Sunday, July 31, 2005


Sunday, July 31, 2005

Can I say this without sounding rude? Probably not. I'm gonna say it anyway.
Skip Dublin. If you come to Ireland, skip Dublin.

Oh sure, there are some nice things about Dublin, especially if you're into pubs and Guinness. The Book of Kells was definitely worth seeing. But if you're not going for a specific purpose like pub crawling or specific-museum visiting, then skip it.

That said....

we went in to Dublin again today. Dani and I shopped along Grafton Street, which was packed with pedestrians and street performers. People will do ANYthing for a few coins in the hat. There are some decidedly whacked people out there! We also spent some time on (at?) Temple Bar, but we were mostly unimpressed with that. We had a good time. I love hanging out with Dani - we always have fun together.

Darren took the boys on a city bus. I know. You're thinking, "Woo woo. A city bus. What a vacation. What adventurers." Let me explain. Last weekend, Dani and I brought the boys souvenirs from London - a toy taxi and a double decker bus. Ever since, Aidan's been consumed with the desire to ride on the top deck of one of those buses. So Darren made it happen today, and Aidan was a happy camper. After all, it's his vacation, too. Ian was pretty much just along for the ride, but he did say, "It was BERY BERY COOL!"

Back in Athboy, we met up with Grandma for dinner at the local steakhouse. I miss iced tea. I miss waitresses who actually wait on you. I miss big honkin' salads. I MISS SALAD DRESSING. I miss cheese and chives and sour cream and bacon on my baked potatoes. (Here, all you get is butter.) No wonder we Americans are overweight, eh? First of all, we eat badly. (I miss eating badly. Can you tell?) Second of all, we drive everywhere. (Well, maybe with the exceptions of New Yorkers.) Here in Ireland, the people walk or bike. EVERYWHERE. No wonder everyone's so fit. I've enjoyed all the walking. I walked more in the last two weeks than I have in the last 6 months back in Texas. I do believe, if the sun rose at 5 a.m. and didn't set until 10 p.m., and if the heat wouldn't cook me alive after 10 minutes of being outside, I might just take up walking. Except.... Fort Worth drivers wouldn't know what to think about a pedestrian. They'd either mistake me for a homeless person or someone on crack. And I'd probably be dead on the road in the space of 5 minutes.

I miss the cat. I miss my friends. I miss my high speed internet. I miss the sun. I miss my neighborhood. Tomorrow is day 14 of being gone, and I'm ready to come home. Two weeks is the perfect amount of time to be "on holiday". Any less, and I'd have felt rushed and not ready to leave. Any more, and I'd be homesick. Yep, 2 weeks worked out just fine.

Tomorrow, we'll pick the Owen-Griffiths up at the airport at noon and give them their car. Then we'll head on to a beach north of Dublin (pray for sun and warmth), and to a model railway thing. Tomorrow night, we'll stay in a hotel near the airport, and Tuesday morning, we'll fly home.

This will be my last blog from Ireland. I can't wait to see everyone and catch up on things at home! Love you all, and...

"May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rain fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the hollow of His hand."
("An Irish Blessing")

Saturday, July 30, 2005

I'll pass on the Guinness, thanks

Saturday, July 30, 2005
Athboy, County Meath, Ireland

We took it easy today, and stayed close to home. We spent a couple of hours hiking around a lake, where we got to see 2 swans, 4 cygnets, 5 donkeys (pronounced the way that Shrek says "Donkey", 'cuz that's the only way we say it now), and the boys' favorite, a dalmatian. The dog came trotting down from a nearby castle, hung with us for 10 minutes or so until we posed for a photo with it, at which time he trotted back off toward home. LOL!! The gardens and lake on the castle grounds were lovely. We took many, many pictures. I'll add one here when I get new batteries for the camera.

We also got up close and personal with a bog, even walking up onto the moss. Because of all the rain, the bog was, well, BOGGY. I was wearing sandals (my foot's still too swollen to cram into tennis shoes), and with every step, bog water came oozing up between my toes. We saw lots of shiny brown frogs, and some sort of very weird creature that Darren had the nerve to pick up. It was almost like a slug, except that it was round and about the size of a walnut. Strangest thing we've ever seen. We got to see where they've cut the turf, and how they've laid it out to dry. From the peat that's drying, they'll make peat bricks, which they burn for heat.

After dinner at home, we three adults went in search of some more traditional Irish music. We stopped first at a pub in Trim that Tracy recommended, and had some good laughs there with the locals. I tried my first pint of Guinness, and liked it more than I thought I would. Even so, I'm not a beer drinker, and I didn't even come close to finishing the pint, even after Darren and Nancy took a sip or two each. But I appreciated the slow draw, the manner in which it was poured, and the frothy top which almost, but didn't, spill over the glass. Pouring a pint of Guinness is almost a religious experience here.

There was no music, so when the pub got crowded, we decided to leave and head back to Athboy, where we found a session at another pub. There, I ordered a Bailey's on ice, and savored every last drop. The musicians asked if there were any singers in the room, and a group of women said, "The Americans will sing!" There was a lot of good-natured joking between us, and the more Guinness they consumed, the funnier they got. We didn't sing, though, since we're not real up-to-speed with traditional Irish songs. But we did get excited when they played something called "Red Rover", a song about spending all your money on whiskey. We'd heard it the other night in County Clare, and remembered enough of it to join in on the chorus and clap in the right places.

Tomorrow, we'll go into Dublin, where we've promised the boys a ride on the Viking Splash Tour. Dani and I will check out the Irish Writer's Museum, too. And we'll all experience Temple Bar (which isnt' a "bar", but a strip of land along the River Liffey, that's known for trendy shops and pubs, street musicians, artists, etc.)

Nice winter we're having, is it now?

Sorry - no pictures with this post, as my digital's batteries are dead and my battery charger seems to be broken.

Friday, July 29, 2005
on the road in Ireland

We woke up in County Clare to pouring rain and a full Irish breakfast of crispy bacon, sausage patties, sausage links, fried eggs, brown bread, and grilled tomatoes. We skipped the black and white puddings. From Lisdoonvarna, we drove through Limerick, to Tipperary, where we had lunch. Then Darren and the boys headed up to the Rock of Cashel. Nancy, Dani and I headed on towards Waterford, where we shopped for crystal, wool sweaters, and other souvenirs. Then we drove back here to Athboy. It rained all day. And it's been really cold, especially to our internal Texan thermostats. It's been raining a LOT here, but everyone tells us that July is usually sunny and dry. We've only seen the sun on rare occasions. Most of the time, it's been behind thick, gray clouds. We've been really lucky though, and have planned our road trips around the biggest storms, so we've been able to avoid the worst of it. The temperature has barely climbed out of the 50s, so we've really put our few long-sleeved items to good use!

Once back in County Meath (where our house is), we stopped at a grocery store so I could buy eggs for the next morning's breakfast. Walking into the store, a local woman said, "Nice winter we're having, is it now?" She was all bundled up in a long coat and a hat. :)

We actually turned the heat on in the house last night, because when we arrived home, it was only 60 degrees inside. I have to tell much as I moan about the oppressive Texas heat, I have a new appreciation for our vast, blue skies! I miss the blue sky. I sorta even miss the heat.

And speaking of heat... It's been MISERABLY hot in Fort Worth, and apparently, all over the U.S. While we cuddled under down comforters here, Andrew and Tracy were sweltering at our house. The upstairs air conditioning unit went out on them last night, and was blowing warm air. We had the unit serviced two weeks ago, and had the freon recharged. We can only guess that it's been running so continuously that it froze up or something. And being a Saturday morning, we were unable to reach the repairman. Shouldn't A/C companies be open 24/7 in Texas during the summer??

Friday, July 29, 2005

I wanna be Irish

Thursday, July 28
later evening
Lisdoonverna, County Clare, Ireland

At 9:30, we stopped at a hotel/restuarant that advertised "the best live music in County Clare", and enjoyed a late dinner to the tune of Irish airs and jigs. One of the songs the trio performed was John Denver's "Country Roads." When it was over, I had tears dripping from my cheeks. I thought I was hiding them well, but Dani noticed, burst into gales of laughter, and announced to half the restaurant, "Mom!! Are you CRYING????" I couldn't help it, really. I was singin' along with the best of 'em until this verse:

"I hear her voice
In the mornin’ hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And drivin’ down the road I get a feelin’
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads"

I'm happy to be here, I really am. I'm in no way ready to leave. But something about those lyrics made me long for home. I was reminded how much I truly love my homeland.

Speakin' of lovin' yer homeland. I wish you could witness firsthand the complete and utter LOVE these Irish people have for their country and all things Irish. They sing about all of it. They sing about the rivers, the glens, the sky, the sea, the mountains, the rivers some more, and mostly, they sing about the whiskey. EVERYone sings. People who sing BADLY sing. No one cares. And they all clap along. They ALL know when to clap and how MANY claps to clap. They all sway to the music, in unison. Maybe it's the whiskey. Or maybe they're just a happy people. Makes me wanna be Irish!

"ELAINE, the main female singer reminded me and Darren of you!! She not only looked a little like you, but she SOUNDED like you. And her manorisms were you all over. It was so cool. I wished that I had my cell phone on me. I'd have called you and said, "Here, talk to this chick. I think you might be twins." You'll be happy to know that she had a beautiful voice. :)

We stayed at a B&B in the town of Lisdoonvarna that night. Actually, we stayed at 2 B&B's. We couldn't find one that could accomodate all six of us on such short notice, so we split our group between two homes that were serendipitously located just across the street from each other. The original plan was for the boys to sleep in one room with me and Darren, and for Grandma and Dani to share another room. But it worked out best for the boys AND Dani to stay with Grandma, which meant that Darren and I had a night to ourselves. We spent it by staying an extra hour at the bar, enjoying the session.

There's magic in them there cliffs

Thursday, July 28
late evening
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Once back on the mainland of Ireland, we headed south along the coast, over the Burren, and on to the Cliffs of Moher. This was what I'd been saving my ankle for. We climbed the hill, reaching the summit and viewing the cliffs just as the sun dipped below the clouds and cast an amber glow on their face. It was breathtaking. I stood there, dead in my tracks, and uttered, "Oh my gosh. Oh my. Freaking. Gosh." I'm so eloquent when overcome by awe, aren't I?

We lingered for an hour or so, watching the sun sink lower and lower in the sky. Finally, at 9:00, we began our descent back to the car. While at the cliffs, I had a miraculous healing! In my awe, I'd forgotten that my foot was injured, and I set off at a trot. With the first step, as my foot came crashing down on the limestone, I went down on my knees, catching myself with my hands. My foot popped, and the pain was unbelievable. Then it stopped. Halfway back to the car, I realized that I was barely limping anymore. Right now (24 hours later), it's still swollen, and I can "feel" it, but I can't really say that it hurts. :)

into the West

Thursday, July 28
Aran Islands, Ireland

I get to cross something off my list of "things to do before I die"! I have now flown in a prop plane, something I've wanted to do since forever. Dani got to be the co-pilot, and although I was insanely jealous, I was also thrilled for her and left camera duty in her capable hands. When we boarded the jet at DFW, Aidan lamented that we weren't flying in a plane "with spinny thangs on the wings". At the time, we hadn't planned to fly to the islands (we were going to take a ferry), so we didn't even mention it as a possibilty. But after spending a week driving in Ireland, we came to the realization that you don't get anwhere as fast as you think you can, and so to make the trip doable in a day, we decided to take a 10-minute flight rather than a 40-minute ferry ride. Aidan was ecstatic. Our plane seated 10 passengers (including the pilot). It was a very odd feeling, watching the ocean below me. It felt as though we were barely moving, as if we were hovering over the sea. I watched the propellors in flight, and the wheels as we landed. I loved being able to see through the windshield, and since we were sitting under the wings, there was none of that annoying wing blindness that you get on a big jet. The whole experience was exhillarating.

The island of Inishmore do I say this... bland. It's all rock. The only soil is that which farmers carried up from the beach years and years ago (a mixture of sand and seaweed).

The main attraction on Inishmore is Dun Aengus, a stone fortress that was built in 500 B.C. It's surrounded by four walls, except for one side (the only one that NEEDS a wall). The floor disappears at your feet, 300 feet to the sea below. Darren ventured to within 3 feet of the edge. I wish I could have make the trek - I'd have bellied up to the edge and peered over. (Maybe would've peed myself, but I'd have done it!)

Darren and Aidan were the only ones to make the trek up to Dun Aengus. My lame foot, Grandma and her cane, Ian and his slow gait, and Dani and her desire to shop all stayed behind in the village. I can't imagine living there, where there are so few trees. There's one small grocery store, and one bank, which is only open one day a week. The tiny island is laced with 2000 miles of stone fences. Only 750 people live there. In the summer months, their industry is tourism. The rest of the year, they fish. Lobster is their biggest breadwinner.

Darren thought the island was beautiful, and was offended when I said it was ugly. But it was ugly in an interesting way.


Wednesday, July 27
Wicklow Mountains, Ireland

The trip into the mountains might have been less enjoyable if not for the traffic jam. Mostly, it wasn't bad driving that was causing the backup. It was the rubberneckers, slowing down to get a good look at the ...

sheep in the road.

I sprained my ankle on Tuesday. It wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough that I spent the next two days clumsily hobbling around and in quite a bit of pain. I can't believe that I hiked to the top of craggy cliffs, crossed a rope bridge, and scaled a 40-foot slippery granite slope with two boys in tow, only to trip and sprain my ankle stepping off the deck in the backyard. I knew before it twisted that it was going to, and it was one of those instances where real-time stopped and everything began to play in slow motion. My ankle popped 4 times as I came crashing down on the grass. My first reaction was to look up and see if anyone was watching. When I was sure I was alone, I rolled around for a bit (now I know why football players roll on the ground when they go down hard...somehow, it helps ease the pain!), grumbling at my stupidity and releasing a string of bad words. Then I eased myself up, wiped away a rogue tear, and hopped to the house. For awhile, I was afraid I had broken it.

Because of the injury, I decided to skip the hike we had planned on Wednesday at Glendalough. Instead, Nancy and I shopped at the base of the trail while Darren and the kids went up. This is one of the shots Dani took with my digital:

I bought the boys each an Irish instrument: a tin whistle for Aidan, and a drum for Ian. They've already entertained us several times with "concerts", and even played a tune for Grandpa John on the phone.

The Wicklow Mountains were lovely, and the peaceful calm of Glendalough was just the medicine that we all needed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm a MacQuillen, and I've come to take my land!!

JULY 25, 2005
Northern Ireland

Darren's mom's lineage traces back to the MacQuillens of Ireland. Back in the 9th or 10th century, the MacQuillens owned the land that you see here:

Darren and I hadn't planned on venturing into Northern Ireland until Darren did a little research and discovered that Dunluce Castle, which sits precariously on a cliff overlooking the north Atlantic, sits directly on the land that his family once controlled. That is, until the marauding MacDonnels came along and pillaged and plundered and ran us off our land. The MacDonnels are the ones who built the castle you see here. All that remains of the MacQuillen castle is what's left of the north wall; most of it fell into the sea centuries ago, carrying several kitchen servants to their deaths. We tried to take some family portraits here, but between uncooperative boys and the gray skies, none of them turned out well. The castle ruins are amazing. We spent quite a lot of time exploring them and letting the boys have the run of "their" castle.

From Dunluce, we continued along the Antrim coast to the Giant's Causeway - a series of 40,000 tightly packed basalt columns that form a trail from the base of the coastal cliffs and disappear into the sea. Similar columns can be found off the coast of Scotland, which lends credence to the popular legend of a giant named Finn MacCool, who built the causeway so that he could cross the sea to see his lady love without getting his feet wet. (Actually, they're the result of vocanic activity 60 million years ago, but the Finn MacCool story is more fun, and the locals swear it's the more accurate portrayal.) Darren and I hiked up and along the coastal cliff and then back down to the causeway. Nancy and the kids took a bus down and waited on us. The photos of the actual causeway are on film, but here's a view from the trail we took:

From Giant's Causeway, we went to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, which hangs 80 feet above the sea and wobbles and twists as soon as you stand on it. Made of boards strung between wires, it connects the mainland with a tiny island 65 feet away. Aidan had looked forward to the bridge all day (he has a strange fascination with bridges of all kinds), and Darren and I both tried to prepare him for what laid ahead. We were sure he'd be terrified, so we tried to talk him into staying behind with Grandma and Ian. But he was determined. Here they are looking out toward the island. (24 miles in the distance, you can see Scotland on the horizon.)

When we got there (a 3 km hike from the car), it was Darren who didn't think he could cross! But he conquered his fear of heights and stepped out onto the swaying, bobbing, bouncing bridge, with Aidan leading the way. Aidan was all smiles the whole way across. Dani and I had gone ahead so I could take pictures as Darren and Aidan crossed. They did the same for us on the way back.

Although enjoyable, it was an extremely long day. We spent a total of 10 hours in the car, with badly labeled roads and many wrong turns in the process. When we got home, we were all tired, cranky, and out-of-sorts. So we took the next day off (Tuesday the 26th) to regroup, do laundry, and relax.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

9 hours in London

We’re connected!! WOO HOO!! Darren assures me that this is only temporary, and not to get too excited. We’ll see how far I get. J

Dani and I celebrated her 14th birthday in London. From Heathrow, we took the Express train to Paddington Station in central London. I tried to take pictures there, but a security guard told me I was not allowed. At Paddington, we quickly discovered that like it or not, we’d be better off taking the Underground everywhere, so we bought all day passes and braved the Tube. Several of the lines were closed, so navigating the system was a bit slow and confusing at first. But soon, we felt right at home hopping on and off the trains and "minding the gap".

Dani decided that she wanted to see Madame Tussaud’s. We had a ball there, and I even got to laugh with the Beatles!

We took a hop on-hop off bus tour and enjoyed it immensely. From the upper deck, we saw everything we wanted to see, and hopped off to spend more time at several sites. I found the perfect red phone booth photo op near Big Ben. I also found an original watercolor to add to my collection (for only 15 pounds!), and Dani bought souvenirs as well. Bobbie, I got the coffee cup you requested!

We were awake for 17 hours that day, and much of it was spent walking. (I swear…. Most of it was inside Heathrow!!) By the time we arrived back in Dublin, we were exhausted, but still hyped up from the excitement of the day. Dani fell in love with London and says she will do a semester of college there. Mother Nature was very only rained when we were inside Madame Tussaud's.

Bobbie, please call Mom and tell her that we survived in London. She was worried sick about us going.

Love to all! (And thanks, Andrew, for blogging for me. Funny how this connection sprang to life after we spoke tonight, isn't it??)

remote blogging

Hi this is Andrew here in the Kocurs house. I'm a bit nervous as this is my first ever blog!

Darren, Stacy et al are all doing fine in Ireland and the trip went well to London. There are a few technical problems in Ireland; a power cut resulted in the computer modem going down and even the technical might of Darren has net yet fixed it. There is also an apparent scarcity of internet cafes in rural ireland and so Stacy has not blogged for a while, hence my step into the technical world of blogging.

There that was relatively painless; I might even try this again!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Another perspective

This blog is by Darren, because I'm in Ireland too! :-) Actually, Stacy is still in London right now, so I guess I'm her surrogate blogger.

If you've noticed a missing update, well, there's a story to that. It turns out the electricity was scheduled to be shut off to our area from 9:00am to 6:00pm Friday the 22nd. (Andrew and Tracy, your neighbors ratted you out [told on you] and said you knew this was coming. Now I know why you wanted out this week! ;-) ) Anyway, the water pump for the area was apparently also out during the power outage, and didn't get restarted until 4:00am today. Stacy was terrified that she was going to London without a shower. And the internet also stopped working until about 4:00pm today. All in all, it practically felt like the Ireland of 20 years ago, hehehe!

Seriously, Ireland is just catching up on modern conveniences. I understand they've made huge strides with their booming economy, but it is still not quite like the States. Which, I think, is maybe more of a good than a bad thing . . .

The biggest difference I've noticed is in the size of modern man-made stuff. The cars, roads, stores, appliances, groceries, and practically everything else is much smaller in scale than what we're used to. We stopped at one tourist site yesterday with a famous tower and some spectacular 1000-year-old stone crosses standing 18 feet tall, intricately carved with just about the entire Biblical story. In the US, you'd have an enormous visitor center, a couple-thousand-space parking lot, shuttles, a large entrance gate, turnstiles, the works. Here, a 10-foot-wide, theoretically 2-way road leads to a parking lot which holds maybe 15 cars. A little old woman sits in a 6x6 shack at the entrance, willing to talk your ear off if you'd like, but equally as happy to chat with her neighbors. A quaint gift shop is large enough for no more than 5 shoppers at a time. And the ruins with their still-active cemetery are tranquil, save the sounds and smells of nearby tractors and sheep.

Here's a picture of a narrow Irish road:

Here's Stacy and I cruisin' with the sunroof open:

And here's a photo of Grandma and the kids following along in the rental car:

I sometimes wonder what the kids, especially the boys, will remember, if anything, from this trip. Certainly it won't be the fascinating Neolithic tombs we saw on Friday, some of which predate the pyramids of Egypt. Or the beautiful Irish crosses. Or the centuries-old stone ruins. Perhaps, it will be climbing on boulders:

Or running around a big grassy field:

Or crawling through a thousand-year-old escape tunnel (people were smaller then):

Or even eating at McDonald's with Grandma:

Whatever it is, we're all having a great time, and though we miss our friends, we're not yet looking forward to coming home. So far, it's been a great adventure. And now, I need to sign off, because I hear a fresh-baked raspberry/blueberry turnover calling me (berries purchased from a local roadside stand). Slainte!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Trim Castle

Today, we visited Trim Castle. Built in 1173 (and ongoing years), it's the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. We spent several hours here, touring the keep (amazing, considering that the stones were first laid more than 800 years ago!), what's left of the curtain wall, and the surrounding ruins. The castle was in complete ruin until just a few years ago. Overgrown and in great disrepair, it was literally crumbling apart and was closed to the public. In 2000, after a great clean-up and restoration, it was opened to the public. We descended 84 spiral steps on the way down. Tiny, narrow steps. The boys were in awe. As we walked away, Ian asked, "But where was the dragon?" Aidan quickly explained that it was killed by a knight.

Trim Castle was used in the filming of Braveheart. I love this shot. I took it as we were driving away...I made Darren pull over on the side of a busy street so I could get it. :)

After the castle, the kids and Grandma went back to the house, and Darren and I checked out the ruins of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The land that the cathedral sits on belongs to a farmer whose cattle graze among the ruins.

From the cathedral, we headed to a grocery store. LOL!! There was no rhyme or reason to the displayed product! Next to the leg of lamb were condoms, vitamins and clothes pins. With the produce were stacks of CDs, wooden shelving and cookies. We decided that the Irish haven't done the extensive consumer research that the U.S. has. Then again, maybe they have. We probably spent more money wandering around looking for stuff than we would have had it all been perfectly organized. Fresh produce is less expensive here than it is at home, so we bought a lot of it. Darren said, "No wonder they're vegetarians - you can afford to be at these prices!"

Good day. Tommorow, I'll write about how incredibly friendly and helpful the Irish people are. :)


1. The Irish drive on the wrong side of the road. Not only that, but they sit on the wrong side of the car. For me, it's the strangest feeling, sitting on the "driver's side", but having no steering wheel there. For Darren, the strangeness comes in shifting with his left hand and meeting oncoming traffic while resisting the urge to swerve onto the shoulder. For Nancy (Darren's mom, who has her own rental car), the weirdest thing is remembering that there's an extra 2/3 of a car on her left that she's not used to compensating for. The Irish drive like raving lunatics. They come careening around corners, in the RIGHT lane, which here is the WRONG lane, and then they swerve over into the LEFT lane, which is the RIGHT lane, just before hitting you head-on. Confusing, eh? It's all very nerve-wracking. After two days, we're finally getting used to it. :)

2. Long days. As I type, it's 9:40 p.m., and it's still light outside. When I awoke this morning (bright eyed and bushy tailed at FIVE FIFTY-THREE....what on earth is THAT about???... it was light, and looked as though it had been for awhile.

3. Cool air. Have MERCY, the weather is gorgeous! The temperature topped out today at about 72 degrees. There's always a gentle breeze blowing. The windows on the house are open, and we drive with the car windows down. I love Ireland! And I worry about the Owen-Griffiths in Fort Worth. That they must bear that oppressive heat after living HERE is, well, SAD.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


This is our Irish home.

I think I've found my European twin! (Not in appearance. Tracey is thin and petite, and I am...well, not.) But in the way we make a home, we are so very similar! This lovely house is accented with little touches of family everywhere you turn. The downstairs bathroom features handprints. Everyone who visits is encouraged to paint the palm of their hand, leave a handprint on the wall, and sign their name to it. We'll add ours before we leave. It's sorta similar to the bulletin board I have at home, where I add photos of visitors sitting on our porch swing. This house is vibrant and alive with color. Every room is painted a different hue. We've seen lilac, orange, blue, silver, fuschia.... it's fun. We'll be extremely comfortable here!

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the car was the smell of sheep and cattle. The next thing I noticed was the garden. Flowers are in bloom everywhere! I was thrilled to see my very favorite of all, blue hydrangeas.

I left the camera hook-uppy thing hooked up to Darren's dad's computer. D'oh!! So now I'm not sure how I'll be handling my digital photos. SUrely there's a photo shop or even a drugstore in nearby Trim where I can have the photos transferred to CD. Surely. For the photos you are seeing in this post, I used Andrew's camera, which I found sitting here next to the computer. Maybe I'll end up stealing it for the duration of our stay. :)

Tomorrow, we'll see some local sites, including Trim Castle and possibly Newgrange. But now, I'm off to bed. (And it's only 10 p.m.! Can you imagine that I'm going to bed so early??) First, I gotta go sing the boys an Irish lullaby. Too ra loo ra loo ra!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blast Off!

I’m posting from the dial-up connection at my in-law’s house. I can’t get this ancient computer to recognize my camera, so I can’t upload pics of the Irish people. But they are very nice, and I feel comfortable leaving my home in their care.

I guess now that I’ve met them, I should stop calling them The Irish People and start recognizing that they have names. They are Andrew and Tracey Owens-Griffith, and their children are Meara and Elliott – boys ages 8 and 5. And they’re not actually Irish at all. They’re Brits who’ve only lived in Ireland for 5 years. I took a photo of them on my porch swing, and will add it to my bulletin board when I get home.

I wish you could see my house. It’s HOTEL CLEAN!!! There’s not an unfinished project in sight. There’s not a stitch of dirty laundry. It’s sorta sad to work so hard to get it in such good shape, and then leave it. ;)

The Owens-Griffiths are vegetarians. I was completely intimidated by the thought of cooking up a vegetarian meal. I mean, I’m COWTOWN Stacy. We don’t call Fort Worth “Cowtown” because we think cows are sweet and cute. Our history is marinated in ground pepper and lime juice, and smoked over mesquite coals. We are MEAT EATERS. I decided that I wanted to serve them “TexMex”, so I invented enchilada recipes today. We had avocado/corn/green chili enchiladas, and black bean/chipotle/cheese enchiladas. Mexican rice and salad were the side dishes, and we pigged on Ghirardelli brownies with Vanilla Bean Blue Bell ice cream and candied pecans for dessert. I must say: I’m not one to brag on my cooking, because frankly, dumping a box of hamburger helper in a skillet and yelling “voila” doesn’t usually earn me the right. But tonight was different. Tonight was GOOD!

At nine, we finally threw our suitcases in the van and drove away, while The Irish People – er, I mean the Owens-Griffiths waved goodbye from our front porch. That was a very odd feeling. Our first house swap has officially begun! I got disturbing news tonight, speaking of House Swapping. The Owens-Griffith house in Ireland is on, - GASP! – dial-up! They live in a rural area, and while I’m sure its steeped in charm and historical significance, it’s unclear whether I’ll be able to upload my photos every night as planned. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to blog every night. When I said, “Surely there are lots of Internet Cafes in Dublin”, Tracey and Andrew threw their heads backed and laughed in Irish.

So, tonight, instead of showing you a picture of the Irish People, I’ll instead show you some pictures of Hotel Kocur. I made Dani take the pics and upload them before we left.

Tomorrow morning, we “blast off” (in Aidan’s words). The next time you hear from me, I’ll be posting from the Emerald Isle, with a Bailey’s in one hand and potato in the other. THE LIFE!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

limping towards home

We've nearly wrapped up all the projects. Darren finished the deck tonight. (THANKS, JAKE, for helping him finish!)

I finished painting the guest room last night, and started decorating tonight.

Today, Kristi came over and we cleaned like madwomen. (Thanks, Kristi! You're the BEST! I don't know another soul who would give up 8 hours of her Saturday to clean a friend's house!) You should've seen the guest room when she started. IT was WHITE with dust from the demolition. THICK with white. Now it sparkles.

Kaki and Katherine came over and cleaned out my fridge. It looks brand new. Then they organized and sorted all the scrapbook donations that have accumulated in my front room since the Great Wall Demolition of 2005 began 6 weeks ago. I love you guys!

Tomorrow, Melissa is coming over to do some final detail cleaning. She LIKES that sort of thing, and it's the sort of thing I don't usually THINK about.

Thursday, Sherilyn came and watched the boys so I could get my hair colored. And she's loaning us one of her huge honkin' suitcases.

Without our friends, we'd be up. a. creek. We are blessed beyond reason, really we are.

We're almost there! Our house is almost hotel-clean for the Irish people, and we're almost ready to hit the road ourselves. I still have to pack. But tonight, I made good progress toward that end. I made Aidan try on 10 pairs of "long-sleeved pants" before we found 3 that still fit him. We're gonna need long pants in Ireland... it's a lot cooler there than we're used to! I put new batteries in the Leapster and located headphones to use with it on the airplane. I bought the new Harry Potter book for Dani's reading enjoyment. I printed off a free cross-stitch pattern for MY enjoyment. I'll only use one color of floss. Can't get much simpler than that! Darren is planning to read our Ireland travel guides cover to cover. So our airplane activities are largely planned and ready to go.

I wish you could see my house. You'd be amazed. Really, you would. So much has changed in the last 2 months. Most of it happened in the last two weeks! I'm utterly exhausted, but it will all be so worth it. When we return from IReland, our house will still be hotel-clean, and there will be no projects looming. YAY!!! :)

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I finished my last pre-vacation scrapbook job tonight. All told, since June 3rd, I've invoiced 538 pages. FIVE HUNDRED and THIRTY-EIGHT. No wonder I'm burned out. And yet, I still find it blissfully amazing that I get to make money doing this. :)

My house is a wreck. There's a thick layer of dust on EVERYthing from the construction upstairs. Speaking of that.... my handyman (Mr. Mark) finished the repair and texturing today. TOmorrow, we paint. Yay!

I got my hair cut today.... had about 2 inches chopped off. I hadn't had a cut since October, unless you count the 4 or 5 times I've trimmed my own bangs. But you shouldn't count that, 'cuz they looked like I trimmed them myself. I made an appointment two weeks ago for a cut and color. My auburn lowlights are long faded, and I really wanted to brighten them back up in time for my trip to Ireland. But.... I called and cancelled the appointment because I couln't see spending $140 when I'm supposed to be saving for my vacation. Today, while Madalyn was cutting my hair, the stylist at the station next to her was coloring a practice doll's hair. It was a gorgeous shade of red. Madalyn said to the trainee, "Good! You've mastered the dummy. Next, you need to do a live model." I volunteered, and she's coloring my hair tomorrow. FOR FREE. Madalyn will be right there beside her with my color card, making sure I don't end up orange or green or bald. All I have to pay for is the product, which will cost $15 at most. How much should I tip the trainee?? Should I tip Madalyn for overseeing the job? I'm so glad I cancelled that original appointment. :)

I've accomplished so much this past week, it's mind boggling. And yet...

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, July 11, 2005

10 bucks

I just plopped down at my (new!) desk and said, "Time to blog. I don't have anything to say."

To which Darren replied, "There are lots of fancy electronic toys in the world, but for 10 bucks, you can get a groovy wooden train."

So, okay. I'll run with that. :)

Tonight, we did something we haven't done in months. We went to our Monday night antique auction! It was sorta crazy, because number one, we don't have money to spend. And number two, we don't have time to waste. But, we really, really needed the night out. It was time to de-stress and reconnect and do something that's not written on a list somewhere.

The first thing we saw when we walked through the door was a crude little handmade wooden train engine...about a foot tall, and two feet long. It was painted in bright, glossy blocks of red, yellow and blue. For the boys, it was love at first sight. We've seen stuff like this go for big bucks (that's relative, I suppose. But "big bucks" for something like this, to me, is $60 or so. Money I'd NEVER spend on a plaything of this caliber). So we didn't promise anything to the boys. But the train was scheduled to go up late in the auction, so we thought our chances of getting a good deal were pretty high.

They were! The bidding started at $5, and after a total of 3 bids, we snagged the train for $10. YAY! The boys were ecstatic. I buckled the boys into their carseats while Darren went to pay and pick up the train. While we waited, I said, "Boys, can you believe Daddy bought you that train?"

Aidan said, "Yah. 'Cause he loves us. That's why he bought it."

As we watched Darren walk toward the car, Aidan exclaimed, "He looks so HAPPY!"

All the way home, the boys talked about their new train.

"It has a TRUNK!" enthused Ian. "We can put our LITTLE trains in there!"

This afternoon, I hosted a pity-party-for-one about the new digital Canon that I want but can't afford in a million years. But tonight, I realized... I don't need it. I don't need ANY of the fancy electronic toys that I covet. All it took was a 10 dollar train to make me see the light. :)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I love my Mother-In-Law

Everytime someone hears that we're taking my Mother-In-Law to Ireland with us, they say, "What, are you CRAZY?"

But they don't know my Mother-In-Law. If it were Darren's MIL we were talking about, they'd have reason to think me insane. LOL! But my MIL... she is a saint.

She always sends birthday cards. EVERY year, without fail. And every year, without fail, she encloses a check for $25 and encourages me to buy something frivolous. (This year, I ordered a set of monogrammed hand towels from Pottery Barn clearance.)

She never forgets my wedding anniversary, and every year, the card says something to the effect of, "You are the best thing that ever happened to Darren."

She's an encourager. She once decorated an accordion file with cute stickers and titled it "I Did It!", and urged me to start saving and filing proof of my accomplishments, to build my (what was then) low self-esteem.

She's demonstrative. Every time she leaves my presence, she kisses me on the cheek and says, "I love you."

When we lived 2 hours apart, she'd sometimes me Dani and me at a Chili's near the halfway point, and we always shared an Awesome Blossom. I don't know if she really liked those deep fried onions, or if she just shared them with me because I liked them so much. :)

She's a wonderful Grandma. What my kids miss in quantity (of time spent together), they make up for in quality. Today, she spent the day here with the boys, allowing me to work while Darren helped his Dad with some projects at his house. While here, she cleaned my kitchen (including mopping, which is a huge chore for her). Then she went upstairs (again, a HUGE deal for her) and helped the boys clean their room. Somehow, they thought it was fun. Must've been 'cause Grandma Nancy was there.

She lets me vent about Darren. I don't do it often (don't need to), but this week, I needed to. And I did. She just smiled and said, in her sweetest voice, "Well, what can I say? He comes by it naturally."

I love you, Nancy! You are a blessing to me, and I oughta tell you that more often. :)


I've scrapbooked 455 client pages in the past 6 weeks. (Plus a dozen of my own, plus a dozen for a gift album for Ms D's Surprise Party -see June 24 post.) I'm scrapbooked out. But I'm not finished. I'm about 2/3 of the way through my current job, which I need to wrap up this weekend. I must finish the job and get paid, because the money is a big chunk of the financing for our trip. :)

I finished painting my new desk. Darren and I assembled it today, and I'm supremely happy with it! It turned out exactly like I had it pictured in my head. It feels so good to finally have one project completely finished. We gave our old computer desk to Mico, who picked it up today. The scattered new desk parts are now cleared out of the front room. I can finally put away all the newspaper-dropcloths and the paint supplies and make that room presentable again. It felt so good to cross something off The List! :)

Dani came home tonight from Trek. She climbed Colorado's highest peak, Mt. Elbert. She's flying high right now. It was, easily, the best experience of her life! She will be home fewer than 12 hours, though, before she leaves again. Church camp starts tomorrow, and we'll leave the house early in the morning.

Tried to avoid the internet today (and largely succeeded). But I did reply to an email from an old high school friend about another old high school friend. And I bought a wide angle lens for my SLR camera. Been wanting one for a few years, and decided to bite the bullet. It'll be here before our trip. Also bought an extra flash card for the digital.

Whew. I'm tired. I spoke with my friend Jenny yesterday, and she gave me some good tips on how to make the boys sleep on the plane. ;) I will definitely employ them, 'cause I have a feeling I'm gonna board that plane and promptly PASS OUT. :)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I Will Not Be Afraid


At 7:30 this morning, I started being gently pulled from my sleep by these words. I had worked late into the night, and had fallen asleep on the couch watching CNN. As the fog cleared from my eyes, I sat up and watched the coverage, channel surfing to see what the other stations were reporting. I felt a deep sadness in my gut as images of the Twin Towers flashed through my head. I hate terror and the bastards behind it.

At precisely 7:39, my phone rang. It was Mom.

"You need to get up and turn on the news," she said, in her deepest, most doom-ridden voice.

"I'm watching it," I replied blandly.

"So you're cancelling your trip then?"

"Uh, NO."

"Well, you and Dani should DEFINITELY cancel your trip to London!"

"Mom, London is probably safer now than it was yesterday. It's very unlikely that there will be another attack after this morning's. Besides, Dani and I will be there on a Saturday. Terrorists generally target busy commuter areas on business days."

Mom was beside herself. She can't believe we'd be so flip about it. She wonders how we can possibly be so irresponsible. I said, "Mom. I refuse to be afraid. I am NOT afraid. I'm aware, and I'm cautious, but I will not change my life because of fear."

She continued the conversation by saying that she wished Dani and I wouldn't travel alone to London. "For some reason, I'd just feel better if Darren was with you." Then she said that she's been uncomfortable all along that we're going to Ireland. "You're flying in and out of Dublin?" she asked. When I said yes, she lamented, "I wish you wouldn't. Northern Ireland is just not safe!"

I explained to her that Dublin is not in Northern Ireland, but I didn't bother telling her that I'd probably be safer there than I am here in the inner city of Fort Worth. No need to give my poor Mom heart failure.

I won't be taking the tube (it'll likely still be closed, anyway), but I won't cancel my trip. I'll see a different London than I would have last week, but I won't let that slow me down. I'll be empathetic to London's loss, but I won't be distraught. I'll be more aware and less fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-y, but I. Will. Not. Be. Afraid.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Aidan has the tendency to be a cry baby. And a tattle tale. Both of those things are character traits that I abhor, so I spend energy each day trying to undo them. Poor kid. Isn't a Mom supposed to love you just the way you are?

For months, when Aidan comes crying to me about something one of his friends did ("Mommy, Kristopher pushed me." "Mommy, Tristan spit on my shoe!"), I've told him, "STOP. If you're tattling, I don't wanna hear it. You can handle it yourself." Last week when Kristopher took Aidan's hat and wouldn't give it back, Aidan cried. That night, I lectured him: "If you cry, he'll just aggravate you's a game to make you cry....big boys shouldn't be crybabies....yada yada yada." Then I finished my lecture with a sentence that I thought went in one ear and out the other: "Next time he picks on you, tell him, "Stop being a PUNK, Kristopher! Give me back my HAT!"
(What kind of Mom teaches her kids to call names?)

Tonight, as I sat in the next room talking with the adults, Aidan came sulking into the room, bawling, "Krithtopher....."

I stopped him cold, with my hand held up Traffic Cop style. "I don't wanna hear it, Aidan. Handle it yourself."

He slinked off, but before he was out of earshot, I heard him exclaim, "You're a PUNK, Kristopher! Don't do that AGAIN!"

I looked at Kristi, and we both burst out laughing. GOtta love a friend who can handle it when she knows you told your kid to call HER kid a punk!

In the car on the way home, I asked Aidan, "So, what did Kristopher say when you told him to stop being a punk?"


"Was he mean to you after that?"

"No. It worked, Mom!"

Kristopher, 139. Aidan, 1.

Not that I'm keeping score or anything. ;)

Dear Dani

I miss you. I hope you're up on that mountain having the time of your life, but let me tell ya: I miss you. And it's not just me.

Tonight as we sat down for dinner (fried chicken from the grocery store deli, mac-n-cheese, and peas - you didn't miss much), Aidan asked, "Is Dani gonna eat with us this time?" He doesn't understand that you're not gonna walk through the door any second. He hates that you're gone! But then he noticed that we were having peas, and, grabbing his fork, he said in his little Aidan voice, "wuhHOO!" He'll remember at some random moment tomorrow that you're gone, and I'll have to explain to him, once again, that you won't be back until Saturday. Then he'll ask me how many days that is, and I'll tell him. And then he'll get all sad and slowly blink his eyelashes until I scoop him up in a hug and smother him with kisses. He'll beg and scream and giggle and call to you for rescue. Then he'll remember again that you're gone, and the cycle will start all over. Maybe I oughta keep a bowl of peas at the ready, just in case.

Sunday at church, while we were singin' "Get Right Church", Dad and I joined Katherine on the "woo woo" parts so she wouldn't have to sing 'em solo. I leaned forward and said, "It's not the same without Dani, is it?"... to which she replied, not with words, but with sad puppy dog eyes, "Nope."

Dad's been scooping Ashlie's litter every day. I know this, because every time he does it, he comes and tells me. I'm very grateful, but I think I must not be expressing that clearly enough. He even tells me if it's a bigger load than the last one. I miss having YOU here to scoop the litter, 'cause you don't bother giving me a play-by-play.

I cleaned the kitchen tonight. By myself. Have mercy, it's been a long time since I've cleaned it alone. I'm so used to having you there beside me - usually hmpfing, but there nonetheless. I thought about how many nights I've left you to do the clean-up by yourself while I plopped down at my desk or hunkered down in front of the computer. What a rotten Mom. I should get some kind of award for that behavior. I'll try to rehabilitate myself while you're gone, and hopefully you'll come home to a better life than you knew before.

I missed you today as I climbed the stairs for about the 18th time. I wanted to call up to you like I usually do: "Dani! Throw down a roll of toilet paper! I'm out down here!" "DANiEEEEEEEEEEEE! Gather up a load of towels!" "Daniella, go in my room and look on the tall bookcase, on the middle shelf, no wait... 2nd shelf from the top, toward the left, or maybe further to the might be under that magazine, or maybe it's a book... and bring me my tweezers!" Random. Instead of running my errands up and down the stairs, you're climbing a 14-er in Colorado. I bet it's a lot more exhausting. I also bet it's a heckuva lot more fun!

Ashlie misses you, too. She forces me to scratch her ears by walking up under my hand and pressing up with her head. If I try to move my hand away, she raises one eyebrow and then bites me. That's what I get for refusing the service she requires. What a prima donna.

I even miss the things about you that usually bug the livin' crap out of me. (Which reminds me... you were supposed to leave your room in pristine condition. It was supposed to be COMPANY CLEAN when you left. It is not. The floor is littered with bras, shoes, assorted clothes, and who knows what else. I just closed the door. Makes it seem like you're here that way. LOL!) But anyway... as much as I cannot STAND it when you say "Meh" when I ask you a question (and it pains me to say this out loud), I'm ready to hear it again.

"Dani, how was Trek?"
"Ah! Great! Tell me all about it!"

I love you, daughter of mine. :)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Birthday

Darren's parents came over at noon and spent the afternoon with the boys, decorating their bikes for the annual neighborhood parade. Meanwhile, I finished painting the desk furniture (yes, Nancy, it NEEDED to be done) and cleaned my scrap room in preparation for my next job. Yay! Two things marked off my list! :)

At 7, we walked down to the "the triangle" and watched the kids ride round and round in the neighborhood 4th of July parade. Last year, we pulled them in the wagon, but this year, they were big enough to ride their bikes. They were precious. Aidan zoomed around and around, grinning from ear to ear everytime he passed us by. Ian, distracted by the marching band -and the dogs, and the other kids, and the flags - kept riding off into the curbs. LOL! Afterward, we walked down to a neighbor's house (who happens to work at Darren's company) for a Popsicle Social. He and his wife host it every year after the parade. It was fun hanging out in their front yard with dripping popsicles, meeting neighbors and deepening our roots here. I love our neighborhood.

Once back home, we hopped in the car and high-tailed it across town to watch the city's fireworks with friends. We got there at dusk - about 9:00. Cara had a sack full of sparklers, which the boys thought were the coolest things they had ever seen. Sparklers are illegal in the city limits, and we were reminded of that when a policeman pulled up and kindly told us to put them out. Then he turned around and wrote tickets to the people across the street.

At one point during the night, Ian said, "Mom, why are we doin' all this stuff?"

"'Cause it's the Fourth of July," I answered.

"But why are we having all this STUFF?" he demanded.

"'Cause it's America's birthday. This is sort of like a birthday party for America."

"Then when are we gonna sing the birthday song?"

So, beneath the starry sky and the occasional burst of light from a rogue firecracker, we sang together:

"Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, America!
Happy Birthday to you."

Sunday, July 03, 2005


How appropriate that this Pink Floyd song is running through my head tonight.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

That's what I've done today! I've frittered and wasted the whole stinkin' day. If you could only see my to-do list - things which MUST BE DONE in the next 13 days - you'd say, "Girl! What IS your problem??" I think today, I was in full rebellion. I took a 3-hour nap on the couch. Then I watched a re-run of Extreme Home Makeover. I don't even LIKE that show. Screaming Ty makes me want to run screaming into traffic. At 9 p.m., I finally decided to get off my butt and accomplish something. So I started painting the furniture that I primed 6 days ago. But THEN I heard the fireworks from Concerts in the Garden, and went outside to watch. Then I needed to check my email. Then I painted a couple of more brush strokes, which is when this song popped into my head, and so I decided to blog. What is WRONG with me??

So much to do.... so little time. Maybe I need to pop in my Pink Floyd CDs and crank it up.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say

Home, home again
I like to be here when I can
And when I come home cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire
Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Daughter of Mine

Dani is leaving for Trek in 6 hours. She's been packed for two days. She's so excited, she can't sleep! She's broken in her hiking boots (bought 'em in March), she's waterproofed her gear (twice), she has wool socks and a Camelback, and most importantly, she has her camera, extra batteries, and plenty of film. Extra batteries; I have succeeded!

Tonight, she marked the final detail off her list:

Braids. Lety and Ligeia came over and did her hair. It took just over 2 hours, but that included taking time out to eat a quick dinner. While braiding, the three of them watched Cinderella (the original animated version). When that was over, they looked at pictures on the computer. It was a fun evening.

I still need to mark the final detail off of MY list: write Dani a letter. She has letters from about a dozen people, and plans to read them when she gets homesick or when she needs encouragement to keep climbing. For someone who usually has no problem putting words on paper, I'm having a tough time with this assignment. There's so much I want to say, but the words in my head are inadequate. She's about to accomplish (for the second time!) something that's on MY "list of things to do before I die". I'm proud of her. She's strong, she's capable, she's energetic, she's fun, she's positive, she's funny, she's inspiring, she's wacky. She's mine.

I'm gonna miss her so much these next two weeks!