I finally publicly announced the reason I've been so busy for the last while . . . I'm launching a nonprofit! Techtonica offers low-income women and non-binary adults free tech training, along with living and childcare stipends, then places them in positions at sponsoring companies that are ready to support more diverse teams. Read more here.
26 September 2016
I finally publicly announced the reason I've been so busy for the last while . . . I'm launching a nonprofit! Techtonica offers low-income women and non-binary adults free tech training, along with living and childcare stipends, then places them in positions at sponsoring companies that are ready to support more diverse teams. Read more here.
31 August 2016
I remember wearing sandals and having a couple of warm weeks in August last year, but this "Fogust," Karl the Fog hasn't had many vacation days. Of course, when offices are kept cold enough to turn your hands blue and send you in search of USB-heated gloves, the weather outside doesn't matter much anyway.
I escaped to warmer afternoons and chilly, but Perseid-graced nights at St. Dorothy's Rest with friends. One night, I woke up in the middle of the night and went outside by myself. I drank in the starry sky, the cool, refreshing air, the smell and towering presence of redwoods, and the quiet. Even though it was pretty cold, I had to wrap up that peaceful moment for later.
What do you do when you forgot to bring your contact solution and case with you and your eyes are burn-y? Improvise with eye drops and spoons.
This is Sufi. Though Sufi often looks at me like she's judging me and I'm not usually a huge fan of smaller dogs, Sufi doesn't make messes or bark and I love having her around at work. Sadly, I won't see her anymore after this Friday.
21 July 2016
It's hard to believe that it's been nearly ten years since I had LASIK done on both eyes (wow, look at the terrible quality of that digital photo!). Unfortunately, my eyes have "receded" since, and contacts/too much computer time/post-LASIK dry eyes have made my eyes burn-y all the time. The eye doctor told me that she wouldn't let anyone do LASIK at such a young age now because eyes can still change significantly. She also said that doctors now put people on a prescription before doing LASIK that helps prevent the dry eyes after.
So, for the first time in nearly ten years, I have prescription glasses. They're not very convenient for biking or snuggling, and I keep forgetting they're not screen glasses or sunglasses and putting them on top of my head, which gets my hair snagged in the nose pieces. It's such a relief to be able to give my eyes a rest, though I have to switch back and forth so that I can play soccer and bike places and wear sunglasses while still being able to see, but meh.
Michael also got glasses—his first pair ever. He keeps making a sad face and saying, "I have football eyes" because that's how the doctor described astigmatism to him.
Thanks to FaceTime and my sister Heidi for helping us pick hip glasses.
30 June 2016
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered mouse poop in our cupboard. We'd found poop before and blocked the hole in the back of the cupboard, but apparently that wasn't enough this time. A few days later, I went to bed early (which is a clear recipe for Michael forgetting to ever go to bed), and Michael heard scratching before I woke up wondering where he was. When we discovered a bag of chips and a bag of rice had been chewed into despite being moved to a high shelf away from the cupboard, we knew something had to be done.
I really don't like the idea of killing things, and once Michael saw the mouse freeze while using the microwave cable to climb up to the shelf, he started saying, "It's so cuuute. Can we keep it as a pet?" I told him how when I was little, I'd once found a mouse in a mouse trap at my grandparents' cabin. I can't remember if it'd eaten rat poison or if it was in a trap, but it was really weak and unable to run. I felt so bad for it that my dad put it into a box and I watched it and provided it with food. I even gave it a name—Marie. Unfortunately, Marie didn't make it. Telling that story made me remember how my siblings, cousins, and I had caught squirrels, so I told Michael about the squirrel-catching method we used: you attach a string to a stick, prop a box on the stick, put some food under the box, and wait for the squirrel to go for the food before pulling on the string.
City version of the cabin squirrel trap: garbage can, broken chopstick, and packaging string attached to an iPhone charger cable.
Unfortunately, the mouse was too scared to run out in the open and just stuck to the edges. I was really surprised by how little the mouse was; I don't remember them being the few times I saw them at the cabin. Its ability to squeeze under the oven, dart and wriggle into the cupboard, and hide behind the fridge was quite impressive. We blocked off all the good places to hide and put all the chewable packaging into the fridge or a high, closable cupboard.
The next night, after trying to get the mouse again and turning our kitchen into a disaster area, we started googling. We tried the balancing-spoon-with-peanut-butter method with a Blue Apron box (handy). We tried the balance-a-glass-on-a-nickel method. The mouse didn't fall for any of those methods even though I waited and watched each time until it came back out of hiding and wandered around. Finally, I decided to try the string-through-a-plate method and waited and waited. I think because I'd stuck the ramp right into the mouse's hiding place, it was too scared to come out again, so I went to bed after waiting for a long time.
The precarious spoon method.
The precarious plate method.
Nothing in the morning. In the evening, when I got home, I saw this in the box:
It looked subdued, like it had jumped itself out and was hopeless. I had no idea how long it had been in there, but it had clearly been jumping and trying to make a hole in a top corner to get out.
As soon as I decided I'd better cover the box, the mouse started going berserk and jumping, and its panic gave it super powers—it jumped right out even though we'd made the walls higher than we thought it could jump (about 18"). I re-set the trap, got some cardboard ready to cover it if I got another chance, and went into another room. A few minutes later, I heard scrabbling, and ran in and taped the cover over the box right away. I didn't really want to do anything with the mouse without Michael, so I left it in the kitchen like that, but I felt nervous that it was going to get out somehow and checked on it several times. Each time it had been jumping and wearing down a corner of the box where I'd added a piece of cardboard to make it taller, so I covered the corner with tape.
Our kitchen was a disaster.
The mouse burrowed its way under the bottom flap of the box whenever I'd go to look at it.
I decided to put my camera on the edge of the counter and film what it was doing when I was gone. It took 10 minutes on the dot for the mouse to make its way out.
When Michael got home, he was excited to see the mouse, but it burrowed its way under the flap and was too scared to come out, even when we put peanut butter close to it. So Michael captured this picture:
Mice can sure get flat!
I said we'd better take it to the park.
Michael was sad, so I agreed to bring along a "care package" to send the mouse on its way: some sunflower seeds.
Our conversation on the way to the park at nearly 11 PM:
Michael: "Are you sure we can't keep it?"
Michelle: "Yes, it'll chew its way out, escape, and then steal our food again."
Michael: "It wasn't stealing; it was hungry."
Michelle: "It moves really fast, so you can't really cuddle it like you can with hamsters."
Michael: "So I'll just look at it."
Michelle: "Our lease doesn't let us have pets."
Michael: "I can feel it shaking in this box. It's so scared. Maybe we can just put it in this yard [across the street] so we can visit it."
Michelle: "No. The Chow Chow that lives there will scare it to death! And it'll get into that house . . . though it'll probably find its way from the park to someone's house anyway."
Michael: "What about this house? No one has moved in yet, so it can have the whole house to itself."
Michelle: "No! Besides, there's no food in there. Whew . . . it is such a clear, cold night; look! There are a few stars!"
Michael: "Won't it be too cold out here?"
Michelle: "No, it'll build a nest and keep itself warm. My hamsters did that with whatever was nearby."
Michael: "Do you think those people are wondering why we are carrying a box into the park late at night?"
Michelle: "Probably. Maybe you should have just given it to them."
Michael: "Let's let it out here."
Michael: "Do we have to go all the way to the top? How about here?"
Finally, we let the mouse go, though we had to use a stick to open the flap to get it to run away.
When we got home, I said, "My parents always said that where there's one mouse, there are multiple mice." I re-set the plate trap but didn't really think we'd catch anything. After three nights of being up really late trying to catch a mouse, I weirdly took my time getting ready for bed. And then suddenly I heard scrabbling again! I turned to Michael with wide eyes and said, "Do you hear that? We've got another one!"
The second trip up the hill and release weren't quite so full of fanfare, though I kept exclaiming at catching another mouse and at the fog that had completely moved in during the ~50 minutes we'd been inside. Michael wanted to know if the mice would find each other and if they were siblings or a couple. "Maybe both," I replied.
When we got to the same spot as before, we could see that the chip and peanut butter we'd left were gone, hopefully to Mouse #1. Mouse #2 never figured out the flap thing, and it darted out and in the opposite direction of where Mouse #1 had gone. Here's a video:
No more mice have been caught. I haven't yet decided if we should ask our property owners to fill the hole or not. I don't want them thinking we have a dirty household (which we do not) and blaming it on us (especially since I'm still hoping that some day I can convince them to replace the old windows), but I also would really rather not to have to lose food and clean up after and catch more mice.
For now we have an entirely empty cupboard and we're happy to have a quiet kitchen. The mosquitoes in the bedroom, on the other hand, are as annoying as ever . . . they can smell me through the ancient windows and make their way in with the windows, blinds, and curtains closed, and we don't always find them with our perimeter checks before turning off the light. Our neighbors must wonder about the middle-of-the-night circling followed by a sudden slap of a flip flop on the wall or ceiling.
31 March 2016
It has been a very busy few months. Here are a few simple things that have brought me great joy and tranquility:
Biking with Michael is one of the best things in my life. Each morning after plenty of snuggling, we get dressed and hop on our bikes to fly down the hill and race with Muni buses until we reach Market, where we kiss goodbye and go separate ways for a few more blocks. On the way home in the evening (often after attending a business/civic/tech event together), we talk about our days as we labor our way back up the hill. Sometimes Michael gives me a few pushes to get me up the steepest parts, and I like to make sure his lights are on and that he doesn't run too many reds. Biking to and from everyday activities may seem mundane, but it isn't; I cherish this time spent together. (The pictured area isn't part of our weekday route; we were headed home from Target.)
Watching dogs play at Lafayette Park is happiness and when I can do that while sharing observations and holding hands with Michael, it's even more delightful. Also, I am convinced that Lafayette Park is the best park in San Francisco. It is well-designed and well-maintained, it has accessible bathrooms and garbage cans, it has a fenced-in playground, there are tall trees that make air you want to breathe deeply, and there are so many friendly dogs to watch (and occasionally even pet). Also, the views of the Bay Bridge, Financial District, Nob Hill, Bernal Heights, Twin Peaks, the bay, Danielle Steel's house, and Pacific Heights architecture are incredible.
My friend Lynn brought me flowers and Michael's mom brought us oranges and lemons and their perfectness together pleased me every time I went into the kitchen.
I bought this necklace and this shirt and they make me feel cute and modern. I've worn necklaces about once a year for the last ten years and I've hated gold for so long, but it was time to get with the times, and since minty greens and corals are my go-to colors these days, I'm quite happy with the choice.
I was able to help harvest bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, and turnips at a community garden at Civic Center that I've been wondering about for several years. The food went to Tenderloin residents who stopped by. The woman in this picture knows everything about the garden, and she would often start talking and none of us volunteers were quite sure who she was addressing. At one point when I wasn't sure what I was holding, she took a hearty bite of a freshly-harvested radish. The combination of her warmth and the sun and dirt and collaboration and contribution to neighbors and being able to work in a garden again warmed my soul.
Freude und Seelenruhe.
15 February 2016
I finally made the Irish brown bread recipe that we got in Ireland, even though I was unsure if the linseed/flaxseed should be whole or ground. Turns out the ground flaxseed from Trader Joe's worked just fine. Also, I just made educated guesses about the amounts. Mmmm.
Michael is good about making things look pretty (and yes, we're going to need to order more glass-jarred Nutella or make a trip to Canada or Europe!):
After we watched The Intern (I enjoyed it more than I thought I would), I pulled my valentine for Michael from behind the couch:
"I will send a fully-armed battalion to remind you of my love" is a fabulous line from Hamilton the musical that I've been obsessed with recently. Michael wasn't too sure about Hamilton when I first played it for him, but we listened to the whole thing while driving to Fremont and then Sunnyvale a few weeks ago, and he reacted the same way I did once I got it—by reading a whole bunch of Wikipedia articles and playing the album on repeat on Spotify. He finds King George's songs especially hilarious. You can listen to Hamilton here. (I was about to list my favorite songs for you, but there are simply too many. Be forewarned that there is some strong language.)
We cleaned our apartment (wow it felt great to have things scrubbed down—it's been too long) and cooked a simple dinner of dream potatoes, rosemary chicken, and asparagus. Michael's family came over to enjoy it with us:
It was a lovely Valentine's Day.
02 December 2015
So apparently I'm updated now.
I signed up to get my hair cut at Sassoon Academy, because ever since I had my mom cut off ~12 inches earlier this year, I've felt like I didn't know what to do with my hair and that maybe they could help me figure something out. Because I signed up to be a model, I only paid $21, but it was a surprise when I was lined up with the edgiest-looking student, a 60-something-year-old Japanese woman named Yoko. When I told her I was open to ideas, I wanted something easy, and that I had some pictures I could show her of haircuts I liked, she was very insistent that she didn't want to see the photos.
The teacher who walked around checking progress mentioned several times that she didn't get the feeling that "Michelle really wants something super edgy" and that she thought I'd just want to tuck it behind my ear. I agreed. But Yoko was really set on doing something so I would be "updated." Her idea included a fringe and I haven't had one since I was 12 or so. I hated my mom saying, "You can't go to school until your bangs are curled" every morning, and the process of growing said bangs out seemed so annoying to me at the time that I just haven't wanted them since. Oh well, they're back! Also, I don't ever recall having hair short enough to feel like it's been buzzed, so it's a first to have a weird little short part in the back.
Anyway, I kept telling myself that it was just hair, but the result was a bit shocking to me and for the first few days I felt like Cousin It (I had to show Michael who that is) and I felt like I had to explain to friends I saw that yes, I had a weird new haircut. I actually really liked that I finally had a new hairdo and that they'd taken my face shape, hair texture, desired maintenance, cowlicks, and other things into consideration, but in a way I felt like Yoko tried to make me someone I'm not and I feared that I might have to go find someone to give me a pixie. However, I've since kind of figured out how to calm it down a bit, and it's definitely less edgy when parted on my right instead of my left.
Yoko told me that all I needed to do was blow dry and then basically mess up my hair to make it look good, but I didn't expect that I'd need to wash my hair every single day to make it look good—no pony tails for me right now. It's weird to wash because there's not enough long hair to gather together to squeeze out. Also, the bangs sometimes get really greasy and separated from me biking and/or not wanting them in my eyes all the time and then I feel really embarrassed by them and can't do much to hide them—they still get a greasy split in them when I use a bobby pin because of how thin my hair is, and dry shampoo doesn't seem to do much.
I've since grown to like my new hair.
So here are the photos Yoko took (meaning this is how she intended it to look on a daily basis, which it definitely doesn't because I just can't handle it all over the place).
And here are some pictures of me with the new 'do:
27 October 2015
Since Michael had to make a two-day
trip to London for an alumni leadership summit and I was badly in need
of a vacation, we decided that I'd go along and we'd visit Ireland for a
week. One of the few things I enjoy about flying is that I can watch cleaned-up movies I probably wouldn't have watched otherwise because I'm stuck there and can't do much else easily. I really enjoyed Max (predictable as it was) and Polar Bear Infinity. Also, this was the first time that I brought earplugs with me and I really appreciated not being quite so bothered by the noise of the plane. I don't know if this is normal, but I can still hear people talking to me when I have earplugs in, so talking to flight attendants and Michael wasn't a problem.
Once in London, Michael and I groaned to each other that we really do love London and ought to figure out a way to live there at some point. After we got a tour of the really cool new Hult undergraduate campus (with housing) that used to be a brewery, Michael was pretty much busy the rest of the time, so I got to meet up with friends (Mark, Eleonore, Gunjan, Deepali, and Eleonora) and walk through the Tate Modern.
After landing in Dublin and getting a SIM card, we picked up a rental car. In the process we found out that my credit card covers rental car insurance . . . except not in Ireland or Jamaica, so we had to pay for that ourselves. While driving from Dublin to Belfast, we shamefacedly had to get a toll worker to make a phone call to charge our credit card because we didn't have any change. Whoops. We exited the freeway to get some change, but there weren't anymore tolls until we were in Northern Ireland and needing pounds instead of euros. Whoops again. Despite the fact that we had difficulty switching SIM cards at the border, we were able to make our way to our Airbnb and make it into the gate directly on a roundabout on our second try.
The building was tall and unassuming, but the inside was uniquely decorated with iconic pieces from nearby churches (our host is a collector and artist), and the walls were so thick that we could mostly only hear sounds from within whichever room we were in. I love old stone buildings like that. It was around 10 PM when we arrived and we didn't feel like trying to find a restaurant, so we bought some tomato soup, potato bread, and Irish cheddar at the store across the street. Some Australian guests were also staying there, and they told us all about the farm they have and how they love to welcome students there to do work (via a website I'm trying to find).
In the morning, we realized that seeing the Titanic Museum probably wasn't going to happen because of all the driving we needed to do to get to our destination for the evening, so we drove past and appreciated the architecture of the museum before heading north.
Before leaving San Francisco, I'd checked out audio books read by Irish readers, so I chose to start with Transatlantic by Colum McCann (read by Geraldine Hughes) because I thought the first flight across the Atlantic would interest Michael (he loves planes). It was great to listen to an Irish accent as we drove around. At first I wasn't sure if Michael liked the book or was even really listening, but each time we stopped, he knew what we'd heard last and he occasionally asked questions. Audio books on road trips are definitely the way to share novels with my husband, yay!
We took a wrong turn at some point (knowing which exit to take on roundabouts is not always so easy) and ended up being glad because we were able to drive along the northern-most coast of Ireland.
The sky, clouds, stone walls, and green fields were gorgeous, but I was most excited to see the Giant's Causeway, which I've wanted to visit for years.
The Giant's Causeway did not disappoint. It was windy and cold and it sprinkled a bit, but visiting there first was a great way to really start our trip.
I tried to capture the way the kelp sparkled in the sun, but I didn't do a very good job.
After warming up with some soup and Irish soda bread at the Giant's Causeway visitors centre, we headed to Londonderry/Derry to see the city wall.
The museums and churches and shops were closing when we arrived, but we enjoyed a nice walk around the wall, and there were some signs so we could read about Bloody Sunday.
Heidi, it looks like Sweeney Todd moved to Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland.
We picked up some Dominican Republic chocolate. I ate so much chocolate on this trip that I got a canker—and kept eating anyway. Mmmm.
During the drive south to Ballinrobe, we giggled at some place names, such as, "Ballybunion." We crossed into Ireland, so I had to wrestle with our phones to switch SIM cards—it turns out when you switch SIM cards, you should probably re-start the phone, otherwise it won't do much of anything except make you feel frustrated. Another tip—addresses in the Irish countryside don't work so well with modern map apps, so make sure to get a longitude and latitude of where you're going. I ended up tethering my laptop to Michael's phone, using our Airbnb host's directions and map to find the place (for some reason it wasn't easy to find the same info on the phone app), drop a pin there on Google Maps, and type in the latitude and longitude of the pin to Michael's phone. Whew.
Before our trip, I'd read about the last couple hundred years of Irish history, and I was happy to see that signs had Irish and then English.
We were graced with a lovely sunset and views of interesting mountains (such as a huge chasm in the Dartry Mountains/Kings Mountain and the plateau-looking Benbulbin).
We stopped near Sligo to get some food—I wanted a Döner (of course) and Michael wanted fish and chips. The sign said that it was the fastest fast food, but we were there long enough that Michael started charging his phone.
As we got farther from city lights, the stars got better and better. Michael was doubtful when Google Maps had us go off of the main road into some side roads instead of down into town and then back up via the directions our host had sent, but I had faith in my methods and told him to persist even as we drove over some overgrown dirt roads where he swears he saw spider webs across the road.
We arrived within a few minutes, where we were greeted by Liam and Noreen, and Harris, their dog. They had set out cheese, crackers, and tea for us. It only took a few minutes before Liam and I were deep into conversation about literature, entrepreneurship in Ireland vs. Silicon Valley, Zana, and more, while Harris laid his head in my lap and enjoyed some head-scratching. Liam gave me a flyer from his latest endeavor and let me have a CD of his humorous sports writing. I told them that we would be headed to Ashford Castle the next day and that my ancestors the Binghams had lived there 22 generations ago, and Noreen said, "I can see some Irish in you." They asked if the Binghams had been landlords and I had to answer with a yes. With this question, I realized for the first time that the Binghams were probably part of the Old English class of people who settled in Ireland but kept themselves separate and who considered themselves better than the Irish. I'd just finished reading The Last September and felt a bit of shame about the possibility of uppity ancestry, but Liam and Noreen were nice about it. Eventually, it was getting pretty late, so we said good night and headed outside for a few minutes of stargazing.
Several tries with the star setting on my camera didn't produce any great results of us (it was tricky because it was so dark that we didn't know where to aim exactly and an animal that turned out to be a black cat was moving around in the dark and freaking us out a little), but we did get this of Liam and Noreen's backyard:
We stayed up late into the night, trying to quietly plan the rest of our trip.
The next morning, Liam and Noreen and Harris were gone, but there was some delicious bread left out for our breakfast. We took the back entrance into the castle the way Liam had suggested. The first thing we did after parking and marveling at the shady side of the castle was head to the School of Falconry. I'd booked a somewhat pricey "Hawk Walk" for us, and I did not regret it at all.
Our guide Alec showed us several different birds of prey, including an owl named Dingle. "Owls aren't actually that smart," he said as Dingle raised his eyebrows at us. Alec pointed out a peregrine falcon and told us all sorts of interesting things about hawks, such as that their sight processes more images than ours does, so they can react faster. Apparently the same thing happens to humans sometimes, which is what people are talking about when we say that "time slowed down."
Michael and I both walked around with Lima, a gorgeous Harris Hawk, on our hands.
I love that Lima and I are looking opposite directions, like, "We're too cool for this," or, "I've had enough of this individual," or, "Well, this is awkward."
Alec taught us how to send Lima off into the trees and how to signal to her that we were ready for her to come back. Each time she came back, she was rewarded with some raw meat. The Hawk Walk was such a cool experience I don't think I'll ever forget.
After that, we walked around the grounds of Ashford Castle. I enjoyed the fresh air and quiet while Michael clicked a million pictures.
I often end up doing silly things when I get bored from all the picture-taking. This time, I started Bollywood dancing:
We of course wanted some pictures of/with the castle itself.
Finally it was time to go inside for afternoon tea (which we'd also had to book ahead of time). We asked someone at the front desk if there were any pictures of Sir Richard Bingham in the castle, but to my surprise the manager didn't know who that was and asked if he was "the artist." Not as far as I knew . . .
The view from the castle was breathtaking.
Afternoon tea was decadent. That's the only word for it, and for €34 per person, I wouldn't have had it any other way. The Connaught Room was really warm, but after the chill of outside, it felt nice.
We were brought raspberry lemonade with champagne, "compliments of the chef." The waiter took that away very quickly when we said, "Thank you, but we don't drink alcohol." He brought back very sweet "raspberry lemonade" which just seemed like pure raspberry juice to me. Then our tea was brought out.
Next came sandwiches followed by hot scones with jam, clotted cream, and lemon curd.
Finally, an entire stand filled with a dozen pastries (see descriptions here). We could have stayed much longer, but we had a long drive ahead of us. There was no possible way we could finish everything, so the waiter packed up what was left, and I shamelessly dumped the lemon curd into the box as well. :D
Cong is the cutest little town right outside of Ashford Castle. I wanted to take a picture of every house and field, but there was no time for that.
We were already doubtful that we could make it to the Cliffs of Moher, but when we ran into stopped traffic and ended up taking two exciting country-road detours, we soon realized that we should just head to Portmagee.
We stopped for dinner in a place that looked fairly big on the map (Castleisland), but we soon found that not much was open for dinner. Eventually we found a place in the basement of a hotel and ordered the bangers and mash with hhhherb and potato soup. We quite enjoyed the food.
Finding our next Airbnb in Portmagee turned out to not be so easy as the first—the area our host had marked on the Airbnb map turned out not to be the right spot, so my dropping a pin and grabbing the longitude and latitude was not helpful and we ended up at some other place. Looking back at our German host's instructions, we'd have to go a ways back to see the landmarks. She kept calling us and telling us, "You should be here by now. There's a garbage can and an Irish flag at the end of the road." When we finally arrived, she ignored everything we said about how she could have made it easier and didn't know the words "longitude" and "latitude," so I sent them to her in German later. Her energy was a little overwhelming for me that late at night, and to top things off, we soon found out that she not only loves dogs (I was amazed to pet a long, skinny Greyhound for the first time), she has a LOT of cats. Somehow Michael missed the cat announcement on the Airbnb page—I'm really allergic to cats and was really afraid to touch anything or to get into bed. I prepped myself with eye drops and allergy spray and Michael let me wear his clothes to bed so I wouldn't get any stray cat fur on my clothing. I didn't have the most comfortable sleep because I didn't want my face touching the pillow, but I was able to sleep and wasn't too miserable (besides itchy eyes and nose). Phew.
The next morning, we had a great German breakfast before heading out to the port to catch a boat.
From one view, the house on the hill looked like it was on a peaceful, rolling hill . . .
But this view made its perch look rather precarious.
We were headed to the Skellig Islands. These islands are really craggy islands off the coast of Ireland—Skellig Michael is the bigger one and had a Christian monastery on it in the 6th century. There are still some monastery structures and graves at the top.
Usually you can go up to the top of Skellig Michael, but the water was too rough for landing, so we just went around it and took pictures. The boat ride was cold and wet, but the views were totally worth it. Apparently some of the new Star Wars movie filming was done here.
See the structures at the top? Can you imagine people rowing out here and building something in the 6th century?!
Little Skellig is covered with thousands of birds.
We ended up having to get cash at the "post office" to pay for our trip, where we also bought some Irish herb cheddar to snack on. Yum.
The drive through Kerry County to Killarney National Park was so lovely that we had to stop several times to take pictures, breathe in the fresh air, and laugh at the funny sheep marked with spray paint. Note: I think on this trip I finally cured Michael of saying, "Sheeps." Time shall tell.
Once we came upon this cow.
Michael really enjoyed zooming through the curvy parts of the road. The road had only one lane, so occasionally we'd come up against another car and have to pull over into the weeds.
By this day, I felt like I was saying harder Rs and lilting differently than I usually do because of all the Irish accents I was hearing on the audio book and when talking to people. It's weird how that happens to me, but I guess it's also good for language learning. :D
There were places to stop to appreciate the view, and after passing a painfully slow tourist bus once, we didn't stay in one spot for long for fear of getting behind them again.
By the time we arrived at Torc Waterfall, I was really sleepy, but I managed to walk up to the waterfall. The air was deliciously cool and moist, and the sound of rushing water made me reminisce about lovely summer evenings at my grandparents' cabin in Brighton, Utah.
While Michael took pictures, I read I Am of Irelaunde, a book about St. Patrick and Osian that gives a nice mix of history of Patrick and pre-Patrick history of Ireland/Éire.
Again, doing silly things while waiting for the photographer to be ready to go.
Eventually we made our way to our next Airbnb, where we were greeted by a dog named Sam, who was a nice mix of cocker spaniel and springer spaniel.
Sam's family lives in a wonderful old stone house surrounded by rolling green hills dotted with fluffy white sheep and blue mountains off in the distance.
Paudie fed us scones and suggested we have dinner at Laurels in town. We had deep fried chunks of Brie (which we saw everywhere we went) and Irish bacon and cabbage. Yum.
The next morning, we slept in. Paudie fed us a wonderful breakfast and talked to us about kids learning Irish in school, the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Property Bubble, roads and internet getting worse the farther away from Dublin you are, which nationalities he'd seen the most of in Killarney this year, etc. When I raved about the warm Irish bread, he dug into a drawer and pulled out a paper with recipes for scones and brown bread—apparently I wasn't the first to want to make it at home.
Here are the recipes, in case you're interested:
2-3 Tbsp. buttermilk
8 oz. self-raising flour
pinch of salt
3 oz. butter
1 1/2 oz. caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
Rub butter lightly into the flour and salt mix until it looks like breadcrumbs, then add sugar. Beat egg and two tablespoons of buttermilk together and add to the flour mix, mixing the dough together with a palette knife. When it begins to come together finish off with your hands—it should be soft but not sticky. If the dough is too dry add some buttermilk, a teaspoon at a time.
Tip dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a circle at least 1 inch thick. Cut out the scones giving the cutter a sharp tap, do not twist. Put the scones on a baking tray, brush lightly with buttermilk and dust with a little flour. Makes about 10 scones.
Bake on the top shelf of the oven at 220*C for 10-12 minutes. Serve with real butter and jam.
12 oz. coarse wholemeal flour
2 oz. self raising flour
2 oz. ground almonds
1 oz. golden linseeds
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. bread soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
14 fl. oz. buttermilk
Mix all dry ingredients together, beat eggs into the buttermilk and add to the dry mix. (The mixture is very wet.) Divide mixture into two loaf tins and sprinkle some linseeds on top. Bake at 180*C for approximately 35-40 minutes.
After saying goodbye to Paudie, we stopped to take pictures at the Muckross House. In all honesty, I found this house much more beautiful (at least on the outside—I didn't get to see the inside at all) than Ashford Castle.
Michael took more pictures than I thought possible before we drove on small roads all the way south. Our destination was Kinsale, a lovely little port city.
We enjoyed the best seafood chowder I've had there. Wow. There was a store with lovely scarves, pottery, and beautiful wool sweaters (if wool didn't make me so itchy and sneezy, I totally would have wanted one).
Michael loved the little town so much until for some reason the smell of poop permeated the air after lunch (no, we didn't step on anything—we checked). Other people were crinkling their noses as well. The only thing I could figure was that with the water being so low, maybe someone went through the mud and awakened a stench from there?
As we headed back north to the Rock of Cashel, a Celtic/medieval archiectural site and the place where the kings of Munster lived before the Norman invasion, we finished Transatlantic. Michael thought the ending was lousy; I'm still not sure what I think myself. On our way up to the Rock, we saw two mischievous-looking tourists jump a rock wall and wondered why. Once we found parking and made our way up to the Rock, we discovered that it was already closed.
There was a side path that some locals were walking on, however, so we decided to go that way and get some pictures.
I was soon way more interested in the church ruins down below than in the Rock of Cashel and headed down that way. That's when I realized that's what the mischievous-looking tourists had been doing and I was soon following in their footsteps.
I felt really conspicuous in my purple coat and was afraid that someone would come tell us to get out until we saw that there's actually an entrance gate and path from the other direction.
It turns out that the ruins were Hore Abbey from the 13th century. I found it so fascinating that many of the church ruins we went into had gravestones from the last century right in or next to them. Who gave people permission to do that and why?
The fall colors were absolutely magical.
Our next stay was to be at a several-hundred-year-old manor called the Dollardstown House near Athy, which is pronounced "Uh-thigh." The owners welcomed us into this lovely room:
We were told that there's a great Italian restaurant in town called "La Scala," and right across the street is a pub that has had traditional Irish music every Thursday for the last 45 years. Apparently people love it and National Geographic even came to check it out once. So we headed into town and tried to see what other dinner options there were since we weren't too keen on eating Italian food in Ireland. The only other things that were open were a fast-food pizza place and a Chinese place. We opted for Italian, but we were so unimpressed that we scoffed, wide-eyed.
The pizza seemed like it was from a not-so-great frozen pizza, the bruschetta had little flavoring, the bread would have been shamefully fluffy to Italians, etc. After laughing at other reviews online, paying for our food, and joking that we should put a warning on the door, we headed across the street to Clancy's. We were both still feeling kind of hungry, and it looked completely dead inside. We didn't really feel comfortable continuing to peek into the window or going in and asking about the music, so we drove up the street to Aldi and bought more snacks than one should ever buy at once because many of them reminded me of Germany and I was still quite hungry—multivitamin juice, Dominosteine (my favorite for Christmas!), caramel Stroopwafels (I thought of you, Sica), a chocolate orange, a Marzipan log, Buenos, and milk chocolate Digestives. Michael at least convinced me to wait to buy Nutella for right before we left for the U.S.
It was quite a chilly night, but when we got back to Dollardstown House, our jolly host Andrew had a nice fire going in the front room and I enjoyed my snacks while I caught up on some emails.
The next morning, we were served an Irish breakfast, black pudding and all, which we quite enjoyed. Andrew was enthusiastically friendly; I don't know if I'll ever forget him saying, "All right, then, folks! I'll leave you to it!" :D
Two other guests we'd seen at La Scala came down for breakfast and raved on and on about the music at Clancy's. Whoops; apparently you have to go through to the back. Ah, well, at least you can enjoy a bit of the traditional Irish music online.
Our next destination was Glendalough. We drove through an area called "Hollywood" that even had a sign on the hill. Curious.
Once we got into rough, beautiful land, I yelped when I saw some ruins with a beautiful view, and we climbed out and walked all over. I had become so fascinated by the old rock work that has stood the test of time for so long. I want to learn how to build rock walls like that.
The view down the valley was breathtaking, and it was here that I really decided that I don't like panoramic pictures. They're tempting because you're surrounded by interesting or beautiful things and want to share all of them at once, but panoramic pictures are mostly too wide for appreciation purposes.
We kept wondering if we were looking at Christmas tree farms because the evergreen trees all looked so perfect.
The wildflowers had such a rough beauty that I asked Mr. Photographer to take pictures.
We both started gathering rocks that varied from crystalline white to dark shale. Michael seemed confused by his amazement at rocks and I said, "How do you think I got that rock collection I have at home?" We weren't sure how legal it was to take rocks, but at least they weren't from the ruins . . .
I was so busy being amazed by our surroundings that I didn't realize just how cold I was until I got back into the car.
On the way down to the village, we saw a sign that said something about Braveheart being filmed in the hills. Ah.
In the village of Glendalough, the first thing that caught our eye was God's Cottage. I remarked that He'd chosen a lovely place to have a cottage.
The autumn leaves and misty air made for gorgeous surroundings, especially at the two lakes near the village. I just wished some of the other tourists hadn't been so loud. Good thing we weren't there in the summer—I'm sure it would have been worse. I'm not much of a beach vacationer or huge crowds person, so traveling in the fall is really lovely for me; I get to see the beautiful colors of fall and there are fewer people to compete with.
Glendalough has a monastic settlement from the 6th century, surrounded by a beautiful graveyard.
After wandering around for a while, we stopped in the hotel restaurant for some lunch, but no one ever approached us even though we moved around a couple of times. So we decided to have lunch in Bray, south of Dublin. We finished our Angela's Ashes audio book (read by the author, Frank McCourt) on the way there. I'd told Michael that it was quite shocking for me to read as a 14-year-old; it wasn't so much this time.
Bray was quite a traffic jam by the time we arrived, and one missed turn made the way to a well-liked place last an additional 20 minutes. When we got there, we discovered that the place doesn't really serve food until in the evening when there's live music. So we left and ended up at a restaurant right off of the cold beach. I chose that place because the bangers and creamy mash advertised outside sounded delicious, but we were told that they were no longer serving those. The waiter checked and I was told I could indeed still have them—but the "creamy mash" came out in dry chunks. Meh, whatever. We were quite hungry by then and glad to have a place to sit down.
Our Airbnb host in Dublin was a Spanish woman who lived near the water and not far from the Airbnb offices. It was her first time hosting. We were disappointed to find that the "included parking" wasn't a given and we had to settle for parking on the street, there was no wifi for the guests (very frustrating when you're trying to make travel plans—good thing we could tether off of Michael's phone, though that was frustratingly slow), and the place had amazing views but it was freezing cold. At least it was clean and nice.
We wanted to rent some of the street bikes to head to dinner in Temple Bar, a currently-hip area of Dublin, but we couldn't get the machines to accept our card, so we walked. Temple Bar was crazy-crowded, and we were lucky to get a table at The Shack Restaurant quite quickly. The old couple next to us gave us some grumpy looks and we weren't quite sure why—were we being too loud? Did they not like that we're a "mixed-race" couple? I don't know. Their food sure looked good and my smiles and tries at breaking their stares/glares didn't work. When we ordered a dish to share as we usually, our waitress informed us that there's a €15 limit per person, so we decided to order dessert after our Beef Ireland (I sure love Ireland's meat and potatoes dishes) and seafood chowder. Mmm.
Here're our desserts: banoffee and cherry pie.
The same waitress who'd told us that there was a limit per person came to get my credit card while Michael was using the toilet, and she asked if I wanted to tip and how much and stood there to take down how much instead of handing the machine to me. That was super awkward and it took me by surprise so much that I just threw out a number a bit more than 10% of our bill. A-ya. I still have no idea if that was 10% more than usual or a horribly low tip.
These swans were enjoying their Friday night in Dublin.
The road on the way back to the apartment was full of girls and taxis and cars getting absolutely nowhere and we wondered what concert must have taken place at the arena across the bridge. When we got back to the apartment, we met the other people staying there—a Turkish father and his daughter, who were staying for three days in order to enjoy all three One Direction concerts at the arena. Wow.
The next morning, we struggled to wake up to a crisp October morning.
We of course had Digestives for breakfast as we headed north to Brú na Bóinne, a site with Neolithic tombs. We opted for the Newgrange tour. I loved that we got to go inside and that there was a guide to tell us all sorts of interesting things—I have to say that I found the Newgrange experience much better than Stonehenge for those reasons. Oh, and Newgrange is older.
About 15-20 of us got to go inside at a time. We saw a simulation of the light that comes into the chamber during winter solstice, and it was so crazy to think that the inside is water-tight! There were really interesting patterns and no one really knows what they mean, but I thought it was so cool that patterns like that go so far back. Also, I still don't understand how an expert can look at a pile of rocks several thousand years old and say, "I think this is the pattern the outside of this burial mound had."
An Irish artist named Honor Hales had her exhibit, "Legendary Trees," on the walls at the Brú na Bóinne visitors centre. I loved that she focused on trees and what they symbolized to ancient Irish druids.
On the way back to Dublin, I decided that I was pretty much done listening to Tana French's The Secret Place because the teenage girls were so annoying. We waited in line to buy tickets to the latest available time at Kilmainham Gaol before driving to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I knew that Michael was feeling antsy about making it back to the prison on time, so I tried to rush, but the whole exhibit about who the writers of the Book of Kells were, how they wrote and illustrated, and what has happened with the book over the years was so interesting. I didn't think I could be more interested until we got upstairs to a wonderful old library with an exhibit about myths and children's stories around the world.
Wow! I wished that my mom and sister had been with me because I knew they would have loved it, too.
Fortunately we had plenty of time to get back to Kilmainham Gaol, a prison where many political prisoners were kept during all of the Irish rebellions. I recognized the stories and names that our redheaded tour guide told us about—all because I'd read Morgan Llewelyn's book, 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion in preparation for our trip. I also remembered reading about Bentham's panopticon prison during my undergrad studies.
This is the prison chapel where Grace Gifford was allowed to marry Joseph Plunkett before he was executed. :'(
A lot of brave people worked to free Ireland. And what lovely handwriting they had.
The executions took place in this courtyard. That cross shows where James Connolly who was so injured and sick from fighting that he couldn't even stand was executed in a chair.
Apparently when this part of the prison was built, there were no windows because they thought the air would keep germs from spreading and it was freezing cold.
During the famine, there was serious overcrowding because there was a law against begging. (Reminds me of the sit-lie ordinance.)
This was Grace Gifford's cell (she was the one who married Joseph Plunkett before he was executed). She was an artist and did something like this in her cell (it's been replicated).
All the craziness that Ireland had to go through after centuries of British rule is tragic.
Once our tour was over, we headed to St Stephen's Green for a bit before getting Döners at Zaytoon and heading back to the flat.
The next morning, we stopped at Aldi to stock up on Nutella and Digestives before returning our rental car, which was tricky because there wasn't good signage for where to go and I didn't have my contacts in so I couldn't really help. Michael was feeling really nervous that we were going to miss boarding, so I was blindly following him through security and then through the airport as quickly as I could. When we got to the gate, we were told they hadn't started boarding yet. We sat down and Michael declared, "We made it through in nine minutes."
Unfortunately we didn't get to sit next to each other on either flight (Dublin to London or London to San Francisco), but I sat next to Pete Ryan, a really nice British man who works at Workday in Pleasanton. We talked about all sorts of things, from diversity in tech (because I was reading Freada Kapor Klein's Giving Notice) to diving and being good people. I also enjoyed watching Bessie and Inside Out (in German—it wasn't until later that I found out that Amy Poehler did one of the voices in English). I surprised myself by not really sleeping the whole flight, but I guess I just didn't feel the need to and my husband-pillow was on a different row.
Ireland trip 2015: amazing and lovely.