Who Is Coming Home?

I think it’s fair to say I’d always wanted to have kids.  I was one of those little girls who dreamed of having my own babies (I told my mom once that I’d have two and give her one!)

Often in my misspent youth, when faced with a challenging situation my criteria for the ‘right thing to do’ would be:

1) What would my mom do?
2) What would my future children think of it?

Sometimes I’d wonder what my future kids might be like, but any preconceived (literally) concepts  I may have held have been blown out the window by my two teens.

Max is introspective, sometimes a bit of an introvert, skilled in ways I could never dream and, ironically, always seems to have a friend around when he wants one.

Hannah is extroverted, lively, chatty and independent.  But in spite of a tight group of friends, she’ll often find herself wanting a friend to hang out with only to find they’re otherwise occupied (planning is not her strong suit, and we live a distance from her ‘group’)

Tonight Hannah gets home from her longest trip away.

She’s been canoeing at Quetico in the Boundary Waters (BWCA) in Canada for 22 days, hanging with the same group of girls, working hard and being part of a team.

I’m so eager to see her, so anxious to hear how everything went, certain that – once again – she’ll have grown in ways I can’t even imagine.

The first time she went away to sleep away camp, she came home so confident and mature.  Gerry and I were blown away, and Max was in awe.

Ironically, the first time Max went to camp in the boundary waters, he hated it and got Lyme disease.  Go figure.

Hannah is definitely in her ELEMENT when she’s at camp.  I cannot WAIT to see my girl and meet the person she grown into this time.

In other, just-as-important-news, Max received his FIRST paycheck from his part time job at SPNN (St. Paul Neighborhood Network, our local access station) and proud enough for two boys! 

Sorry the picture’s so bad, sloppy photographer!


Super Nanny

Max and I are home – YAY!!  Today Gerry and Hannah arrive (I messed up when I booked the flights, entirely my own fault) but this arriving on different days is kind of cool, too!

Max Studies over the Atlantic

I’ve realized over this trip that traveling with the 4 of us can be like herding cats.  In traveling energy, Max and I are similar while Gerry and Hannah are two peas in a pod.

A very slowly moving pod.

Max and I get up early, travel quickly, and plan ahead.  Hannah and Gerry tend to want to sleep in, stroll, and let things take them by surprise.

These are two VERY different energies that can clash in an enforced high-pressure setting like international travel.  Thus, although I didn’t consciously plan it this way, it’s probably VERY good that our travel was divided in this manner.


Why am I starting with the worst?  Because it’s like a spicy appetizer to a VERY satisfying meal.  Tomorrow I’ll write all about the BEST stuff we did, but today is catharsis…

Family Biking at Phoenix Park

Biking in Phoenix Park

In some ways Dublin was the BEST of our trip (This Is Knit, The Book of Kells, biking in Phoenix Park – all AMAZING memories!)

And in other ways Dublin was the absolute pits.

Having lived in New York for 20 years, I understand the dynamic of a large city, how cramming so many folks into a limited space ratchets up the tension a few notches.

Each large city – no matter how wonderful – has it’s own flavor with a slightly sour after taste.  To me, NY feels brusque, LA feels self absorbed, London feels a bit patronizing and Dublin feels like an inefficient-but-controlling nanny constantly telling one that they’re being naughty.

Nice Cockles

Naughty tourists.

Most of the negative interactions we had in Dublin revolved around us misunderstanding what someone in authority wanted us to do, and thus our inability to walk the invisible line they’d drawn.  See my post yesterday about the Nanny Hotel experience.

The wallet loss aside (which could have happened ANYWHERE) there seemed to be an almost – delight? – when our family was confused or had a hard time understanding something, and thus had to be admonished.

There was a, “Well, that is what happens to naughty children who don’t follow the rules…” attitude in Dublin, which we hadn’t run into at ALL in the rest of Ireland.

I’m sure it springs from the huge number of tourists who come through, and the Dubliner’s exhaustion with dealing with them.

An example was when we visited the National Museum.  We’d looked forward to this, there were exhibits that interested EACH of us, and after seeing the book of Kells we wandered through Georgian Dublin over to the Museum.

National Museum of Ireland, Front Door

As you walk in the building you’re overwhelmed with the architectural detail – the carving, the tile work, the interior of the entry dome, it’s all AMAZING!  I love architectural detail, I take photos of parts of buildings all the time and spent a few minutes outside photographing the front doors before walking in.

What I didn’t see was the hidden image of a camera with a line through it which was etched into a glass wall (seriously, it was HIDDEN behind a door.) No photography.

Now, I would NEVER photograph an exhibit unless I had permission or knew that it was allowed.  I wasn’t in the exhibition area, I was in the gift shop area.  What I was interested in photographing was the tile in the floor.  But if no cameras are allowed, I totally understand and I’m happy to put the canon away.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the sign.  No one did.  NO ONE.

So when I pulled out my camera to photograph, I was yelled at.

“NO CAMERAS!” Very harsh, like the Soup Nazi.  SO I put it away.

But the fellow who’d yelled had to come over and say,  condescendingly, “You cannot take photographs in the museum, you have to put your camera away.” (it was away)

But he wouldn’t stop.  I don’t know if he was making an example of me in front of the other visitors, or if it just made him feel good, but he walked over to the “no camera” etching (which was only visible once you were INSIDE the museum looking back out through the front door) and said, “The sign is right here, there is NO photography.”

Thanks.  No pics.  I get it.

Once through the entry foyer we did what we usually do at museums; separated to view what interests each of us most with a ‘meet up time’ set about an hour later.

Now, I swear it was NOT my paranoid take on things, but I am positive that there was one guard who was trailing me to make sure I didn’t whip out the camera and sneak a black market pic of a stair railing.  I’d go upstairs, there he was.  I went downstairs, there he was.  I watched a video, he was outside the theater when I left.  I went to the cafe to meet the family and get a bite, he was right behind me.  Very odd.  I hope he had a good time – I know I did!

One of my favorite places to eat are museum cafes.  Often the food is just wonderful, and it’s usually not terribly expensive.  This cafe was strong on the great dishes, but the prices were higher than I’d expected.

They weren’t listed on the items, they were posted clearly on the wall by the cash register, but I found it hard to match the long descriptions of the dishes with the written text.  Let’s face it, reading a menu board, especially at a oblique angle, is NO ONE’s favorite thing to do.

So I was totally unprepared that an entree for me, a few cookies and tea for 4 would total €36.  We put back the cellophane wrapped cookies (much to the disgust of the woman at the counter) bringing my chicken roullade and tea for 4 to €24.  Looking at the receipt I saw we were charged for something we didn’t order, which further PO’d the cashier when we pointed it out (she looked at us as if we’d just made a big mess in her cafe – “Naughty, naughty Americans…”)

However, the museum was AMAZING.  We could have spent days there.  The cases themselves were not labeled extensively, but there was very good text along each exhibit and the arrangements were very good.  I saw a WONDERFUL video episode from a series called “Legacy” (which I would LOVE to find and purchase!) and seeing the bog people close up was an experience no one in the family will forget.  Amazing.

I also saw a knit beret-type hat with a flat brim that had been found in a bog, dated to the 16th C.  It was definitely knit in the round.  Food for thought.

As we finished up at the museum and started to leave,  I asked one of the gift shop cashiers about the video,

“Hi – I have a question; the video I saw about Vikings, would —“
– [clipped & short, interrupting] “‘S’not available.  Don’t have it.”
– Okay.  Thanks very much.  Sorry I bothered you…

Can You Spot The Duck?

Just then Max looked up and saw a DUCK sitting on the glass in the oculus of the dome  and asked the guard if it would be okay if he took a picture of it.

Happily, the guard said, “Yes” so the kids snapped a few shots of the duck

(And in the process the kids got a nice shot of the ceiling for me, too!  A nice companion to a ceiling at Aughnanure Castle)

Ceiling at Aughnanure Castle

Unhappily, some other visitors saw Max with his camera, so they took theirs out, and were  swiftly deterred with a strong and snappish, “NO CAMERAS!”

Naughty tourists.

The duck was not admonished.

Quickly from Killarny

We decided to take a few days in our last week and drive down to Southern Ireland to see some of the sites we didn’t want to miss.  High on our list was Newgrange, the cliffs of Moher and Coole Park (that was for me, the Shavian in the family)

Day 1 Driving

Day 2, MORE Driving

The hotels we found were splendid, but I did a bad job of matching hotel to where we ended each day, so an additional 2 hours of driving was added to each day for no good reason.  Live and learn…

Our car rule is that if anyone sees something they MUST stop and photograph or see more fully, we stop.

There’s no set limit of stops, but I (as the driver) have the final say.  We stopped a LOT yesterday, and each one was wonderful!

Here we are by the road, photographed by a lovely woman from Upstate NY we ran into!

Twee, twee, twee!

Our time up North has been GLORIOUS! If I’d had any qualms about being bored, or not having enough to see and do, they’ve been completely dispelled! Every place we’ve visited (and I will write about them fully when I have better wifi) has been interesting and fun and worth the effort.

The one place we traveled to that was less than impressive was the Folk & Transit museum in Belfast.  Perhaps it was the long distance we’d driven combined with the high entrance fee, but the displays seemed rather lackluster and the aerospace exhibits were, sadly, mostly broken or not working.

The folk museum part was lovely, but most of the stores were closed, most destinations were deserted.  This was on a Sunday (I figured on a weekend more would be open) but the few folks we met who worked at the park were wonderful!  I just wish there were more of them, and more shops / venues open that we could have visited.

Having said this negative stuff, we had perhaps the most memorable evening of our visit at the folk park when we wandered into a small farm homestead and visited with 3 goats, 2 chickens, a pig, 2 horses and a bunch of chicks – and a CAT – for a very enjoyable few hours.  We brought our tea and sat and had it amongst the animals – no humans around at ALL.

More later – the family is gearing up for a full Irish breakfast before we head off again.  Life is good!

New Methods

The best part of this trip, in many aspects, is the way that it compels us to look at how we – as a family AND as Americans – use resources.  Our host family is circumspect in their carbon footprint, and although I never thought of our family as profligate, I realize now how much extra energy we DO use, and how wasteful we have been.

Will we be able to carry some of the knowledge back to our home in St. Paul?  We’ll try.  I plan – at least during the warmer months – to dry some of our clothes outside.  I’m pampered enough to want to continue drying the close-to-the-body items in our nice dryer (making them soft and lovely) but there’s no reason we can’t dry all other things on a line, and our back deck would be the perfect place to do it.

We’ve been economizing in other ways here – partly due to our own natural frugality, but mostly due to our limited funds.  For the past two days our forays out into wider Ireland have included a home packed pic-nic lunch with a thermos each of black and cream tea.  The savings are such that we feel able to spend on things that we can take home and use and will remind us of our trip to Ireland.


I’ve come to believe that any family trip lasting more than 1 week demands at least ONE obligatory break down, usually by – but not limited to – one of the parents.  I had mine yesterday.  It wasn’t big, it took all of 10 minutes and happened in the front driveway, in our car, as we were pulling out for our day.

The upshot was that I was feeling a bit little-red-hennish.  As the organizer, chaffeur (mostly), tour guide, chief cook and bottle washer of the trip, I was feeling run down AND unable to come up with more stuff for all of us to do that would engage each of us.  A tall order, even in an enchanting place like Ireland.  I needed help.

I’d been asking for weeks for Gerry and the kids to become engaged, to look up things for us to do, to explore, to plan – all to no avail.  I downloaded walking tours of Dublin, driving tours of Ireland, I’d taken out tour books & videos from the library, but I seemed to be the only one who cared.

The result was that I was putting together all of the itineraries, which spread me thin and make the days seem a bit thin, too.  It also made the rest of the family feel pushed around, disengaged, disappointed, and – at times – complaining.

So we had a summit in the driveway, and the family agreed (for Mommy’s mental health, if for no other reason) that they would become more active in the planning of our final week in Ireland.


A Couple of Irish Laddies

In the past few days we’ve done some lovely stuff, which I will write about at length tomorrow.  But suffice to say Gerry is now comfortable driving a stick shift on the opposite side of the road, too, and we visited Donegal Town, Donegal Studios, and many points between.  Yesterday was Sligo, Yeat’s gravesite, Glencar falls & Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetary.  A brilliant day.  And we bought hats for Gerry & Max, a matched set, which they share.


Today we head up to the Northern Coast, which we’ll do in two days.  We’ll hit Carrick-a-Rede (rope bridge) and Hezlett House, then swing back to Springhill (owned by an offshoot of my own Cunningham family from Ayrshire) and we’ll hope to see the ghost…  We’ll finish at Wellbrook Beetling Mill to see how Linen is made and pass by Oakview Park in our own Raphoe on the way home.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Belfast for the Transit & Folk Museum, then come home via the North Coast (again) following a driving tour by www.mytalktour.com  We’ll let you know how it goes, the tours cost about £5 each, and we can play them in the car on our mp3 (we have a cord that allows us to listen to my ipod through the car speakers)

It stays light SO late here, which is lovely for vacationing.  It’s also lovely as I don’t relish driving on the very narrow rows after dark!  Gerry’s taken the wheel a few times, and it’s good to have TWO drivers.  But it’s very wearing on him, I can tell, and it takes it out of him.  When I volunteered to do the bulk of the driving yesterday he was grateful AND he fell asleep immediately, so I was definitely good that he was in the passenger seat…


The internet chez Manse is good, but slow.  It took hours to download our driving tour yesterday (which is why we didn’t TAKE that driving tour yesterday)  For that reason, it’s hard to upload the photos I’d like to put into the post, but I HAVE been adding photos to flicker as I can.  You can check my flicker page, specifically my Irish trip set, to see all that we’ve been up to!