a large adolescent who needs food and craves screen-time every two hours or so, a small child who both caught a bug from our recent houseguests and inherited my motion sickness (I get queasy in hammocks), and my seventy-year-old father who is lovely, but it was his first trip to Ireland, he had a brand-new camera, and he needed to take at least twelve different shots of everything.

It’s going to be a while before we do it again.

That said, there were real highlights and plenty of high points. And here are some, as the Herself-Himself-Madam-Jr-Grandad see ‘em:

The Five Top-Half-of-Ireland Things Not to Be Missed Even While Buggy and Grumpy

1. The Burren, Clare (Madam’s pick).

If you are interested in ancient Ireland or geology or Doctor Who, you gotta see this place. Archaeologists can only guess at when the Poulnabrone Dolmen was erected (sometime around 2500 B.C.) and we know almost nothing about the 30 or so people who were buried there. It’s stark and mysterious and beautiful. Below and around it, the natural limestone formations are incredible; the rock under your feet looks like it has been tunnelled by a million prehistoric worms. I am not a geologist (geology being another of those “life’s too short” thangs that, in its very definition, says “life’s too short”), but it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the sight. It’s…right out of Doctor Who, actually. Circa Himself’s childhood Doctors, with their overacting and wacky sets. Even the geological terms are pure sci-fi: grike, clint, karst. Okay, so maybe invoking the Doctor is gratuitous, but it’s the only sci-fi I know well enough to invoke. And this is definitely an unearthly landscape.




2. The School of Falconry, Ashford Castle, Mayo (Himself  Jr).

There’s no crying in falconry. You can’t be sentimental. According to K–, the completely awesome vet student who was our guide and trainer, the birds couldn’t care less about the people they work for. “We fall completely in love with them,” she said. “But they just tolerate us because we feed them.” Which leads to: they’re carnivores. They eat mice. And bunnies. And fuzzy yellow chicks, which is what K– was using during our afternoon. Whenever she wanted us to summon the falcons (they were hawks, actually) back, she would stick a piece of chick into the palm of our leather gauntlets. Some of the pieces were easily indentifiable. By nature, I am vegetarian. By nature, I cry at Hallmark commercials. There’s no crying in falconry. And no petting, either. That was hard. I really really wanted to pet the gorgeous bird sitting on my hand. But I know it’s not good for the feathers and, more importantly, I suspect, really not good for the school’s insurance policy to have people’s bare hands poking at the raptors. Anyway, we didn’t pet. But we had an amazing afternoon sending the birds off into the Ashford forest and calling them back again.


An honorable mention to Ashford Castle itself. It’s lovely, not to mention dramatic. This was the view from our window.IMG_0331

3. Southern Donegal (me).

This is where I would want to live if we ever settled permanently in Ireland. Well, okay, maybe I would ultimately choose Dalkey for about nine practical reasons and the simple fact that I am a spoiled urban creature, but I am a seaside girl. Just not of the tropical, sun-and-Bacardi variety. I like rocks and salty spray and needing a sweater in July.

I especially loved sitting in the bow window of our hotel room (gotta get a plug in for the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh, with its fab views and even more fab staff, who took Madam’s quiet upchucking in their dining room with more humor and charm than I could ever have imagined), watching the surfers catching waves almost right in front of me. So maybe the waves were only about five feet high, maybe most of the surfers fell off their boards even then, and maybe the people walking along the rocky strand were wearing parkas. As far as I’m concerned, it was perfect.



(a fave sign…well, yes, driving beyond that point would not be advisable)


(in case you can’t read it, that’s the Fin McCool Surf School)

4. Lettergesh Beach, Connemara, Galway (Himself).

See above re: coast/beach/Dalkey. This is one of the reasons Himself and I are happy together. We have geographical compatibility. You scoff? Picture someone who adores Maine going to live in Nevada. Anyway. Himself spent a number of happy holidays here in Connemara, as well as attending Irish College (as close to summer camp as almost his entire Irish generation ever got–a unique combo of summer language school and Scout camp) in Carna.


Along with Galway City, I will add Clifden to this rec. Love Clifden, with its almost Joisey Shore-like combo of posh and tat– and the tale of Wrong Way Corrigan, a Machiavellian aviator who did the transatlantic thing his own way. No pictures of Galway or Clifden this time because I didn’t get to go. I spent the day with an unwell Madam and Crazy Eights and iCarly. We actually had a nice day. The fact that it was at Ashford Castle certainly helped. Had it been three days later, it would have been a different story. Our last hotel smelled like cow poo…


5. The Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland* (Grandad’s pick).

Yes, it’s almost always so packed with tourists that it’s hard to really get the whole experience. Yes, it’s smaller than most pictures and guidebooks make it seem. Yes, it’s wet. But it’s also magical, not just in the mind-boggling, myth-inspiring uniqueness of it (the less-scientific explanation of its genesis involves Fin McCool, taking a break from surfing in Donegal, and a Scottish giant), but also in the earth-sciencey “Even if I can explain it mathematically and chemically, it’s still freakin’ mindboggling” way. It’s precisely where science and fairy tales meet.



(for reference, those are my size 9 feet)

We’re home now. Grandad has gone, the laundry is done, the kids are back in school Monday. So, the way I see it, car and feckin’ freezin’ weather (Himself almost made me fall off the edge of Slieve League laughing by asking, “Melissa, am I a polar bear?”–find that joke if you’ve never heard it) and upchucking child aside, we just had six days in one of the few fairy-tale corners left in the world: the West (and Northwest) of Ireland. Yeats, whose heart was in Sligo even when he wasn’t, understood; his poems are full of mythic imagery and he compiled one of the best collections of Irish folklore ever. One he missed, one I’d never heard of, was on the wall of the visitors’ center at the Cliffs of Mohr. It was about a corpse-eating eel. I’m not repeating that one. This, familiar to anyone who knows selkie lore (or has seen “The Secret of Roan Inish”), also from the Cliffs, is a favorite:


Yeats’s take on mermaids?

A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid.

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.




*I get fairly regular email questions/confusion about Northern Ireland. I figured now would be a good time to address that. As briefly as possible. For anyone who is unclear on the matter, I am living in the Republic of Ireland. While it is part of the EU, it is a completely independent country. It is not part of the UK and hasn’t been since 1922. It covers about 4/5 of the island land-mass, is made up of twenty-six of the island’s thirty-two counties, and contains most of the stuff that shows up on the postcards (Dublin, the Aran Islands with their famous sweaters, Blarney Castle, most of the sheep…). Northern Ireland shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, but it is part of the UK. While it is largely self-governing, it is still part of the constitutional monarchy of Elizabeth II. As for its rep: in simplest possible terms, the “Troubles” that people associate with the North refer to decades of often-violent opposition to British rule. I won’t even try to explain the division, as it isn’t anywhere near as as simple as Protestant v. Catholic or Have v. Have-not. I will just say that yes, there are still tense, even violent moments in the North; no, you don’t have to drive through barbed-wire, gun-towered checkpoints to get there (this time, I only realized we’d actually entered the North because three phones pinged: our service provider texting Himself, Himself Jr and me to tell us we were now in “roaming” territory); and no, I have never once, not ever felt unsafe there. An average day in just about any major American city is more threatening than a similar day in Derry or Belfast.


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