Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dark and Spooky

I love a good scare, but not too much of one. It's a fine balance. The relentless, unstoppable evil of Japanese horror movies is usually a little too scary for me. I made it through The Ring...barely. (When our phone rang in the middle of the film and Peter whispered in my ear “seven days;” I first had a small panic attack and then considered if that sort of mean joke were grounds for separation.) I have no interest in gore for gore's sake – I don't want to see the Saw movies or Hostel or even any of the Friday the Thirteenth films.

The advice you read over and over again in writing advice books is “Show, don't tell.” I think the rule for scary books or movies should be “Show, but just enough to let the reader's imagination take over.”
My good scares come from films that provide some mildly frightening jump-out-of-your-seat moments and give just enough visual and background to allow my imagination to do most of the work. Poltergeist, The Sixth Sense, and The Others were all good, scary movies for me. (I know The Sixth Sense was mild as a newborn lamb compared to something like The Shining, but it took me about a month before I could go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without getting freaked out by the film's middle of the night bathroom scene.)

For the season that's in it, I declared Sunday an Outing Day and decided that we would go to a place that's reported to be haunted. I'd wanted to spend the night near said haunted place so that we could drive past the place at dark in the hopes of seeing ghosts. But I'd already agreed to take our nieces to a film on Monday afternoon and we didn't want to have a mad dash back to Dublin. I did a web search and couldn't help noticing that most of the haunted places were in Co. Offaly.

I have to confess that I love Co. Offaly. I know, I know – it's not Connemarra or West Cork, but there's just something about it. It's probably because I'm a Midwestern girl and, as a child, I thought Iowa would be the best place in the world to live. I just love great open farms and Offaly's bonus is its rolling hills. Peter finds Offaly pleasant but boring because it lacks dramatic landscape. Although I'd love to live close to the sea, I could settle down in Offaly without much difficulty.

I was thrilled to have an excuse to go to one of my favourite counties. My target destination was Leap Castle, reputedly one of the most haunted castles in Europe. The O'Carrolls, who built the castle, were a bit brutal and wanton in the old murdering department, a sure-fire way to create ghosts bent on revenge. An incarnation of pure evil is meant to inhabit the castle, the Creepy Castle site claims: “It was, however, lower down in the castle that 'It' was seen - an elemental force of evil with the head of a sheep and the stench of death.” (I can't imagine that given all the creatures in the world, an elemental force of evil would decide to take the head of a sheep, but maybe I don't know enough about evil.)

Of all the stories of bad things that happened at the castle, the killing of 50 Scottish mercenaries by their Irish employer to avoid having to pay them is the one that captures my imagination most. Probably because the last person you should want to turn into the ghost would be a mercenary. Don't believe me? Just listen to “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.”

It took us about two hours, but we got to Roscrea and set off to find the castle. We promptly got semi-lost, meaning we knew where we were(ish) but didn't know where the castle was. We sorted ourselves out up in Kinnity and then drove back down on the right road. There were no brown visit-here signs on the signposts around town, which was both odd and not odd because Irish signage is often not what you need it to be.

We were driving for about fifteen minutes when Peter started to voice doubts about the castle's existence and to speculate that it had been spirited away by the ghosts for a Halloween celebration. As we crested a hill, a glimpse of the castle appeared on the horizon, partially obscured by trees. It seemed we were on the right track after all. After five more minutes, we drove up to a great stone wall with rusty metal entry gates. But no signs, no visitor information. My handy Lonely Planet book informed me that castle tours were run from 10-6 each day and cost 6 euro, but we couldn't see any confirmation of that on the gates. We drove past the gates, looking for corroboration, but found none.

We circled back to the gates and drove through, Peter making the clanging-shut-behind-us noise that I was imagining in my head. The road down to the castle was narrow, rutted, and on the steepish side. Trees along the edge of the road gave glimpses of the castle, but we didn't see it in its entirety until we emerged onto the flat ground in front of it.

The castle was immense, foreboding, and not in the best of shape. One wing was just an empty shell, with tall trees poking out of the top of it. A flock of crows inhabited the tree branches, looking every bit as ominous as the grey skies. It was immediately apparent that the castle was now a private residence and restoration works were going on. Building equipment littered the ground and a black and white dog darted out of a dog house near the front door. We decided to make a hasty retreat, the car labouring up the hill in a way that made me hope if we ever were chased by ghosts, we'd be in something with a more powerful engine.

It was time for Plan B. I thumbed through the guidebook and suggested a visit to Birr Castle. It was conveniently located, and had a cool telescope and a science museum. Only the grounds of the castle are open to visitors since the castle itself is said to still be a private residence.

We had an enjoyable time in the science museum, each of us finding something of interest. For Peter, of course, it was a collection of photography things and for me, it was an orrery of the solar system. The idea that all the spinning and rotating and orbiting is going on all the time – it makes me think of a plate spinner and I find it all endlessly fascinating. I was like a small child, pressing the button of the orrery each time the revolutions stopped.

After the museum, we went out on the grounds to look at the telescope and then to find the Waterfall Point. You can check out the map here: the Waterfall Point is marked with a 6. To call the point a waterfall would be to oversell it, but it was a cool rapids, with about a two-foot drop. We stood and watched the water flow, delighted by the occasional fish jumping up the rapid, against the flow of the stream.

The spot where we stood provided space for maybe three people to admire the view. A path wound its way around overgrown bushes, following the stream for maybe ten feet, or at least that was all I could see. With the overgrowth, there was barely enough space to squeeze along the path and one misstep meant wet feet at the very least. I didn't mind having a go though because I had on my wellies. (It is my firm belief that outing days are made inestimably better by the wearing of wellies.)

I crept along the path to its end, which was an extremely overgrown forest. The trees were thick around a clearing and fallen trees gave the place an impression of a timber cave. It was dark (and spooky) in there, so I stayed on path as I took it all in. My attention was immediately drawn to the center of the clearing, where a blue nightgown hung from a tree branch. It was creepy and weird and though my rational mind quickly came up with logical explanations (a Halloween prank, a homeless person's washing line, a new clootie well), my imaginative mind was having a field day (crime scene, ghostly goings-on, weird pagan sacrificial ritual). I looked at the nightgown for a few minutes then scrambled back along the path to tell Peter about my find.

From where he was standing at the Waterfall Point, he could just about make out the shape of the nightgown. His mind is a lot more logical than mine and the scene didn't appear to bother him at all. But it creeped me the heck out. Even though part of me wanted to go back and examine the nightgown more closely, a larger part of me just wanted to go. I was right on the good edge of scared, more intrigued than frightened and I would bet my imagination's stories are way better than whatever the truth may be.

We left Birr Castle shortly thereafter. Even though I didn't get to go inside Leap Castle, I still felt as though my Halloween outing had been perfect.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Power Struggle

I've read the books. I've seen the Dog Whisperer on TV. I know the dos and don'ts of establishing yourself as the alpha dog. But with Kodiak, I was never quite able to do it. He was my first dog and I acted like a total little kid with him. He was a friend to play with – not a creature that I had to control and discipline. I left the hard stuff to Peter, who was undeniably the alpha dog of the house.

The Dog Whisperer says that when you come home, you should ignore your dog for several minutes, maybe 10 or 15, to let him know that he's not the centre of the universe and that you will deal with him in your own time. Where is the fun in that? The knock-me-over-tail-wagging-happy-happy-happy dog greetings were one of the big reasons I wanted a dog in the first place. And nobody does happy greetings better than Kodiak.

We didn't let the dogs sleep in our bed although I did let them nap on the guest room bed. And when Peter went out of town, it was a dog-fest in the guest bed because I was too chicken to sleep in a room at the back of the house alone. I know that are other examples of situations where I ceded some power to Kodiak in order to have a more fun relationship with him.

The arrangement worked because Kodiak listened to me just as much as he had to and we spent the rest of the time goofing around and wrestling and cuddling. I knew I was trading some authority for canine friendship, but that was okay. It was a choice I made and as long as Kodiak heeled nicely on the leash and didn't pull me into traffic when he found a squirrel to chase, there was no harm in our arrangement.

With my nieces and nephews, I'm seen as one of the fun aunts – half-kid, half-adult. I'll do silly things and play games and am just generally fun. Hey, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it. As long as the kids remember that I'm an adult, we get along just fine. The troubles come in when they decide I am just a playmate.

I've noticed this happening more often with my six-year old niece, since I sometimes mind her and her sister when their parents go out. She's a great kid, but she's gotten this idea that I'm there to be her playmate, not her minder. As long as we're playing games and having fun, things are good. The minute I have to become an adult, it all breaks bad.

When Peter and I took the nieces to the movies, it was going pretty well until we were on the way back to the car. We had to go up this escalator/moving sidewalk thing. My niece decided to dash up the thing, giggling all the way, playing a fun catch-me game. Only it wasn't the time or the place. When I caught up with her, I told her that she couldn't be running around like that now, that we were about to go into the parking garage and she had to be careful and listen to us because I didn't want her to get hurt. In short, this was not the time for messing.

She went into the sulk to end all sulks. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the sulk-o-meter, the kid was racking up at least a 17. The pout, the refusal to make eye contact, the refusal to speak at all. I have absolutely no patience for that and had to hand her off to Peter for the walk to the car.

I don't know what the answer is. Peter and I agreed that I might need to let him do more of the bad-guying, since she responds better to him in that department. But really, that's a poor solution because Peter's not always going to be there. Any advice, oh wise Internet?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

License to Dream

Like millions of other people last Friday, I bought a few EuroMillions tickets. I know the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math, but when you start to think of the possibility, however slim, of 120 million euro making its way into your bank account, well, it's hard to resist.

I don't play the lottery obsessively or anything, but I'll usually handover two euro for a ticket when the jackpot is above 30 or 40 million. As far as I'm concerned, that two euro buys me a license to daydream. When the bus is stuck in traffic, I can let my mind drift away, to imagine what it would be like to have a life-changing amount of money fall into your lap.

I usually check my numbers in the morning, using the Lotto web site. I check the prize breakdown, so before I even look at my ticket, I know if any Irish tickets have the numbers for the larger prizes.

I imagine seeing that an Irish ticket has won the jackpot, and then looking at my own numbers, my disbelief and excitement growing as one after the next, the numbers on my pink and white paper match the numbers on my laptop screen.

I imagine getting to the Lucky Stars and only having one match. I can live with that, a few hundred thousand euro would be quite nice. But then I imagine getting to the Lucky Stars and realizing that I have both of them. Every number on the ticket matches. Every last one. What I imagine feeling is relief – utter and overwhelming relief to know that I will never have to worry about bills or debts or money ever again.

In my daydream, I head straight to the store and buy a fireproof safe. Then I wait, rather impatiently, for an appropriate hour to wake Peter up. I know – you'd think I'd just start yelling and jumping around as soon as the realization has sunk in. But I'm just not like that. I'd want to have a few hours of being normal before everything changed. So I'd want to wake Peter up as usual for a Saturday – with tea and toast at a decent, civilised hour. Then, when we was properly awake, I would spring the big news on him.

Peter and I have has this conversation, about the first thing we'd buy. I am incredibly boring and unimaginative. The first thing I'd want to do is clear up my student loans. My thought process on spending the proceeds is rather like me – linear, practical, responsible. Pay off debts, take care of family members, put the greater chunk into some sort of safe investment to live off of the interest. In the States, my daydreams were so utterly practical – I calculated the tax owed before allowing myself to think about spending even a single penny. I love that over here, you are considered to have paid tax on the wager, so any winnings are then tax-free.

In terms of what I'd want to buy – a house in Dublin, a summer house somewhere down the country, furnishings (especially an Aga and a KitchenAid mixer), a VW Polo and some dogs. Peter makes fun of me because even with a fat bank balance, I'd still just like a VW Polo for zipping around town. It's little, cute, easy to drive, and fun. What more could a girl want?

The biggest bonus wouldn't be having stuff – it would be having the freedom to pursue my interests. My whole life could be about my hobbies. I could hire a trainer and a hurling coach and a nutritionist. I could pay an Irish teacher to come out to the house every day. I could have an office where I could write, uninterrupted, for hours every day. Peter worries that not having to work would corrupt him and make him lazy. I don't have that fear at all – having the time and resources to pursue my goals – I can't think of a better prize.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

All About Me (and the Voices in my Head)


  1. I have two younger brothers.

  2. Shane is two years younger.

  3. Partick is five and a half years younger.

  4. I really wanted Patrick to be a girl.

  5. I wanted a sister more than anything.

  6. So we could tell each other secrets.

  7. And wear each other's clothes.

  8. I was never much of a girly-girl.

  9. But I fought very hard for the right to wear make-up.

  10. Cover-up and blue mascara were a mainstay of my teenage years.

  11. So was Aussie Sprunch Spray.

  12. Big hair was “in” back then.

  13. My friend M. and I decided that we'd have been a lot more popular in high school if we'd had better hair.

Character List - Katie

  1. I'm 16.

  2. My school is Wallace High School.

  3. In September, I will start my Junior year.

  4. My favorite subject is French.

  5. Mostly because Mrs. Wilson is an awesome teacher.

  6. I don't know why she made me apply for that foreign exchange scholarship though.

  7. I like it here.

  8. I know most of my friends can't wait to leave.

  9. But I can't imagine living anywhere else.

  10. I like that I know everyone in town.

  11. So, even if I get the scholarship, there's no way I would take it.

  12. Besides, I could imagine leaving Danny for an entire school year.

  13. We've been dating for four years.

  14. He's a really good kisser.

  15. And he has the most amazing blue eyes.

  16. He's the best wide receiver the football team has ever had.

  17. He'll probably go to college.

  18. Which sort of scares me because I'm not sure I'd want to go with him.

  19. But I guess I would have to.

  20. We're going to get married.

  21. I just don't know when.

  22. We haven't decided if we should do it when we are 18 or wait a while longer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Foghlaim Dé hAoine

Several weeks ago, I got disgusted with the word lists in my Progress in Irish book. I'm never going to need to ask someone for a shilling's worth of penny sweets. I'm not the sort to pray or go to church, or, if I am, I'm not the sort who would announce it to the world in Irish. The book just seemed way too dated.

I went to Conradh na Gaeilge's Siopa Leabhar and bought a hip junior-cert text book, a modern dialogue-oriented study book, and two word lists books. The word list books have been a source of endless amusement for me, particularly the words I studied this week. The section was titled “Accidents” and had all sorts of helpful words: saving, rescuing, fainting, burning, drowning. If I ever have to ring for an ambulance in the Gaeltacht, I will be ready.

Today's Foghlaim Dé hAoine is a direct result of this week's morbid word list.

Nil sé ag fáil báis.

Tá sé gan aithne amháin.

File under:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Conversation in the car on the way home from seeing Children of Men:

“I like Clive Owen.”
Me: “Me too. He can guard me anytime.”
Peter: “What if the choice was between Clive Owen and Matt Damon?”
Me: “I've kind of gone off Matt Damon.”
Peter: “Even Bourne Identity Matt Damon?”
Me: “Good point. I'd forgotten about Bourne Identity Matt Damon. Actually, you know who I'd run off with in a second?”
Peter: “Who?”
Me: “Simon Pegg.”
Peter: “Who's that?”
Me: “You know – Tim from Spaced.”
Peter: “You mean Tim from The Office
Me: “No. I don't. The guy in Spaced - the bleached blonde one.”
Peter: “Oh, you mean Shaun, in Shaun of the Dead.
Me: “No, I wouldn't run away with Shaun. I'd run away with Tim.”
Peter: “You have got to be kidding. That guy?”
Me: “He's totally my geek crush.”
Peter: “Oh, no, you're not allowed to have a geek crush. I'm supposed to be your geek crush. You remember? Me? Right here? The guy you married.”
Me: “You're not a geek.”
Peter: “Nice try, I am so a geek.”
Me: “No, you're a bit into computers but you're not a geek.”
Peter: “I still can't believe you'd pick that guy over Matt Damon or Clive Owen.”
Me: “You know that muscles scare me in real life.”
Ed. Note: Notice how the hole just gets deeper and deeper? I clearly do not know when to stop digging.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

835 S. Wheaton Avenue

I recently dreamt that Peter and I went back to Chicago for a visit. Except it turned out to be more than a visit. We ended up going back to our old house and taking it over. It was exactly the same as when we lived there – nothing had changed.

The dream was vivid – I swear I could smell the lilac by the front door and feel the hardwood floor of the dining room give way to the cold lino of the kitchen. But, even in Dreamland, I knew we were only there because of some weird quirk in the space-time-continuum. I remember asking Peter how we were going to pay the mortgage if my job was in Dublin.

When I told Peter about this dream, he asked me if we'd evicted the people who bought our house. We hadn't. The house had just been left for us, exactly as it had been. Like no time had passed, even though I knew that it had. I knew that we hadn't just visited Dublin and returned home. Home was in Dublin, but somehow, it was also at 835 S. Wheaton Avenue.

I don't know what this dream means. Maybe it's just as simple as my subconscious stating the obvious – even though I know we're needed in Peter's parents' house, a large part of me still desperately misses and craves having our own space. I know I don't regret having moved here and I know Dublin does feel like home.

But even being happy here and putting down some roots, I still have these extraordinary moments of intense dislocation. You know the feeling of deja vu? This is the exact opposite. With deja vu, you feel like you've been there before, that it's all very familiar, that a memory is just tickling at the edges of your consciousness. This dislocation is feeling that I'm not sure how I got here, that I can't believe I live here, that the terraced houses, corner shops, garden walls, roundabouts, and right-hand drive cars are utterly and indecipherably foreign. The accents on the radio, the focus of the news, the smells in the air - it's all new and different and just a little bit frightening.

Maybe this is what I get for waking up one day and decided to move halfway around the world. I've always told people that our decision was equal parts snap judgment and carefully weighed verdict. We'd spent years saying that we'd like to move back, that one day we would move back, that x or y or z would be better over here. But maybe, even though most of me was on board with this whole thing, a tiny bit of my feels left behind, struggling to keep up. And maybe it's possible that this little sliver of me can just stay in 835, occasionally giving me a glimpse of that life through a dream.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday's Time Wasters

Wikipedia's Random Function. Sure, you know Wikipedia is a great place to go to plagiarize term papers do research, but did you know you can ask Wikipedia to enlighten you with a totally random piece of knowledge? It can become completely mesmerizing and can make you remember other things, that you were curious about but were never arsed enough to look up. In just five minutes, I learned that there is such a thing as an alternative eye therapist, that Lind, MN is tiny, and that somebody cared enough about rail transport historyto document it on a daily basis.

Found. Ever find someone's shopping list on the ground? Or their maths homework? Found collects these sorts of things and then displays them for the world to see. I'm endlessly fascinated with other people and hopelessly nosy, so I love this site. Make sure you read their About page, which has one of the best Found notes ever.

Popcap Games. I was a kid before Nintendo, so my happiest childhood memories are of really uncomplicated video games. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Adventure, Frogger – that kind of thing. As a result, I love a good, easy video game. Yes, I like killing space aliens from a first person perspective too, but sometimes, I just want to click buttons and get rewards. Popcap has a great collection of basic video games, which you can either purchase as full versions or play cut-down Web versions. My favourite online games are Rocket Mania and Alchemy. My dad owns Bookworm but it is so addictive, I cannot have it on any computer in my house.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Drama and Trauma at the Cinema

Recently, we took our nieces to see Barnyard. I'd seen a trailer and looked like a fun, goofy computer-animated film. I was a bit confused by the fact that most of the cows seemed to have male voices, but I sort of wrote that off, figuring that perhaps they just had male voices but they were still female cows. After all, cows are female. Bulls are male. Very clear and prominent physiology can tell you at a glance whether you're dealing with a Ferdinand or a Bessie.

I was willing to suspend disbelief and so we packed off the girls for what I expected would be a couple of entertaining hours at the cinema. As often is the case, I was wrong. First of all, the male cows were presented as male cows. All the people who read that script, you'd think someone would have said “Uh, there's no such thing as a male cow.”

I don't know if it's just that since the cows spent most of their time as bipedal creatures that the artists thought it was funnier to give every bovine character an udder. Maybe udders were deemed more visually appealing or less threatening than balls. Whatever the rationale, it was a disturbing distraction. Not to mention that the movie is going to produce a generation of urban and suburban children who think that there are male cows and they have udders. Woe unto the city slicker who tries to milk a bull, that's all I'm going to say.

The movie started out rough and got worse. Otis is a wild boy of a cow and his dad wants him to be more responsible. It's coyote season and the barn animals must protect each other. The hit-you-over-the-head-life-lessons were starting early. The animation wasn't great. Besides the udders, I was also suffering from an annoying inability to identify what, exactly, this creature was supposed to be. (I thought maybe a cat. Peter thought it was a weasel. IMDB says it's a ferret. You decide.)

The highpoint of the film comes when those wild and crazy barnyard animals turn the barn into a dance hall and then order pizza. But it's a law of life that as surely as night follows day, a low point must follow a highpoint. Sure enough – there's a confrontation with the coyotes and Otis' dad died defending the hens, the job Otis himself was meant to do except he talked his dad into taking the shift so he could party.

It's a mark of how bad this film was that I, the girl who cries at Kodak commercials, was not emotionally affected by this fight-to-the-death scene. In fact, the only reason it registered with me at all was because the 6 year old niece climbed into my lap and even in the darkness (of the matinée), I could see that the 3 year old looked confused, upset, and afraid.

I felt bad, at this point, terrified that not only was I subjecting the girls to a crap film, said crap film was going to scar them for life. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I was overreacting. After all, my generation learned about sudden, unfair death of parent figures in screenings of Bambi. We weren't scarred for life. Much.

I think I was just surprised by the major trauma in the middle of what I thought was a children's comedy cartoon and the girls had such strong reactions to this trauma. I've always sort of known that children, with the limited ability to distinguish real from make-believe, take in movies and television shows in a different way than adults do. I'd just never seen this principle in action.

It brings a whole new level to my biggest cinema pet peeve – parents who take their children to age-inappropriate films. This can be as innocuous as bringing a four year old to You've Got Mail or as egregious as bringing barely school-aged kids to see Hannibal. I know, it's easy to judge when you don't have kids, but really. If you can't afford a babysitter and you can't stomach any more saccharine-sweet, moral-laden cartoons, then have the forbearance to wait until the movie comes out on DVD.

When we left the cinema, the girls seemed okay. Of course, it's easy with nieces (and nephews) since you're not going to be the one woken up at 2 am if there's a nightmare. In any case, I'm sure the girls were much better off than the two kids of similar ages whom I saw leaving World Trade Center with their dad that afternoon.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Random Thoughts on Driving

While stuck in the car park at Marks and Spencers yesterday, we saw Mary Hanifan, Minister for Education, walking to her car with a purchase that looked like a mop. Well, I saw the Minister. Peter was half-way out of the car, trying to see why the line of cars wasn't moving.

I would have thought Ministers had someone to do these things for them. I mean, I can't see Condi popping down to the Safeway for a bag of cat food or Alberto Gonzales stopping into Wal-Mart for Windex. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Donald Rumsfeld stops into the 7-11 every morning for a Big Gulp and a doughnut. But somehow, I just don't think so.

This random ministerial sighting wasn't holding up traffic. (I was probably the only person who noticed.) It was the fact that one driver had decided he absolutely had to have a spot that some other driver was vacating in a painfully slow manner. When the space was finally free, you'd think that Mr. Hold-up-traffic would have darted into the spot so as to clear up the backlog. You'd be wrong, of course. The guy had to back up into the spot labouriously because clearly, if you're in the M&S carpark on a Saturday afternoon, you don't have anything better to do.

With the exception of maybe the odd Tesco, car parks here just don't have the space to let you zoom around an obstructionist motorist. One old lady in a Nissan Micra can halt the flow of cars for ten minutes as she tries to edge her tiny car into a regular-sized spot. You don't want to see what an SUV driver can do to a car park.

The driving test in this country is notoriously difficult to pass. Well, it's notoriously difficult to even take in the first place. I am on a waiting list that's at a minimum a year long. Then, when you finally get the privilege of taking the test, it's even-odds that you will fail. You might think that having this difficult test means that people here are fantastic drivers. Once again, you would be so wrong.

Driving too slow, driving too fast, failure to use their indicators, slicing blithely through the outer lane of traffic in a roundabout, a complete inability to merge onto the motorway... I could go on, listing the common driving sins I see on a regular basis, but it's too depressing. Besides, I only hold a provisional license and provisional license holders are the most maligned drivers on this island, although I think the reputation is undeserved. Plenty of full-license holders drive like eejits, it's just that unlike Learners, they are not required to display a Scarlet Letter on their cars.

I don't know who is to blame for the culture of bad driving that prevails here. I think, though, that a little bit of personal responsibility and courtesy could go a long way to improving things. You don't have to take unnecessary risks or inconvenience everyone else. There's always going to be another parking spot, another chance to turn right, another green light, so maybe you just have to let the one in front of you go.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

All About Me (and the Voices in my Head)

Well, that's what this blog is, isn't it? A while back, I wrote my Hundred Things About Me List on a couple of post-it notes. (I was at work, waiting for some software to load.) I find Hundred Things lists absolutely fascinating. You learn actual facts about someone, but, reading between the lines, you can also learn more about how someone thinks, how they really feel about things, what is important. It's a mechanism I plan to use during NaWriNoMo to assist in character development.

One of the things my writing lacks sometimes is subtlety. One of my goals during next month is to become more subtle and understated. I want what my characters don't say to be as important as what they do say.

I want the people on the page to be more nuanced and fully developed. That's the way they are in my head, but something funny happens between my brain and my fingers. They seem to get boiled down into one or two chief characteristics. I think I've only created one character so far whom I felt was sufficiently shaded in grey. And he was a secondary character so clearly my work is cut out for me.

So, Saturdays are going to be all about me and my characters days. I plan to post 10 or 20 items from my Hundred Things list (which I'll have to recreate now) and then 10 or 20 items from a character's list.

This week, it's numbers 1-12 of my list.

  1. I was born in Athens, Ohio.

  2. On 27 July, 1972.

  3. I've always liked the symmetry and repetition in my birth date.

  4. It seems like when I was a kid, every birthday party I had was interrupted by a thunderstorm.

  5. I was afraid of thunderstorms for a long time.

  6. Now, I kind of miss them.
  7. I have a hard time believing sometimes that I live in Dublin.

  8. Especially when I run to Bullock Harbour and see the seals.

  9. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland.

  10. Yeah, the river caught on fire there.

  11. That was before I was born.

  12. But for some reason, everyone has to remind me that it happened.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Foghlaim Dé hAoine

I have been a very bad learning-Irish kid this month. I haven't had a lesson since September because of scheduling conflicts. Good thing Irish is the next thing to get phased into my daily management plan.

In light of my poor student-ness this month, I think the following phrase is particularly useful for me:

Nil moran Gaeilge agam.

Ach tá mé ag foghlaim.

File under:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quite Possibly the Best Fish in the World

One of the hardest parts of moving to Dublin was giving up our pets. I was always the first to admit that our dogs, especially, were child-substitutes and finding them new homes was only slightly less painful than dental work without anesthesia. Knowing that my parents have Kodiak has helped, but I have come to the realization that I am someone who functions better when she has a pet.

I didn't get my first dog until the month before I turned 30, but it was worth the wait. Having a dog was everything I dreamt of and more. And yes, I am one of those people who requires the slobbery unconditional love and perpetual validation a dog offers, even though I have been known to take comfort in the steely, grudging affection of a few special cats.

I knew I had hit rock-bottom on the pet front recently when I found myself writing the following email to my six year-old nephew (and meaning every word of it):

A couple of weeks ago, a really exciting thing happened to me. I went to my GAA club's Family Fun Fair and I won a goldfish! It was a game where you had to stand back about 5 feet and then toss a 50 cent coin onto a table that had a big grid on it. If you got your coin to land exactly in the middle of a square, then you won a fish.

I won a fish on my second try. I named him Sean Og, after my third- most favourite hurling player. He is quite possibly the best fish ever. He lives in my room, in a 4-liter bowl with a red top. I change the water once a week and feed him a couple of fish-food- flakes a day.

I am attaching a picture of Sean Og. Uncle Peter took the picture. It is very difficult to take a picture of a fish because of the distortion from the bowl and the fact that they don't really stay still at all.

Hope you are having fun and being good.

Auntie Ann

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Last Word

Did not!

From Inauspicious Beginnings

Ten years ago today, at about 7.20 am Eastern Standard Time, I got behind the wheel of a 15-foot long Budget rental truck and we set off in the lashing rain for a new life in Chicago. After fourteen months of living apart in a relationship that was just a little short of two years, it was time to start over again together. Why Chicago? Because I couldn't find work in Dublin, both of us didn't want to live in Cleveland, and our savings would last 6 months in Chicago but only 2 months in San Francisco. We knew a few people who lived in Chicago.

I'd never been to Chicago until I went the month before our move to rent an apartment, a one-bedroom place in a newly rehabbed building in Ravenswood, right on the Brown Line, at the Montrose stop. I was a little apprehensive about living in the big city, in a neighbourhood that was gentrifying although still a little rough around the edges. The apartment was a bit more expensive than I'd initially budgeted, but was way nicer than anything I'd seen in my one-day sprint of flat hunting.

But, before we could start our new life together, we had to get there. Peter didn't have a driver's license, so it was up to me to drive the truck for the entire 350 miles. I'd learned to drive in a boat of a Pontiac Bonneville and was painfully aware of my limitations in spatial awareness. I'd once taken the drain pipe off the side of the house, and that was with full benefit of the rear view and side view mirrors. The prospect of driving a giant truck gave me the heebies, but, as they say “needs must.”

The going was painfully slow, given my nervousness and the challenges of driving a heavy vehicle in poor weather conditions. I was a timid driver, but Peter was a fantastic passenger and co-pilot, encouraging me and helping me judge safe passing distances. The trip should have taken no more than 6 hours. It took us closer to 8. We arrived a few hours before sunset and pulled up behind the building, ready to empty the truck all by ourselves.

The ridiculousness of that intent was soon apparent. Even if we both hadn't been hacking up lungs due to a nasty respiratory infection Peter acquired on the airplane, the back staircase was blocked with kitchen appliances. We moved a couple of boxes before succumbing to exhaustion and the realization that if we didn't get food, rest, and help, our relationship might be over before it every had a chance to get started.

Our only hope was a hotel, so I pulled out the phone book and located the Best Western near the airport. On my second (and final) pre-move expedition to Chicago, I'd had a couple of job interviews, including two out by O'Hare. The airport was one of the few places I was sure I'd be able to find easily and I also knew that any hotels out there would have parking lots, a luxury in a space-challenged city. I'd struggled to parallel park my mother's Chevy Cavalier. I knew I'd have no hope with the rental truck.

After securing a booking at the hotel, we climbed back into the truck and made our way out to the airport. In rush hour traffic. Interstate 90 and 94 join up in Chicago and then split off in a few miles north of the city centre. 90 heads east toward the Airport and 94 heads north toward Wisconsin. The split happens just after the Irving Park exit, which makes entering the highway at the Irving Park entrance a bit of a challenge when you want to stay on I-90.

A timid driver unschooled in the ways of city driving, my mission was to get across 5 lanes of rush hour traffic to the I-90 lanes before the split happened about a half-mile from the entrance to the highway. I minced and inched my way through the first lane before realising “Hey, wait a minute, I'm in a TRUCK” and then put the onus squarely on the other drivers not to hit the big, bullying truck.

We arrived at the hotel, checked in, cleaned up, and then had a fantastic dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food probably wasn't the best in the world, but it was hot, we were dry, and a warm bed waited for us back at the room. The relief at having found an oasis to get ourselves together before completing the move was overwhelming.

We retired to the room and settled into bed to watch “The X-Files”. About ten minutes into the program, I felt something irritating my leg. I thought it was something poking out of the scratchy hotel blanket. I shifted around but then I felt it again, in a different spot. I pulled back the blanket and found that there were ants in the bed. Little red ants. Not dangerous fire ants or anything, but just really gross, annoying, bite-y regular ants.

I rang the front desk, only to be asked “What do you want me to do about it?” Um, moving us to another room would be a good start. (Customer service that puts the onus on the customer to solve the service provider's problem is right at the top of my Things I Want to Eradicate list.)

Finally, we were settled in a new, ant-free room and were able to get some much deserved sleep. The next morning, we were also able to get some unloading help before returning the truck to Budget. And a few weeks later, after a nasty letter to Best Western, we got a refund on the room.

But that first day, with the rain and the blocked stairway, the plague and the pestilence, it felt like an inauspicious start to our life in Chicago. Peter is fond of saying that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to either of you for the rest of the day. It seems to be true that if you spend the first night in your new city exhausted, sick, and getting bitten by ants, nothing worse will happen for the rest of your stay.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tuesday's Time Wasters

After my camogie season ended a couple of weeks ago, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands on Tuesday nights. I have to confess that I've been a bit sulky about the change in my schedule.
After a long day spent slaving away on manuals that few people will ever read, there's nothing better than running around and hitting things with a stick.

I miss that outlet for my pent-up aggression. It took me nearly two years of therapy to be able to admit that I get angry. Now, I'm at peace with my angry bits, so long as I can channel them in the right direction. Too much time on my hands means that I have too much time to think and brood.

But, lucky for us, there's the Internet – the best time waster and mind distracter ever invented. So, until camogie season starts up again, I hereby declare Tuesday's Time Wasters as a regular feature wherein you get a roundup of the Internet sites that have been distracting me from my troubles.

Night of the Ponies: Easily one of the funniest things I've seen in ages. It's not a rant, exactly, it's more of a story of a bizarre coincidence told in an engaging manner. My only disappointment was that this guy doesn't have more cartoons.

Indexed: Venn diagrams, XY line graphs, and bar charts put to uses that my former English teacher and Logic professor would not have imagined.

Psyclops Translator: Ever wonder what your web site would look like if it had been written by Bob Hoskins? How about by Ice Cube? Wonder no more...(I can't decide whether I am relieved or disappointed that there isn't a D4/Ross O'Carroll-Kelly option.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On His Miniature Pony

One of the reasons that Peter and I have managed to stay together all these many years is that we have certain agreements – an understanding of expectations and common ground rules on how to operate. A key rule is that, when necessary, you must be willing to kick the other person's ass. I don't mean this in a domestic violence sort of way or nagging until the recipient's ears burn sort of way. Sometimes a loving “get the finger out” or a gentle “stop being a self-indulgent whinger” are required and, at those times, the listener has to accept them in the spirit in which they are intended.

By pushing me to overcome my immobilising anxieties or procrastinative laziness, Peter helps me become a better person. I hope that I am able to return the favour. This is the sharp end of the supportive stick and it's a place where you could very easily put a foot wrong if your words are more harsh than you meant or the spouse is having a bad day.

Peter recently took up this mantle when he asked me why I wasn't blogging. I didn't have any good defense except that recently I've retreated into a sort of self-imposed exile, not reading or commenting on the blogs I enjoy, not posting on my blogs, and not answering email. It's sort of like the online version of screening your calls, except you don't have to listen to the awkard silence that comes after “Hello, pick up if you're there. I thought you were home this afternoon.”

I tried a shrug and dodge but Peter knows me too well to get fobbed off with that. So I had to look at what was really going on. Part of the problem is that I haven't yet figured out how to integrate all my interests in a concurrent fashion with my work and home life. Something always seems to suffer as I get obsessed with one of my interests. Right now, that obsession has been fitness in general and camogie in particular. I've been hitting my target goals in that area, but have been coming up short in blogging, book writing, and Irish studying.

As I outlined my difficulties, Peter seized on these as well. “What is going on with the books?” The why-aren't-you-hustling-to-get-an-agent-or-a-book-deal conversation is one of my least favourite ass-kicking topics. (I'm sure it will be expounded on ad nauseum in a future self-indulgently whiny post.)
Finally, feeling that the sharp end of the supportive stick had been shoved too firmly into my psyche, I asked, “Those are four things that I'm trying to do right now. What are you doing for your own self-improvement?”

He smiled and acknowledged that I'd made a fair point. “OK, I'll get off my high horse.” To which I responded “Yeah, get off your high horse. You're allowed to get on your miniature pony.” Which was my way of telling him that I knew he had a point and I was taking things in good humour but I was nearing the point of feeling inordinately scolded. Because, for most things, I am plenty good at scolding myself.

I know I'm trying to do a lot but I also know that I'm capable of a lot. I just need to phase things in more carefully. So, here are the production goals that I'm aiming to achieve and their timetables for implementation:

  • Keep up with my 10 to 20 minutes a day camogie practicing – underway and easily my most fun production goal.

  • Run four times a week for at least 20 minutes each time – phasing in currently, knee permitting

  • Lift weights two times a week – phasing in currently, knee permitting

  • Writing
  • Blog four times a week here and at least twice a week at DublinBlog - phasing in this week

  • Participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – Conveniently, the writing part doesn't start for another 2 weeks, but I already have my topic and the production goal is going to have to be 1700 words a day.

  • Irish
  • Review flashcards on bus every day – was doing this but then fell off the wagon. Time to get back to it.

  • Work on written Irish lessons for 30 minutes every day – Phasing in next week.

  • Make new vocabulary flashcards every Saturday. - Phasing in this/next week.

By breaking my general goals up into measurable tasks, writing it down for all the world to see, and phasing a new focus area in each week, I'm hoping to incorporate these activities into my schedule until they are part of my routine. I'm sure Peter will (lovingly) kick my ass from high atop his miniature pony should I sink into a lazy malaise after a few weeks of good intentions. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Still Not a Mensa Candidate

So, this probably isn't as bad as washing my hair with conditioner, but I had another fantatstic duh-moment today.

As part of a renewed campaign to lose the stone I've put on in the last 2 years, I decided to change my breakfast/lunch habits. I've been having sandwiches, which isn't bad in and of itself, but I know I'm not getting the protein that I need. As a result, I'm not building muscle mass as quickly and I get hungry and binge-y more often than I should.

So I dug up a fairly easy recipe on CookingLight.com for chicken pasta salad. I knew I was going to be SOL when it came to getting spelt pasta over here, but I figured I might be able to get some gluten-free pasta that would be marginally better for my purposes than plain old enriched-white-flour pasta. I made my little list, I went to the store, I followed my little list. I even remembered to get tupperware containers, which were not even on my little list.

I was fairly Pleased with Self, until just now, when I started to write down the ingredients and instructions so I could make the pasta salad. Guess what I forgot? Guess what I forgot so thoroughly, I didn't even put it on my helpful little list.

Yep - Item #3, the eponymous chicken in Confetti Pasta Salad with Chicken. And it's back to the Tesco for me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Little Fiction

Tomorrow, after work, Peter and I are off for a much needed long weekend in County Wexford. I wanted some place that was a bit remote/rugged, on the sea, and within a three hours' drive. the Hook Penninsula seems to fit the bill. With running around trying to get ready for this trip, I haven't had time to blog. So it's time to reach back into the files and give you a little something from the Reject pile.

This is a short-short story (under 1,000 words) that I wrote, initially for myself, and then I entered in a couple of contests. It's called "The Dance". Enjoy!

He entered the paddock with a bucket of grain in front of him, a halter behind his back, and the intention to catch the paint mare. The sooner he had her tucked away in the barn, the sooner he could sit barefoot on the back porch with an icy beer. The summer sun was directly in his eyes as he approached the mare.

She was on the edge of the herd, grazing lazily with her broad rear to the sun. She looked like a white horse that’d been the victim of a prank involving a door and a bucket of deep brown paint. The rich brown color started in the middle of her back, oozed unevenly down her sides, and seeped down her legs. Her head was nearly evenly divided between brown and white.

He approached her steadily, shaking the grain bucket and making kissing noises. The other horses expressed some interest, but he warned them off with sharp looks. His gift was only for the queen. He placed the bucket two feet in front of her and waited, both hands behind his back.

She ignored him at first, preferring the sweet summer grass to whatever might be in the bucket. After a couple of minutes, the aroma of oats enticed her to step warily up to the bucket. As she was stretching down to the oats, the man swiftly brought out the halter and stepped in on her left side.

Startled by the movement and annoyed by the cheap trap, the horse snorted and danced away. She took a couple of skipping steps to the side before swinging her body around so she could face her new nemesis. The man cursed under his breath and moved in on her. She stood her ground, ears flattened and tail snapping, daring the man to take another step.

The man paused to evaluate his options. The grain bucket, courteously emptied by another member of the herd, sat on its side. Trickery and bribery were no longer in his arsenal. Even if the lead rope was long enough to lasso her neck, he knew his limitations. He was not a cowboy, although he wished he’d learned a few roping moves. His hastily formulated a Plan B: to trap her in the corner and get the halter on using any force necessary.

The sun’s disappearance was complete and the final curtain of night was not long off. The mosquitoes were now out in force, taunting him with their buzzing, insulting him with their bites. He had the halter in his left hand and the lead rope in his right hand. He stretched out his arms as he moved in on the horse. He stepped up to her fast, yelling for good measure. His angle of approach made flight directly back her best option. She took the bait, trotting quickly to the back corner of the paddock.
As she trotted, he sprinted several yards, his long legs quickly closing the gap.

When she turned around, he was in front of her, his outstretched arms making escape seem impossible. His lips turned up in a half-smile and he could nearly taste his victory beer. As he stepped forward to halter the horse, she reared up, her hooves suddenly dangling before his eyes. The man jumped back, overbalanced on the slick grass and landed on his ass with a heavy thump. The horse darted away, joining the herd in the middle of the paddock.

His tailbone and pride both smarted and he vividly described what was going to happen if he ever got his hands on that horse. He staggered to his feet and squinted into the darkness. The light in the barn was a dim glow and the half-moon gave him shadowy images. From where he stood, the herd looked like a many-headed beast with a thick torso.

He steamed up to the herd, waving his arms and aiming for the middle. He was the bowling ball and they were the pins. He didn’t want a strike — he wanted a paint horse spare. It took two passes to separate the horse he needed. Breathing hard, his sweat cooled in the night breeze. He approached the horse steadily, the dangling lead rope nearly scraping the ground. He circled his right wrist, causing the lead rope to trace vertical circles. The motion transfixed the horse like a watch in a hypnotist’s hand.

The man stopped about four feet in front of the horse. He swung the lead rope a few more times and then let it drop. He stood still, taking deep breaths. He reviewed what had gotten him this far and decided he had nothing to lose by taking a quick break. The horse took a step forward. Surprised, he took a step back.

The horse reached down for a mouthful of grass and then took another step forward. He took a step back, which the horse matched with another step forward. They two-stepped across the paddock until the man felt the rails of the fence at his back. The man held up his right hand, lead rope pinched between his thumb and first finger, and stretched his arm out to the horse’s neck. He gave her a good scratch, hitting an itchy spot just at her mane.

She stretched out her neck and her lips wobbled as she luxuriated in his scratch. He gently slid the lead rope over her neck and then resumed scratching, moving his hand along the line of her mane, pausing every time her lips wobbled. He slowly inched next to her as she dropped her head.

He lowered the halter, letting her poke her nose into the opening before he slipped it onto her head and secured its clasp. He held the lead rope loosely in his hands and started out toward the gate, his willing dance partner trailing behind him.