One month and two hundred bottles of water later…

After a month I can say

This tan is not one of spray

Residence visas

Delivery of pizzas

We’ve got that all squared away

I don’t know whether it was all the runny noses in my classroom or this dry desert air, but most likely a combination of the two left me with one red eye and a fever last month. The doctor prescribed eye drops and told me to drink three times as much liquid.  After two days of laying on the sofa and chugging through several large bottles of Rayyan mineral water, it was time to tackle a unique experience: obtaining a driver’s license.

American’s get the special treatment when it comes to getting a license here in Qatar. All other nationalities simply walk up to the counter, present their home-country license, and are handed a Qatari one right then and there. But due to some incident a few years ago (either a Qatari had a hard time getting his license in the States, or some American offended a Qatari here in Doha; there are a few stories floating around about this), now all Americans must pass a two-part test. First, we go into a room, ladies separate from men, and wait our turn to be called into another room with two Qatari men who bring up symbols on a screen, which we must identify. The most difficult part about this is the language barrier: If I say “yield”, that is wrong. It’s “give way.” Fortunately, the gentleman was interested in seeing all of us pass and accepted our answers if we could explain them. I was given 5 symbols, which included animal (camel) crossing and do not enter…

The following day, we Americans returned for the much anticipated drive test, and it was just as the rumors describe it: Ladies are told to board one van, and guys another. Both vans plus one sedan take off at the same time and pull over next to each other  alongside a road with minimal traffic. Men get to go first, which means one guy gets out of his van and into the sedan where there’s an instructor sitting in the passenger seat. Once our American friend begins driving, the “test” lasts about 20 seconds as he goes around one small roundabout and pulls over to the side of the road. Then he gets back in the van, and the next guy goes. Keep in mind, during this entire scenario, the two vans are following the driver in the sedan. If you’ve ever seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld…this was quite comparable! When my turn comes, I walk out, say “hello” to the instructor, adjust everything, buckle my seatbelt, and follow his directions to merge onto the road.  As I’m driving he looks over at me with a bit of a glimmer in his eye and says, “You speak Arabic?” Um, no! He laughs, I sort of laugh; He tells me (in English) to complete a U-turn in the roundabout and pull over, so I do. He makes a few marks on a sheet of paper and says “Test finish.” We both (sort of) smile, and I take my paper. That was that.

But every time it seems the final step is complete and we’ll now have that license, permit, key to our home, key to our car, whatever- I end up needing to remind myself: Inshallah it will happen.  After we had all passed our driving test, we found seats in the waiting room. This is a lot like the DMV I’m used to. Except there are mostly men, and a few praying on carpets near the door.  Otherwise, much the same. We were waiting  for our licenses to be printed and to pay the 250 riyal fee along with it, when a man with a gorgeous moustache marches forward in full uniform to tell the man from our school who has taken us through this whole process, that we should go and come back tomorrow. Actually, he yelled it, and a few other words I think I’m better off not understanding. He went on and on shouting with hands flailing in the air, about how we were talking too loud in the waiting room. Then he marched stiffly over to his desk, picked up his tea, and began sipping quite elegantly with his pinkie out. For some reason, I found this entertaining, and it eased my nervousness about whether or not we’d actually get our licenses.  In the end, the guy with the mustache took his tea and left, and about a half-hour later, we took turns paying at the window and receiving licenses. Now time to find a car…

To make a long story very short, we bought a CRV off an expat. I drive and Joe navigates. He’ll get his license once his residency permit is printed. Being under my “sponsorship” since I signed my contract first, his paperwork is processed a few weeks after mine. Inshallah he is being very patient! Driving is not as bad as everyone says, and the best part of this entire story so far is: It cost 50 riyal to fill our tank from empty. That’s about 13 bucks.

Next adventure: the liquor/pork license. Out near the industrial area lies a warehouse full of beer, wine, liquor and pork products. On the second floor, I applied for a permit to purchase these rarities, by showing my residence permit and a letter (which was applied for in advance) from my employer stating my salary and marital status. A woman took my photo and a refundable 1,000 riyal, and handed me my permit. I went inside, bought a bottle of Columbia Crest wine, a six pack of Corona, a bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum and a package of bacon. This is the only place in Doha to purchase such products, and you are allowed to spend no more than a third of your monthly salary here. I don’t see that being much of an issue for us- I’ve been enjoying sparkling water in the evenings more and more.

Another expat-y thing we’ve done is find the Catholic church. Our Lady of the Rosary is located out in “Church City,” a plot of land on the edge of Doha allocated by the Emir to house churches of various denominations. The outside looks very plain, but inside is colorful with a large mosaic behind the altar. Masses occur every day of the week, at various times, and in different languages. There are several priests, mostly from India. The large congregation is a mix of European, Indian, American, Nepalese, Lebanese, and probably many more. Around the corner is a gift shop with rosaries and books, a chapel, and an outdoor shrine to Mary. For a split second, I felt we were back in Ireland. But then I started sweating and realized we were far from it. We (carefully) lit a candle at the shrine (which has a fire extinguisher next to it), and prayed for health and happiness of our family and friends, and a positive experience for us here in Doha. I also prayed  for my survival this year teaching 2-year olds…

It has been quite an adventure shifting from a Kindergarten-mindset down to two and three year olds! My class is full of energy, enthusiasm, poopy diapers, spilled milk, paint, tears, laughter, and lots of hugs and kisses. I’ve picked up a few Arabic essentials: Shukran (thank you), Ijlis (sit down), Shuey Shuey (slowly, slowly, or be careful), Habibi (sweetie), Na’am (yes), La (no), Taal (come), and I can now count to 5 (waahid, eethnayn, thalaatha, arba’a, khamsa). I am also learning the variations of English words for things as I work alongside British, Australian, South African and Irish educators: nappies (diapers) and buggy (stroller).  About half the class understands what I say in English, but it really comes down to body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and very simple phrases. Our centre, myself included, believes that learning begins at birth (or even beforehand), but not in the “sit in your desk and listen to what I tell you” sort of way.  The EEC has adopted the Reggio Emilia approach, which is an educational philosophy dating back to World War II. It was started by a teacher and parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy after the destruction from the war led them to believe that it is in the early years of development that children form who they are as individuals. The approach focuses on observing the interests of each individual child and planning meaningful activities for them. Environment plays a major role, so we design our rooms and outdoor areas quite intentionally. Like any job, there are pros and cons to my new position but I choose to focus on the positive: my students are adorable and quite capable really, my teaching team is fabulous to work with, and I’m enjoying the two hours of planning every afternoon.  I also enjoyed the gigantic sheet cake given to us a few weeks ago in honor of International Teacher Appreciation Day. Thank you, Qatar Foundation; cake always makes me feel appreciated, no matter how many nappies I had changed that morning.

Aside from work, Joe and I have been enjoying life in Doha.  Our favourite activity so far is running along Al Corniche, an oceanfront paved walkway.  As the sun sets on our evening runs, old wooden boats adorned with coloured lights leave their docks and cruise out onto the water. Families gather to walk or relax under palm trees, the sea breeze blows tiny particles of sand into my eyes, and the city skyline illuminates Doha’s modern-side. Not a bad way to train for a 10K, which is happening here in November.  Except for the sand in the eyes part; I wear sunglasses all the time now, to avoid the red desert-eye look.

Oh, the things we learn after a month in Qatar…

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Marhaba مرحبا Welcome to Doha

The air couldn’t be much hotter

Where gas is cheaper than water

Hummus on pita

A man’s pet cheetah

So new to this globe-trotter

Stepping off our Qatar Airways Dreamliner and into Doha, the temperature proclaimed its presence like an Emir in his palace.  While trying my best to take in a normal breath of air without panting too obviously, I noticed there seemed to be a layer of smog lurking far and wide- which I quickly realised was just “hotness.” In fact, most outdoor photos I have produced so far will appear to be overcast, but that’s just my lens fogging up as it is shocked by extreme heat each time I turn it on.  As soon as we entered Doha’s busy airport, though, Joe and I  nearly froze on a account of the air-conditioning. Qatar Academy staff greeted us warmly outside customs and showed us where to purchase new SIM cards right then and there. We were driven to a temporary home (our permanent one is nearly done being built), a lovely, furnished two bedroom apartment with a bidet in the bathroom, and some Red Delicious Washington apples in the fridge. While the bidet hinted how far away we are from all things familiar, the apples, picked in my own backyard, made me feel right at home. Too excited to sleep at 2 AM, I rummaged through packets of information from school, a book about Qatari culture, and unpacked shoes before finally drifting off to the sound of the call to prayer, amplified from a nearby mosque.

Next morning, a van collected several of us newbie teachers and dropped us at the Landmark Mall. Dust-covered cars filled the parking lot. Men dressed in white robes and Ray Ban sunglasses lounged in plush seats, sipping lattes and smoking cigarettes at Starbucks. Women covered in black, carrying designer handbags strolled in and out of the Gap, Nine West and H&M.  The food court smelled of McDonalds, KFC, Baskin Robbins and, wait for it….Cinnabon.  At Carrefour (a European grocery chain), we stocked up on bottled water, fresh produce, yogurt and toilet paper. I discovered more American brands there than I’d ever found in Ireland: Tide laundry detergent, Kraft Mac n Cheese, Kikoman soy sauce. I imagine that, one of those days when I miss the comfort of home, it will be a relief to snuggle up in a blanket smelling of Tide Original Scent, over a warm bowl of mac n cheese, in our air-conditioned (freezing cold) living room.

The following day, Joe and I attended a luncheon for new teachers and families. We were greeted with kisses, handshakes and hugs, and while feasting on a grand buffet, we met folks from Wisconsin, the UK, Portland, Australia, California and Ireland. That afternoon, my teaching partner, Berna, invited Joe and I to her home and treated us to dinner at a fabulous Lebanese restaurant, the Shisha Garden in La Cigale Hotel.  Joe and I tried apple flavoured shisha (or hooka as we call it), traditional Lebanese salads, hummus, meat and dessert: fresh cream with honey and sliced banana. On the way out, Joe and I stopped to rest on a bench made of thousands of Swarovski crystals. We really are trying not to get carried away amidst all the luxury, this place is incredible!

On Saturday, Berna and Riad invited us to their home to relax at the pool. After a short while, the heat urged us to return to shade and AC, so we went home, cooked a stir fry and crashed early. Time to start adjusting to some very early mornings…work begins at 7 AM here.

 In Qatar, like other Arab countries, the workweek is Sunday through Thursday. So on Sunday, we were all bussed to Qatar Academy for the first day of orientation. Highlights of the week include:

  • receiving a brand new Macbook Pro (with a keyboard that includes Arabic letters)
  • walking into the Early Education Centre to find that it is more like a children’s museum than a set of classrooms
  • discovering the spa, coffee shop, theatre room, olympic sized pool, prayer rooms and gym-all on campus
  • getting to know a group of enthusiastic educators from around the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Lebanon), and many who are coming from previous international positions (in Thailand, China, Bolivia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, South Korea…)
  • experiencing “medicals”- having blood drawn and chests x-rayed at a clinic (I suppose that wasn’t a highlight but it’s all part of the experience!)
  • enjoying daily lunch hour in the cafeteria: a buffet of salad, hummus, a variety of meats and sides, fruit cups, cakes and juices
  • listening to a presentation on “Driving Safety”: the slideshow included two slides about how to navigate the round-abouts, etc. and about 40 slides showing fender-benders and wrecks, which could be due to a number of issues. My favourite is the man driving through a roundabout with a pet cheetah in the passenger seat, cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other.  I have yet to see this for myself, though.
  •  enjoying evenings out at the malls and Ikea
  • learning about Qatari culture and how to thrive as an expat here, as well as how to deal with culture-shock. We learned about the differences between monochronic (focus on individual, independence) and polychronic (focus on group, interdependence) cultures, and ways to communicate. For example, where I’ve grown up, time is linear and future-oriented. While here in Qatar, time is circular and focused on the present. So, while I might want to leave a party to go home and get a good nights sleep before work the following day, a Qatari individual might stay and enjoy their time with family, not worrying to much about the next morning.  To some degree, it makes sense why we are the way we are: In it’s short history, the US has fought for independence, and now look at how many of its citizens are independent, self-reliant people. In the desert, people have had to work together to survive; if you went off and tried to live independently, you would die. And now look at how many Qatari’s thrive when it comes to working with others collectively.  Qatar (pronounced more like ‘Cutter’ than ‘cuh TAR’) is the fastest-growing country in the world. Due to oil, and mostly natural gas, the economy is booming and construction is everywhere.  According to the presentation, it wasn’t until the 1950′s that cars and electricity began to exist. Now there are Escalades, Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s in abundance (as well as Hondas and Toyotas), and it costs a mere five bucks to fill one’s petrol tank. Just ten years ago, there were only a couple of buildings in the city centre. Now here stands a massive skyline.  As we expats dine at Applebee’s and purchase new designer jeans because the ones we brought with us don’t fit anymore (because of the Applebee’s), we should keep in mind that Qatar wants to modernize, not westernize. They want to sustain their unique culture, amidst a massive increase of expats each year, understandably so.

On Friday (the beginning of our weekend- so, Saturday to you) a few of us shared a car ride to the Clubhouse, which all QA teachers have free access to. After a jog on the treadmill and a dip in the jacuzzi,  we ate dinner poolside that evening. Grilled fish, veggies, fries and pineapple juice were accompanied by sounds of laughter, splashing and the call to prayer (of which there are five a day, and you can hear it from just about anywhere in Doha). Later on, while paddling around in that palm-tree-outlined pool, I couldn’t help from being amazed by the big sky above us as it changed colour from baby blue to lavender to a deep purpley-royal-blue within just an hour. Qatar’s skies sure do seem to be transforming just as rapidly as it’s earth.

The following week would be the second week of orientation for me, so Joe spent his days visiting the Aspire Zone Sport Academy, figuring out how to receive our shipping (which we did!), and reading articles for school.  In the Early Education Centre (EEC), we put together our classrooms and interviewed parents whose children we’d be teaching. Berna and I encouraged families to please arrive at 7 AM, on time, not 7:30 or 7:15.  And just about every family smiled and said, “Okay, 7 AM, inshallah.”  Inshalla, my new favourite word, translates to “God willing.” It is used regularly here, in many different contexts. “Yes I will have that on your desk by 3:00, inshallah.” “See you tomorrow, inshallah.” “Inshallah your housing will be ready by the end of the month.”  “I will write a blog every week, inshallah.” Takes some of the pressure off, doesn’t it?

Last weekend, those of us in “temporary housing” (who I feel I can call family already), helped me celebrate my birthday at Picasso’s tapas restaurant in the Radisson Hotel. All 21 showed up, which I think had something to do with the fact that the restaurant served sangria, beer and wine.  I had a marvellous time and felt completely loved. The following day, staff from the EEC met for lunch at our principal’s home. They sang “Happy Birthday” in both English and Arabic, as I made a wish and blew out candles. One thing is for certain: I will have plenty to write about this year. Every day, I am surprised, amazed, challenged, astonished, stimulated, inspired. I will write again soon with more experiences to share, inshallah.

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ch ch ch ch changes

There appeared a fork in the road

“Which way?” said the frog to the toad

They could see to the right,

Their future looked bright

In the 974 country code

In his song Changes, David Bowie wrote “Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.” One could interpret this a few different ways, but whenever I listen to the lyrics, I feel inspired to accept life’s changes, big or small. And I end up thinking: why wait for something to happen in time, when it could right now?

Teaching internationally is something I have wanted to do for years. And getting a PhD is something Joe is passionate about achieving. Living in Ireland has been a grand adventure, but unfortunately there aren’t many job prospects for us here at the moment. An opportunity presented itself back in the spring, and after much thought, we decided to go for it: in three days, Joseph and I will be leaving Ireland and moving to Doha, Qatar.  Joseph will conduct research, continue working on his PhD and coach soccer, while I will teach in the Early Education Center at Qatar Academy. To answer a few questions I know you’re thinking: Yes, Qatar is a safe country (ranked #12 in the Global Peace Index). No, I am not required to wear a burka there. Yes, I will be allowed to drive. No, it doesn’t rain there like it does in Ireland, not at all actually. In fact, today it is over 100 degrees (yes, everything is air conditioned).

Our bags are packed, our visas are printed, and we celebrated a last night out on Friday. We are definitely going to miss our friends and the beautiful scenery and atmosphere in Ireland. And at the same time, we are so excited to experience living in Qatar. I promise to keep blogging and post lots of photos- see you in Doha!

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Seattle Summer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I love thee to the height of Mount Rainier, 

To the depth of Lake Union’s deepest tear.

Your summers, brilliant

Your inhabitants, resilient

Cause you’re depressing all other months of the year.

Neither Joe or I would neglect spending this summer in Seattle. Joe coached his Supang Skill Training soccer camp on Whidbey Island, with his sister Maria. And he put up a fence around his families garden, and worked at the farmer’s market. If you haven’t been, be sure to try out Lesedi African Food at the farmer’s markets on Whidbey. Say hello to Joe’s mom Dorcas, and she’ll serve you up a hot samosa and some mango lemonade, delish!

As for me, I made it home just in time for Rachel and Anthony (my niece and nephew)’s graduation parties. And enjoyed doing all of the routine things I’ve missed being away: yoga class, dinners in Mom and Dad’s back yard, playing with Mojo and his snaggle tooth, running around Greenlake, spending time with family and friends. We celebrated my sister Gina’s 50th birthday, my Dad’s 77th, and my godson James’ 8th.  …went camping on Moses Lake, spent a weekend with friends in Portland, ate several bowls of pho and plates of Mexican food, caught up with friends, visited Joe’s Grandma and Grandpa in Sequim, went boating on Lake Washington, skipped rocks on the Snoqualamie River. I frequented Burien’s Tin Room, catching up with pals and family, to the point where the waitress started saying “Bye, see you tomorrow.”

Until next summer, Tin Room waitress….

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Sláinte!

A true friend will travel far

To meet in an Irish bar

Crossing the planet,

 I bet that gannet

Would fly all the way to Qatar

Allow me to apologize for the lack of blogs these last few months- we’ve just been having way too much fun.  Backtracking to May, our dear friends Oscar and Laura visited us from Seattle for a long weekend on their way to London. We showed them around Limerick, enjoyed a night out on the town, and took a road trip west to see Lahinch (a chill surfer town), the Cliffs of Moher, and then to Doolin for live trad.  The word of the weekend (besides “brilliant” “grand” “lovely” and “great craic”) was definitely “Sláinte!” as we raised multiple pint glasses to being together in Ireland.  They left us for a stop in Italy, where Oscar proposed to Laura at the Vatican- Congratulations to an awesome couple, Sláinte!

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Céad míle fáilte, Mom and Dad

They came and stayed for three weeks

To tan their pale white cheeks

In Irish sun

That appeared for fun

And made us all feel like sheikhs

On May 22nd, the sliding doors opened at our beloved Shannon Airport, spewing out international travelers, when among them appeared Mom and Dad! Dad and Joe smiled, Mom and I cried, and we began our first adventure together: driving down the left side of the road. By the end of their trip, both Mom and Dad not only said they had a wonderful time, they had also decided on new careers if/when they move to Ireland…

During the first week, we toured the Bunratty Castle and folk park, just outside Limerick. I’m pretty sure Dad’s favorite part of that was finding the secret latch on the castle entrance floor, where they’d pour hot oil on the heads of intruders. Or learning the phrase “Céad míle fáilte” (pronounced: kade mee la fall cha) which is Gaelic for “A hundred thousand welcomes.” Mom’s must have been watching a sheep practice yoga in the middle of a pasture. We spent the weekend in Limerick, strolling through the Milk Market and the Hunt Museum, taking in a delicious lunch at the Curragower, overlooking King John’s Castle and going to church at our favorite local parish, Mary Magdalene.

I’m sure most 70-somethings would need to rest after an eventful weekend like that, and maybe mine did, but we took them on a roadtrip anyway! Traveling through the Burren, we stopped at an old portal tomb and a tea room for coffee and scones. The tea room is also the site of a perfumery, where perfume is made from mediterranean flowers which mysteriously grow in the Burren. Driving along narrow roads, we gazed out our windows at the intricate stone walls outlining our path. This would be the beginning of my dad’s inspiration to become a stone wall builder if/when he moves to Ireland. There’s a school for it and everything.  Although he’s already got an engineering degree, that must count for something.  Arriving in Galway, we went out for another tasty dinner, although I tried to warn them to save room for their first full Irish breakfast the following morning…

Okay, I know the Limerick I wrote above refers to three weeks of straight sunshine, and while that’s nearly true, it seriously poured in Galway. Mom and I were walking down Shop Street and finally decided to duck under an awning like all the locals were doing as they stared at us like we were nuts for walking through it. What, we’re from Seattle, and deep in conversation. After some real fish n’ chips, the four of us made way to the Galway Cathedral to light a few candles. Dad and I braved the windy mist and walked along the River Corrib, where we stopped to chat with four fishermen casting their lines. Just as we began to move on, one got a bite and there was all this excitement…until he lost the fish. To which another commented, “These hooks aren’t worth a shite.” Dad and I just smiled at each other. Shite, it sounds so pretty with an accent.

The following days, we visited a few sites around Limerick. In the village of Kilaloe, we took a boat cruise along the River Shannon, and Lough (lake) Derg. In Adare, we basked in the sun at the Adare Manor and Golf Course where we met Michael Flately, Lord of the Dance (who the course owner was referring to when he joked, “Just as well he can dance because he sure as hell can’t golf!”). A short drive out of town, after hiking through the Clare Glens, the Monks at the Glenstal Abbey performed vespers (chant) in an incense-filled church.

Time for another road trip. This time we travelled west to Lahinch (stopping for coffee,  ice cream, and periwinkle sea snails), the Cliffs of Moher (a rainy foggy day just perfect for imagining Vikings getting shipwrecked on those cliffs), and we ended in Doolin, scoring a table next to the live trad. We feasted on mussles and Guinness stew, not to mention plenty of pints. As the old man belted out Whiskey in the Jar, we clinked our glasses together shouting “lawn chairs!” (a more memorable version of Slainte!). By the end of the evening, Dad was singing his way back to the B&B and Mom was doing fine imitations of Sid the Sloth from Ice Age. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate having parents who stand for integrity, justice, love and all the important things in life- but just as much value a good laugh (and several good pints)?

The following morning, we boarded our vessel out to the smallest of three Aran Islands, Inisheer. (This is where the Aran sweaters, or traditional Irish sweaters, come from.) While the other three enjoyed the ride, I felt like jumping off, well at least the previous night’s pints felt like jumping off. Anyway, once on land, we took a gentleman named Michael up on his offer for a horse-drawn tour of the island: stone wall mazes, a shipwrecked boat, ice cream from a local, a naked Irishman changing on shore, goats, horses, cows; this is Ireland. On the boat ride back to Doolin, we stopped under the Cliffs for a spectacular view, including hundreds of puffins and other birds chilling on the cliff ledges.  Before heading home, Mom and I went shopping in Doolin (which consists of about 7 buildings on the main drag; I’m sure Joe and Dad figured it wouldn’t take us very long, but we did not cease to impress them with our shopping abilities even so…) Our favorite was the music shop where Mom bought me spoons and Joe a tin whistle.

“And it’s No, Nay, never, 
No, nay never no more 
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more”

…thanks Mom, this is fun.

Back in Limerick, Dad and Joe golfed at the Castletroy Golf Club across the road from our apartment, while Mom and I showed off our mad tennis skills at the University courts. Joe got an email from Fr. Cobb, the priest who married us, saying he was touring Ireland with a group of regents, so we met him for lunch in town- small world.

It’s been nearly a year since Joe and I were married, and closer to 55 for my parents, who celebrated in Ireland. A while back, I was looking up Anniversary symbols online and discovered that the first year’s symbol is a clock. Cool, we’ll go to the Rack and pick out a couple of watches, done. Then I looked up the year 55 symbol, and guess what: it’s an Emerald. Where better place for them to celebrate than on the Emerald Isle? They renewed their vows after mass at Mary Magdalene church in Limerick with Fr. Neenan, in front of a few locals who congratulated them afterwards. And we were off for our final road trip, south to Killarney.

On June 7th, their anniversary, the four of us went fishing in Lough Leane, and although we did not reel in any fish, we did witness real-life swan dives. Following lunch at the Muckross House, we took a horse carriage jaunt through the Gap of Dunloe. Mom and I, after spotting the lovely carriages in town the night before, thought it might be fun to bring along some wine and cheese and crackers. Good thing we forgot to, because as we were bumping up and down in the tiniest carriage I’ve ever half-sat in (not the same type as the ones in town), could you imagine red wine being involved? Regardless, it was far more magnifiscent than any city tour. Joe and I went for a trail run around Killarney while Mom and Dad napped. They woke up in time for a fancy shmancy dinner at Hotel Europe: while the sun set on their 55th year together, we sipped and munched as Joe and I watched them exchange gifts- feeling grateful to have such solid examples to look up to and learn from.

Next day we were up and at em for a scenic drive of the Ring of Kerry. First stop: Valentia Island, where we boarded a three-car ferry to see Cromwell’s lighthouse, a Grotto of St. Bernadette and Mary, and the Skellig Rocks (which early Christian monks made their home off shore, and carved 600 steps by hand up to a monastery at the top). Departing Valentia, we continued on, when off the side of the highway, two young lads were herding a group of sheep into a small enclosed area next to their van; time for the annual woolcut. Mom asked us to pull over so she could watch, which I’m sorry we didn’t do due to the tour busses in front of and behind us at the time. It was on this drive that Mom decided to become a sheep shearer if/when she moves to Ireland.  I’m sure there’s a school for that too, but her days in beauty school would likely make her a skilled shearer anyway.  We stopped at Ladies View (Joe and Dad closed their eyes) and the Torc Waterfall (they looked this time), ending back in Killarney.

Two more days- what else could we cram into the itinerary? Dingle! Traveling northwest from Killarney, we reached my new favorite town- mainly because I discovered a dolphin shop there: dolphin keychains, jewelry, textiles, books, videos…I should be careful this doesn’t turn into something weird, although I think it already has (I have 2 keychains already, a couple t-shirts, several nic-nacs, just need a tattoo).  Dad enjoyed seeing the boats in the harbor and we watched two fellas paint the underneath of a large vessel, from their dingy using a long-handled paint brush. We stopped in a music shop and met Michael Herlihy, the owner, who gave us a demonstration on his sqeezebox, and told us where to go that evening to catch the best trad. After pub hopping for a couple hours, we ended up settling in at An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge). Michael and the other musicians poured their hearts into every song.  As Dingle Bay was being sung, you could feel the energy right down to your feet, which tapped so willingly.

One last day in Ireland: We drove around the Dingle Peninsula, on which you could count a half-million sheep. We all fell asleep in the process; except Joe who was driving. We made a few stops- The Gallarus Oratory (an early Christian church built about 1,300 years ago) beehive huts, and an island that appears to look like a sleeping giant. Then back to Limerick for one last Irish meal, packing and a night’s rest before their trip back to Seattle.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for coming to experience this beautiful country with us. You were fantastic travel buddies! …so, where to next?

Dingle Bay

The sun was sinking oer the westward

The fleet is leaving Dingle shore

I watch the men row in their curraghs

As they mark the fishing grounds near Scellig Mor

All through the night men toil until the daybreak

while at home their wives and sweethearts kneel and pray

That God might guard them and protect them

and bring them safely back to Dingle Bay

I see the green Isle of Valencia

I mind the days around Lough Lein

The gannets swinging with abandon

As they watch the silver store that comes their way

I also see a ship on the horizon

She is sailing to a country far away

on board are exiles feeling lonely

As they wave a fond farewell to Dingle Bay

Now years have passed as I came homeward

And time has left me old and grey

I sit and muse about my childhood

And the happy times I spent near Dingle Bay

I see again the green isle of Valencia

And the Isle of Inishmore seems far away

And I’m always dreaming of my childhood

And the happy days I spent near Dingle Bay

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Rugby, Soccer and Zumba oh my!…muscles are sore

Saturday began with a scrum

And ended with lime and rum

Though Munster had lost

We began to defrost

With hopes of a Spring that would come

April was full of events: Joe and I went to a Munster Rugby match with our neighbors, which was followed by an evening of competitive beer pong. I joined some friends for the first National Zumbathon in Dublin, where we danced a Sunday afternoon away with hundreds of other Shakira wanna-be’s.  Joe represented his department in a students vs. staff soccer match at UL.  I finished the Great Limerick Run while passing cows, pubs and castles.

Now with regards to that rugby match, it wasn’t Herman Munster we were cheering for, although he would have made an excellent forward in my opinion, with those broad shoulders.  No, Munster is one of four Provinces in Ireland, and the one that encompasses our Southwest region, including Limerick. We played against Leinster, which is the Eastern Province- the big city team from Dublin. Then there is Ulster (Northern Ireland) and Connaught (Northwest Ireland). These provinces originated from dynastic families, long before the Normans invaded in 1169.  Maybe there was an Irish king named Herman Munster after all, who knows.

This week, we are preparing for some very important visitors-  friends are coming this weekend and Mom and Dad arrive just after that, yahoo!  I have removed all cobwebs and scrubbed the grout between the shower tiles. And Joe has been practicing driving with our friends- down the left lane and through round-abouts. Looks like May and June will be just as eventful. Sláinte! (pronounced “slawn che” -Irish Gaelic for “cheers!”)

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