Monday, January 29, 2007

Mission Accomplished

On Friday evening, it was like all my birthdays happened at once. Peter arrived (after a week's seperation) bearing both a shiny new red Kitchen Aid and a goofy dog named Toby.

Toby is a medium-haired German Shepherd with one ear up and one ear down. His age is open to question, but it appears that he is not less than a year old and not more than two years old. (I know, it doesn't seem like it should make a difference, but it does. Even though the physical growing part is over, the emotional/behaviour part is not. Seems to me like puppyhood for some dogs can last until age 3.)

He sheds enough for us to construct life-sized models of him each day. So far, he's been doing well in the housetraining department and not-too-bad in the obedience department. He's even neutered and up to date on all his shots.

Peter found him in the Buy and Sell and he has a little bit of a history that makes him prone to some minor neuroses. But sure, any dog of mine would have to be a little neurotic, if dogs are going to resemble their owners. The people who gave him to us have had him for six months and got him from the pound. His background is not really known, but it probably involved time spent alone in a backyard being a "watch dog."

Despite possibly dubious beginnings, he's a lovely dog. Yes, he has a slight tendency to chase his tail and he has to follow us from room to room and he's not real keen on us going out, but the signs point to these issues abating as he settles in.

Pictures will be coming soon as we still don't have broadband.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Few Good Dogs

A fantastic fringe benefit of our move is the ability to add dogs to our life. This was also the best aspects of moving into our own house. In Chicago, it was extremely difficult to find apartments that would allow dogs. In Cork, we were told by any number of snooty estate agents (all of them English), that we would find it quite difficult to find landlords who would permit dogs.

Closer to the bigger towns, like Clonakilty, they're right. But when you get out into the Middle of Nowhere, West Cork, most landlords are happy enough so long as the dog is properly housetrained. I'm happy enough with that restriction because right now, I am only capable of caring for a dog. Puppies, like babies, are too much responsibility. (If Peter came home tomorrow and said we could adopt a 7-year old child, I'd be thrilled. But I'm still not ready to take care of a baby.)

Looking back at our Chicago dog search, it seems at first that it was quick and painless. Then I start to remember the details. It took about a month and involved a lot of getting our hopes up by online ads and descriptions only to find the dog was not quite as advertised. Case in point – Freddy, a German Shepherd-mix who was advertised on a rescue site as being 7 years old. I think Freddy had tumors that were older than seven years. He was at least 12 and probably closer to 14. He was ancient, arthritic, and mostly deaf. Sweet dog, but he had a loving foster home and he honestly didn't look like he was going to live out the year.

One Saturday, we drove up to a shelter in the far Northern suburbs, where we had to fill out a very nosy application before we were permitted to even look at the dogs. Bear seemed like a possible candidate – he was some sort of big, fluffy mutt, maybe a cross between a chow and a golden retriever or something. Playful, housetrained, about 3 years old, Bear was checking nearly all of our boxes. Only he had a little problem – he didn't like kids and had, in fact, bitten a child. As there was a school right behind our back gate, we didn't feel we could bring home a possible child-biter.

Desperation drove me to the online classified ads in the chain of local papers, where one jumped out and slapped be in the face: "Free to good home, Great Dane-Lab X, 4 years old." Jackpot. Mr. Free to Good Home, Kodiak, turned out to be the Best Dog in the Whole Wide World (BDitWWW). All of the searching and fussiness paid off handsomely.

I often write here of the differences between the States and Ireland, because they interest me and understanding these differences is important in my never-ending quest to become a swan. I can't help but observe the differences in how dogs tend to be kept here and how I'm used to seeing dogs kept. (Remember now, I'm from the suburbs. I'm sure my friends who grew up in more rural areas would have different ideas about dogs.)

Everything you've heard about how childless, suburban Americans treat their dogs is true in my case, although I do have Peter to keep the dog in line so that a trip to the Dog Whisperer is not required. If you had asked BDitWWW to describe the order of our pack, he would have told you "Big Human, then me, then Little Human, then Small Dog." I believe dogs should live in the house, should be neutered or spayed, should be kept on a leash when out, and should be treated, as much as possible, as members of the family. If a dog isn't going to live in the house and occasionally cuddle with you on the couch, what's the point?

In the States, unless you have a show dog or intend to use the dog for breeding, you have the dog spayed or neutered. Over here, spaying and neutering seems not to be done. After ringing a vet to find out how much it would cost (nearly 200 euro), I'm not surprised. In Chicago, you could take your dog to the low-cost spay/neuter clinic and have it done for something like $50.

Most people in the US suburbs keep their dogs in the house. Especially down the country but even in Dublin, a lot of dogs live outside. Especially the big dogs. Peter told me that more than one person has said to him "Oh, no. We have a <<small breed>> and he's in the house, but you wouldn't have a big dog like that in the house. Sure you wouldn't." Like he was mad to even suggest a dog over 20 pounds should be allowed to cross the threshold.

Each day, Peter does a search on the online ads of the Buy and Sell, looking for new leads. It's almost gotten to the point that he can decode the ad and know exactly what to expect when he rings. For example, "good watch dog" usually means the dog has lived outside, chained up, with little socialisation. (Not always, but usually.) Any ad that has two or more female dogs over the age of three tends to be a backyard breeder situation.

It's difficult to find ads for proper dogs. There are loads of puppies out there, of nearly every imaginable breed, but not so many dogs. The ads for dogs fall into three categories: utility, desperate, and reluctant.

Utility ads are the working dogs who have been trained for a specific purpose (gun dog, watch dog, farm dog). Utility dogs are usually not right for us. If a dog were looking to retire, that's one thing. But we don't have any jobs for a dog to do, so it would be unfair to take a working dog away from his work.

Desperate ads are placed by people who are moving, can’t keep the dogs, and are desperate to find a home for the dogs. Shelter space is precious here and if you surrender your dog to the county/council pound, they can put the dog to sleep immediately; hence the desperation. Desperate ads can be somewhat promising, although sometimes they end up as big busts. For example, you read an ad for a pair of golden labs and picture in your head a couple of goofy, personable dogs. Then, when you arrive to see them, they don't seem like they've ever been bathed in their lives, one goes spastic and the other growls when you try to pet it.

Reluctant ads are the most frustrating and the most difficult for me, because I've been that soldier. These are the people who find it impossible to keep the dog, for whatever reason, but the dog is part of the family and giving it away is like cutting off a limb. These ads are frustrating, because the people are liable to change their minds at the last minute. And then change them again. And then change them again. You get the picture.

We've only been looking for about a week and a half, but a certain weariness is starting to set in. We met a charming lurcher (fancy word for a greyhound cross) right before we moved. Rusty was mid-sized, had a great brindle coat, and a charming habit of leaning against you when you pet him.

He needed some obedience training as he wasn't much into heeling and would randomly decide to take agin' other dogs. All of that was manageable. We had to pass on Rusty though because he was a hunter and had shown untoward interest in sheep in the past. I didn't want to go into the village and hear whispers of "There's the blow-in whose dogs is after killing Finbar's best lamb, so he did."

In the last two weeks, Peter has made countless phone calls, seen a couple of dogs, and had two different "reluctant" people change their minds right before he was meant to see the dogs. He's going up to Meath to interview another candidate this morning. The search for a good dog goes on…

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Only Dork in this Village

On Sunday, I cycled into the village to buy the papers. When I got out on the road, I realised I was wearing white socks with black shoes. Peter is philosophically opposed to white socks but I grew up wearing white socks and saddle shoes, so I am fashion-impaired in the socks and shoes department.

Having been told that introducing myself and being friendly is important in these early days, I made an extra effort to remember to do so. I've become conditioned to just get through tasks with the minimum in human interaction and time wasting. Slowing down and talking to people is something I have to think about.

I was pleased with my first efforts though and learned the names of a few of the shopkeepers. I also waved to drivers and said 'good morning' to a few pedestrians. It was all very friendly and pleasant.

It wasn't until I got home that I realised I was wearing two different shoes. Similar in style and the same colour, but different shoes nonetheless. I have to face the fact – I'm the only dork in this village.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Citizens of Rural Ireland

The big move went down on as scheduled on Friday. Well, mostly as scheduled. We were delayed in getting to the storage place, arriving at about 1.10, only to learn that the warehouse was closed until 2pm for their lunch break. At that point, we knew wouldn't get down to the new place before dark, so we didn't stress out too much. When the warehouse guys returned, they were super-efficient and had our Transit van loaded in less than 20 minutes.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful. Peter's father had given us directions for the most direct route. Down the country, the most direct route isn't always the quickest route as so much depends on the quality of the roads. I think I'd rather go 50 miles out of my way on a fast road than go 10 miles on road that's just a step up from a tractor trail.

Six hours after stopping to collect our stuff from storage, we'd finally arrived at our new home. The landlord said he'd leave a key under the mat by the backdoor. After turning over three mats, I started on the heavier items near the back door and finally uncovered the key under a big brick.

The house was much bigger and better than either of us had remembered. Since it was the last house we saw at the end of a long day and an even longer search, there had been an element of "sure, it'll do for a year's rental" to our decision. Seeing the house with fresh eyes, we were able to see that it would more than do – it would make a quite cosy and comfortable home.

Since it was dark and we were tired, we decided to leave the unloading of the van until Saturday. After cooking up a quick meal of burgers, chips and onion rings, we settled down in front of the television to peruse our entertainment choices, which happen to be limited to RTE 1, RTE 2, and TG4. Through no fault of our own, we found ourselves watching the Late, Late. We lasted a whole minute and a half. The topics for the evening were what can be done to fight MRSA, why Irish women are leaving it too late to have kids, and music from Shane Ward. Why RTE thinks Pat Kenny, drug-resistant bacteria, and barren women are scintillating Friday night entertainment is beyond me.

Given the choices, an early bedtime seemed the best of all possible options. I was up before 6 am the next day to participate in my favourite morning activity – a little something I like to call 'elfing'. While Peter sleeps, I run around like the elves in the fairy tales and get loads of things done.

On my morning's elf agenda was unloading the van and moving some of the beds from the downstairs bedrooms to the upstairs bedrooms. The van was a snap – I got everything except the mattress and the box springs out. I probably could have managed them myself, but I decided to be extra-special careful.

Moving the beds was a bit more complicated than I anticipated as it required a screwdriver. I was relatively certain there was a screwdriver in one of our boxes, but I knew it would be a fool's errand to try to find it. I decided the easier option was to walk into the village and buy one. If I'd forgotten we'd become citizens of rural Ireland, which is an entirely different world from Dublin, I was well-reminded during my screwdriver expedition.

I couldn't see a screwdriver in the shop so I asked the man at the counter. He thought about it for a second and then said "No, we wouldn't have a screwdriver to sell. I could give you the lend of one though." I explained to him that I'd walked into the village and it would be several hours before I'd be able to return the screwdriver. "Not a bother. Just drop it back when you're finished so," was the cheerful reply as the man rummaged through a toolbox.

When I got back to the house, I was thrilled that Peter was still sleeping since I wanted to complete my elfing before he woke up. With the help of the handy screwdriver, I got the bed apart no problem but then got part of it stuck on the stairs. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to wait for Peter's assistance. By the early afternoon, we had the beds moved, the screwdriver returned and were off to the next big town to do some shopping. All in all, it was a very productive day.

Now, a few days on, the house is coming together nicely. Our upstairs is sort of like a dormitory – 3 beds in one room and 2 in the other. The kitchen is entirely unpacked and looking well, except for the stacks of boxes and packaging paper that need to be recycled. One room down…six more to go.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Foghlaim Dé hAoine

Yes, my favourite feature has returned and today's phrase is quite apt.

Tá mé ag bogadh ar shiúl.

I'd love to chat, but I have a Transit van to fill. Don't know when I will be back here. Peter's told me that I can use *gasp* dial-up to access the Internet. How 1995. I think I'd rather do without.

One more thing, breithlá shona duit. to my Nana Anna. She would have been 93 today. I still have days when I can't believe she is gone.

File under:

Medical Update

Anybody else remember that Twilight Zone episode where the doctor's removing the bandages from a woman whose head is wrapped up like a mummy? I felt a little bit like that this morning when I removed the bandages from my finger.

It looks great and has healed very well. It's a little sore in one spot but otherwise is fine. It would be a great scar, but I don't think there will be one when all is said and done.

I am inordinately pleased with myself for taking proper care of the cut. For once in my life, I really was being careful.

Monday, January 15, 2007

On (Not) Being Careful

I have a lot going for me...a weird and wonderful family, a loving and supportive husband, slightly more brains than the average bear, an ability to string words together into readable sentences, and a fantastic memory for conversations. But I have to take the rough with the smooth and admit that I have some less-than-admirable traits.

Patience is not one of my virtues and gracefulness is not one of my fortes. I am an overly eager bull in the china shop sort of girl, both literally and figuratively. I break glassware with alarming regularity, trip over my own feet, spill drinks, and all too often find myself saying to Peter, rather indiginantly, “But I WAS being careful!” (He says that will be carved on my tombstone.) I also have a terrier-like persistence and a stubborn streak that would make a burro seem co-operative

Recently, circumstances have forced me to acknowledge and manage the manifestations of these undesirable traits. It started innocently enough – I cooked the Sunday dinner for Peter, his parents, and me – chicken baked in foil with rosemary, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus; mashed potatoes; peas; and an onion gravy. The meal was very tasty and I was cleaning up afterwards. The dishwasher was fairly full and as I tried to find a spot for the serving dish that had recently held the buttery peas, the dish slipped from my hand.

I'm not exactly sure what happened. I tried to grab the dish to keep it from falling. I wasn't successful and it shattered on the tile floor. My first thought was “Crap. Look at the glass I have to clean up before someone cuts themselves.” Then I realised it was too late – I already had cut myself. My reaching hand was pretty close to the shattering dish and it seems like a nice piece of ceramic shrapnel put a long gash in the ring finger of my right hand.

Not wanting to freak out Peter's parents, I took a quick look at the cut. Because it was very near the first knuckle and a bit flappy, I decided that stitches were probably in order.

VHI SwiftCare Clinic to the rescue. Within 45 minutes, my cut was cleaned, taped together (to minimize scarring), and a doctor had answered all my questions and provided excellent care. Unfortunately, his instructions were not what I wanted to hear – no using the hand for heavy labour for at least 5 days. We were meant to move our stuff down to Cork on Tuesday. Either Peter was going to have a miserable time moving everything himself or a bit of rescheduling would be required. We agreed rescheduling was the better option and we're now moving down on Friday.

I am stuck here, typing with 8 fingers (6 fingers and 2 thumbs if you want to be pedantic about it) because I taped gimpy ring finger to its neighbouring pinky finger in an effort to minimize my usage of it. The doctor provided me with a tablecloth-like beige sling, which I refuse to wear because it's uncomfortable and makes me look like a WWII refugee.

Peter is giving me a bit of a difficult time regarding the sling. I told him I wasn't going to wear it. He told me not to come crying to him when I busted open the cut doing something stupid. I said I wouldn't because I wasn't going to do anything stupid.

As a minor concession, I did have a look through some of my stuff to try to find the sling from when I broke my arm.(Yes, I was being careful that time too. I thought I was going to get hit by a car – it's not my fault no one ever explained the physics of bicycle brakes to me.) Seems as though I threw it out before we moved.

I've no patience to sit around doing nothing for 5 days and I am stubborn enough to want to just blunder along with our original plan, doctors orders bedamned. It is taking every ounce of self-control I have not to tear off the bandage to look at the healing process. I found myself sitting there, looking at it last night, thinking to myself “Maybe it's healed now.” Even though I know that's ridiculous. I know it will take five days to heal. But I guess there's still the little kid in me who thinks a couple of hours is a long time and a stubborn adult in me who wants to get things done now.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Catching Up

When I started up my computer when I got home on a recent afternoon, Peter came into the room and collapsed onto the bed. He started to pretend to gasp, saying “Can't breathe. Blogosphere too thin. Not...enough...content.”

Which was his polite way of telling me that I've been a negligent blogger. I didn't need the reminder. I know I've been negligent. Lately I feel like my life has been racing downhill while I run along next to it, struggling to catch up and jump inside. Sort of like the family in Little Miss Sunshine, only my life is nowhere near as well-scripted or acted.

A short summary to put us all on the same page:

  • 30 November, 2006: Found out that there was a good chance I would be made redundant. My bad November luck continues.

  • Early-December, 2006: Updated CV and hit job boards hard. Had a few phone interviews, including a place in the Middle of Nowhere, West Cork. Job sounded good, but am a bit skeptical of picking up and moving entire life. Again.

  • The First 23 Days in December, 2006: Assisted Peter with photography exhibitions on 17 of these 23 days. Lesson learned: Do not work at Christmas markets unless you love Christmas carols.

  • Mid-December, 2006: Volunteered for the redundancy and learned that my offer was accepted and would come into effect in the New Year.

  • Mid-December, 2006: Had lovely visit with Peter's extended family, including his super-charming 7-year old nephew.

  • Late-December, 2006: Had wonderful visit with my family, including my parents, my boisterous and hilarious brothers, my inquisitive 4-year old nephew, and the Best Dog in the Whole Wide World (BDitWWW), Joyous reunion with BDitWWW involved lots of tears, tail-wagging, and ear-scratching. Yes, I did hug and greet my parents first, but then BDitWWW muscled in.

  • New Year's Eve, 2006: Arrived back in Dublin after 10-hour layover in Chicago. Felt weird to see old house as it felt simultaneously like it was still mine but also like I'd never lived there at all. Think Tobias Wolf might be right.

  • 2 January, 2007: Happy Fourth Redundancy to me.

  • First weekend in January, 2007: Traveled down with Peter to Middle of Nowhere, West Cork for job interview. Loved the company, the people, and the area. Made the decision to take job. Visited every damp-infested, 1950s-decorated farmhouse in West Cork looking for house to rent. Found a wonderful, newly constructed house very close to new workplace whose rent is about the same as a bedsit (i.e. studio apartment) in Dublin. (Seriously, I am not exaggerating.)

I wasn't kidding when I said my life was racing along as I struggle to keep up. When I relayed all of these goings-on to a friend, she said "Basically, you decided to change your entire life and then got it sorted out over the course of a long weekend." That's a pretty good summary. I have the job, the place to live, and am working on getting the second car that I'll need since Peter will be spending a good bit of time bouncing back between Dublin and Cork.

The hardest amenities to find in our little corner of the Middle of Nowhere seem to be broadband and a camogie team. I know, the broadband thing isn't that surprising but the camogie team is. I guess the camogie is more popular in the North and East of Cork, as well as Cork City, than it is in the West. The closer you get to Kerry, the more popular the football becomes. I don't mind watching the football, but, as a participant, if I can't run around and hit things with sticks, it's just not worth it. I might end up having to drive up to an hour to find a camogie team, which is less than ideal but certainly doable. Besides the pain of trying to find a new team, I am also gutted to leave my old team. I was really looking forward to this season.

It's all very exciting and a shade anxiety inducing. I am very appreciative to The Swearing Lady, who quite graciously provided all of the advice I need to live in the Middle of Nowhere. After next weekend, this blog might be a bit quiet until we get our paws on the broadband. But once we're sorted, I am sure you can look forward to hearing about more adventures in our new life. Only these will involve more cows and sheep than Dublin buses and skangers.