View From an Irish Back Yard

East Side Indy
April 11, 2014, 3:35 am
Filed under: America, Crime, Family, Indianapolis

My head is throbbing.

I am jumpy, skitterish, probably unnecessarily anxious.

Today was a long day – getting Evelyn off to pre-school at 8:30, coming home to catch up on dishes and try to work on an article, then work at Starbucks 12:30, taking Frank to work at 5:30, then getting a babysitter and going to do a film review this evening.  I missed dinner and didn’t have much of a lunch.  I felt almost jovial coming out of the movie, stopped in to Trader Joe’s and headed for the highway home.

At the stoplight just before I69/465, I clicked on the little indicator that says how much gas I have left – oops, only 7 miles until empty.  And I was in the wrong lane to turn around.  So I got on the highway, nervous and scanning the exits for a gas station.  This wouldn’t do – I had to get off at Lawrence.  I wasn’t going to end up stranded at night on the highway with one headlight and no one to rescue me.  I drove down a street that, while well lit, was not where I wanted to be.  I had to pull in to the first gas station – really the only gas station – I could see, and as I did, I noticed there were police cars parked askew in the lot and a couple officers having heated debate with some young girls.  I tried to stay nonchalant, but a voice came over the speaker and told me I’d have to pre-pay inside.  So I locked the car and walked through the police cars and in to the station.  I waited in line, listening to the shouts and curses of people in the store.  I could feel my face flushing, a rushing sound filling my ears and a sort of desperation as I willed the line to move faster.  I paid a polite cashier and quickened my steps back to the car, where I put $20 worth in my tank.  A well-dressed man on the other side of the pump filled his car and shook his head at me, saying, “I’m just dreading this summer, when those crime rates are gonna climb even higher.  A few months from now, I don’t even want to see.  It’s already started.  These young kids, they just don’t care, don’t even care about living.”  I nodded soberly back at him.

I finished pumping my gas, wished the man good night and safe home, and got back in my car, locked the doors and got back on the highway.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to feel the chills of reality.  He was right, and I knew it.  Everyone around here knows it.  This summer is going to be bad, unless something changes. Continue reading

Kiddos – the hardest job on earth.

I love kids. I always wanted kids.  Yet, every day it seems I ask myself, “Am I really cut out for this?”


“In The Night Garden” always works magic.

I started babysitting at 11, was a camp counselor as a teenager, volunteered in the church nursery in my 20s and was even a nanny for a stint in Ireland, so I know all about changing diapers, giving baths, making babyfood and bottles, playing games, calling time outs, and all that stuff. But it’s the bigger stuff, the life training stuff, that really throws me curves with my own kids.  Like I said to Frank just yesterday, with any other job, if you’ve tried your absolute best and still failed, the world won’t stop turning.  But with your kids, if you’ve tried your hardest and failed, that’s not good enough.  Frank says everyone has frustrations and stresses with life, and kids, and he’s right – but sometimes I wonder if “everyone” has better coping mechanisms than I do?

It’s Saturday morning, just before 7 a.m.  Evelyn has woken me up (and subsequently, Shea, too) with a cheerful, “Good morning!” I get up and go about turning on cartoons and getting her breakfast.  Shea is grouchy and smells sort of sour behind the ears, like he spit up during the night.  He was whinging all night long anyway, probably too hot sleeping in the bed between Frank and me.  I rearrange dirty dishes in the kitchen and find some clean ones so I can bring Evelyn her cereal, milk and juice.  She is drawing at the coffee table and politely says, “Bank you Mummy!” I put Shea down so he can crawl while I check my email.  He crawls over to Evelyn and pulls a piece of her drawing paper off the coffee table – of course the piece of paper her breakfast was sitting on.  So cereal, milk, paper, all over the carpet, wet and stinky and soaking in.  I get cross at Evelyn for not watching Shea, even though I know I should have been watching them both.  I call the dog to clean up the first layer of mess, then I come in with towels and cleaner to try and soak up the rest of the milk.  Throughout my cleaning, I have to keep moving Shea so he won’t crawl into the mess he just made and I scold Evelyn for not playing with him as a distraction.  When the mess is sort of clean, I put Shea in his high chair and proceed to toasting some bagels for our breakfast.  I look over and he does his beamy chin-in-the-air smile at me while eating something he found stuck to his high chair.  I thought I cleaned it last night??? I wait for his bagel to cool and hand it to him.  He throws it on the floor.  I scold him, pick it up and examine it for dog hairs, in which it is covered. Guess Georgie gets to eat his breakfast, too.  I pull the shade on the kitchen window and sit with Shea to watch the sun rise.  And even in this sweet moment, I sort of want to restart the day.  Actually, I feel like I’m not ready to begin the day at all.  But there is no mountain of covers big enough to hide me from my needy, lovely, children.  Continue reading

Reverse Culture Shock
February 6, 2014, 3:37 am
Filed under: America, Family, Indianapolis, Ireland in General, Parenting, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Well, seeing as you’re still reading, I guess I’ll keep writing.  For now. :)  I’m happy with a lot of the posts I’ve achieved with this blog over the last several years, and I don’t really want to give it up.  So if you’ll just be patient with my few, sporadic, posts, I’ll try to focus a bit more and put stuff up more often.

After the last post, a kind woman who has been through a similar situation expressed the feeling PERFECTLY as “reverse culture shock.”  Yes, I’d say that’s exactly what we’re feeling after this most recent move back to the USA. I know it’s what I’m feeling for sure.

It’s been a little crazy. :)  We were so worried, and anxious, and upset, when Frank didn’t find work for so long.  And health care (or the lack thereof) really, really got to me.  I wasn’t even thinking about President Obama or all the debate or even where we were going to find the money – I just wanted the security of knowing we’d be taken care of!  And after being turned away and hung up on and treated like dirt when I just wanted the basics for my family, I was very, very upset.  Finally, as you know, Frank found work and the benefits are really good.  In fact, they just went into effect for us, which is good because Frank and I were turned down twice for Medicaid for “lack of paperwork,” even though we provided everything and more that they requested.  The kids, however, were covered by Medicaid for some reason, so they’ve been “safe” for the last few weeks. Whew.

Then, just as we prepared to celebrate, I got very sick all Christmas week.  Explosively sick.  Was it our Dec. 23rd Chinese take-out, or was it an evil predatory virus?  We will never know.  As soon as we’d gotten back on our feet from that one, the weather came in to play.  As you probably also know, it’s been an insane winter for the Midwest.   Continue reading

Here. Now.
October 26, 2013, 3:55 pm
Filed under: America, Family, Friends, Home, Indianapolis | Tags: , , , ,

It’s been nearly seven weeks since we made our great move back over to the USA.

Every one of those weeks has presented its own unique challenges and blessings.   Some days are filled with hope and others, defeat.  We always knew it wouldn’t be easy, yet even I have to admit, I never knew it would be so exhaustingly difficult.  We are ALL homesick for Ireland, and all probably wondering at times if we did the right thing.  Frank feels the strangeness of this place very acutely, and I struggle to grasp any sort of sense of belonging here.  I guess this is what it means to be nomadic?

Sometimes I feel a bit like this shattered glassware we (unsuccessfully) shipped over from Ireland.

Sometimes I feel a bit like this glassware we (unsuccessfully) shipped over from Ireland… shattered and wondering if we did the right thing?

Our biggest hurdle  is finding work for Frank.  When I was in Ireland, I kept in touch with friends and co-workers here in Indianapolis, so I was lucky enough to have a part time job waiting for me at Starbucks.  Not ideal, but imperative in terms of insurance benefits and a small amount of income.  Frank is still looking under every stone!  He’s had a couple of interviews, but so far, his search has been fruitless, and very, very frustrating for him.  My heart hurts to see him feeling so lonely, and isolated, and “unwanted” by employers thus far.  I know that feeling – I went through it myself about six years ago in Drogheda.  And to top it all off, a care package from his mam got lost in the mail – after a week of hanging on to the promise of Lyons tea and Cadbury’s buttons, this news was just really sad!!!  So we’re worried, and anxious, and probably a little too impatient with the kids!  But we won’t be broken – we aren’t giving up.  I married a lovely, strong, hard-working, sensitive, kind, Irishman – the kind who says, “the glass is half empty, but there’s another pint on the way!” :)

In the meantime, I am thankful.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to be so – OK, nearly every day I have to remind myself.  But I am, truly, truly grateful for many things here, even while I’m missing all that we had before.  I am delighted with the pumpkins, spiced cider, and changing fall leaves of the American Midwest.  I am thrilled with the local libraries and parks for our kids (and us!).  I am thankful to be able to watch the World Series on TV again.  I so treasure our friends and family and the incredible generosity and empathy they have shown us.  At one point I felt like we were experiencing a real life “loaves and fishes” scenario:  we started out in our home with very little, but by the end of the first week, we were surrounded with so many gifts of furniture, kitchenwares, kids clothes, bedding, towels, food, and more, that we actually had more than we needed.  And at the end of the day, we may be worrying about where the money is going to come from in a few more weeks, BUT we are well cared for now.  We have a nice home filled with comforts.  We have food in the fridge.  We’ve had our little bouts of colds and infections, but we’re healing.  We have a minivan that we bought from friends and was exactly in our limited price range.  We have each other.  We have love.

If you’re thinking of us anytime this week, please say a prayer for our family and for Frank’s job hunt.  And if you’ve been helping us out all along, as many of you have, THANK YOU, once again.

30 Days Remain
August 10, 2013, 5:22 pm
Filed under: America, Ireland in General, Irish Outdoors | Tags: , , ,

I’m a bit in denial, even as I sit here surrounded by half-packed boxes.  After 5 1/2 years of Irish adventures, my family and I are moving back to the USA on the 10th of September, just 30 days away.

It has been a bit crazy, trying to plan out the whens and hows, and I am desperate to cross things off a list of endless details that must be organised.  But, deep down, I know this is going to be a lot harder than merely getting to the airport on time or finding the right car when we get there.  It’s going to be really, really difficult to leave.


Magdalene’s Tower, part of a 14th century friary, just a block or two away from our house.

People keep asking me if I’m excited, and yes, of course I am!  In my stacks of lists, there is one near the top for the first precious groceries I will buy when I’m settled back in Indiana – it includes things like cornmeal, applesauce, spicy salsa, Italian sausage and coffee-flavored ice cream.  I can’t wait to see my friends and family again, and introduce them to my kids.  And I’m really looking forward to making a fresh start and building a new life with (hopefully) more promise.

But Ireland has been a very special place for us, for me, as well.  I don’t think I can actually put into words all the moments and places and people who have forever stamped this country on my heart.  And really, I’ll forever be a transplant here – Ireland was never really “mine.”  But there are bits and pieces of her I will carry with me from now until we return, which will hopefully be soon and often.

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What I’ve Learned About Grandmothers
August 1, 2013, 11:57 pm
Filed under: America, Family, Ireland in General, Parenting | Tags:

My grandma Evelyn always used to have squirty cream in her refrigerator and Breyer’s Ice Cream in her freezer. Even if she wasn’t hungry for dinner, which was often in her later years, she’d still have a bowl of ice cream with a generous flourish of whipped cream on top.  The older I get, the better that sounds to me, too.


My grandparents’ New York of the 1930s

It’s easy to idolize people after they’re gone.  I’m sure my grandma would love to think we were all nominating her for sainthood down here on earth, immortalizing her in cloudless, pink-tinged memories.  And there are a lot of those memories to share – long Sunday picnics at her condo in the summer, comfortable afternoons spent learning how to quilt, or crochet, or bake or play Skip-Bo.  There are funny stories we share, times when she embarrassed us as teenagers or brought down the house with her New York-accented comments in public places.  We loved her dearly, and we keep her with us this way.

It’s important to remember, at least for me, that she wasn’t perfect, either.  There were times when she hurt my feelings, usually with a sharp opinion on my wardrobe or weight.  And, like most grandmas, she complained that I did not visit her often enough.  Like most kids, I ignored this annoying little reality, telling myself I did enough and that my life was very busy.

Now, years later and living in Ireland, I have seen firsthand that she was right.  Continue reading

Another Man Called Peter
May 13, 2013, 8:10 pm
Filed under: America, Dublin, Ireland in General, Literature, Writing | Tags: ,

I used to take very long, solitary road trips when I lived in the States.  I never minded being on my own or driving for days – it was a bit cathartic, really – except for one particular time, when I drove from Indianapolis to Baltimore and back for a friend’s wedding.  Many calamities befell me on that trip, from having my car break down on the highway, to a bout of seasonal hay fever that drove me to insanity, to spending my 25th birthday alone, and on top of it all, a terrible aching for Frank.  I was in a pretty miserable state of mind – he lived in Ireland, I lived in the USA, we’d been apart for five months, and there was no end in sight.  I was feeling very sorry for myself, to say the least.

However, even in the dark moments of that trip, there were pinpricks of beautiful light, and one of the best was when I stumbled across a used book store in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the kind of place that was packed end-to-end with stacks and shelves and piles of dusty books, into little rooms and closets, up a rickety staircase, and haphazardly thrown into some sort of organised chaos. Often in places like that, you don’t go looking for particular titles, because you’ll get lost and frustrated. Instead, you explore, and you let a book find you.

Peter Sheridan's Memoir Collection

Peter Sheridan’s Memoir Collection

On that humid May afternoon, Mr. Peter Sheridan, and his memoir “44: Dublin Made Me” found me. The book ended up in my hand, then on the seat of my car, and all the way home to my bookshelf in Indianapolis. I didn’t actually read it until some time later, but I can truly say that it, and its author, left a permanent and growing imprint on my life, particularly since I set up housekeeping in Ireland. In the years after discovering this treasure, I’ve found Peter’s other books as well, and, funnily enough, mostly in used bookstores – “47 Roses,” “Big Fat Love” and “Break A Leg.”  They’ve joined an elite pile of literature I am loath to part with – except for “Big Fat Love,” which was too good to keep to myself, so I had to share it with my best friend for her last birthday.

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Pat versus Val
February 9, 2013, 10:36 pm
Filed under: America, Holidays, Ireland in General

This is going to sound ludicrous to many of you, but I really miss the fuss we Americans make over Valentine’s Day.

St. Patrick -v- St. Valentine

St. Patrick -v- St. Valentine

In Ireland, this holiday is barely worth a mention.  Last year they ran a little piece in the local paper asking the locals what they thought of it and it was overwhelmingly dissed.  Most people, it seems, view it as a cheeky “Hallmark Holiday,” a forced attempt by retailers to make people declare their love when they really should be doing that every day of the year.

I do not disagree with these comments, but I think I fortunately have a broader view of Valentine’s Day because it was so much fun celebrating it as a kid.  What about parties with your friends and loads of little Valentine cards shared between you?  What about the heart-shaped candies with the funny sentiments and the minty, chalky flavours?  What about a little heart-shaped candy box covered in cheap satin next to your cereal bowl in the morning as a special surprise from your parents?  What about an extra $5 and a hug from your grandma?

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February 2, 2013, 12:14 am
Filed under: America, Ireland in General, Weather | Tags: , , , , , ,

Many Irish folks I know are obsessed with the weather.  Funny, perhaps, since the weather (in my view) doesn’t seem to change all that much around here.  Rain, drizzle, downpour, bit of sun, drizzle, rain, drizzle, fog.

Still, I have conversations about it on a daily basis with the people around me.  Seems they watch the forecast religiously, and quote their knowledge to friends and family on the streets.  “It’s meant to lash by Wednesday.”  “Ah sure, but they’re saying it’ll turn mild by the weekend.”  “Well it’s very warm today, so it is – the cheeks are flying off of me.”

And so forth. :)

The last few days have been full of horrendous weather, truly awful, miserable and bleak fare.  The wind has blown terribly hard for days, bringing bucket-loads of rain and littering the town with a trail of broken umbrellas across every street and footpath.  Last night, the wind was so bad, it even blew the pebbledash right off the side of our house.

Fog in Drogheda along the River Boyne - December 2012

Fog in Drogheda along the River Boyne – December 2012

I have to say, winters here are still strange to me.  I’ll never quite get used to the lack of snow or the way the grass glows its most truly emerald hues between November and March.  I love coming home to a roaring coal fire, but I miss the smell of burning pine.  And, even after growing up in a sub-zero climate, I don’t think I will ever adapt to the bone-chilling dampness of a truly dark winter’s day in this part of the world.  No amount of fire or tea or blankets or sweaters can make a difference when one of those chilly Dickensian days decides to hit.  No wonder everyone here died of consumption a century ago, and no wonder people still struggle to fight off colds and flu now.  No wonder we all count down the days until Spring!

Winter was quite the opposite in Montana, where I grew up.  We couldn’t wait for winter to begin! 

A haven for winter sports and piles upon piles of glistening snow, Bozeman, Montana, was a destination of sorts for many.  Skiers and snowboarders started saying their prayers early that they’d be able to have their first run by Thanksgiving (late November) and, equally, hoped their last wouldn’t come until Easter.

I’ve loved snowy winters for as long as I can remember. Two of the public parks within walking distance of our house were flooded every winter so people could go ice skating for free. We took lessons sometimes, but mostly, we’d just walk down to the park on a whim, skates tied together by their laces and carried over a shoulder. We’d change in the warm-up hut, where the smell of wet wooly mittens and snow boots still lingers today. Mom might have sent us over with a thermos of hot cocoa, which would be safely stowed under a bench for later. We’d skate around and around until the arches of our feet hurt and our fingers were frozen.

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A crazy year gone

As ever, Christmas has gone by in a flash.  Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and before you know it we’ll all be back at work.  For us, we’re enjoying the last few evenings spent by the fire with the tree still decorated, finishing off those last buttery cookies and smidge of Alaskan smoked salmon while starting to make our plans for 2013.

To be totally honest, I’m sort of glad the holidays are coming to a close.  This year has been tough for us, and the last month even moreso.  It will be nice to start with a clean slate.  The baby kicking in my belly is a constant reminder that things are again about to change, and the 3 year-old running around my house half-naked (we’re potty training :)) is evidence that nothing has stayed the same for long, anyway.

In honour of the changing times, here’s a little recap some of my favourite moments and successes of the last 12 months.

Raggedy Ann & Andy print quilt

Raggedy Ann & Andy print quilt and pillow

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