Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27

Today we traveled through the Gap of Dunloe. Neither words nor my iPhone photos can even begin to capture the breathtaking views and the feeling of awe at our diminutive presence amid these majestic mountains. 

We splurged on an inclusive tour so that John could take a break from driving. The road into the park proved this a wise decision--pony carts, cars, bicycles, tour buses on a winding road that in the US would not be wide enough even for a residential cul-de-sac!

The bus brought us up to Kate Kearney's cottage (restaurant, gift shop, staging area for ponies and carts) and from there we connected with our driver, Johnny (age 75+) and pony, Daisy. It was a bit of a tight fit, but we made it work. (Some of the younger drivers walked along side carts with 4 people and/or stood on the rear step. Pretty sure Johnny was matched with us because with the kids' smaller size he could still have a seat.)

In a few places, we were encouraged to get out to walk to enjoy the beauty and to ease the burden on the horse on the uphill climbs. Johnny assumed I'd want to continue riding and kept asking if I was OK as we walked. He may have been scandalized when a "delicate" woman scrambled up the off-road path after the boys, who of course could see no reason to stick to the paved road!

Once again, an absolutely gorgeous day. Edward was keeping his eyes closed before photos due to the bright sun and promising to open them when I counted to three. (Also, Gram, they were wearing hats and sunscreen, but hats block faces in photos!)

At the end of the pony road (which was also used occasionally by cars--Johnny said about 20 families live in the valley below the gap, tending the sheep who were "baa-ing" at us from the mountainsides) there was a small snack shop for a sandwich before boarding an outboard-motor boat for a trip through the Lakes of Kilarney, Kilarney National Park. 

Again, stunning, but the camera doesn't do it justice. 

This part of the tour took longer than we were expecting. The lake was quite low--about 6 feet below where it was even a few days ago, boatman Tim reported--so there was even a short section under a bridge where we had to get out and walk along the shore a bit so that the boat could pass without our weight pulling it too low. Unfortunately this meant very little time to scramble through the ruins of Ross Castle, our ending point. Our castle connoisseurs were placated with memories of the three castles we've already seen and the additional one (Blarney) on tomorrow's itinerary. 

The bus brought us back to town by about 4. John took a nap while the boys and I ran a load of laundry at the shop next to the hotel (too much vacation, not enough underwear!) We used the time to scout restaurants for our dinner. 

I never take food pictures, but delicious Guinness beef stew in Ireland at the end of a day hiking in the mountains seemed worthy. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 26

Today was unexpectedly a one-stop day. We had breakfast in one castle, walked around the grounds, and then headed out to another--Bunratty Castle & Folk Park outside Limerick. 

I did not think we'd spend the whole day there, but 3.5 hours and two ecstatic boys later, there we were! It was great--lots of spiral staircases and "secret" castle rooms to explore, plus a reconstructed village to show life outside the castle. 
Small door in the wall door

Daniel on his way to the dungeon
MANY archer holes to pretend shooting arrows
Top of the castle, imagining scanningfor attackers and defending the castle
From ground level
Jumping off the castle walls, because, of course. 

With the blacksmith

The "teacher" said they could pick any house in the village and stay until Christmad because he gets paid per student. He'd even move them to 6th and 4th--they did not bite. 

Ice cream and apple pie persuaded them to stay out after dinner for the music I wanted to hear. We are in Kilarney tonight. Hotel has separate twin beds for be boys--woo hoo!!

A note about the weather--not one drop of rain so far! I shouldn't even say it since we are hoping for outdoor activities tomorrow, but I am truly amazed. It's been a little chilly, but totally manageable. 

John has been doing an amazing job with the driving, which is mentally and physically exhausting. I think I've been an effective navigator. Our "wrong turns" have been minor and immediately correctable with a u-turn. I am working hard to curtail my cringes and seat-clutching as we pass through the narrow roads. 

May 24

Some very tired boys slept until 10:30 this morning! Surprisingly, they were not ravenous when they woke up, so we headed to Dublin Castle before having a meal. There we ate on a terrace "with spaces for shooting arrows," which was lovely until the pigeons started helping themselves to the uncleared remains of other people's meals. Then we had to leave. 

(Dressed alike for my peace of mind being on my own with them all day in a big city. In case we got separated I'd only have to remember one clothing description.)

Look what we found on our way to the next stop!

It was across the street from our destination, Christchurch Cathedral 

and Dublinia, a museum of Viking history. Lots of fun!
(The answer to the question in the photo is No. The "traditional" horned Viking helmets were only ceremonial, but theatrical costume choices have so influenced the culture that they have become the defacto image.)

We perpetuated it by taking the Viking Splashdown tour--similar to the Duck Boats in Wisconsin Dells and elsewhere, but with Viking helmets instead of quacking noisemakers. The noise on his tour comes from the driver/guide encouraging the group to ROAR at groups of pedestrians and other buses. 

The tour ran long, making us late to meet John and his colleagues for a private, after-hours tour of Trinity College & Book of Kells. But our Dublin hosts graciously provided tickets for us to go tomorrow morning. We did get to meet up wth John briefly before he left for his group dinner and Irish cultural show.  

Even though it was close to 6 and we hadn't eaten a meal since the pigeons chased us away from our brunch, the boys said they weren't ready for dinner. We headed for a park we saw from the tour bus and burned off some steam. 
Then we stopped for dinner in a pub whose kids menu caught my eye as we walked by. The boys complied with my request/edict to try something other than chicken tenders and were satisfied with their penne (Daniel) and cocktail sausages & chips (Edward.) I found refreshment in a chicken dish (not deep fried) and nice cold beer. 

Daniel observations about life in a big city: "There are so many people so close to me all the time. I'm uncomfortable."(This was right at 5 pm as we were racing through busy streets to try to meet up with John.)

Time to wind down now to be ready for our final half-day in Dublin before heading to the countryside tomorrow. 

May 25

It is difficult to travel in a foreign country, even an English-speaking one. It is difficult to travel with children. We had some ups and downs today, but here are some highlights. 

John's Irish colleagues graciously gave us access to the Book of Kells at Trinity College this morning since the boys and I were delayed yesterday and missed his group's tour. We were mightily impressed with his library!

The grown ups and kids each picked one more activity to finish out our time in Dublin: Kilmainaim Gaol and the Irish Wax Museum. (I'll leave it to you to figure out who picked which.) We were not sure we had time for both and decided we wanted to be sure to see the Gaol, so we headed there on the sightseeing bus. When we arrived at about 10:30, we learned that the next available tour was at 1:15 (all others were already sold out.) So we got the tickets and hopped a cab back to the Wax Museum, which was literally across the street and down a narrow lane from where we'd exited Trinity. (But if we had done that first we would have missed the opportunity to see the Gaol, so although it was inefficient, it ended up being the right choice.)

The wax museum ended up being more fun than some of us expected and an interesting way to hear some Irish history, both ancient…

…And modern (Irish pronunciation: mod-ren.)
OK, Harry Potter isn't Irish, but still a hit with some Americans. 

We rushed through a pub lunch, but not so fast that we missed the live music. Daniel had a little chat with the players and charmed them into playing Wild Rover for us. (Charm + €1)

We sped back to the Gaol for our tour and were not disappointed. It is a magnificent piece of history and the tour guide was excellent. 

Later in the day we might have wished the boys had stayed behind in these cells…
But I digress. 

We headed back to the hotel, picked up our stashed luggage and headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car. 

All things considered, it went pretty smoothly following my printed Google directions to Kinnitty Castle. The boys fell asleep for a good chunk of the drive but were wide awake and properly awed as we pulled up to our lodging for the night. (Hope for better pictures in full daylight tomorrow.) 

We had dinner, explored the castle dungeon (now used as a restaurant on weekends) and got in a quick "game" of tennis before calling it a night. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ireland 2016: we're off!

After breezing through O'Hare security so fast PopPop almost didn't get back from parking the car, we did hit a travel snag at Dulles. We were on the plane and ready to go when they announced a 20-30 min delay for mechanical repair. That stretched into 90 min before they decided to put us on a different plane. By this time it was midnight local time. The boys had watched a movie during the delay and were ready to crash. 
After all the senior citizens used the wheelchairs to get from old gate to new one and down the jetway, I asked to use one to move Edward for boarding. This produced a rush of aid and sympathy from the staff still on duty at 1 a.m. and they scurried about trying to find pin-on wings and other United swag. Edward woke up and decided to walk himself down the jetway. He was back asleep before takeoff. Daniel and I slept also, though D woke up after only 2 hours thinking we must be "almost there." He watched another movie and then when Edward woke up they switched seats so Daniel could try to sleep flopped on me and getting an back rub. He then slept while Edward watched the movie. 

Amid all this, there was a medical emergency of some sort on the plane that required paging for a doctor among the passengers and then all the crew being occupied with caregiving. One member was dispatched to bring cups of water around, but she could not deliver the breakfast. I think the passenger was OK--she was awake and upright when they took her on the wheelchair to the front of he plane to meet the waiting paramedics in Dublin. 

The boys and I navigated the airport and found the bus to City Centre, managed to get off at the right stop and then let Google Maps guide us to the hotel, where John happened to be coming in on break from his meetings just as we were getting our key. 

We decompressed a bit and then headed out to the nearby Leprechaun Museum (one of the only things open that late in afternoon.) (The flight delay cost us about 3 hours in Dubin.)

John skipped the tour to head back for his group's cocktail hour with the Lord Mayor of Dublin followed by dinner. We enjoyed the fun storytelling and background on the folklore and tradition.     

Then we walked across the Ha'Penny Bridge and found some fish&chips (chicken for boys) for dinner. We were trying to stay up until at least 8:30 and it was still only 6:30 so we picked ourselves up and navigated (no Google!) to St. Stephen's Green. I was sure there must be a playground in the vast park and sure enough after we followed the paths around a bit there it was!
We found our way back to the hotel and discovered a powerful incentive for showers: hotel robes & slippers! Now hoping for a solid night's sleep to be ready for a full day of Dublin fun on Tuesday. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Daniel had a sore leg on Saturday evening and took an ice pack to bed with him. The ice pack was not recovered until bedtime on Sunday, when he decided his leg was hurting again, handed me the ice pack and said, "Mom, could you colden this up for me please?" I don't think he was necessarily trying to be funny, but as soon as he said it he realized it was an awkward construction and we all had a good laugh. It was slightly less funny when he realized the ice pack couldn't be "coldened" in time for bed, but he muddled through and we haven't heard about the sore leg again.

Possible injury sources:

Ice skating on Friday's day off for
parent/teacher conferences

2nd grade  3-on-3 basketball

The ice pack, now re-coldened, awaits its next call to duty. Possibly for my back, which is crying out daily for our new mattress, which will be delivered Saturday. Our current mattress was purchased when we got married. The furniture store salesman said we did well to get 15 years out of it!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Constitution Day made a big impression on Daniel. Second graders were encouraged to wear red, white, and blue today, and he burst in after school saying, "Mom! We did so many Constitution activities, and I learned a lot of facts about the Constitution."

This video is his encore performance, as the first one was so spontaneous I did not have the camera at hand.

Monday, August 24, 2015

First day of school 2015--Edward in 4th grade, Daniel in 2nd. Unusually cool for first week of school!

Posting the picture of Daniel in his new shoes reminded me that I never shared the story of their arrival/discovery.

I could not face a store with endless choices and Edward's decision paralysis, so I ordered each of them two pairs of new gym shoes, chosen based on their favorite colors, orange (D) and neon green/yellow (E), and left them in open boxes in their rooms before picking them up from camp.

That particular week of camp was Taproot, which is a very hands-on nature camp from which they come home exhilarated and completely filthy. Shoes are left on the porch, all clothes removed and taken to the washing machine immediately after stepping inside.

So naked Daniel ran upstairs to shower, but stopped off in his room and discovered the shoe boxes.

"MOMMY!" he screamed. "YOU GOT ME ORANGE SHOES!" Then he bolted to the top of the stairs, stark naked, screaming, "I LOVE YOU!!"

This is the point at which John walks in the front door, which you may know, has a straight-line view up the stairs. So his welcome home is his giddy, naked son, shrieking down the stairs where he proceeds to jump up and wrap me in a full body hug with arms and legs. Still filthy. But obviously quite pleased with his personal shopper.

Score one for Mom. And

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Last week of summer--our first visit to the outdoor pool. I guess it's been a busy summer! Daniel started out saying he flat out would NOT take the swim test to be allowed access to the deep end of the pool. Edward had his band from last summer but we couldn't find Daniel's. His refusal was in part nerves about swimming across the pool (which he can do easily, but can look intimidating) and it part indignance at having to retest. But after about half an hour splashing around he decided to go for it and there was no looking back. 

(I realize it's a little hard to tell them apart since they're both wearing blue shirts. Edward is in the colorful swim trunks.)

They both watched adults and kids on the high dive while waiting for turns on the low board and finally just walked right over and tackled it. You can see with the speed of these videos that there was little hesitation. I actually advised them to just walk to the end and jump without looking, as I think that can derail good intentions. By the time I dragged them out Daniel was twisting a 180 corkscrew (feet first) on his way down. Edward gave up on the flips as he couldn't seem to get enough rotation not to land on his back. I think he'll try again though. We will certainly be back before the pool closes on Labor Day!