Friday, March 21, 2008

Panic Buying

The first year I lived in Ireland, I learned about all sorts of interesting and bizarre little practises that you probably wouldn't stumble across as a tourist visiting for a couple of weeks. The one that amused me most had to do with alcohol. It is against the law to sell alcohol on Good Friday. I'm not a big consumer (in both senses of the word) of alcohol, so this is an issue that wouldn't even appear on my radar.

Except that I had to run to the shop to pick up a few things to cook dinner on Holy Thursday. The place was mobbed, which was unusual for a Thursday afternoon. Then I noticed that nearly everyone in line had multiple cases of beer. Was there a sale going on? No. This was a case of panic buying, pure and simple. With the pubs and off-licenses closed on Good Friday, everyone was stocking up. I smiled at the thought of anyone feeling that they had to lay in massive supplies of alcohol to cover one dry day.

Fast-forward three years, to my life in the Middle of Nowhere. I was doing the weekly shop yesterday, which was even more massive than usual given that we're having four friends over for the holiday weekend. Peter had added a bottle of 12-year old Jameson to the shopping list and I'd asked him about beer. "No, don't worry about it. We'll go into Macroom tomorrow and get beer."

Fair enough. I finished my normal round of shopping (Lidl, Dunnes, and the butcher), then went to the off-license for the Jameson. Only the off-license has apparently gone out of business. (How is that even possible? And how long have I not noticed that it's gone?) I remembered the off-license in the Super-Valu was fairly extensive, so off I went, found what I needed, and was about to pay up when the realisation hit me - tomorrow's Good Friday, Peter won't be able to buy beer.

Forty-eight bottles of beer, 2 bottles of wine, and 1 bottle of Baileys (with chocolate cups!) later, I realised that I'd become one of those mildly amusing panic-buyers. But I was powerless to stop it, the thought of running out of alcohol with a house full of guests was not something I could countenance. Finally, three years later, I understand the great Irish tradition of panic-buying massive quantities of alcohol on Holy Thursday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Horticultural Advice From The Kid

For St. Patrick's Day, I sent The Kid a funny shirt that said "The Leprechaun's Made Me Do It" [sic]. I hadn't noticed the grammatical error until I got it home and Peter pointed it out. My dad ('Da' to The Kid) is the son of an editor, so I knew he would spot the mistake instantly. I also wrapped up a few little festivities-related trinkets for The Kid to deliver to the family.

During the course of the weekly phone call with my parents, they put The Kid on the phone. He's not much of a phone talker, but the key is to keep him engaged. After the thank-yous and general greetings were exchanged, I decided to seek horticultural advice, since at the time I happened to notice the aphids were back on my indoor herb plants. (How does that happen? They're inside plants. It's like when your indoor cat gets fleas. Frustrating and completely unfair.)

Me: Hey, The Kid, I've got a problem, do you think you could help me?
The Kid: Sure!
Me: My plants have bugs on them.
The Kid: What kind of bugs?
Me: Aphids.
The Kid: Are those like bees?
Me: No. They're teeny tiny white bugs.
The Kid: What do they do on the plants?
Me: They eat them.
The Kid: Oh, don't worry. The plants will grow back.
Me: Really? That's all I have to do?
The Kid: Yep. I'm really pretty sure they'll grow back.
Me: Thanks, The Kid. I'm going to put the plants outside for awhile so the rain and wind can blow the aphids off.
The Kid: Bye!

Middle Brother picked up the phone and asked how I managed to keep The Kid on the line for so long. I guess it's all about the questions you ask.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

January - March Reads: or, My Own Battle with the White Whale

It's taken about ten weeks, but I've finally finished reading Moby Dick, my first accomplishment in my year of reading dangerously. I knew this would be one of the most difficult book on my list, so tackling it first seemed the best course of action. I've also decided that until the 12 'dangerous' books are read, I'm not allowed to read any other books.

I've been struggling with how to organise my thoughts about Moby Dick. I did like it, even loved parts of it. I just found it extremely difficult to read. Thanks to a steady diet of literary trash, my mind has become the equivalent of a couch potato - obese and lazy. Tackling Moby Dick was a little bit like a sedentary person running a marathon, only not medically perilous.

Moby Dick is touted as the greatest American novel, a claim which I now understand, but cannot support. For my money, that would be The Great Gatsby. But such labels are misleading and subjective. Plus, to which standard do you hold books, given that the accepted norms of writing have changed so much in the last 150 years?

A while back, a frustrated author submitted to about 20 publishers and agents the first chapter plus a synopsis of a Jane Austen book. He was shocked (shocked I say!) to receive across-the-board rejections, only one of which indicated that the reader was onto his game. All of the fustering about this on the radio amused me to no end. Anyone writing today can tell you how hard it is to get published - I'd doubt most of those publishers/agents even read the full submission.

I digress. My point is that however much it is beloved and revered, Moby Dick wouldn't have a chance of publication today. Not in its whole form, which includes about 200 pages of exhaustive detail on whales and the whaling industry. Two wise friends, one of whom is an English teacher at a college, counseled me to skim or even skip the chapters of whaling minutia. I fought this advice until I realised it was the only way I was ever going to finish the book.

The beginning of the book is also antithetical to modern story-telling. Melville gives Ishmael four pages to justify his desire to take to the sea. Then the story starts at the very beginning, with packing and a journey to New Bedford to start the search for a whaling ship. Moby Dick, the grand character of the title, isn't even mentioned in the first quarter of the book. In modern story-telling, a book is more apt to start in the middle of the action and then drop in the background, as needed, throughout the rest of the book.

So why has the book endured as a classic all these many years? It's a great story, with a charming voice, memorable characters, and universal themes. What more do you want? I was surprised by how funny some of the writing is. Whether Ishmael is talking about his motivation for sailing off
"...whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off-then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can"

or making a point about hair oil
"In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality."

the observations are pointed, well-expressed, and dryly humorous. Such unexpected gems are scattered liberally throughout the book. I never expected to laugh when I was reading Moby Dick, but I did.

Whenever you walk away from a book yet retain images of the characters in your head and have a desire to wonder about those characters, then you know the author has done a perfect job. Such is the case, especially with Ahab, although Starbuck and Queequeg also hold a special place in my heart. Captain Ahab, with his ivory leg and unconquerable, tragic desire to hunt the white whale, is probably going to live in my head forever.

And you can't really mention the good captain without talking about the themes of the book. The one that spoke to me the most was the danger of becoming singularly obsessed with an irrational goal. When you pursue something past the point of all reason, ignoring all advice and ill portents, you will meet a bad end and drag everyone else down with you.

"But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of the demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed."

Would I read it again? Absolutely. But I'd probably go with this edition. Call me Ishmael, I mean, Lazy.

Next up, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Other Side of the Fence

Last week, our mail was delivered to my place of employment. It seems that Toby and the mailman had had a few words, all of which came from Toby and started with "grrrr." I was mortified and apologised profusely and promised to put Peter on the case. You can't have 30 kilos of madly barking Alsatian greeting visitors.

When we adopted Kodiak, the woman who gave him to us told me that he would bark ferociously at anyone who came to the front door, but that all he wanted to do was check them out. After he'd had a sniff and assured himself of the person's worthiness, he was fine.

The woman also told me that Kodiak didn't like Latinos. I thought to myself "Great, now my dog's a racist." Deep in the heart of Republican DuPage County, I didn't think Kodiak was going to run into many Latinos. On the rare occassion that he did, he showed no ill will towards them. In retrospect, the area where the woman lived was a little rough and a lot of the residents there were Latino, so it's likely that Kodiak was responding to the woman's apprehensions about certain individuals.

Since I was terrified of those killers who talk their way into your house, I found Kodiak's doorman act reassuring. And what an impressive act it was too. Kodiak was actually a great big teddy bear of a dog, but he was huge. In a few instances, I had people cross the streeet or go out of their way to avoid walking past him. So when the doorbell rang, we had an 8 stone (50+ kilos) dog, barking and lunging at the door. If you came to the door with bad intentions, you sure weren't going to stick around to carry them out.

Sure, he came across all fierce and terrifying, but once he'd had that sniff, he was fine. In fact, he was so fine and friendly, I doubted, in the event of a real intruder emergency, that he'd protect us in any other way than with playful licks and offerings of toys. Peter often assured me that Kodiak would "rip the throat out" of anyone who tried to hurt us, but I just had a hard time reconciling that image of a protective avenger with the goofy, happy dog with the propeller tail.

On the weekend that my parents came to collect Kodiak to take him to his new retirement home, we received a delivery of a half-ton of small granite boulders. The rocks were about the size of a baby's head and I wanted to use them to line the flowerbeds. The yard looked a little worse for wear, but I figured it was nothing that woodchips and attractive rocks couldn't hide.

When the guys came with the rocks, I met them in the front of the house with my wheelbaroow. My parents, Peter, and Kodiak were all working away in the backyard. (OK, Kodiak wasn't so much working as supervising.) The delivery guys were two young Latinos who didn't seem to speak a lot of English. I tried to help them load the wheelbarrow, but they were having none of it, so I returned to the backyard, leaving the gate open for them.

When yer man came through the gate, wheeling a load of rocks, Kodiak realised that he had guests to vet. He raced over to the guy, barking his greetings. I called to the guy reassurances that Kodiak just wanted to check him out. This all happened rather quickly, but I will never forget how the guy reacted. He dropped the handles of the wheelbarrow, clamped his hands over his privates, and closed his eyes. He was probably praying, too, but I wasn't close enough to hear that.

I nearly thought it funny, until I remembered Kodiak's alleged problem with Latinos. My heart was in my throat and I rushed over to grab Kodiak. True to his past behaviour, once he'd had a good sniff, Kodiak was happy to escort the guy around the yard, propellor tail in full effect. I helped the guy unload the wheelbarrow, apologising to him even though I wasn't sure he could understand me. The other guy brought in the next wheelbarrow load and the delivery was quickly completed without incident.

I used to be one of those people who would blithely say "Don't worry, he's not going to bite you." But seeing that guy's reaction, I suddenly saw things from the other side of the fence. Having a big, menacing-looking dog bearing down on you is no picnic, no matter how much the owner reassures you that the dog is fine. So that's why Peter will be working with Toby and mailman to broker a detente. Or at least, he'll be training Toby to leave the guy alone.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fun Monday

This week's Fun Monday host is Nikki and she has a two-part challenge. First:
I don't know about you, but my family is great at creating strange words that only we know the meaning. Some were created when the kids were first learning to talk, others came about when our tongues were twisted and the word came out funny. Either way, the words stuck and we still use them in our daily conversations. What created words does your family use?! Please share the story behind the word if you remember.

Either my family doesn't have a lot of these words or I don't remember them very well. I can only think of one - k-iet (the k rhymes with by and the iet is 'et'), which was used in place of quiet. As for the origin, I invented it when I was two or three, probably because I couldn't say 'quiet' properly. Apparently, being quiet was valued around our house and the phrase was usually used as "here, this will keep you k-iet." We lived in apartments and duplexes until I was eight, so that's probably why the premium was placed on k-ietness.

Now, onto the second part of the challenge:
In honor of St. Paddy's Day, please share your worst green beer story!

I am really falling down on this Fun Monday challenge - I don't have any green beer stories. If a beer is light enough that you can colour it green, it's not anything I want to drink. I'm more a fan of stouts and porters.

But never fear, I have a green food story for you, direct from Macroom, County Cork. I was at the butcher on Thursday and he had a tray of green sausages, with a little hand-made sign that said "For St. Patrick's Day."

The butcher is great- fantastic quality and all the meat is 100% Irish, 100% traceable, and most of it is local. (Can someone tell me why all the chicken farms are in County Cavan?) If green sausages were ever going to tempt me, these would be the ones I'd go for. But still, there is something really wrong looking about green sausages.

I was curious though, so when I had a chance, I asked the butcher how they made the green sausages. I guess I was expecting him to say the polite version of "Duh, food colouring." The answer was much more polite and natural: spinich. So that's how a craft butcher makes green sausages.

I hope for your sake the other Fun Monday participants are more fun than I am. Go check them out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Six-Word Autobiography

I'm taking a break from cleaning. I don't know about you, but nothing says "relaxing bank holiday weekend" like scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush. (I hasten to point out, this is a new toothbrush, purchased precisely for this purpose.)

During a chat with my dad on Friday, he reminded me of the six-word autobiography. Smith Magazine, inspired by the legend of Hemingway 'writing' the shortest short story ever, challenged people to send in an autobiography in six words. The best were collected and published in a book.

I first heard about this project last month on NPR's Talk of the Nation. I was intrigued, although I found it a nearly insurmountable task. Summarise my life in six words? Really? Do I have to count words like 'a' or 'the'?

At the time, I was at work and I know I scribbled a few things on a scrap of paper, but I can't remember what those words were or where the paper is now. So this is just off the top of my head:

How did I end up here? - I often wonder this, in a good way. My life has taken several strange twists and turns and I'm always curious about where I will end up next.

Always an aunt, never a mother. - That may just be the biological clock talking.

Falling in love changed my life. - True, but kind of generic. Still, it's hard to talk about my life without mentioning Peter.

From Irish American to American Irish. - Simple and right.

Punching the puncher since 1972. - Possibly my favourite, but I don't know if anyone else would get it.

How about you? Could you sum up your own life in six words? Feel free to have go, either in the comments or in your own blog.

Now, back to the baseboards, Cinderella.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Story Behind the Picture Volume 2

Ripples, Tramore Strand, County Waterford

During our first disastrous photography trip, we learned exactly how not to do things. We planned on making improvements for our second trip. Instead of having a cross-country marathon, we decided to rent a cottage for a week and limit the expedition to a given area. For reasons not entirely known to me, Peter selected West Cork.

It was the end of October 2005 and I was bummed. I'd been looking forward to the trip, but the week before it began, I had to start work on a three month contract. I'd been in Ireland for six months and had only done about three weeks of casual work for a small software company in the Digital Hub. This contract was going to provide my first steady job and there was no way I could pass it up or ask for a week off right at the start.

My only consolation was that the last Monday in October is a bank holiday, so I would at least be able to join Peter for the start of the trip. Then I would take the train back to Dublin on the Monday.

We left early on the Saturday, both of us excited to get out of the house and see new places. Instead of going the direct route, we decide to drive down along the coast. It was going to be a long day of driving, but I was prepared for it and we were definitely not hungover. I felt liberated and giddy. We'd been living in Peter's parents' house for four months. It was going well enough, but his mother and I often clashed over silly things. A long weekend in our own space was exactly what I needed.

Peter decided that we would stop at Tramore Strand in Waterford. The beach there is gorgeous, just a strip of sand stretching out as far as you can see. The wind was strong and it was threatening to rain, but not even the lousy weather could dampen my instant love of the place.

Another thing we learned on Trip 1 was that it was vital for me to have something interesting to do while Peter worked. Like a kid sitting in his dad's office with a colouring book and crayons, I needed something to keep me quiet. Since I'd just started playing camogie (or really, attempting to play camogie), I took my hurley and a couple of sliotars to fill the time.

Tramore Strand was built for pucking around and the beach was nearly empty at the early hour. I wasn't adept at all, but I was having a good time. The only downside was having to chase after the sliotar myself.

Then Captain showed up. Captain was a stocky mid-sized white dog. In my five years volunteering at an animal shelter in Chicago, he was the sort of dog we would euphemistically label a "terrier mix." (Any dog with a good temperament and the tell-tale wide jaws of a pit bull terrier was inevitably called a terrier mix.)

Captain wasn't interested in me. Oh no. Captain was all about the sliotar. I checked around for his person, who was fishing at the edge of the beach and didn't seem to mind if his dog talked to strangers. So, it looked like my dearest wish has been granted - we'd always said that pucking around would be so much better with a dog to chase the errant sliotars. Plus, I was missing Kodiak and Caper. Captain was a little white blur sent to distract and amuse me.

We spent ages playing - me hitting or trying to hit the sliotar, Captain tearing after it and then dropping it at my feet. His whole body shook with excitement and his tail flipped back and forth continually. If he could talk, he would have been shouting "Again! Again! Again" with all the vigour of a sugared-up toddler. I didn't figure Captain was much older than one or two. He was all energy and enthusiasm.

At one point, a chubby black lab lumbered past and paused, begging to be included in our game. Captain had no interest in the interloper, but I was sucked in by the pleading doe eyes. I slapped a sliotar her way and she narrowly beat Captain to it. Unlike Captain, however, she had no interest in turning it over. Her person scurried over and managed at length to extract the slimy sliotar from her dog's clenched jaws.

"That's it," I promised Captain, "it's all you now." And so we played until Captain's person came over to collect him. It was from this guy that I learned Captain's name and that the dog was nine years old and would chase a ball from sun-up til sundown and all night long too, if you'd let him. "You'll quit long before Captain ever gets tired."

It was a delightful morning. Peter got a good shot of the beach. I had some precious blood pressure lowering exercise/dog time. See, they're not all tales of misery and woe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Theraputic Applications for Frozen Foods

Last month, I started training with the local ladies football GAA team. A friend of ours once described gaelic football as a "makey-uppy game." It has some elements of rugby to it, I guess, a touch of soccer, a little handball, and the same sort of scoring as hurling. I'm just working out with the team for now. Maybe next year I'd be comfortable actually joining them, but for now, it's a good way for me to get in shape for camogie and to meet people.

At training this past Wednesday, I jammed my middle finger during a drill. It smarted for a few seconds and then I forgot about it. I wear protective gloves, which absorb most of the shock of the ball hitting my hands.

About 30 minutes later, we took a quick water break. We'd been running hard, playing a sort of keep-away, so the break and the water were both appreciated. Something inside my glove felt funny, so I pulled it off and saw that my middle finger was bent at the first knuckle. I couldn't straighten it. Although I could curl it up into a fist with minimal pain, when I unclenched my fist and straigtened my fingers, the top of the middle finger hung down like a broken twig.

I showed it to the coach who said "Ah, yeah, I've one of those. You better ice it." Which I did for the rest of practise. The result was the freezing of my whole body as the wind was quite chilly and I was dressed to run around, not stand still with my hand in a bag of ice. I was leery of messing around with it though - I knew Peter would scold me if I played on when I was hurt.

At home, Peter met me outside as I was getting out of the car. (It's so nice to come home and have both Peter and Toby waiting for me.) I brandished my middle finger, telling him "I f***ed up my f*** you finger!"

He made all the appropriate sympathetic statements and then admonished me to ice it. I pulled out my designated ice pack - a bag of frozen peas that I picked up on the way home from camogie last year when I had a touch of tendonitis in my elbow. It's my contention that frozen peas are actually created solely to be used as ice packs. No one likes frozen peas, except for maybe Laurie in her youth.

The next thing I did was to call Nurse Mom at work. She recommended a splint ("Do you have a popsicle stick?"), soaking/icing, Ibuprofen, and gentle exercising. (Not all at once, obviously.) Which is probably what the doctor would tell me, but this way saves me both the trip and the 50 euro for the consultation.

I dispatched Peter to the village shop to get Elastoplast tape and some manner of ice cream on a stick. Since I've given up sweets for Lent, Peter had to be a buddy and eat the ice cream for me. When the ice cream stick was clean, Peter very gently wrapped up my finger.

So, there you have it. Frozen peas and ice cream bars - they're not just for breakfast anymore. My finger feels fine, but it still looks like a bent twig.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Number 74 of Things No One Ever Tells You About Rural Living

You will have to scrape dead things off the road in front of your house.

A few months ago, it was a rat. A completely flat rat. This morning, it was something bigger and cuter than a rat.

Peter's workshop student arrived and asked him if we had a kitten. When Peter answered in the negative, she informed him that there was a dead kitten on the road just outside the gate.

I was working from home today, so I grabbed some garbage bags and a shovel. Somehow, in the divvying up of chores in our relationship, I was tasked with dead animal removal.

I was relieved when I realised that the poor little dead thing was not a kitten. It was a wild rabbit. I don't know if it should matter, but it's easier for me to see a dead wild animal than a dead domestic animal. I feel a bigger sense of responsibility for domestic animals and it's also far too easy to imagine the human family that will miss them.

I'm no CSI forensics investigator, but it looked like the rabbit had about one or two more bunny hops before it would have found freedom in our hedge. Instead, it was hit in the back end. I won't go into gory detail because I know not everyone appreciates that sort of thing, but it looked like a science project. I used to dissect goldfish when I was a kid, so there's something fascinating to me about seeing anatomical structures.

But I couldn't dawdle. I was painfully aware that a car tearing around the curve could easily hit me the same way one had hit the rabbit. A minute later, I had the bunny corpse bundled in three layers of Hefty bags and he was given a solemn burial in the bin, with a later removal to the Civic Amenity Centre.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Photographer's Wife

Thanks for all the advice and good thoughts. They seem to have worked as I feel markedly improved. Well, that and the sick day I took yesterday, which allowed me to have a glorious and restful four-hour long nap. Ah, the luxury of it. (I remember throwing fits when I was a kid and had to take a nap. Now, naps are highly prized commodities.)

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
On more than one occasion, people have asked me what it's like being a photographer's wife, if I ever get sick of him wanting to take my picture. The question has always made me laugh. "Peter's a landscape photographer," I'd say, "He's more likely to ask me to get out of the way than to ask to take my picture."

That was just fine with me, since I'm not really the most co-operative subject. I've too many body image issues to ever feel comfortable having my picture taken. I rarely like photographs of me, as all I can ever see are the things I don't like.

It looks like I'm going to have to come up with a different answer to the question. On Friday, Peter bought a starter studio set-up: lights, a big stand on which to hang backing paper, and those funny little umbrellas that bounce the light around. After he had his studio arranged in the garage, it wasn't long before he was asking to take my picture.

The first round of photographs were nothing to write home about, since Peter was just learning to use the lights and I was disheveled from a nap. (A few of them are funny and might find their way here, eventually.) I told Peter it was weird to be his model and if he ever told me "to work it," I would be forced to leave.

I went back into the house and sat at the kitchen table, finishing up my work-from-home day. It was dusk and the light was waning. Periodically, I could see a flash of light shoot from the garage windows. It was like watching a mad scientist's laboratory. I half-expected to hear an explosion or see green smoke.

Peter's spent a lot of his free time either working in the studio or researching studio photography. Yesterday, Peter told me he wanted to try something and could he take my picture. I was again nap-disheveled (you're going to think that's all I do in the afternoon but it's been an unusual few days), but I took a few minutes to run a brush through my hair and change my shirt.

We started with me right in front of the backing paper. Peter set up his camera, fiddled with the lights, and then took a few pictures. He gave me a few directions and I tried to take it as seriously as possible, but there was just something absurd about the whole process. Then he backed his camera up and had me take a few steps forward. Then he moved the lights as well. After more pictures, he again moved back and had me move forward. We repeated this ritual until Peter was at the front of the garage and I told him he was going to open the garage door if he wanted to reverse any further.

Turns out, he had me right where he wanted me. He was trying to take a low-key photograph. Seems the further you move the subject from the background, the darker the background gets, which makes for an interesting looking portrait.

I'm going to have to get used to having my picture taken, which isn't a bad thing. When the time comes to have the photograph taken for the back of my book, I'll both know a good photographer and know how to be a good subject.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Swamp Creature Sleeps Alone

Sunday morning, I woke up at 6.30 to find Peter not in the bed. This is unusual although not unprecedented. Every once in a while, he will stay up ludicrously late and crawl into bed around the time I am waking up. But I had fuzzy recollections of him coming to bed - and of scolding him for snoring. I couldn't imagine the circumstances under which he would be up and about before me.

I found him sleeping on the living room couch, all curled up under the fleece blankets, his 6' frame not exactly suited to the 4' couch. I whispered to him that the bed was free, but he was sleeping soundly and I didn't want to risk waking him fully. I knew what had happened - my head cold was making me snore enough to drive him from the bedroom.

Around 9.30, a bird chirping on top of the chimney pipe woke Peter up for the day. It's amazing how loud that sounds. First, you think the bird is in the chimney. Then you realise the chimney is acting as a giant bird-megaphone. It's a little creepy, in a way. Who knows what message the bird is broadcasting to any pet birds you might have in the house.

One of the first things Peter said to me was "You should have heard the sounds you were making. It was like sleeping next to the Swamp Creature." He proceeded to make a series of horrifying, disgusting noises and then told me that he couldn't replicate the sounds, that they were even worse than his approximations.

So last night, Peter has slept in the guest room. I hate that he has to do that - the pack should always sleep in the same room - but it seemed like the best solution to assure good sleeping for both of us. I was hopeful that I would get a couple of good nights' sleep, since I usually do when I have the bed to myself. It feels like I haven't had a good night's sleep in several days.

This morning is a bit better but yesterday morning, I felt so strange and confused. I'd slept for 7 hours straight, but it was like I hadn't slept at all. Getting through the days recently has been like wading through treacle, only not as tasty. (In fact, I can't taste or smell anything - the silver lining of this cold had better be some appreciable weight loss.) I'm so muddle-headed, I'm forgetting things and losing my train of thought and generally freaking myself out.

When I told Peter yesterday about my lousy sleep, he said he wasn't surprised, that with all the horrible Swamp Creature sounds I'm making, I'm having apnea throughout the night. So this is what it feels like! I could never understand how someone would be able to sleep wearing one of those scary masks. It seems to me like it would be so restrictive and claustrophobia-inducing. But now I get it. I've only been this way for a few days. I can see that after months or years, I'd be willing to try anything to get some decent sleep.

I've been horrible, snappish, whingy, and defensive lately. (I've also been half-deaf with ear congestion.) I hope that for both our sakes, my cold and my sleeping improve soon. Until then, the Swamp Creature sleeps alone.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fun Monday

I.T. Guy poses this challenge:
I need YOU (yes, the wonderful YOU!) to pick 5 memorable lines from 5 different movies (if you could tell us which character said it and to whom, would be a bonus)...and tell us to WHOM (who in the people in your life) you could have said those lines.

BTW, IT Guy, props to you for the correct use of the pronoun 'whom.' It is such a misunderstood and abused little word.

So, this week....I'm just not feeling it. Maybe it's the head cold. Maybe it's that my memory is slipping. Maybe it's that my favourite lines from movies are usually silly. Maybe it's just that I don't have a burning desire to say anything to anyone right now. (The only desire I have is to crawl back into bed and sleep for about two days.)

In an attempt to get partial credit for this assignment, I'll give you five of my favourite movie quotes. Make sure you go check out all the other participants.

Broadcast News
What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women.

L.A. Story
Why? - With this financial statement,
you think you can have the duck?
...You can have the chicken.

Real Genius
Moles and trolls, moles and trolls, work, work, work, work, work. We never see the light of day. We plan this thing for weeks and all they want to do is study. I'm disgusted. I'm sorry but it's not like me, I'm depressed. There was what, no one at the mutant hamster races, we only had one entry into the Madame Curie look-alike contest and he was disqualified later. Why do I bother?

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

L.A. Story
There is someone for everyone. Even if you need a pickax, a compass, and night goggles to find them.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

Peter had an unexpected day off, so I turned my planned solo outing into a family outing. (This is one of those rare instances when I'm happy to have my plans changed.)

My intended itinerary was a hike with Toby around Muckross Lake, but I've come down with a nasty head cold. Peter's dad Tom always said that a bracing walk along a pier could blow a cold right out of you, and it seems that at least one marginally scientific study backs up this folksy wisdom. I flipped through my handy Lonely Planet guide and declared that we would instead go to Rosbeigh Beach in County Kerry, which was described as "a tendril of sand protruding into Dingle Bay, with views of Inch Point and the Dingle Penninsula. On one side the sea is ruffled by Atlantic winds, on the other it's sheltered and calm."

When we arrived at the beach, those famed Atlantic winds were blowing in a squall, so we waited in the car. Some of us (i.e. Peter and Toby) waited more patiently than others, but we were all glad when the rain blew through quickly. We had an nice time walking along the wind-ruffled side of the beach. I had been puzzled when I read the description - how could one side be ruffled and one side be calm? How wide was the beach? I still couldn't tell you how wide the beach is, but I can tell you a nice sturdy ridge of sand dunes is what shelters the other side.

Although the car park held a fair few cars, the beach was not very busy. (It seems like the playground near the car park is the big draw.) After a few minutes, we were the only people for a good distance, so Peter let Toby off the leash and the frolicking began. We made it about half-way to the end of the beach when we spotted another squall on the horizon. It looked bigger and darker than the first one, so we talked ourselves into turning around. It was definitely the right decision, even when the squall ended up tracking north instead of heading to the beach. We did get caught by a little baby of a rain shower, but nothing significant.

It was a fine Sunday afternoon out, and we're all looking forward to going back and exploring the calm side as well as the ruffled side.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Story Behind the Picture

When we lived in Dublin, Peter sold his photographs at several craft and art shows throughout the year. Because of the inconvenience and expense of multiple trips up to Dublin for shows, he's now down to just one show (The National Arts and Crafts Show at the RDS in December). I help out at these shows as The Lovely Assistant. It's not a job I love, but it does have some fringe benefits. Like Wagamama or Bitz and Pizzas for dinner.

The other fringe benefit is the ability to watch people. I'm fascinated by people (I just don't particularly like to interact with them all the time) and I'm especially fascinated by which photographs they find compelling. Being a writer, I'm also interested in the story behind each picture. Peter typically documents this a bit on his web site, but his accounts are often more technical or photographer-y in nature. I'm more interested in the human element - the sheep who followed him around when he went on an early morning shoot in Wicklow, the stories of the bus in Iceland getting stuck when fording a river, the heron that nearly flew right into his camera and tripod.

I've decided to start an on-going, occasional series: The Story Behind the Picture. I plan to limit the series to only photographs for which I was present at the creation. This week's subject is Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare.

In September 2005, friends of ours got married in Killaloe, County Clare. We decided to turn it into a photography trip - our first dedicated photo trip. The plan was to head over to Doolin to photograph the Cliffs of Moher and then drive up to Donegal.

The wedding was fantastic - much fun and drink were had by all and the festivities went on into the very wee hours of the next day. I want to say it all finished up around 4, but it could have been 2. Either way, I'm usually in bed at 10 and often get up at 4, so this was a shock to my delicate system.

In my misspent youth, I was never bothered by hangovers. A nice greasy breakfast plus a few huge glasses of water and I was sorted. Now, as I march comfortably toward middle age, this is no longer the case. Even with preventive measures, like water and pain relievers before bed, I still don't handle drink very well the next day. I'm often unable to sleep as well, which makes for a bad combination. I only got about 3 hours of sleep and when I woke up, I felt like my entire body was filled with jagged pieces of glass.

I wanted to get on the road pretty much immediately, but Peter wanted to visit with his friends, have a leisurely breakfast, and relax. We didn't leave until a bit after Noon and my condition had only gotten worse. Instead of driving directly to Doolin, Peter wanted to poke around and explore. Ordinarily, I'm up for this sort of adventure, but the hours of sitting in the car was making my joints stiff and I still felt like I was full of jagged glass. I was exhausted and hungry, which is never a good combination.

The thing about landscape photographers that the uninitiated must understand is that they set their watches to the sunrise and sunset times. They live for the magic bit of time on either side of the sun sliding over or under the horizon. It's all about the light and the colours. Ordinarily, again, I've no problem with this. But sunset on this particular day was at about exactly the time my stomach thought we should be eating dinner.

Instead, we were at the Cliffs of Moher, both tired, hungry, and hung-over. I'd never been to the Cliffs of Moher before, but I couldn't find any enjoyment in it. (We'd tried once, and that trip had ended in tears. Perhaps a story for another post.) I had no book, nothing to do, nothing to distract me except for my IPod shuffle. I found a nice spot of grass, laid down, and listened to my music. It was as close to comfortable as I had been all day.

Peter came over and asked me what was wrong, told me to get up, told me that people were staring and concerned that something might be wrong with me. Yeah, something was wrong with me. I was starving, hung-over, exhausted, cranky, achy, and bored out of my gourd. Plus, as I'd just found the little bit of comfort I'd experienced all day, I was not pleased to be yanked out of it by the perception of others that I was uncomfortable or distressed.

And thus ensued what can only be described as one of the worst fights of our relationship. We don't tend to fight and most of our fighting was done in our first year of marriage, when we were trying to figure out how to be married. At this point, 9 years into things, we were pretty good at having civilised discussions instead of fights. Not on this occasion though.

We walked back to the car, fighting all the way. Peter was mad at me for letting myself get into such a state of misery. I was mad at him for presuming that I was uncomfortable when I wasn't and for trying to decide for me how I felt about things. There wasn't really much shouting, it was just sharp words, angry tones, and tears (mine, of course).

Finally, I called time out. It was clear that we were heading into dangerous and destructive territory. I told Peter to drop me at the B&B, then head down to Doolin harbour to take photographs. I planned to take a shower, change my clothes, and try to re-humanise myself. Without the responsibility of worrying about me, Peter would be able to salvage at least something of the sunset. The harbour was close enough to the B&B that I could walk over and join him when I was ready.

I had a shower, changed my clothes, and found a candy bar to deal with my blood sugar levels. Then I had a bracing and enjoyable walk to Doolin harbour. Peter was pleased with the results of his photo shoot. We were able to make up and move beyond that horrible fight. (Although I still get a little teary just thinking about it.)

As you may have guessed, it was during that cooling-down alone time that Peter took the photograph Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare. It's a huge crowd pleaser. Everyone loves it. Surfers love it because it reminds them of a good surfing spot. People from Clare love it because it's from Clare. Other people love it because the sunset and the colours are so gorgeous.

Everyone loves it, except for me. It's easily my least favourite of Peter's photographs, all because of the story behind the picture.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Punch Drunk

I've had a rough couple of weeks and haven't been shy in the complaining department. Poor Peter gets the brunt of this moaning. It just seems like any time I've made plans lately, I've been thwarted.

If there's one thing I hate, it's when my plans change. I love my plans. I like things to go according to plans. Most of my day-dream time is spent creating potential plans. When I say I'm going to be at a certain place at a certain time, I want to be there at that time. Any manner of lateness or cancellation produces excessive levels of frustration and anxiety.

Peter's a good match for me in that he's incredibly laid back. He's the Great Dane to my loopy terrier. When I'm running around, yipping at anything that moves, he's stretched out and relaxing. He's able to just float along, taking things as they come. Unlike me, he doesn't feel any uncontrollable desire to bend the world to suit his will. I know he gets frustrated, watching me bang my head against brick walls when events force me to change my plans.

The following exchange sums up my problems perfectly:

Peter: B, you have to learn to roll with the punches.

Me: I'd rather punch the puncher.

Maybe I need to take up boxing. Then I'd learn how to avoid and minimise the punches and I'd have an outlet for my frustration and aggression. Of course, I shudder to think what would happen if something got in my way of going to boxing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sage Advice

Today is my dad's birthday. I don't think he minds if people know his age, since it's right there on his Facebook profile. But just in case, I'll only give you a hint: it rhymes with nifty-date. I'll save you having to do the math and tell you that he was 22 when I was born, which seems ludicrously young to me. (Imagine it, I could have a teenager right now.)

When I was 22, I made the momentous decision to drop out of law school and move to Ireland to see if this guy I knew was The One. (It'll come as no surprise to you that he was The One and still is.) My parents were surprisingly cool about this, considering the fact that they'd never met the guy.

I took the Greyhound bus from Camden, NJ to Cleveland, OH to see my extended family before my trip. Then the plan was for my dad to drive me back to New Jersey to collect my stuff. We'd spend a couple of days at his parents' house, then he'd drop me at Newark airport for my big flight.

I was going out of my mind with excitement and fear, the two emotions battling each other in the pit of my stomach. My dad and I were playing pool at my grandparent's house in New Jersey. They had recently moved out of the house my dad grew up in and were living in a tiny house in the same town. It felt weird to be playing pool in a bedroom instead of in their basement. (I always liked their basement, even though it was dark and smelled like mothballs.)

Dad and I were chatting, as you do when you play pool and somehow, we ended up on the topic of my impending move. I confessed to being really scared, terrified that it wouldn't work out or that something bad would happen. Dad gave me the best advice in the history of dads. He said:

You're only 22. I promise you if you follow these three rules, you won't get into any serious trouble:
1 - Don't kill anyone.
2 - Don't get pregnant.
3 - Don't get a tattoo.
Everything else, any other mistake you might make or problem you might have, those are all undoable. It's these three big ones: murder, pregnancy, and tattoos, that you can't undo. Anything else, don't worry about it. You've got your whole life to figure out and fix anything else.

This advice was perfect. Not only did it give me a blueprint for living my life, it also made me laugh and put things into perspective. I was going on an amazing adventure and I was going to enjoy it. Everything would sort itself out in the end, so long as I managed not to kill anyone, get pregnant, or get a tattoo. So simple.

Happy Birthday, Dad-eye. Thanks for all the advice, support, and encouragement.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Solo Outing

Peter's busy season for photography workshops has begun. He has eight scheduled this month, and another four or five already scheduled for next month. My usual course of action when he has a weekend workshop is to go into work on Sunday. I figure I might as well work up the hours and then I'll be able to take time off when Peter also has time off. This flexibility is one of the things I love most about my job.

This past Sunday, I planned to go into work but Peter talked me out of it. I'd had a rough week and had already put in 12 hours of overtime. I was so busy running errands on Saturday that I complained I felt like I didn't have a weekend. Peter convinced me that Sunday could be my weekend.

I was up early on Sunday, since that's just the way I'm wired. By 10 am, I'd already caught up on email, blogging, Facebook, and general web site reading. The weather outside was gorgeous and I decided I needed to see the ocean. I thought about the hour of driving on twisty country roads that would take me to the ocean and that I'd have to go alone. (Well, I was going to bring Toby, but it's not like he can share the driving duties.) I talked myself out of the outing.

By 10.30, I realised that if I didn't go to the ocean, I'd be miserable and have an unproductive day. I borrowed Peter's GPS (whom we call Emily), riled Toby up about the prospect of a car ride, and grabbed my wellies. I thought about bringing along a back up pair of socks and sweatpants, because usually me + ocean = wading adventure that ends with wet jeans. But I decided that I just wouldn't go wading.

The drive down to Barleycove beach was lovely. At one point, I caught a glimpse of the Fastnet Lighthouse, which is one of my obsessions. Some days, I crave solitude so much I fantasise about living in the Fastnet.

It took about an hour to reach the Barleycove and Toby enjoyed the ride. He had his head out the window for most of it. When I pulled into the car park at the beach, he went crazy. He couldn't wait to get out and smell everything. He had to wait, though, since I had to put on my wellies and get organised.

Barleycove is an interesting beach. It's really more like a bunch of sand dunes with a tidal lagoon, which then leads to more sand dunes before you get to the beach, which is a lovely stretch of flat, smooth sand. As the name suggests, the beach is a cove, so you have the feeling of being sheltered. The ocean sometimes freaks me out - all that nothingness stretching for thousands of miles in all directions. Barleycove makes the ocean feel cosy and manageable.

To get across the tidal lagoon, you cross a pontoon bridge. When the tide is coming in, the bridge is like a Universal Studios adventure ride. It sways and shimmys while water comes pouring over the base of it. Wellies or waterproof shoes are definitely a must. It was on or near this bridge that Toby lost a Kong toy during an outing last year. The guidebooks I've read all say that this bridge is to protect the fragile wetlands from the hordes of visitors. Possibly, but I'd say it also serves the more prosaic purpose of providing the easiest, driest access to the beach proper.

I snapped the leash on Toby's collar and released him from the backseat. He came bounding out and off we went. There was a loose, unchaperoned dog in the car park, so I moved Toby along toward the pontoon bridge quickly. Only when we got there, the pontoon bridge was disassembled and neatly stacked on the far side of the lagoon.

Since the whole objective was to see the ocean, and I was only seeing sand dunes, I knew we'd have to get across the lagoon. The bridgeless crossing looked too deep in the middle. So Toby and I walked up the beach in search of a better place to cross. I gave Toby a Kong, but he'd get too excited and drop it and then trot away from it. So I tucked the Kong back in my jacket pocket. After traversing nearly the length of the beach, we found a place where the lagoon was quite shallow. I was able to wade across with the wellies, no trouble. Toby pranced and danced and splashed his way across.

When we first got Toby, he wasn't keen on a water. He wouldn't even run through a puddle. Eventually, he got used to it and even learned to enjoy water. In the summer, I took him into the river a few times and he had a great time chasing the current. Even so, I'd never actually seen him swim and I don't think he'd been in water deeper than a few inches.

On the other side of the lagoon, we hiked across the scrubby grass and sand. Toby had great fun lunging after the wild hares, which were a fair distance away. Soon, we crested the dunes and I settled down to enjoy the ocean. This bit of ocean therapy was exactly what I needed.

When I started to get shaky with the hunger, I decided it was time to go back to the car. Rather than walk all the way back the way we came, we were closer to the bridgeless crossing. The tide seemed like it might have been on the way out and I thought we might have a chance of a decent crossing. It didn't look any better than it had the last time, so I walked a little ways further up the beach and picked a place that looked somewhat crossable.

In hindsight, I probably should have hiked all the way over to the hotel and then taken the road back to the car park. But the shortest route between two points is a straight line and I'd decided we'd give it a go.

Toby plunged in without reservation. I watched the water lap at my ankles, then at my calves, then crest the top of my wellies before we were even half-way across. The minute my jeans go wet, I was committed to speed over common sense. Toby was starting to falter, unsure if he wanted his feet to leave the safety of the ground. I pushed on, encouraging him to do the same. The water was soon up to my waist and I could feel the current nudging me sideways.

The water came up over the waistband of my jeans and I felt the scrabbling of claws at my back. Poor Toby was finding that he wasn't really keen on this swimming thing and was trying to climb up onto my back. I was afraid he was going to push me over and I was going to have to swim. We were more than half-way across at this point and the only thing for it was to try to move a bit faster.

Peter's voice in my head was telling me that I'd made a foolish decision and that I was in a dangerous position. But I told Peter's voice to be quiet. I'd assessed all the risks. We weren't in a position to be swept out to sea. The worst case scenario was that I was going to have a very uncomfortable ride home. The water was quite cold but I barely felt it. Relief was my prime feeling, as the water started to slip back down and Toby and I landed on dry beach on the other side.

Back at the car, I debated driving home pantless, but I had grand dreams of finding an open sporting goods store and buying a pair of sweatpants. (Boy, was I regretting not putting that spare pair into the boot.) I used the towel I keep in the car to sop up the worst of the water in my jeans. I cranked up the heat in the car and was actually not too uncomfortable although the jeans did feel a little clammy.

Lessons learned on my first ever solo outing? Be better prepared. Bring a little lunch so I don't make questionable decisions under the duress of hunger and have extra clothes on hand just in case. Peter has another workshop this weekend and I'm thinking, weather permitting, of another outing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

I hate making decisions. I find them nervewracking in the extreme. I can do simple decisions, usually. And I love planning, which involves making decisions to some extent. But the difference between planning and actually making decisions is that in planning, all of your options are still open. When you make a decision, you set off a chain-reaction that inevitably changes your subsequent choices.

Sometimes, when we have two movie choices and Peter tells me to pick, I'll tell him to pick for me. That's the only way I can figure out what I really want. When the option is out of my hands, I can judge it so much more easily. I'm either happy to go along with his choice or I realise that I'd actually prefer the other film, so I ask to overrule his decision.

The primary election process being what it is, I've never voted in a primary that actually meant anything. Before this year, the decision was done and dusted well before the election in my state. When I realised that this this year, my little ol' absentee ballot from Ohio was going to mean something, I knew I would have to make a tough decision.

When I started researching the candidates back in January, I used a bunch of those candidate-matching sites. I'd put in my policy beliefs and usually, the site would tell me that Mike Gravelle or Dennis Kucinich were my best matches. The best of these sites was, which let you do issue-by-issue comparisons as well as giving you overall percentages on your match with a candidate. I think my match with Obama was 82% and with Clinton was 80%. The differences were minor and the major difference was something that they had the same position on anyway. (I have a problem with federal funding of education. They don't.)

Without the ability to make the choice based on issues, I drifted into the fuzzy land of perception. Who seemed more competent? Who seemed more electable? Who would be the best person to represent the Democratic party? Who did I like more?

Without the ability to attend rallies and see the candidates for myself, I was dependent on the media reporting, which for me is pretty much NPR. After the New Hampshire primary, I made up my mind. I was definitely voting for Hillary. Absolutely. The way Chris Matthews was dancing prematurely on her political grave disgusted me. I was going to vote for Hillary and I was going to be glad to do it.

Then came the South Carolina primary. The way the Clintons (plural) conducted themselves during this time was disgraceful. I especially could not handle the way Hillary dissected and harped on Obama's comments about Ronald Reagan and the Republican party being the party of ideas. It was such a stupid, pedantic, trumped-up load of absolute horse manure. I changed my mind. I was going to vote for Obama.

The last four years of Bill Clinton's Presidency were dogged by partisan attacks and a blatant attempt by the Republican congress to undo the results of a democratic election. Then the last eight years have been so polarising and difficult in the States, it felt like the best choice was to go for the blank slate. Obama carries so little baggage and he seems like the best chance to avoid the bitter partisanship and polarisation that has nearly become institutionalised in American politics.

I drifted along for the next few weeks, sort of set on Obama but in a kind of mourning over Hillary. I know this is an unpopular thing to admit, sort of like saying you find Woody Allen cute or think that black jellybeans are the best flavour, but I really like Hillary Clinton. As a person. She's tough and smart and if I had a daughter who grew up to be like Hillary, who persevered in the face of so much opposition, I'd be so proud of her.

You know the old joke about the difference between exoskeletons and endoskeletons? One goes crunch-squish, the other goes squish-crunch. I think Hillary would go crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch-squish. As someone who is far too sensitive and yearns to be more resilient in the face of adversity, I can relate to and respect toughness more than I can relate to and respect someone who appears to skate through life with a surfeit of charm and grace.

Since it was an absentee ballot, I had to vote a few weeks ago. I voted for Obama and part of me has regretted it every day since. Peter was trying to reason me off the metaphorical ledge yesterday and I really couldn't articulate a single logical reason for feeling the way I do. I'm afraid that I've gone for style over substance. That I've sold out my own standards.

I'm just glad the decision making for me is over, even though in making the decision with my head, I learned what my heart knew all along.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What Dreams May Come

The dreams journal is continuing to provide me with bizarre insights and much amusement. Often, I scribble a list of images from my dreams before I'm fully awaken. When I read the entry later, not only do I not remember the dream, I don't even remember writing down its details.

For your Monday morning amusement, here is an example of a dream from a week ago:

  • Cleaver wielding maniacs
  • R2D2 wanting to kill and become Yoda
  • Epic battle between good and evil
  • Measuring beans and adding a mushroom for weight in a place like the Motor Tax Office in Cork
  • Eating cheesecake on an escalator

Sunday, March 02, 2008

And the Winners Are...

Thanks to everyone who participated in my Rebel County Quiz Contest. I seem to have made it perhaps a shade too difficult so good on you for hunting down the correct answers. I even learned a few things myself from your responses.

The Questions and Answers

Bucking the Trend, Gougane Barra
1. Which 6th Century Saint built a hermitage on the island in the lake of Gougane Barra?
Answer: St. Finbar

Evening, Dun Lough Pier
2. What washed up here on 2 July 2007?

Answer: As Babaloo put it: A LOT of cocaine. This is one of my favourite stories. It was a horrible stormy day and these eejits load up a 15-foot dinghy with over a ton and a half of cocaine. What did they think was going to happen?
My father had the best funny answers for this one: "The shreds of my dignity? A whale who mistakenly mapquested directions for Dunloe pier?"

The Healy Pass, on the Cork-Kerry border
3. When and why was the road through this pass built?
Answer: It started as a public works and relief project during the Famine. But I learned from your answers that it was finished in the 1930s to help kids get to school on the other side of the pass.

Galley Head, Near Clonakilty
4. Which great Irish leader, nicknamed "the Big Fella" and known for his strategy of fighting the British in "flying columns," was born near Clonakilty?
Answer: Michael Collins. I don't think anyone had any trouble with this.

Bonus Question: One of County Cork's nicknames is in the title of this post. Name another nickname for the county.
Answer: The answer that popped into my head was The People's Republic of Cork. Another correct answer would have been the sporting moniker The Leesiders.

The Winners:

Fastest answers: The award for fastest answer goes to Sweet Irene.
Most humourous answers: After disqualifying my father for nepotism and practical reasons (he already has a couple Peter Cox originals hanging in the house), I had to award most humourous to Babaloo for the following bizarre and unexpected answer to the Bonus Question:
The Donkey Aters. I have never heard this before and have no clue where it comes from (did people eat donkeys during the famine?). But Google was kind enough to reveal this one after about half an hour of searching. So I hope it's right.
I've never heard of such a thing, but hey, if Google says it's true.... It's definitely odd and funny.

Random draw winner
The category all the rest of you have been waiting for. All of the correct entries were written down on paper and put in a Marks and Spencer's shopping bag.

Then, our impartial and unbiased judge reached into the bag...

...and selected the winner.

And the winner is...Carrie of Carrie and the Koemstadts.

Congratulations to everyone. I have the prizes sealed up and ready to go. Please send me your snail mail address and I'll get them in the post soon.