Friday, February 23, 2007

Foghlaim Dé hAoine

This week's Foghlaim Dé hAoine is going to be a little different. I've written an essay on something that falls under this week's theme. I'm going to put the translation in the first comment, and also put a few notes on things I was unsure of. Please correct me - I'm sure it's rife with errors.

Is maith liom ag féachaint "Aifric" ar an teilifís. Tá Aifric déagóir. Tá sí agus a cara dul ar scoil agus tá spraoi orthu go hiondúil. Ach tá trioblóid ansin uaireanta. Tá Claudia namhaid de hAifric agus níl sí deas.

Tá Aifric inchurtha le "Lizzy McGuire." Is breá liom é. Tá "Aifric" mo phléisiúr ciontach.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thirteen Things About Toby

In honour of Toby, who went mental when I dropped him off at the boarding kennels this morning, here are 13 things about the new dog in my life. (I wanted to use the Thursday 13 code, like what Fence has, but, sadly, it's a bandwagon I jumped on at the very last second and the code and the project are after retiring.)

  1. It took Toby two weeks to figure out that dogs beds are for sleeping on. He thought they were giant toys.

  2. He's not going to win any medals for his Sit-Stay right now.

  3. His favourite snack is carrots.

  4. His most endearing trait is the way he expresses frustration - by flopping down and sighing loudly.

  5. Toby is not real keen on water.

  6. He loves his red Kong chew toy.

  7. He follows us from room to room.

  8. His incisors seem to all be broken. At the very least, they're not properly pointy.

  9. Unlike Kodiak, Toby doesn't recognise the word 'walk'. This makes it easier to have conversations with people but it takes all the fun out of announcing "Who wants to go FOR A WALK!?! Do YOU want to go for a WALK?? WALK?"

  10. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, Toby rolls on his back and makes funny noises.

  11. I don't think his eyesight is the greatest. One windy night, the garbage can had blown over, so it wasn't in its usual spot. Toby went barrelling down driveway and ran right into it, giving himself quite a fright.

  12. He's in desperate need of socialisation classes. He doesn't quite know how to act around other dogs.

  13. He does a fantastic Chewbacca impression.

I'm posting this from Cork Airport, waiting for a flight to Dublin, where I'm going to enjoy a long weekend with Peter (whom I haven't seen in 2 weeks).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Super Sweet Guilty Pleasure

I remember my 16th birthday party. I didn't want a birthday party, but I did want a party. My birthday was close to 8-8-88 so I decided to have a Crazy 8 party. We had it my grandparents' basement and invitees were asked to dress as their favourite crazy person. The entertainment was records played on my plastic high-tech Fisher Price Stereo.

Exactly four people came to this party – my best friend, two other girls from school, and the boy who would five months later become my first boyfriend. I dressed as Lizzie Borden. The boy was from the Other Side of Town so he had to wait for his mother to collect him. Whether by accident or design, she didn't arrive until about an hour after everyone else left the party. This gave us a lot of time to sit in the basement way too close and flirt way too much.

Despite the low attendance, low tech, and low cost nature of my party, it was still good for me. Given this background, it blows my mind to watch the brats on My Super Sweet 16. In case you haven't seen it, I will boil down the plot of each episode into simple bullet points.

  • Spoiled Rich Girl (hereafter called SRG) is introduced.

  • SRG plans the “best party evah,” sometimes with help from a party planner, sometimes on her own. The party will always have an elaborate theme.

  • SRG encounters some sort of adversity during the planning or organizing process. Tears and tantrums ensue.

  • Party happens. Everyone gushes how it's the “best party evah” and SRG is given some over-the-top present from her parents. Usually a car. Or two.

The planning and cash that goes into these parties is mind-boggling. Weddings are planned with less stress and money. One episode I saw had a girl and her mother fighting over the table centrepieces. Makes me wonder what they'll have left to argue about when they do eventually plan her wedding.

The attitude of entitlement and privilege these kids have is just stunning. It makes me wonder what they will think of themselves when they watch the show ten or twenty years later. Will they feel embarrassed by their demanding and whining or will they still be holding a grudge because they didn't get the centrepieces they wanted or their grand entrance was marred by a gate crasher?

One girl wanted a sports car for her birthday, but her dad didn't feel that was safe so he helped her pick out an SUV. At the party, the SUV is given to her and her response is “Oh, yeah, I already got that car. Is this my only present?” It wasn't. Her dad also got her the freaking sports car.

It's with equal parts jealousy and revulsion that I watch the show. And I can't keep myself from watching. I have, so far, kept myself from buying episodes on I-Tunes. A minor victory in self-control over a vicious guilty pleasure.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You're a Guilty Pleasure

Welcome to my first ever Guilty Pleasures Week. After spending a weekend alone with an madra craiceáilte, watching him chase his tail, it got me thinking about the things I really enjoy, but don't talk about because they're naff or embarrassing. I'm going to devote the bulk of this week to cataloging a few of my guilty pleasures.

One of the culture shocks of moving to the Middle of Nowhere has been the shrinking of my television dial. From satellite, with its hundreds of channels, to three channels – RTE1, RTE2, and TG4. It's weird, because this limiting of choices makes it both easier and more difficult to watch television. Boiling down the choices to three makes for a more straight-forward decision, but then if all three choices are crap, there's no point in watching.

This shrinking of possibilities has gotten me to watch shows that I wouldn't have glanced at in the past. (Sort of like when we were traveling in Italy and Slovenia and we'd find English-language programming and wouldn't care that it was a seven-year old episode of the Rikki Lake show.) But it's one thing to watch something because you've no other options and quite another thing to find that you're inexplicably drawn to it, that you start to plan to watch it.

Sadly, that has happened to me with You're a Star. It's sort of like American Idol, only with lower production values. I cannot explain why I enjoy watching this at all – the presenter is a plonker, the songs are very often crap, and the judges' opinions seem highly questionable to me. Sometimes, I wonder if we were even listening to the same song.

But still, I keep watching. I'd like to say it's like a car accident – you can't help but look, but some days it's not even that interesting. I guess the competition aspect of it, the picking a favourite and hoping for them, is a big part of it. I do have a favourite and a second favourite. I even watch both bits – the performances and then the results.

The results show is 20 minutes of fodder followed by 5 minutes of results and 5 minutes of pure agony. Up until this past episode, the loser of the week has had to sing the going-out song. They've just had their dearest dream dashed on national television, often their eyes are full of tears, and then they have to suck it up and sing a damn song. Fair dues to them – I think I'd have to give into the overwhelming temptation to crawl under the nearest duvet and refuse to come out.

Last night, though, they tinkered with the formula in an attempt to add more tension and suspense to the proceedings. The two acts who got the fewest number of votes had to re-perform their songs and then have the judges rule who would be sent home. It was awful. Instead of disappointment and putting a brave face on things, the feeling of the performance was abject desperation.

Reading back over this entry, I am wondering why I classify You're a Star as a guilty pleasure, since I've complained about most of it. But that's exactly the point, I guess. What makes it my guilty pleasure is that I do enjoy it (and am a bit embarrassed by that fact).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Camogie Conundrum

In the last ten years, the All-Ireland Camogie Final has been played by two teams- Tipperary and Cork. So you might think that moving to Cork would make it easy to find a camogie team. Surely, with the sort of talent they put on the pitch, the game must be played all over the county. Little girls must have a hurley put in their hands as soon as they're able to walk.

I've quickly learned that in certain parts of the county, that's a correct assumption. West Cork, different in many ways, is no exception in the sports department. West Cork is football country. And since I'm in the Middle of Nowhere, finding a camogie team is an extra challenge.

I started looking for a team a few weeks ago. Although there may be teams that are geographically closer, roads must always be the chief consideration when judging distances. The north-south roads in my part of the county are little more than tractor trails. The main Cork-Macroom road is the best way to get anywhere, which means my commute to any camogie would be a minimum of 30 minutes. Realistically, I'm looking at a minimum of an hour.

The closest club only has a Senior team. I play Junior B. To use a baseball analogy – I'm Class A and these guys are Major League. Even though the woman I talked to assured me I'd fit in with their team and they were looking for players, I'm reluctant to sign up with them.

You see, even though I've moved more than 200 miles away from my team, I have to go through a transfer process. There's a little form that I have to fill out, which I have to get signed my old club's secretary, the secretary of the Dublin County Board, the secretary of the Leinster Provincial Board, and someone in the national organization. On this form, I have to name which club I'm transferring to. My understanding is, after this magic piece of paper winds it way through the process and is accepted, my club die is cast. If I decide after all this that the selected club is not for me, I'd have to wait two years.

I understand the spirit of the rules – you don't want people jumping from club to club randomly. You don't want one super-great club to be able to entice all the best players to come play for them. But it's not like I have the option anymore of playing for my old club.

So, I've got to pick a team and it seems that I have three choices within a reasonable (read less than 75 minutes drive) distance. I'm afraid Closest Team (about 50 minutes away) is out of my league. I don't know anything about Next Closest Team (about 10 minutes further), although I am working on finding out about them. I'm pretty sure they field a Junior and a Senior team. Then there's Last Closest Team (another 10 minutes away from Next Closest Team), who field both a Junior and a Senior team. I've talked to someone from their team and she was very welcoming and encouraging and it seems like they're always looking to make up the numbers for the Junior team.

Clearly, I have some more reasearch to do. I'm leaning towards a club with both a Junior and a Senior team. If I get good enough to play at a higher level, I'll be able to move up. I just never thought that finding a camogie team would be so difficult and would involve making difficult-to-reverse decisions. And if there's anything I hate doing, it's making decisions. It's enough to make a girl want to run around and hit something with a stick!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Rare Sight

Last week, I saw my very first badger. It was a very exciting moment because badgers are fairly reclusive. You might occasionally see a dead one, but a live one is a rare sight.

I was driving back to the house, in the pissing rain and the dark. When my headlights caught the creature, I first thought it was a giant rat or opossum. Then I realised it was a badger, so I slowed down to have a better look and make sure I didn't kill it.

When I later remarked on the badger to Peter, I thought I heard him say “You should have hit it, then you could have good luck.” I told him I didn't realise maiming badgers brought one good luck. Turns out, he'd said “a good look.”

My impression of the badger was of a punk rock opossum. We saw opossums from time to time in Illinois. One day, I was working at home and let the dogs out into the back yard. Our yard was fenced in and overlooked an elementary school yard. When I went to let the dogs back in, they were grouped around something in the middle of the yard. A something that looked like a fuzzy hat. My first thought was that one of the kids had fallen afoul of a bully who'd thrown their ugly fuzzy hat into our yard.

Then I got out to the ugly fuzzy hat only to discover it was actually a dead opossum. When I called Peter to ask him what I should do with it, he advised me that it might just be “playing possum.” It's not just a cliché or a funny phrase – opossums can actually secrete the smell of death, mimicking death so completely that well-meaning people have buried them alive.

On closer inspection, I reported that I doubted “playing possum” entailed puncture wounds and a broken neck. One or both of our dogs was guilty of opossum murder, or at the very least opossum-slaughter.

I can only hope that Toby never gets ahold of a badger.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Foghlaim Dé hAoine

Today's Foghlaim is going to be a bit different than usual. I'm mostly going to give only the Irish and the pronunciations. Clicking the link for the word will take you to a picture, which will act as the translation and fulfill my promise of putting up pictures of the new place. (I wanted to put the pictures inline, but they're too big.)

An cistin.

An seomra teaghlaigh.

An seomra leapa.

An madra.

Tá an madra ag rith.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Praise of Podcasts

When I lived in Chicago, I was an NPR addict. I listened to it all day at work and most of the time at home. Morning, afternoon, evening. You could always find my radio on and playing 91.5.

Moving to Ireland made me become a daily Newstalk listener. It was a good, albeit imperfect, substitute. Whenever I had the chance, especially if I was cleaning or baking, I'd listen to NPR online. Weekend Edition Saturday, Fresh Air, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, On the Media...It was like importing a little bit of my past into my new life.

Moving to the Middle of Nowhere put a crimp in my Newstalk lifestyle. I can't get decent reception on my walkman, either in the house or out on the road. I have managed to find a configuration at work that allows the station to come in decently and I'm sure my co-workers think I'm a bit strange. The station comes in best if I put the walkman on the top of my in-tray on my left, have the headphone cord come up over my left shoulder and have the earbud separator behind me, instead of the more typical in-front configuration.

But for my runs, I was doomed to listen only to music. Music provides a good accompaniment when I'm in the mood to run, providing pacing and timing for me. But when I don't particularly want to run, it helps to have the distraction of stories to focus my mind.

Enter the podcast, a phenomenon I realise is not new but one that I was ridiculously slow to embrace. The fact of the matter is that I didn't like the word at all. My personality is such that I often issue summary judgments against things based on arbitrary and flimsy reasons. I fully admit it's illogical to refuse to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the whistling, but I have nonetheless taken agin' the film.

My acceptance of podcasts snuck up on me. It started with Peter's Mac laptop, which I inherited to use for dial-up in the dark weeks before broadband arrived in our house. He'd downloaded the contents of his sister's Ipod, which included some podcasts. Since I couldn't listen to NPR online and I couldn't get reception for Newstalk, desperation forced me to listen to the podcasts for distraction while cooking. The selection wasn't great – NASA, some guy called The Naked Scientist (because he stripped science bare, not because he podcasted nekkid), and the annoying Chris Moyles' show. I know what rock-bottom sounds like – rock-bottom is listening to Moyles interview David Beckham because the alternative is listening to a guy tell you how to create a submarine experiment in your kitchen sink.

Broadband arrived to save me and I had a take-away lesson from my dark, desolate podcast days – if those guys had podcasts, then chances were shows I love might have podcasts. It was time to find out. To my delight, NPR has oodles of podcasts. Some of them are just compilations of stories from different shows, so if you've heard the show, you've already heard the piece. But a few shows are podcast in their entirety (including Fresh Air and This American Life), so I've taken to filling up my Shuffle with podcasts for my runs.

I am willing to admit – I was wrong about podcasts. (But I am still not conceding ground on The Bridge on the River Kwai.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For the Day That's In It

In the effort of looking for something to write today that wouldn't be a disgustingly gushy love note to my sweetie, I had a wander over to Wikipedia. As always, I learned some things that might or might not be correct, but they are interesting.

Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine's Day has emerged in Japan and Korea as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give candy, chocolate or flowers to people they like. This has become an obligation for many women. Those who work in offices end up giving chocolates to all their male co-workers, sometimes at significant personal expense. This chocolate is known as giri-choko (?????), in Japan, from the words giri ("obligation") and choko, a common short version of chokorēto (?????),, meaning "chocolate". This contrasts with honmei-choko, which is given to a person someone loves or has a strong relationship with. Friends, especially girls, exchange chocolate that is referred to as tomo-choko (????),; tomo means "friend" in Japanese.

By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. Many men, however, give only to their girlfriends. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence "White Day". However, men have taken the name to a different meaning and lingerie has become a common gift.

I've often wondered, who really benefits from a gift of lingerie. I did a Google Search asking that question and got more than half a million hits. Clearly, I'm not the first philosopher to ponder this question. (I wanted to Ask Jeeves, but Jeeves has apparently been retired for a while now. How did I miss that momentous event?) Hitched Magazine, which endeavours to “entertain, educate, and inspire marriages,” provides easy lingerie buying tips for both men and women. But for some decent, practical advice, you can't miss with advice from a place called The Knickers Blog.

I have to confess, I've never been that keen on Valentine's Day. It has far too many memories of teenage angst associated with it. Looking at PostSecret this week, I'm not the only Valengrinch.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Where's Eagle Man When You Need Him?

Recently, we bought a second car. Even though I can cycle to work, I can't depend on Peter and our main car to always be around. I learned pretty quickly – you can live in the Middle of Nowhere without a car, but you have to be happy with limited shopping choices and nothing can ever go wrong. For example, if you break a tooth and require emergency dental work or if you clip your dog's nail to short and he's splattering blood around the place for 2 hours like a bad episode of “CSI,” not having a car becomes more than just a minor inconvenience. (Sadly, these are real-life, first-person experience examples, not hypotheticals.)

We identified a list of suitable car candidates from the Munster Free Ads newspaper. We were sort of working to a deadline because Peter had to go back to Dublin. On the day he needed to go back, we had an appointment to see the most suitable of our candidates – a 1996 Peugeot 306 Turbo Diesel. We were 95% sure that unless the car was held together with duct tape and the seller was scary, we were going to buy the car. Car nearly purchased, our attention turned to insurance.

I called our existing insurer and got a reasonably priced quote, only to be told that I had to fax in proof of insurance for the last nine years. I had a vague recollection of having had this issue when we insured our main car. It was an enormous pain in the ass because the first 5 years we had insurance cover in Chicago, we went through a middle-man (because Peter was young and a new driver). Each 6-month or a 1-year contract could have been through a different underwriter. I'd shredded most of our Chicago-related paperwork before the move – bills, insurance records, correspondence. The only papers I'd kept were our tax returns.

I knew we had some records, but we didn't have them all and we sure didn't have them with us down in the Middle of Nowhere. I asked the woman to please run the quote again, with no insurance record. She told me that she couldn't – without proof of a no-claims bonus, she couldn't quote me for insurance at all.

I want to know who came up with the phrase “no-claims bonus.” No doubt, he's some sort of marketing, spin-doctor whiz kid who has retired to the Grand Caymans. It sounds like this great thing – oh yeah, if you haven't made any insurance claims, then we'll give you a bonus. Good puppy, have a cookie. But no, it really is more of a no-claims requirement.

Another annoying issue in getting cover is the named driver requirement. If you don't have insurance that is expressly in your name, insurance companies do not consider you to have been insured. I seem to remember that some of the difficulty in our first insurance-getting experience was because Peter wasn't a named driver on our Chicago insurance. (Remember, he was young and I was a bit older, wiser, female, and a more experienced driver. It was to our advantage to make me the main driver on the policy.)

I rang Peter to report all of this and he had a bright idea. He could add the new car to our existing coverage. (Coverage under which he is the named driver.) Perfect. The company would have proof of everything from our last struggle to get insurance and we could be done with this. Peter rang and learned that he couldn't just add the car to his insurance. The no-claims bonus apparently goes with the car, not with the policy. So his one little policy with all its paperwork can only cover his one little car. If he wanted to cover another car, he would have to start over by submitting all that paperwork. You know, the paperwork that was up in Dublin instead of down in the Middle of Nowhere.

I'll spare you the forensic detail. We got the car home safely (if under slightly dubious insurance reasoning), Peter was delayed by a day in his return to Dublin, and within 2 days, I had proper temporary insurance that will become full insurance once I receive their paperwork, sign, and return it. The whole insurance saga just exhausted me. It angers me that insurance is so difficult and expensive to get. I fear what will happen if my no-claims bonus disappears.

These companies make ridiculous profits, only to turn around and try to weasel out of paying claims and bully people out of making claims. Insurance should be protection against the worst-case scenario, not a legal and unfair protection racket. When you make insurance too difficult and expensive, some people will drive uninsured. I'd wager these are the people who are most likely to have accidents and the people who suffer from this aren't the insurance companies.

All of this makes me nostalgic for insurance in Illinois. Pretty much anyone can get insurance in Illinois – it might cost extra, but an effort seems to be made to make sure the higher-risk end of the market is sufficiently covered. Thinking about insurance reminded me of these really bad ads that were run on daytime television in Chicago.

I was going to describe the ads, but through the miracle of YouTube, I can show you. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen the ad before, so I will put my thought about the ad in the comments.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Picture Perfect Commute

Reading back over some of my past blog entries, I can see that on 17 November 2005, I claimed to have a perfect commute. There was one tiny detail, an anamoly that made the commute less than perfect, which I left out of the post for editorial and personal reasons.

The building where I worked had some art work in the lobby – three back-lit photographs, blown up and grainy, that showed a figure in various positions in water. A heavy blue tinge prevailed in the photos and it was impossible to ascertain details or pinpoint location. It looked to me like the beach near the Pigeon House on Dublin Bay but someone told me they were actually taken in Iceland. They had a gritty, rushed, cinéma vérité feel to them – with the figure moving deeper into the water until the third photo, where he was up to his neck in it.

These photographs had a visceral effect on me. Whenever I saw them, I felt like I was drowning, that a blue weight was crushing my chest. The photos depressed me, made me feel like escape was futile and impossible, that my days were stringing together in an endless parade of meaninglessness. Yes, three stupid pictures had this effect on me.

The worst part is that I asked several other people about them and no one else had noticed or had felt even remotely the same way. The only person who understood was Peter, when eventually he came into the lobby to see the photographs. (Further proof, as if any were needed, that marrying him was the right choice.)

I'd say that not having to look at those pictures has improved my job and life satisfaction by at least 67%. Moving to the Middle of Nowhere has further improved my quality of living, as has my emancipation from the shackles of Dublin Bus and their magically movable bus stops and whimsical route changes.

I am now able to say emphatically and absolutely that my commute is perfect. I have a seven minute cycle to work. On the way there, I get to see horses, the occasional flock of sheep, and a pheasant or two. I also get to admire the craggy gorse-covered hills that made me fall in love with Cork in the first place. And, best of all, when I get to work, there's no artwork at all.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Rugby Confession

I don't know what it is, but there is something about Donncha O'Callaghan that makes me want to take him home, feed him soup, and read him classic literature, like The Great Gatsby, That They May Face the Rising Sun and TS Eliot poems.

And I don't mean it in a creepy Kathy-Bates-Misery sort of way, but more in a motherly, protectorly, teacherly sort of way.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I hate change. I know, that sounds a bit funny given how I seem to have made a habit of lobbing change hand grenades into my life on a whim the last few years. But I really do detest change.

Especially change of the computer variety. I still play a very old version of Civilization. So old, in fact, that I can't even remember if it's Civ 2 or Civ 3 I don't care that it's ancient or the graphics are blocky. I like it. I'm always going to be the last kid on the block to get the latest operating system. Windows Vista might be very pretty, but I've no interested in abandoning a perfectly good O/S.

I resisted New Blogger for months. I didn't play in the Beta. I refused to sign in with my Google account. I skirted the issue for ages until Blogger started to go all naggy Mother on me. Only instead of insisting that I wear a hat, because what do I think it is, Palm Beach out there, Blogger insisted that I sign in with a Google account. I'd gotten on its last nerve with my insistence on playing old school. If I was going to blog, it was going to be Google's way or the highway.

My resistance was 60% knee-jerk reaction to change in general and 40% reaction to the fact that Google seems to be trying to rule the world and get me to log in for everything I do. Frankly, I don't want Google cross-indexing and data warehousing and doing whatever other sort of digital black magic that they do on the Internet. Oh, sure, Google is all benevolent now with its primary colours and funny doodles in its logo and mega-great gmail and personalized Google home pages. But what about when Google discovers all of your secrets? Then what are you going to do?

Blogger warned me the last time I logged in that I would get one last chance to use my old account and then, I would have to start playing by its rules. And sure enough, the next time I logged in, it was Google login or nothing. So I did things Google's way and I converted my blogs to New Blogger.

And what did I get for my troubles? Most of my dear commenters have been renamed as anonymous and, as my pal The Swearing Lady pointed out, I am now apparently 250 years old. All of which pretty much validates my point - why break your technology by upgrading if it's not already broken?