Ireland: You had to (have to) be there

I lived in Ireland the summer of 2002, right after I graduated from college. I shared a house with a gaggle of girls on the outskirts of Galway; worked in an old men’s pub in the evenings and a coffee shop during the day; and left town as much as I could on the weekends to see the neighboring sea cliffs, sheep fields, matchmaking festivals (events run from “after Mass, till late”), and all the other things that make this diminutive green country so very Irish. (I would paste up a photo or two here, but they were all taken with real film!!)

When Arthur was tasked with going to Dublin for work earlier this month, I happily packed up my laptop and tagged along. While he was in the office, I worked from our third-floor walk-up accommodations in the amazingly named neighborhood of Ballsbridge, venturing occasionally to our local chapter of Insomnia Coffee for a sweet treat and some B-grade European pop music. We took a couple of days off at the end of the week to travel around, and I could shower you for hours with anecdotes of all the wonderful Irish-ness we encountered, but you probably only have time for a wee dose, so I’ll just pick a few.

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

  • At a Thai restaurant in Killarney, after we finished an excellent bike ride through the area’s drop-dead gorgeous national park, we were tapped by the group of middle-aged guys at the next table for our opinions of one guy’s sock-and-shoe choice (a potent combo of orange and blue striped stockings with tan leather Oxfords). Our hearty approval touched off a good 15 minutes of conversation, in which our suspicions that the Irish and American definitions of “salty” and “spicy” vary considerably were confirmed. (Arthur used to work with an Irish woman who, in fact, told him of their famously bland food, “Ah yes, we do consider salt a spice.”) One of the men pointed to the bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce on the table and called it “Kill a Man.” When another asked if I’d tried the Sriracha and I said we had a bottle in our fridge at home, he just put his head in his hands.
Paddy Fahy's pub in Galway, Ireland

Paddy Fahy’s pub in Galway, Ireland

  • It was fascinating to go back to Galway and see my old haunts. Or really, try to see them. I found I remembered relatively little, at least geographically, of my time there. Thankfully, I still had the address of the pub stowed in my mind, and we were able to find it without trouble (though it was shut tight on a Saturday night—Paddy, where are you??), but I couldn’t locate the big yellow house I’d shared with the girls, the town’s centerpiece Eyre Square could have been dropped in from Barcelona for all I knew, and I realized I had no memory of the routes I’d walked between home and my jobs every day. (The locally owned coffee shop, we deduced, was gone, most likely replaced by a Mocha Beans, the national chain that seems to be everywhere now.) I’m sure I’ll be stewing on the reasons for this mental blank-out for a while; for now, I can only chalk it up to all the other stuff I’ve crammed my brain with in the past 15 years putting the squeeze on older memories!
Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

  • We took a “black cab” tour of Belfast, something I’d wanted to do but been a little nervous about when I was last in Ireland. I’m so glad we did it this time, though it did indeed put me on edge to hear someone who had lived through it tell of the decades of violent struggle the people here have endured—as well as the fact that, despite never hearing a word about it in American news anymore, the conflict is still not resolved. Aside from the sights we saw (which included many haunting murals, images of the frightening bonfires still held in Protestant neighborhoods today, and the “peace wall”), it was the nature of the tour I found so arresting: a professional cab driver, a Catholic native to Belfast, was our only host, so the tour was super visceral, emotional, and biased. I loved it. Yet I was so caught off guard by everything I internalized in such a short time (such as the concept that this isn’t so much a religious conflict as one between colonizer and colonized) that, even though I had about a hundred questions flying through my mind, I noticed myself keeping as mum as the Swiss couple who shared our cab. Stupefying though it was, the experience was a pointed reminder that, no matter how well we think we’re keeping up with news from abroad, there’s no substitute for being there to help round out our understanding of the world.

By the end of our trip, I had absolutely drunk the Irish kool-aid (and, this time, I don’t mean the Guinness!). Despite some pretty crap weather and a few meals no amount of salt or hot sauce could save, I felt the magic and soul of this little dewy island that’s seen so much. Thanks for having me again, Éire.

Bearded Men O The West postcard Ireland
Red window with pink flowers in Galway Ireland
Near the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim

Betty White, aliens, & OMG! Puppies: Tripping through Big Foot Land & beyond

Blue Wonder Woman mug with purple flowers

This sums a lot of it up

Over a ten-day span last month, Arthur and I ate supernaturally fresh produce among the Sequoioideae in California; viewed a surprisingly large number of Krylon-wrought, alien-themed murals on corrugated metal in the deserts of Nevada; and moshed in the pool with the hundreds of other metalheads attending the Psycho Las Vegas festival at the Hard Rock Hotel in so-called Sin City. (Okay, I did not mosh in the pool, and I am not even a proper metalhead—but I did survive among their throngs for several days!)

I’ve had the great good fortune of taking many epic trips in my life: I’ve driven Australia’s Gold Coast, seen the sunrise over Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, made it through Iceland’s Fimmvörðuháls hike in one long day, gotten lost on a mountain bike in the Judean Desert, soaked in mountain onsen ryokans in Japan, even hobbled around the Great Pyramid of Giza in an air cast. I’ve been so happy and grateful for them all, but I’ve noticed that what makes a trip especially enjoyable and memorable can’t always be predicted. The most potent travel magic, I’ve found, isn’t necessarily made by combining a greater number of days with a longer flight and a more impressive to-do list. Not to say I don’t retain vivid memories of drunken late-night singing with locals in a rural Russian dacha, or speeding in a Jeep through the jungles of Cambodia with a bunch of brawny Aussies—I absolutely do! Just that, sometimes, a relatively unassuming trip will pack a bigger than expected punch of awesomeness.

Such was the case with this recent voyage west. I guess it was a few things: the combination of great food and great company throughout; the right balance of activities and downtime; and a rotating kaleidoscope of natural and social environs that kept my brain keyed up without making me dizzy. Well, some things did bring on at least momentary vertigo:

Toxic waste alien sign Nevada

Toxic waste, Nevada

Bellagio fountains show

Bellagio fountain show, Las Vegas

Goat Rock California

Goat Rock, California

Oh, and I think I touted these guys, too:

Per usual, I came home with too much show-and-tell to fit in one blog post—good thing this WordPress subscription automatically renews!

Until the next brain dump, thanks for the unassuming but epic embarrassment of riches, western U.S. I’ll be back for more.

2,000 miles of driving, 26 feet of truck, & uncountable marionettes: Mom’s miraculous move to Brooklyn

My mom had thought about moving back to Brooklyn, New York (from whence she came in the 1940s) from her adopted home of Colorado for many years. But when the time finally came to load up a big, bad Penske truck and drive it the 2,000 miles over here, my husband and I noticed something.

She hadn’t packed. At all.

Man and woman standing in moving truck

Arthur & Mom share a “ruh roh” moment in the Penske

As we walked around the large house she’d owned for almost 40 years, the house we’d budgeted about two days to liquidate before starting our drive, our thoughts were roughly split between, “Whaaaa?” and “How in god’s name are we going to do this?”

I chalk my mom’s lack of prep work up to a few things: not having moved in decades and forgetting how long it takes; deciding to take the relocation plunge on relatively short notice; and having struck an agreement with the buyer of her property that she didn’t have to leave it empty. Still, it was something of a jaw-dropper.

Fortuitously for us, my best bud from junior high, pictured above (who served as Gay of Honor at our wedding last fall), has orchestrated a few large-scale events in his time, and knew exactly how to pack a moving truck to perfection. Equally wonderfully, my mom was decisive about what she wanted to keep and what could stay behind, and my amazing huzz shuttled furniture and boxes to and fro for two straight days with a smile on his face.

After I’d snapped photos of my childhood home from every angle I could imagine, and taken one last soda-buying trip to the 7-11 behind our house (site of untold quarters spent on video games and untold numbers of dental cavities brought about by its bountiful, cursed pouches of Big League Chew), we were all loaded up and ready to go—a whole half day ahead of schedule!

Man screaming as woman drives moving truck

Mom takes the wheel

Farm silos from a car on the highway

The great Midwest

The week that followed, as I look back on it now, was a blur of $100 diesel fuel tabs, nights spent on midwest relatives’ couch beds, and the seemingly innumerable marionettes that hang from the ceiling of Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, Iowa. In other words: an ideal vacation.

Now it’s back to work (which I love), fixing up our house (which is fun), and teaching my mom how to use her new smartphone (which is… gratifying, at times). But a little piece of me will remain back at Cubby’s Convenience in Gothenberg, Nebraska, reflecting on our miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime road trip over a burning hot basket of fried something.

Colorful bunny shaped Easter treats

Bye for now, road bunnies

A tryptophan-laced Quote-n-Meme-fest

According to some possibly-reliable source I just encountered on the internet, “tryptophan [the notorious turkey-derived soporific] is an essential amino acid needed for growth and development, producing niacin and creating serotonin in the body… Lots of other foods contain as much or more tryptophan as turkey, and do not cause drowsiness.”

This is especially good news given that I’m a longtime vegetarian and haven’t cracked into a T-Day turkey since high school. Conveniently, tryptophan-heavy pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and lentils are all staples of my everyday diet already. Niacin, here we come!

All this talk of chemically-induced healthy sleep and stable moods is leading up to something other than a series of funny turkey memes, though…

Hillary Clinton turkey gif

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Albeit there will be those, too.

Mostly, I wanted to leave you for the upcoming holiday weekend with three quotations I’ve read or heard in the past couple of weeks that have helped me envision the path forward after this upending presidential election.

First, from ioby, a revolutionary platform for starting and supporting neighborhood-based projects (and one of my favorite clients):

We believe that getting to know our neighbors, and working together to solve problems, is a transformative act of healing.

We need to remind ourselves that democracy is not just about voting and protesting; democracy is also giving, leading, doing, and inviting others to participate in building the social and physical fabric of our society. The neighbor-led change we support every day is civic engagement. If we work together, we can — and will — heal and shape the future of our communities.

Older man with turkey hat gif

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Next is the venerable Malcolm Gladwell, with his podcast Revisionist History. I listened to episode 10—”The Satire Paradox“—at the gym today and enjoyed its parting shot:

Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage.

[Speaking to the stories in the first 10 episodes of the series:] You can’t educate the poor without making difficult choices, without giving up some portion of your own privilege. You can’t be a great basketball player without being willing to look stupid. You can’t heal your church without sacrificing your own career. You can’t even drive a car properly unless you’re willing to acknowledge that you sometimes make mistakes: stupid, involuntary, dumb mistakes.

The path to a better world is hard. Is that depressing? I don’t think so. I think what’s depressing is when we ignore everything history is trying to tell us.

Psychedelic turkey gif

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And last, a quote -slash elegy for the late, great Leonard Cohen, who I learned over the years to revere, if not always like. This one came to me from my internet buddy Pooja at Life’s Fine Whine:

Leonard Cohen quote

Hope you enjoy the holiday, everyone. See you on the other side.

Russia! For those with and without their marbles

Guys on a bench in Moscow

If the heat waves and presidential election tomfoolery have spared you any of your marbles this summer, you probably won’t want to trudge through my 857 photos of Russia, the country I was recently fortunate enough to hang out in for two weeks. Then again, if you find yourself sweating, anxious, and entirely sans marbles, it might be pleasant and calming for you to see some objectively beautiful architecture, funny signage, and delectable Russian meals featuring beets, beets, and more beets. If that’s the case, then by all means have at it!

But assuming you are retaining at least a couple of those precious mental stones and would rather spend your time elsewhere, I’ll do you the sanity-solid of offering a brief summary of this epic excursion in words and pictures below:

Left: Our friend Oleg’s favorite cathedral in Moscow. (What was its name??)
Right: Arthur reads in a barn in the “historic rural locality” of Kholmogory.

Left: A cow parade in Kholmogory. (Not pictured: The sample Dixie cups of fresh milk).
Right: Arkhangelsk’s last living angel?

Left: Warning: This club uses Face Control. It doesn’t sound like we should go there.
Right: Man, this is a long story. Let’s just say we were “strongly encouraged” to write and perform a skit about the birth of our country for a group of Russian villagers on the 4th of July… while wearing Putin party t-shirts. God bless the USA.

Putin dog statue at the Hermitage

Putin dog

And finally, rub this one for good luck: A little sculpture of a dog at the Hermitage that bore some immediately-apparent resemblance to you-know-who.

Readers! As you can see, my Russia was chock full of bright colors, international whimsy, and universal good times. Have you spent time in Mother Russia? Tell me about your trip.

Delicious courage

Although I didn’t attend Sarah Lawrence College, I’m always pleased when people see my byline in their terrific magazine and think I did.

Sarah Lawrence comes out twice a year. It covers all the usual alumni magazine stuff like updates about goings-on at the school and news from notable alums, but blows most other alma mater publications out of the water with its commitment to producing a score of thoughtful stories about fascinating people, places, and projects in every issue.

Rohan Kamicheril Tiffin Club

Rohan Kamicheril at work (photo by Mike Jesson)

Take this sampling from their most recent edition, themed “Finding Courage”:

(In addition to presenting you with these opportunities for top-notch reading, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out the aforementioned chef’s supper club by name. The Tiffin Club pops up periodically with inventive menus, bodacious wine pairings, and excellent camaraderie. Worth your time!)

The Tiffin Club

My hearty thanks to Sarah Lawrence‘s smart and gracious editors, who are wonderful to work with and who somehow keep inviting me back to write stuff. Coming this fall, an interview with a Davis Projects for Peace winner who’s making cardboard furniture with inner city kids!

Going off the menu: Our EatWith Sunday in the city

Thanks to my friend Naama Shefi, Director of Communications at EatWith, my man and I enjoyed a lovely Sunday brunch today at the Lower East Side’s historic Essex Market.

“Eat dinner with fellow food lovers at the home of a chef in your city or when you travel,” says EatWith’s website. Friendly, hungry people can browse shared dining experiences going on in over 150 cities, or book an EatWith chef for a private event.

I’m a huge fan of all the sharing enterprises that have rushed the market, tsunami-like, in the past few years. Pioneers like Craigslist, and now sites like Airbnb and NeighborGoods, have removed the middleman from the equation and allow people to share and sell their own stuff directly with other individuals. In these affairs, the personal reputation you earn makes or breaks your interactions, which seems like a pretty fair way to go about business to me.

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A somewhat less Libertarian-y reason I enjoy these kinds of doings is that they’re a great way to meet fun people who also like to get out into the world. This morning, we sat near a Caribbean pediatrician, a young investment banker, and a native Texan who now writes movie reviews for The Hollywood Reporter. Not a bad haul!

Oh yes, and the food was also wonderful. Emily and Anais made tiny beer mustard deviled eggs, an asparagus bruschetta on olive bread, and a grilled pineapple sandwich on a sticky cinnamon roll, as well as other treats—all as good as they sound. The cucumber gin basil fizzy totally sealed the deal.

So get thee to EatWith, I say! It’s a fun and fresh method for getting one of your three squares in while brushing up on your conversation skills, and maybe even acquainting yourself with a new culinary idea or two. For example, I will now be making all my sandwiches on sticky cinnamon rolls.

Brokelyn makin’ me feel like a genius

I never thought my cheap homemade lunches were much to write home about (though I would occasionally write home about them when I thought my mom would be particularly proud).

In fact, though some of my office coworkers over the years commented on my consistency and… uniqueness, would I periodically take heat from colleagues who turned their noses up at such frugality, and wondered why I would spend time assembling lunch at home when a world of delis waited right downstairs.

Well, guys, Mama’s finally getting her due!

Mmm! Cheap!

Mmm! Cheap!

I pitched the idea of my $2.50/day lunches (and how they’ve saved me $14K in the past decade) to Brokelyn, and when they bit, I felt real validated. See, it was a great idea after all!

Learn how to manifest this life-affirming meal choice for yourself here, and check out some of my other stories about good cheap things here.

Got any cheap tricks I should know about?