Saturday, May 28, 2016

The End/Beginning

One of the best things about going away is the gift of coming home. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: we are SO BLESSED to have a home that we love to come back to. I know it's not a mistake that we love our little Langy, and home; we put lots of energy into making it a home we feel cozy in. It's partly the ease of familiarity, sinking back into an environment that we know inside and out, where the kitchen knives are sharp and the toys & books are plentiful. It was especially wonderful for me to come home to a seriously thriving garden (thanks to our caring and wonderful friend who offered to help out!)

So much lettuce! 
The journey home was long, and I'm not going to down-play the wretchedness of jetlag with kids! But it was worth it! 
The last leg of our journey, to Bushmills in Northern Ireland and back down to Dublin, was great. I can definitely and wholeheartedly recommend road tripping in Ireland. The Giant's Causeway was stunning. Our energy had started to flag by that point so we were slowing down in our excursions. Fortunately the house that we'd booked in Portballintrae (County Antrim) was beautiful and stocked with lego & toddler toys! It gave us the luxury of a few slow start days. I now have a much better idea of what makes a great airbnb (or VRBO/holiday home). 

It was very interesting to see & feel the difference between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There's no border, but the motorway changes names, and directional signs in NI are in English only, whereas the signs in the Republic are all in Irish & English. We really didn't dig into local sentiment & politics, but there are perceptible differences from a traveler's perspective (beyond the staggering Pound Sterling to Canadian exchange rate). I imagine that the building code & development policy is pretty different, though I don't have facts to back that up. I found the Northern Irish small town to be less attractive, and I couldn't put my finger on it really...we heard that a few towns on the coast are almost entirely holiday towns, one such was devoted to amusement games - kind of like the Reno of indoor amusement halls. We drove into Portrush & Portstewart on a Sunday afternoon to look for a pub for a pint (probably first mistake, Sunday). What we did find was the Sunday outting crowd. Cars parked every which way along the oceanside promenade, filled with families of all ages. Just sitting on the promenade, watching the world go by. I remember my Nana & Grandpa going for Sunday drives, seems like a tradition that's alive and well. It was pretty chilly and windy as we walked along the street, though that didn't stop the ice cream shops from turning a good business! 


Deluce Castle in the mid-distance

Giant's Causeway

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The trip on the whole was marvelous. Really an easy trip with the two boys, made easier with the help & love of the fam. No drive was longer than 5 hours, and the boys were welcome everywhere. 

Some things we miss already: 

OH MY GOODNESS the dairy: I took "pouring cream" with my coffee, thinking at first that that was the normal cream, but no. It is thick, heavy and delicious cream. Upon coming home we picked up some whipping cream to see if it compares, but it doesn't. The cheese was also so tasty and affordable. 

Dramatic and shifting coastline. Incomparable. 

The food! So much local produce/meat/dairy available and accessible. And the red ale & stout that were sold only at the brewpub in Lisdoonvarna. (Seriously, Irish Red Ale is delicious). 

Lisdoonvarna Roadside Tavern. Lisdoonvarna is also the host of a month-long matchmaking festival.
The people & the welcome. Though we didn't meet as many people as we might have, or have in the past, maybe because we were mostly self-catering and staying in homes without present hosts. The folks that we did cross paths with were rich with stories & offerings. 

The quiet slow time that we found around every corner. 

Yeats' The Lake Isle of Innisfree really does capture it most beautifully: 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; 
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, 
And evening full of the linnet's wings. 

What a gift. I'll close this holiday here and begin our summer-at-home - which we're already loving. Until next time!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dingle to Doolin

We have experienced and seen so much in the past week: distinct geology, accents, styles of music (so we’re told, though my untrained ear can’t tell the difference), animal life, and all over the span of about 220 kilometres door to door.

Earlier I had written about the idyllic green pasture, blue ocean landscape that we had arrived to in Dingle. Little did I know we’d also meet bare limestone - moon walk - volcanic sneeze landscape in the UNESCO geo-region of The Burren. I’ve been continuously stunned and awed by Ireland’s beauty. A change of light changing a view I’d come to expect.

The Burren above our holiday cottage in Fanore

Sisters who climber together - Janet & Tricia

Cliffs of Moher from the sea - also an incredible seabird haven


Connor's pass in Dingle Peninsula

The only trad music the kids have heard because everything starts after 8:30

That time we hunted for standing stones in farmers' fields - Dingle peninsula

Dingle town
Mom, Tricia and I overheard locals talking in the pub in Fanore, speaking with their heaviest peer-to-peer accents and complaining about tourists. I can really only catch snippets of the local chat, lots of “feck” and laughter peppering a conversation. From what we caught, they were exclaiming over a tourist’s desire to drive unreasonable distances to see something new. Unreasonable to them was what we had called a pretty gentle travel day. I can see why, given that what we’ve seen in a short time, over a short distance is saturated with story & life.

Standing stones found through the most rudimentary directions. In a cow field in Dingle. 

We could not have guessed that we'd come to ireland and get a suntan (Inch strand)
We hit our groove last week, a pretty great feat given that we all have strong minds. We travel in two cars which gives us some flexibility, though we’ve spent at least part of each day doing something together (oooo family roadtrip tip: walkie talkies! They’ve been AMAZING!). Fortunately, enough of our interests overlap. Our little family unit (well, Brian and I) really like finding interesting places to eat & watch & listen, which sometimes takes some slowing down and meandering. This more or less works out with the kids since a reasonable expectation for them is to “do” one thing a day. Mom & Tricia are particularly energetic so they’ve shared stories and photos of their own wanderings, with the willing Hans in tow.

The boys have been overall really solid. Let me tell you – the difference between travelling with the boys last year and this year is ENORMOUS. There have been a couple days where Brian and I have had to remind ourselves why we’re doing this (remember how last year’s road-trip was hard when we went through it, but is now a really beautiful series of memories?). But I haven’t lost my cool, and we’re experiencing more high moments than low moments. That’s a win. It’s due in large part to three things: we have beautiful, willing & capable family with us who entertain, cajole, and cook; the boys are both a year older; and we’re staying in homes larger than 13 feet long.

We had an evening out at the local pub in Fanore 

Just couldn't help ourselves! 


Lots of playtime for Jamma and the boys!

Tricia left us yesterday to wrap up her trip in Dublin, so here we are – now in Sligo – a group of 6. Before she left we went to W.B Yeats’ gravestone and recited “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in honour of my grandpa, a lover of literature. We continue to trip around and get absorbed by whatever catches our fancy. And actually, I think that’s a good way to describe travelling in Ireland, there’s something around every corner to absorb interest, and to inspire imagination & reflection. This place is made of magic. And people. And stone. And grass and sheep and cows and horses and sky and ocean! We are so privileged to be here.

Until next time!  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The penny has dropped: History's not simple to understand.

We have just spent a marvelous day in the Dingle Peninsula. This is the Ireland that we see in movies, the mythic Ireland that we’ve been shown as North Americans. The drive in offered rolling hills on the right and green pasture up to the ocean’s edge on the left: houses were positioned on the hill-side of the road, with the pasture for the sheep on the water-side. Mom says Grandpa would exclaim about the North American habit of building right on the waterfront “the waterfront should be for everyone”. We are certainly drinking in every vista.  

We don't stop an awful lot unless it's time to let the boys photo taken from moving car - check. 
The town of Dingle is exceptionally picturesque in the real sense of the word. On the road from Dublin, to Wexford and now to Dingle we’ve seen variation in towns that buzz and seem to thrive, and towns that look like they’ve got their heads down, just trying to make it through the next hump. We went to a pub in Tomhaggard (a very small village near Butlerstown where we stayed in County Wexford). One half of the pub ownership told us, as we walked in to see her and a friend hastily butting out, that they now sometimes sneak a smoke in the pub, since the inspectors don’t come by anymore: they used to come checking all the time, when business was booming. I asked when they were booming, she said “2003-2008…It really hit its lowest in 2010”. Right, the downturn, as we euphemistically call it. By the end of the night (nearing midnight on a Wednesday) there had been a total of 10 visitors since we’d arrived. The publican gave us a lift home at the end of the night. Wild!

The pub in Tomhaggard, a 20 minute walk down the back lane

From the same pub: Linziestown is another name for Lingstown - right next to snowshoes! There was a Northwest Territories licence plate on the door too. Was this place meant for my Mom or what?! 

In Butlerstown Castle (drawing room?) looking at the family tree with Tricia, Anna & Helen

In the Butlerstown Boxwell graveyard and church

Dorothea Janet Boxwell, died at 12 years. Mom did a grave rubbing of her stone. 

It's not at all uncommon for us to find two children on our laps whenever we find a cozy nook

Bagenal Harvey & Boxwell Cottages
We had a remarkable time staying in Butlerstown Castle cottages – named for our relations no less! Bagenal Harvey Cottage was a renovated cowshed, with a wonderful enclosed front yard and access to feeding donkeys! What a delight for us parents – keeping kids inside is hard, so so much easier to be able to let them roam free from time to time. Helen Boxwell, our host’s sprightly, and short of short-term memory, 90 year old mother, has written the better part of the Boxwell family history in Ireland and spent the day with us as we explored backroads in quest of Ballymacane and other Boxwell haunts. 

The left side of the house is the original Ballymacane, where my Grandpa & Nana lived for a short while. It was financially untenable for them to maintain the land, and their loan requests were denied. They sold in 1963. Nana was pregnant with my Mom. The Devereux family welcomed us in with smiles, tea & biscuits. 
My particular exploration has also been an inquiry into the waves of colonizers of this wild green land – my family belonging to one of those waves. Helen told us, with a wry smile, that John Boxwell came to Ireland in the 1600’s after being ousted from England for being a Catholic (on the losing side of a change in reign). He left England as a Catholic, and arrived in Ireland a Protestant. It was a business decision, Helen surmises. He married, procreated – and the rest is history. It was at Lingstown castle that I came to the conclusion that roughly 400 years’ residence will do when asking the question “where is my family from?”. Our Irish roots (at least those that were traced through the male lineage) are Saxon (as opposed to Norman, Viking, Celtic, Pict…), part of a wave of latest-colonizers. What I realized, is that Ireland was very much a British colony. This will no doubt sound na├»ve, but I hadn’t fully comprehended the reason behind the religious divide that is so much more commonly talked about. Ireland was as much a British colony as India was, or Canada was in terms of treatment of indigenous people & their land.  Life was brutal. There’s a reason for the strain.

And with this realization, I’m ready to let this simmer. I’ve found a great tree growing out of my ancestor’s home. There’s something poetic about this.
Lingstown Castle

We’re finding our flow as a travelling family of 7, not always simple, but every day brings something beautiful. 
That's right! The Blarney Castle! Actually a great stop on the way to Dingle. They boys ran free, and it was WAY less touristy than I thought it would be. L-R: Janet, Tricia, Hans, Brian & Otis & yours truly with Russell!

Monday, May 09, 2016

From the Cowshed

Our last 2 days in & around Dublin were great. Contrary to what I anticipated (and despite the excellent marketing of which I was suspicious), the Guinness Storehouse was a super engaging experience for the whole fam. It went way beyond the typical cellar tour/tasting room that we’re familiar with – clearly no expense was spared. It also reminded me of the skill behind curation & interpretation, bringing the Guinness story into the context of daily life through the years. AND making that interesting for adults & children alike – the transportation display & Guinness marketing through the years’ floors were easy wins. We wandered through Dublin and found some lovely pockets, and some less-lovely areas (ironically, the most touristy Temple Bar neighbourhood was least friendly to our little fam). We took our first roadtrip (driving on the left!) to visit my uncle Allen (my Dad’s brother) & family in Rathnally. We were so warmly welcomed & feasted to our bellies content!

Allen, Margaret and their girls Charlotte & Serena

We also went searching for my great-grandparents’ home back in Dublin, where they raised their 9 children – my grandpa was the youngest. We found it, thanks to Tricia’s research & connection with our extended family. The family who lives there now kindly welcomed us to the home that they’ve since renovated, and suggested we also try down the street, where an elder still lives from the time she was a child. Doreen, 95 years old, remembers our family, and the hijinks her and my great auntie got up to. Remarkable. What really struck me, though, was learning about the history of the housing in that neighbourhood – East Wall.
Where my grandpa Boxwell was raised 
A clergyman, Canon Hall, was disgusted at the conditions of the tenement housing (slums) that arose as a result of a change in policies from London in the late 1800’s (I believe). A hundred people might live in a three story building in appalling conditions. I gather he had some architectural skills, and most likely some great advocacy and persuasive skills. He designed new individual family housing, with input from women (!). This initial movement became instrumental in re-homing families and in formulating future housing developments. Furthermore, though Canon Hall was protestant, the housing was for families regardless of either religious affiliation. Something that was pretty radical for the time, I gather. We might assume that my family was a beneficiary of this effort. That feels powerful to me.

I find myself becoming more and more interested in the sociopolitical context of the cities & communities that we visit. There’s a lot to learn here.

We’re now in Tomhaggard, in County Wexford, staying in a renovated cow-shed adjacent to Butlerstown Castle. Boxwells have lived in this Castle for 300 years – tomorrow we’ll meet with the current owners, Helen Boxwell and our hosts, Anna & Jim and we’ll see where we’re related. We’ll also go on the hunt for Ballymacane Castle – the land that my grandfather inherited, and then sold in the 60’s. I’m sure there’s so much nuance in here, I feel a little like a lumbering bear with my questions & curiosity. Fortunately, Helen is the local historian and is in the process of writing a book about the Boxwells! 

So – I’ll leave you with that. Slainte, and until next time! 

Friday, May 06, 2016

Dublin 2 days in

Mom wrangling Hill boys on the flight to Toronto

Otis did sleep for about 4 hours on the overnight flight.
I write from the dining room table at our airbnb in Dublin (in Ballybough, pronounced "Ballybuck"). We've made it through two fairly intense days and nights, and have really enjoyed our first day out of the very strange and very real twighlight of jetlag. Before leaving, I read a few kid-travel blogs, and I think I've heard from a few people sharing tales of first days; the rumours are that kids are pretty jetlag resilient. I guess I just took that and filed it away in my optimism brain compartment, because let me tell you: maybe the kids are fine with the jetlag. But these two parents, starved for sleep after an initial sleepless night flying, are NOT OKAY WITH JETLAGGED KIDS. Otis was up for 5 hours after we were ready to sleep. Brian and I tag-teamed, and Otis was so lost that all he could do was alternate between raging, and squirming. Poor dude! Thankfully Tricia came down from her attic retreat just at the right time, and took a shift so B and I slept with a fitful Russell between us (hurray for the village!!). Otis finally went to sleep - just after his usual Victoria bedtime.
But you know what else works in our favour? We're so recently out of our own sleep-deprivation-due-to-infant-child that getting a final stretch of 4 hours of sleep was enough to carry us through a great day! 

We're a 20 minute walk into Dublin and we spent the morning at Trinity College. It's an interesting city-scape here. Brick row houses, fairly short. Few gardens in the enclosed front 'yards', and no food gardens at all. We were surmising that maybe it's because there are a ton of affordable local Irish food options available - even in the convenience stores. So if there's a focus on local food in the city, it's in the production of local food in existing agricultural practices. That's my guess, anyways. I look forward to heading out into the smaller towns to see what we learn there! 
Janet & Tricia lifting a glass at The Celt - our first night out

River Liffey
Our neighbourhood
Trinity College was beautiful. We visited the old library, and the book of Kells. I didn't really get to sink into the displays because Russell was running around like a wild child - but I did love the glimpse of the natural pigments display (incredible colours from minerals, plants). But I was really there for the library floor. It smelled like you might imagine - wood, books, a little churchy. Russell was still a loud boy, but the security guard upstairs kindly smiled and said "He's all yours, it's the only time he'll get away with running around in a library. Let him enjoy himself!" Oh thank you, kind people. We're doing our best! After our erudite explorations, we walked to the Rugby pitch where my Grandpa played in '52-'53 and the boys raaaaan and ran. Mom and Tricia searched for Grandpa's school records and actually ran into an elder professor who had family ties to us through his great-great-grandfather. He told us to connect with Helen Boxwell in Wexford. What are the odds? I guess we'll learn soon enough!
Someone at a pub the night before commented on how we all look alike (the Boxwells, I presume).
This is at Trinity College



I'm finishing this post in the morning and am happy, oh so happy, to report a good full night's sleep all around! So the jetlag story that I would share would be along the lines of "well, I hear it can be different, but it might be wise to expect a rough first night."
Today we're going to the Guinness Storehouse! A little touristy, yes, but... well, Guinness. 
Loving the adventure.