Making time, the Irish way

I was driving home last night with a shameful haul of used books from a local second-hand shop – it’s an addiction, really – when I looked into my rearview mirror and noticed the sun setting behind a row of palm trees. It occurred to me that we’ve lived in California more than 2 1/2 years, and I’ve yet to sit back and watch a famous palm-tree framed sunset here. That’s kind of crazy.

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There are lots of things we’ve not done here in that time. We’ve never been to Yosemite, or Napa, or Lake Tahoe, or Hollywood, or San Diego. We’ve never splurged on the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Hearst Castle or Disneyland, we’ve not been to Alcatraz or the Winchester Mystery House, and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve dipped our toes in the Pacific.

Why? Is it time or money or having young kids or what? I guess it’s just life! Weekends are so packed with preparation for the week ahead, and plans to do the above have often been cancelled due to illness or lack of funds or simple logistics.  Continue reading

An Irish Christmas

It’s dark and quiet as I sit and listen to the clock tick this early morning while I drink my tea. I’m back in the corner of the couch in the kitchen I’ve sat in a thousand times before, contemplating Christmas, family, and jet lag.

We’re home in Ireland for Christmas!!

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Tea and a bun, Heaven!

This is the first time Frank and the kids and I have returned to Ireland since we left, over 3 years ago and I am so happy to be back! We flew in on Friday morning and, while I’m sorry to say my body clock is still adjusting, we’ve been having a great time. The weather has been cold and dry, just the way I like it, and every day we’ve been walking in the sunshine, meeting friends and family and feeling a little like we never left! Sure, there have been changes – new shops have replaced old, friends have had children, neighbors have passed away – but the countryside, the streets, and the feel of the place is very much as it always was.

I put Shea in a stroller on Saturday morning and pushed him up the road and right into town. Walking along, I nearly cried. (I’m a very nostalgic person, if you couldn’t tell before!) I pointed out familiar landmarks as we walked and he shouted and pointed at things that excited him.  I could smell coal fires and vinegary chips and drifting cigarette smoke and wet grass and my heart was full of love for this place that brought us all together, even when things so were hard sometimes.

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Christmas Cakes at the Moorland Cafe

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The Journey

A few months back, I was up to my eyeballs in the stress of a Huge Opportunity*.

It was the kind of thing one alternately hopes for and yet fears, one of those “that would never happen to me, but what if it did?” things. This Huge Opportunity took over my life for the better part of two months and brought out some of the best and certainly some of the worst of me.

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Bathroom Selfie before the Huge Opportunity

In the end, I didn’t get there. I made it part way, but I couldn’t quite grasp the brass ring. As crushed as I was amidst the lingering self-pity and embarrassment of defeat, I was actually relieved.  I knew that I’d done all I could do, that I’d worked very, very hard, and, in the end, that maybe I did not really want the Huge Opportunity after all. Maybe, as cringingly cliche as it sounds, it was the taking part, the experience, the journey that mattered.

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St. Peter’s in Drogheda – Where I often went to ask questions and regroup when the world was getting on top of me.    (photo copyright Frank Kelly)

It’s funny, for a long time, I looked at my experience in Ireland as the ultimate failure. I moved there with such a hugely naive and starry-eyed outlook – so common to young Americans moving overseas. I thought I would be moving up in my career the moment my feet hit the ground, for who, in all of Ireland, wouldn’t want a vivacious girl with film festival and journalism experience? Continue reading

Welcome Spring

My thoughts are a jumble these days, thus why I have not done much writing.  If you could open my brain, it would look like that corner drawer in your kitchen, overflowing with nails and screws, dried up glue and birthday candles, tangled string and electrical cords that belong to something, pens that don’t work and single doll shoes, tweezers, guitar picks and countless green grimy pennies.

That’s exactly what my mind is like right now.

I think about writing when I’m in the car or putting on my make up in the morning or walking to my office building – “I should write that down,” I say.  And then I forget. Little snippets of somethings that aren’t really a story or a proper blog post, but too important to throw away completely.

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It’s my first Spring working at Stanford, and it is beautiful.  Where once the space was inhabited by endless parched, brown grasses and the hum of bees and birds squawking in the trees, it is now cool and lyrical and very, very green.  If only my body could drink from this rainy fountain of youth every February and March, coming back fresh and soft and curvy, glowing with life the way the hills are right now. It always smells good on campus, usually of eucalyptus and evergreens, but right now the aroma of Spring is so strong it nearly makes your nose hurt.  There must be a thousand blooms around every corner, and sometimes the tiniest, most inconsequential looking flowers are the most powerful. So while the Birds of Paradise pose in the background of every tourist’s selfie, it is the nearly nonexistent and nameless species crowded in bushes around bike racks and doorways that you’re really smelling.  Continue reading

The Care and Keeping of an Irishman

First things first – I’d like to take a second to thank everyone who reads “View from an Irish Back Yard” for helping me to reach 100,000 views in the last seven years of blogging. It’s been fun! And you helped me get there. Now raise a glass to the next 100,000! 🙂

Now, on to the real post.

Frank and I have been “together” since late 2006, but actually “together,” as in living in the same town and being engaged/married for more like seven years (since this blog started!). I love how, at this stage of our relationship, I am finally able to cautiously predict some things and anticipate what surprises might make him happy.

Irish care package

Irish care package

At the heart of himself, Frank is – and always will be – a proud 100% born and bred Irishman. Being married to a Paddy brings its own unique set of rules for this American girl, and I am learning more of the delicate complexities every day.  Below I will outline a basic day’s routine to serve as a resource to other “mixed” Irish/American (or Australian, or Canadian, or whatever) relationships, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. 🙂 *Disclaimer: this is of course another sweeping generalisation based on my own personal Irishman, and not to be taken too seriously for feck sake.

Lyon's tea for Christmas, from a wife who really knows her husband.

Lyon’s tea for Christmas, from a wife who really knows her husband.

1. Rise and shine.  Well, rise anyway. My sleepy giant does not like to be roused too early, or too late – give him at least half an hour to get ready for work.  Bring him a hot cup of tea with plenty of milk – Lyons is preferred, Barry’s a close second and, in a pinch, Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast.  Yes, he can tell the difference. Do not disturb him while he listens to Ray D’Arcy’s live broadcast on his phone.  As he wakes, you can chat politics and current events from “back home” with him.

If it’s a weekend, a Full Irish Breakfast – or as near as you can manage – is a great idea (especially if beers were consumed the night before).  But you will have your work cut out finding rashersblack pudding (a.k.a. blood pudding) or white pudding.  You can make do with a couple pieces of American bacon, a couple breakfast sausages, Heinz baked beans, sautéed mushrooms, a fried egg, and toast.  Frank isn’t keen on the fried tomato, but that would be traditional.  For other breakfast variations, you can serve potato boxty, scones with butter and jam, porridge, or Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Flakes.

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Laggardly Pursuits

10929232_10153049229242915_2305852825431911778_nI am, for all intents and purposes, an introvert.

I like people, and I’d like to say I make a good friend, but it’s hard for me to make the first move.  One exception to this introversion is when I am the one in control of the situation, i.e. if I am the host, charged with introducing people to each other, making others feel comfortable in a situation, etc. I think I’m good at that. But in a way, it takes the focus off me.  I don’t like having the attention on me. (Funny, because I’m pretty brave about talking about myself on a public blog space! Ha!) But, even as a kid, I loved having a birthday party, but hated the part where I had to open presents or blow out the candles.  It’s even more acute now.  “Dear God, please don’t let them sing the Happy Birthday song to me,” I think to myself.  “I never know where to look.”

So.  I’m in a new town.  And everyone here is a stranger.

This morning I went to the 10:30 a.m. service at a local church, only to find out that this particular Sunday was a “fifth Sunday,” where there was only a 9:15 a.m. service followed by a hearty potluck.  I stood outside in the lovely sunlit courtyard, awkward, shifting my weight, trying to figure out what to do.  There was a sign directing “visitors” to a basket of name tags, only there weren’t any left.  No matter, I hate name tags.  I hate showing everyone that I’m new, that I don’t know how things are done yet, that I don’t fit in.  I circled the courtyard, hesitating outside the fellowship hall, wishing inwardly that I would meet a friendly face.  If only my old friend Porter from back in Indianapolis was a verger here.  I tried not to tear up.  It’s kind of been a rough weekend. I didn’t go in. I resolved to try again next week.

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