Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Nights

So, the first couple of nights in the new house have gone quite well, even considering the first night of Dad's-chorus & Mom's-orchestra night out. We're still swimming in boxes, which is likely to continue for a couple of months. In a large sense, it's like getting wedding presents again - so much of our stuff was packed by friends that we have no idea what's in any given box. There's been many, many exclamations of, "Oh! I forgot we had those!"
Bad thing: The Baby stuck some plastic coins in my playstation 3. I don't think The Wife will let me buy an Xbox 260 to replace it. I'll mess with that eventually.

Bedtime has been kind of fun, actually. Little Bear won't get his real bed until Friday afternoon, so he's had a mattress on the floor. He also has this cute little Sesame Street couch that folds out into a tiny, tiny bed, which he just fits inside. (Even though he's our great big boy, he's a very, very little bear.) We've been putting him to bed in the mattress, and he transfers himself to the tiny little Sesame Street bed before he goes to sleep. It's very cute. He had kind of a rough night in the first night - he was a little skittish about sleeping in a strange place, so we left a nightlight on for him. He appreciated that.

The Boy has had a couple of great nights. He hasn't fought us going to bed, he hasn't had an unreasonable number of trips to the potty / for water, and - miracle of miracles - two of the three nights he stayed the entire night in his own bed! That's quite strange for him. Last night, he snuck into bed with us at 4am, but I think that was because The Wife and I were out of the house at his bedtime and he didn't know where we were. He's been doing a great job building a "Joker's Hideout" playset from Trio Blocks, which he really likes. He's very, very good at following directions to build things, but he might have an engineer or two in the family.

The Baby is, well, the baby. He's been sleeping fairly well and deeply. He's been trying to stand more on his own, and he can take a step or two before falling, so it's only a matter of time before he puts it all together. I'm kind of excited about that, actually. The thought of the three boys tearing around the house chasing each other is a little tiring but quite cute.
School starts next week. Kind of looking forward to that, as it frees up The Wife for more housework in the new place. Not entirely, because of The Baby, but well enough. The Wife has been keeping the kids plenty busy, and (occasionally, when they're calm - very, very occasionally) gets some stuff done while I'm at work. We'll see what happens.

Tomorrow is The Boy's birthday. I have a Batman color-by-numbers set for him, and we have this awesome Trio train station set. We'll see
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, August 27, 2012

A New Hope

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

That sentence tastes funny, so I'm going to say it again.

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

Ironically, it was not the sense of joy or relief that we felt. It was closer to exhaustion than anything else. Last week was a long, long week; Saturday was a long, long day; this coming week is a long, long week. We got into another disagreement with Grandma that seems to have a difficult resolution. I haven't found the time to return a phone call from one of my best friends, from my birthday three weeks ago. But, here we go:

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

I feel like one cycle - a long, terrible, difficult, dark, challenging, spiritually draining cycle - is closed. A new one is about to begin. The cycle that began on June 24, 2008, with The Boy's cancer diagnosis, finally closed on August 26, 2012. This cycle saw: a career change for me; moving out of New Jersey; losing my chorus and my wonderful church job; losing several years' worth of private students; losing regular contact with my friends. It's done.

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

It's starting to taste better. It's starting to feel more natural. I mean, it should - we've owned the home since June. Last night was the first night we spent in it.

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

Now, I'm working for a large bank, in an entry-level position that I enjoy. I'm surrounded by cool and interesting people, and my supervisor(s) are reasonable individuals who are helping me develop my skills. There's potential for growth in the company, and parking is plentiful if not particularly close. What more can you ask for? I'm directing a Sweet Adelines chorus full of wonderful ladies who want to do interesting things and go to interesting places. My assistant directors are motivated people who have far more talent than I could have hoped. I'm not teaching private lessons anymore, but I have two quartets that I love, and I'm starting to develop some friends.

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

I finally feel like an adult again. I finally feel like I'm back in control of my own life. I finally feel like I can grow again, like I can focus on my beautiful family as I wish. I'm lucky enough to be married to the greatest woman in the world. My cancer survivor is a strong, smart, handsome young man. My middle boy is beautiful and, most likely, an order of magnitude more intelligent than I am - and, faithful readers, you know how difficult it is for me to say that. My little baby is not so little, and he'll take many of his first steps in his own home. His first word, besides "Da," is "shoe," which I'm not sure what that means - foot fetish or cobbler. I'm okay with either.

Yesterday, we moved into our new home.

Sounds about right.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thursday Musings

It is truly amazing watching my boys grow. Their concentration and thought processes are a wonder to behold; in particular, when Little Bear decides that he wants to learn something or to do something, he attacks it with ferocity. For instance, he's decided that he wants to learn how to play the maze games on a toy laptop that Joe F bought for the boys a couple of years ago. He isn't entirely sure how to work the mouse, although he's improving on a daily basis. It's not a "real" computer mouse - it's more a mouse-shaped joystick with an inconveniently-placed button. He's doing a pretty good job with it, although he hasn't quite figured out that, when you move the mouse and press the button, the cursor jumps to the end of that "row." But, he sticks with it, asks for help if necessary, and eventually wins the game. The Boy does that as well: sinks his teeth into something as deeply as possible. Yesterday, apparently, was the day to learn about hanging off of the monkey bars at the local park. It was really cute; The Wife sent a video to Facebook. The Baby was playing ball with me today. He would throw the ball to me (or in my general direction), and I would roll it back to him. He was very amused by that. He's also started identifying shoes with "shooo!" words; today, he crawled on the ground, got up to a pair of my shoes, and said, "Shooo!" It's very cute. I'm excited to see where their interests will lie, where their talents will take them. I know it'll be exciting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sleeping and Kickboxing

I am really looking forward to being in our new house - specifically, our big, big bed. Twice since I've been home, The Boy has wound up kicking me - literally - out of bed twice in the last three nights. He climbs in around 2am or so, then proceeds (in his sleep) to kick, push, and otherwise cajole me awake. It's been frustrating as heck. I hope that the big, big bed will allow me to move him a foot or so away and give me some room to breathe. Probably not, but it's definitely worth a shot.



I know, I know... I should just be shuttling him back to his own bed. Easier said than done. Before the last few nights, it was much easier to pull him in and let him sleep rather than bring him back and fight with him to keep him in bed. He goes to bed, more or less, in own bed easily enough.

The new house is getting closer and closer and closer to being done. Everything is in the 95% time of being completed. The windows are in and insulated, but they're not framed. The floors are in, except for the basement, but the connectors between rooms aren't done. The kitchen countertop is almost done, and the sink & dishwasher will follow soon after. The electrical outlets have all been replaced, and new covers are on all of the outlets and light switches. Soon enough, I know.

This weekend is The Boy's birthday party. He's having a mix of old classmates and new classmates come - the rest of his class last year is graduating to kindergarten or moving to full day preschool, and he's joining the new 4-year olds in class. He'll probably be the oldest kid, but we're okay with that. I honestly think, now, that he's ready for the 4 year old class; definitely not ready for kindergarten. Academically, no problem; he could probably hang with a 2nd or 3rd grade class without too much of an issue. Attention span and emotional development, no way.

The original thought was to try to have the party at the new house... which isn't likely. More stuff was damaged or in dire need of repair than we expected, or than even the housing inspector expected. Stuff like, when changing out the kitchen sink, the drain pipe crumbled to dust in Dave's hand. That's not good, and thankfully we found that out now rather than while washing dishes. And, last night, the washing machine started spewing water for some reason. So, here we go... to work, then to the new house for hours of work, then back home to pass out in bed.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Voyage Home

After we brought our bags to the bus and turned in our room key, we got a boxed breakfast of a scone, a roll, an apple, an orange juice box, and some coffee or tea. We got back on the bus for a quick last tour through a newer section of Dublin to look at some fancy houses and more Georgian architecture, and then we proceeded to the airport. We went through US customs in Dublin, then proceeded to wait for our plane.

Bravo to United Airlines for an incredibly impressive, smooth trip home. Here we're the three "worst" things about the trip home:

1: The flight was completely booked, so they asked people to check a second bag for free to clear up room on the flight. Considering that most of us had two carry-on bags, one filled with clothes and such, this was a feature, not a bug. I checked my larger carry-on bag gleefully.

2: We arrived into Newark Airport a half hour early, which meant more waiting around in the airport. Again, not a big problem.

3: Our luggage made it to the conveyor so quickly, in Pittsburgh, that I had to wait outside for about 20-25 minutes for my wife to come get me. Of course, the weather was a very Irish 68 degrees and overcast, which made it a pleasant wait.

When those are the three worst things about the trip, you know that you had a pleasant and worry-free trip home. Again, thank you, United Airlines, for your service on Saturday.



We did do some more singing on the way home. One of the flight attendants is an occasional Sweet Adeline forum Portland, and she asked if we could give them a song. We couldn't sing with the whole chorus - not enough room on the plane and too much engine noise - but one of the quartets sang to the cabin crew. In Newark, we sang a couple of chorus tunes in the plane terminal, and two or three of the quartets sang as well.



A trip wrap-up will come from me, when I have had a few days to let my thoughts settle and catch back up to work and family time. I know that this was a heck of a week, and I thank my wife, who was home with three children under 5, for making this possible. (Don't feel too bad for her. She went with the kids, Grandma, and her sister to Atlantic City for most of the week and enjoyed the beach.) It was an amazing time, full of life-altering experiences, and I know that we are going to be talking about it for years to come.



I was incredibly, and amazingly, happy to see the boys and The Wife, and they were just as happy to see me. It's interesting, how things just aren't RIGHT when we're apart like that! It's not that we can't function, or don't function, it's just that things are a little off kilter and off balance


.

The boys and Mum liked the presents that I bought for them. The tin whistle was a particular hit. The Boy was actually working to get different notes; Little Bear was seeing how loud he could blow it, and The Baby was humming into it to make noises. The Boy, when I got home, put his new Ireland shirt on immediately, and he hasn't spent more than five minutes away from me. O the other hand, I haven't gone more than a few feet away from them, either.



The house is coming along. The floors are 95% done - just need to put the between-rooms molding down. The windows are in and need to be framed. The kitchen has been started as well. Movers came on Friday and took my computer desk, piano, easy chair, some bookshelves, and the boys' dressers over to the house. We're so close I can taste it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dublin

Friday morning, we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel, which had the same general chunk of food as the others: poached eggs, scrambled eggs, sausage, blood sausage, fried ham, rice krispies / corn flakes, oatmeal, and some kind of weird wheat bar thing. I zipped next store for Starbucks, which was the first decent coffee I've had all week.

We got back on the bus and went to Trinity College. They had the Book of Kells, which is the earliest known complete copy of the four gospels of the New Testament. A monastery in central Ireland got it from the original monks in Scotland to protect it from the Vikings (pretty cool, huh?), who gave it to the college in the 1600s. They have that and a huge, huge, huge library of ancient books, many of which are available for Trinity students to use for research purposes.

From there, we went over to the Temple Bar neighborhood for our performance. We were singing as part of a fund raiser for the Caddagh Hospital, an orthopedic hospital in town here. We sang on the street, while volunteers with buckets collected donations from the crowds. It was a good performance. The hospital fund raising group fed us lunch afterwards.

Best part? Our guide was named Paddy Murphy. No joke. He said he was training to be a leprechaun, but he put on too much weight - he was, indeed, a short, chubby, jolly Irishman.

Some of the group stayed with the fund raisers, who took them to a local pub for some music and some Irish dancing. Apparently, Donna was even recruited to do some dancing! They really treated us first-rate, for which we are quite appreciative. Donna then went on a carriage ride around town to see the sights.
Four friends and I walked around and did some shopping. I bought some presents for wife and child. Others hung out in a pub and watched the Olympics with the hometown crowd - some local heroes were competing today for some medals. I don't really follow the Olympics, though.
Dublin is a really neat town. For those from Pittsburgh, it reminds me of the Oakland / Shadyside area: lots and lots of stores, ranging from high end to cheap souvenir stores. There are a million little restaurants and pubs and food stands and street entertainment and music stores and instrument stores. There are some awesome rich-type homes, with incredible and intricate architecture and carvings and iron work.

The "duck tours" - those in US cities will recognize the amphibious vehicles that tour bus the city and its rivers - are Viking boat tours. Instead of getting duck quackers, the riders get cool Viking helmets.
When we came back to the hotel, we had dinner. It was neat, particularly since we presented our driver, Peter, and our tour guide, Barbara, with presents and nice words and songs in thanks. She said that the good nature and love of our group was apparent and made her job easier. We made him blush, which is not usual; he said that he had gotten married 30 years ago and hadn't blushed since. It was cute. We did group pictures afterwards.

Tomorrow morning, we need to be up at half four - or, four thirty in Irishspeak. We'll leave at 5 for the airport and go through customs on this end. The flight leaves at 9am and arrive in Newark at 11:40am, then the flight to Pittsburgh leaves an hour later. Hope we're not delayed...
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Merry Ploughboy

The Merry Ploughboy was a lot of fun. It's shaped like a traditional Irish pub - long tables, with 20 or so people seated on each side of the table. There's a stage in the front of the room, and a bar in the back of the room. The meal, for us, was off of a fixed menu: one appetizer, one entree, one dessert. Water comes with the meal, soft drinks or adult beverages not included. I had the lamb last night, so I'm pretty confident that I've sampled the major exports of Ireland: beef, lamb, fish.



The show is a really neat show. The house band is named after the pub, or the pub is named after the band. One of those. It's a guy on a guitar who sings, a guy on a mandolin who sings, a guy on a banjo, and a guy on the bass. Those two. Do a little bit of singing, but I'm honestly not sure their microphones were on. They performed a mixture of "traditional Irish" tunes and pop tunes, and they were quite good. The mandolin was a little hot on the sound system and sometimes overwhelmed the voices, but that's a minor quibble. There was a lot of singing along and clapping and such.

The middle part of the show had a troupe of five Irish dancers. They were also pretty good. Two of them were extraordinary - one of the guys and one of the gals - and absolutely overshadowed the others.

I do enjoy watching dancers, but I freely admit to entirely ignoring dancers who don't interest me. When those two dancers were on the stage, the other ones didn't even exist. That's not to say that the others weren't talented; they knew what they were doing. But, those two... they just Got It. The motions were clean, fluid, and always rhythmic; one set of moves flowed naturally into the next with a smooth evolution. It's beautiful to see, mostly because it's rare. The others were obviously thinking about the choreography, counting, following a set of moves rather than just... dancing.

It's a lesson we all need to learn, no? The dancing is a fluid outgrowth of the music. It's not just "moves."

The show ended around 10:30, and we were back in the hotel at 11. This morning, we're headed over to Trinity College to look at the Book of Kells, the over to Temple Bar to sing.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Callan Rd,Kilkenny,Ireland

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Road to Dublin

The first stop along the way was a small gas station for a "comfort stop," which means a place to grab a quick drink and a potty stop. It was entertaining mostly because the bathroom was an actual outhouse.

The second stop was a small tea and scones place, which our tour guide, Barbara, said had the best scones around Dublin. We drove across a 17th century stone bridge, which was a little freaky: the engineers back then built a bridge that was strong enough to handle a tour bus full of Americans! The scones, incidentally, we're quite good. If you bought a plate with a scone, you got your choice of coffee and tea with it for free. (Not really for free; the scone and coffee was €4, or around $5.) The gift shop attached to the cafe was quite extensive and had good prices on wool sweaters and other stuff. I found a sweater that I liked, but I couldn't quite justify spending €80 on it.

Next was the Glendalough Cathedral. This is currently the site of a bed & breakfast, built right next to one of the first Christian settlements in Ireland. St. Kevin apparently built a monastery and cathedral here. We poked around a bunch of headstones, mostly from the 18th and 19th century; many of them were likely older, but they were too faded and worn to read. There is a Celtic cross thought to be the first in Ireland, from somewhere between the 9th and 12th centuries.

The highlight of the trip was singing in St. Kevin's Kitchen, which is a small stone church built somewhere around 1150 or so. It was still standing with a complete roof made of stone; I want that guy, or his decendants, to do my roof! One roof in a lifetime doesn't quite cut it; more like one roof for a thousand years or so. Much of the chorus was gathered in this room, and we sang "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," which was really quite an emotional moment. Several of our ladies burst into tears after we finished!



Isn't it amazing, the power of our music? We brought beautiful song and harmonies into a room that might not have had it in hundreds of years. The stone walls, with nothing to stop it, allowed the sound to echo and amplify. It was a magical, moving moment.
Now we are headed to Dublin Castle.
--------------
It truly amazes me to watch the big, big tour bus navigate in these cities. The roads are barely large enough for two compact cars to pass side by side, much less a tour bus or two. Somehow, however, the busses manage to get from one place to another in safety. These busses head over bridges that are hundreds of years old and roads that are, likely, built on top of horse paths that are thousands of years old.
These things, obviously, tend not to exist in the United States. Older cities, like Boston and some parts of New York, have similar sorts of narrow, winding streets, but we tend to have larger streets designed for more modern traffic.
The castle, itself, is not a "real" castle anymore. It does have one surviving tower from the original castle, and the foundation from another tower, but the structure as it exists is much more modern and used for government functions. As with Kilkenny, Blarney Castle, and Bunreddy, it is a staggering display of wealth and opulence. (Boy, this is bringing out the proletariat in me, for sure.)



You can tell that I've just purchased my home and become very sensitive to certain things. The trim around the ceilings was incredibly well designed and seamless. In my house, if I tried to put that trim up, it would go from the ceiling to, roughly, two inches from the floor! The parque floors were relatively new, from a fire in the 1940's.
Tonight, we're headed to the Merry Ploughboy for dinner and a show. Tomorrow, we're performing in Temple Bar and then wandering Dublin.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday in Kilkenny (You bastard!)

Today was a chill day and a much-needed relaxation day.

Breakfast was a little bit later this morning, not starting until 8am (as opposed to 7:30am on every other morning of our trip). The meal consisted of "coffee," tea, fruit, cereal that bore more than a passing resemblance to cardboard, and a plate of various meats: grilled ham, sausage, blood sausage, etc.



After breakfast, we changed into our performance clothing and left for Kilkenny Castle. This was a hunting lodge for the Butler family for the better part of 600 years and was inhabited by them from the 1300's until the 1930's. There is amazing artwork and a huge mahogany staircase that has to be seen to be believed. The rose garden outside was also wonderful to see.

Side note: the amount of wealth that it takes to purchase such land and build such a house is staggering. I've always been firmly a middle class kind of person, and I definitely do not understand the financial stratosphere that that kind of construction requires. I mean, a receiving room 150 feet long, with artwork from five centuries? That's amazing.



From there, we went to the church, which was our performance site. It is a beautiful, thousand year old church - truly the performance opportunity of a lifetime! For a 1pm performance, the church was surprisingly packed. It's always better to sing for a full house than an empty one - after all, a performance without an audience is rehearsal.

Our driver had the day off, so his wife met him in Kilkenny to spend the day. They came to our performance, which was really nice. The chorus mobbed them after the performance and wound up bringing her to tears because of the performance and the nice-ness and friendliness of the group! That's always a nice thing to see.

At this point, paths diverged. Jim and Joe went on an excursion to find the nicest pub in town. Personally, I walked the mile or so back to the hotel, stopping at any store that caught my interest while hunting for presents for my children. I stopped at a cute little townie cafe (meaning, not in a tourist area - I'm fairly certain that I was the only American in the place) for a cottage pie lunch. I poked around in the local department stores, like Penney's - not JC Penney's, like we have in the States, but Penney's. I wanted to see what sort of things people are buying. Lots of Adidas, apparently, and New York styles. When I got back to the hotel, I set out to see if my eyelids were light-tight or if any leaks had sprung up since the morning.



The rest of the group did their own thing as well. They took a bus back to the hotel to change out of formal performance gear, then some of them got back on the bus to get dropped off downtown to explore. I actually ran into a big chunk of chorus folks outside of a milkshake place, where I had a milkshake made with a candy bar, milk, and soft serve ice cream. Much shopping was done, and apparently a nice chunk of chorus did some singing at a local lunch place.

One pickup quartet messing around with some of our performance music in Kilkenny met a man who was also trekking to Dublin today. He said he'd be at our show tomorrow!

A large group of people toured the Smithwick brewery (pronounced Smih-tik, accent on the first syllable). They had a neat time, and the brewery gave plentiful samples at the end of the tour.

After dinner, a big group went to the Kyteler's Inn to hear some music. They were too big of a group to sit in the bar like Katie, Amy, and I did the previous evening, so it was a different experience. They didn't stay particularly long, but they did hear some fun music. Another group stayed at the hotel and listened to a guitar player / singer in the hotel bar. He did a mix of American music and Irish music. Apparently, Green Day was heard... not precisely what one would expect in an Irish bar, but...

Personally, I spent an hour or so talking to my wife via iMessage, as the hotel wifi had blocked my voice over ip line and wasn't strong enough for FaceTime or Skype. I then watched a little tv on my iPad, finished a book, and went to sleep early.

This morning, we are headed to see a couple of castles before checking into our hotel in Dublin. Tonight we will have dinner and a show at the Merry Ploughboy. Should be fun!



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blarney, Waterford and Kilkenny

This morning, we are headed for the Blarney Castle and to Waterford. That should be pretty cool; I'm looking forwards to climbing around in a castle for a little while, and I guess that kissing the Blarney Stone is something that you have to do.
While I've been writing, we have passed an awful lot of sheep by the side of the road. It must be boring to be a sheep; just kind of standing around all day watching the traffic go by. It rained pretty steadily all night, and the weather is quite foggy and overcast. We did get incredibly lucky yesterday; there was quite a bit of clear weather. Very, very different from today, and I'm glad that we had the chance to actually see the countryside.
------
Blarney Castle was an awful lot of fun.
This was the first time since Sunday at lunch that we actually had a sizable tour bus stop. We were there for about three hours. The Blarney Castle is a huge complex, with a high tower to climb (to kiss the Blarney Stone, of course), grounds to explore, a poison plants garden (not recommended for people like me, with allergies), and an outlet mall down the block. We went up to the top of the tower first, to kiss the fabled Blarney Stone. It was kind of fun, although weird, and the best bit was Katie whacking her head on the stone on her way back up.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to bring you luck and the gift of gab. Bleeding on the Blarney Stone is likely to give more luck. Or something.
Many of us did the kiss the stone thing. It's not the most pleasant experience: you lie on your back, crane your head all the way backwards, and kiss. A guy holds onto you, because the ground is open underneath and it's a loooooooooong way down. Michele said that doesn't even know if she kissed the stone, because she was trying not to fall instead of thinking about snogging the stone. We tried to hold Donna back, because she does not need the gift of gab that the stone presents; she went anyway. Looks like board meetings are going to get a little longer.
The stables of the castle had a neat little gift shop and a bathroom with a flickering florescent light. It reminded me of those moments in the movies... I half expected, when the lights went out and came back on, to have somebody standing behind me in the mirror.

We had a quick bite to eat after exchanging some dollars for Euros. I had one of those sandwiches that Douglas Adams so accurately described in the Hitchhiker's Guide series. I bought a present for my wife at the store. I'm still thinking about what to get the children; I have some ideas, but I'm going to let the ideas work their way through.
------------
The Waterford Crystal factory was our next stop. We poked around in the gift shop, then we went on a tour of the factory itself. We saw the different stages of construction: blowing the crystal into the correct shape, sanding the rough edges, etching the patterns, and carving the final designs. It was really neat.

That wasn't the first time that I had seen that general process; there used to be a glass factory in south Jersey that I toured once or twice. Still, it's pretty amazing to see the exact care and precision that these handmade objects required. The prices were pretty outrageous, too: I saw a Waterford Crystal grizzly bear for €30,000, which is roughly the annual salary of the average American.
I did purchase presents for my wife in the town of Waterford. I'm not saying what I bought, because she might read this before I get home. I hope she likes them.

Back on the bus again, and then to our hotel in Kilkenny. It's a neat hotel - the Hotel Kilkenny. It's one of those modern design hotels, with interestingly shaped sinks and a flatscreen tv. In my room, you have to insert your room key into a device by the door in order to get electricity. That's kind of annoying, but at least it makes sure that the room key is right by the door when you leave.
Dinner was okay, but not as tasty as our previous hotel. I had some veggie spring rolls with a zesty sweet and sour sauce, which was the highlight of dinner for me. The salmon was a nice piece but not more than just a piece of salmon. The desert was advertised as chocolate cream puffs, but the cream was vanilla and not particularely flavorful. It was fine, but not outstanding, as a meal. I enjoyed sitting with a different crowd of people at dinner than my previous meals.

After dinner, Katie, Amy, and I went into Kilkenny to poke around a little bit. We fund an awesome bar called the Kytelers Inn, which had a duo called the Raglan Rogues. They were pretty good, singing Irish songs in that distinctive, nasal Irish sound. Highlight of the night was a parody of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire dealing with... well... eating some hot and spicy food and the restroom follies that follow. One guy played guitar, and the other alternated between guitar and banjo. The bar was really cool - it looks like it was built inside of a small castle, which stone arches and steps. There's also a witch sitting inside the door. This was the place, incidentally, that one of the clerks at the Waterford Crystal factory recommended.
Tomorrow has a lunchtime performance followed by some free time. I'm looking forward to it!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Coote's Ln,Kilkenny,Ireland

Ring of Kerry, Concert, Celebration

So, this morning, we're driving around the "Ring of Kerry," which is a roadway that circles this general area of the country. There is absolutely beautiful scenery throughout the entire area - some golf courses, rivers, bogs, sheep, cows, farming, the mountains, and plenty of large roadside trees.



A quick word about the houses that we have seen on the roadside: every single one of them has been gorgeous and well-maintained. They all have smooth stone. Or plaster finishes and tend to be brightly colored in pastels: yellow, orange, blue, brown. The colors are perfect and bright, the lawns are impeccably manicured, and the yards and tidy. It's really quite impressive.
The land and farmland is divided with bushes and trees into smaller plots of land, squares and rectangles. It makes for an interesting patchwork effect as we explore.

One neat little thing: there are these cool, tall, rectangular stones every once in a while. They are thousands of years old and the first impressions of Irish writing - usually stones marking boundaries or towns. Not too many things like that in Pennsylvania.
--------
First stop of the morning was at Caitin's Pub, where a man named Brendan showed us how he worked with his sheepdogs. It was pretty extraordinary; by voice command or by whistle command, he could get the dogs to bring the sheep in any direction he wanted. I was amazed that he could get the dogs to obey specific commands from a half-mile away based on how he blew his whistle.



I wonder if choruses could be trained like that?
----------
We eventually stopped at the Scarriff Inn, advertised as "The Best View in Ireland!" They had the usual tourist kind of gift shop and quite a nice cafeteria. The view, over the Bay of Kerry (I think), was marvelous, and the food was tasty and relatively light. It was stereotypical Irish fare, with shepherd's pie and curried chicken and bread pudding.



There was a pretty little road to walk down, with sheep and cows kept nearby. The tops of the mountains were swathed in mist, but the water was clear and deep. Little green islands dotted the water, some with buildings and some without.

The absolute funniest part of today's bus trip was when Barb Jacobsen's husband, on a deserted part of the highway, had to make a "comfort stop." He had a Guinness with lunch, and - as we know - we only rent beer. Eventually, we have to give it back. To rousing laughter, he left the bus, found a bush, and did his business. "Get your cameras ready, ladies!" his wife said. He came back into the bus to a standing ovation. She videotaped the whole thing; we'll get a YouTube link later, for those interested.
------------
The last stop along the Ring of Kenney was a Moriarty's Gift Shop, which I enjoyed because I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan. Anyplace that's named after one of the first super villains is okay. With me. I bought a new hat, as did Bob, and a bunch of people bought some jewelry, sweaters, and such.



One of the things that we learned from Brenden Ferris, the sheepdog man, is that there are several varieties of sheep on the island that are kept for their wool only, and that things like sweaters and hats and such are made right here in Ireland. Support local business, ladies and gentlemen.
---------
The evening performance was about a hundred feet or so from the previous evening's performance. As a matter of fact, we had the same warmup room both nights! This was one of our two formal performances, so we all dressed to the nines and sang in a beautiful church. I'm not sure of the age of the church, but the organ (near to which we sang, although the organ was not used as part of the performance) was donated in 1875, according to the sign attached to it. The acoustics in the room, as you'd expect was marvelous.
We had an audience of around 100, 125 people; some came and went during the middle of the performance. After the show, we had an opportunity to talk with many of the people: there were people there from China, Germany, France, and the UK. Donna asked the family from China if they had heard our style of music before. They said yes, but they weren't sure where! Looks like Sweet Adelines is truly International. A young lady from Germany told Katie that she wanted to sing, too, and we put her in contact with the websites of Sweet Adelines International and our German affiliate.



After the show, we split into, basically, two groups. My group went wandering down into Killarney hunting for a pub, potentially with live music. We settled on a small, quiet townie pub a few blocks from the tourist area. As we were settling and ordering drinks, the regular patrons at the bar were eying us disapprovingly - one guy had even asked us to keep down our volume! We started singing about five minutes after that, and international relations became friendly again. The guys at the bar really enjoyed our singing, requested songs, and even sang some of their favorite Irish tunes to us! It was an awful lot of fun. We made our way back home around midnight.

The larger group of people congregated back at our hotel bar. This did include some people that caught a quick pint at other places and went back to the hotel, incidentally. They had a similar experience: there was a man there playing music, and the Sweet Adelines got a chance to sing for the local musician and get some songs in return. Barb Wood and her quartet (Cindy, Liz, and Tammy) absolutely crushed their song out of the ballpark, getting a standing ovation from the local crowd! A German guy, who spoke no English, brought a picture from his cell phone up to Donna to say that he had seen us sing earlier in the evening.

Donna said that when she was walking into the bar after our show, she came up to a small group of young girls, who were apparently discussing the performance blouses of the chorus. Donna was carrying her blouse, so she shared it with the girls. They were from the other side of the country, heading back home the next morning. The girls were quite impressed; after all, Sweet Adelines do sparkle!
I just heard from another group that went to a local pub and entertained the crowd with song. The bar was called Hussey's; not pronounced the funny way, but said "Hoo-see's."
__________
This morning, we are headed for the Blarney Castle and to Waterford. That should be pretty cool; I'm looking forwards to climbing around in a castle for a little while, and I guess that kissing the Blarney Stone is something that you have to do.
While I've been writing, we have passed an awful lot of sheep by the side of the road. It must be boring to be a sheep; just kind of standing around all day watching the traffic go by. It rained pretty steadily all night, and the weather is quite foggy and overcast. We did get incredibly lucky yesterday; there was quite a bit of clear weather. Very, very different from today, and I'm glad that we had the chance to actually see the countryside.
-----------
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 6, 2012

Killarney

Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

We arrived in Killarney at our hotel and checked in around 5:00. The bus left for the performance at 5:30, we arrived downtown at 5:45, and we were on stage to perform st six o'clock, promptly. As Michelle put it, we had enough time at the hotel to scrub the moss off of our teeth! Keep in mind that it was Sunday night, and we had been traveling for approximately 30 hours straight at this point.

Pulling into the parking lot, our bus went to drop us off at the front desk for the quick check-in, scrub down, and outfit change. A person in a car decided that they didn't feel like waiting for the bus to make the incredibly tight turn into the parking lot, and they nudged the front of their car directly into the side of the bus. It was one of those incredibly unintelligent and completely avoidable accidents that always seem to happen when you're in a rush. Considering that the entire bus watched as the driver pushed their car forwards into the side of the 2-mph moving bus, they didn't receive much sympathy.



Downtown Kilarney, at the festival, was amazing. There were hundreds of people, with street performers, face painting and arts and crafts for the kids, and all kinds of little booths and sales at the stores. We warmed up on the bus, kind of... As director, I was kind of counting on the adrenaline and the lack of time to think about the performance to carry us through.



You know how sometimes, when you don't get the chance to think and to worry about a performance, the performance winds up rocking? That's what it was like last night. The crowd was wonderful and was into everything that we sang - most of them stayed for a large chunk of the performance. The ladies were excited and energetic about the whole thing, and it came through in the music. The quartets did a great job.
After the show, we only had a few minutes to wander around, so I bought a small ice cream cone in a store advertising fresh made ice cream. Considering the number of cows that we saw during the day, I figured that there was a good chance of that! It was really quite good. I watched a street ventriloquist do his act right outside, and I saw a couple of kids get their faces painted like Spider-man.



Dinner was back at the hotel, and it was marvelous. Local beef and potatoes, a melon salad with strawberry compote, and little pastry puffs with fresh whipped cream... plus, the scenery was not to be believed. Our tour guide saved a prime seat overlooking the golf course, lake, mountains, and sunset for Donna, Amy, Katie, and me. Granted, it could have been the fact that this was the first real meal we had had in 36 hours after travel food, and it could have been the extreme exhaustion and performance adrenaline speaking, or it could have been the Guiness and a half that I had drank, but it was a truly amazing meal.

(Side note: Guiness absolutely tastes different in Ireland than it does in the States. Wow. I am definitely not a beer drinker, but... wow.) (Side note #2: not a fan of the drink loosely called "coffee" out here. I might have to start drinking the tea.)

I am told that some people went out after that. Personally, I went back and went to bed. Tomorrow is a day spent touring followed by an evening performance downtown in Kilarney.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Flight and First Impressions

So, I'm keeping a blog of our Ireland trip with my chorus over on www.greaterharmonychorus.org, but I've decided to cross post because I can. Here you go:

At the airport, we managed to gather without leaving anybody behind, which is a nice touch. Most of us were wearing our Ireland travel shirts, which makes for a nice tableau in probably fifty pictures or so. We only had three people that were officially overbooked, so that was a nice thing. (This speaks more to the level of expectations we have for the airport, which are uniformly low.)



We sang a couple of songs, one for the checkin folks and one for the plane crew. A couple of the pickup quartets rehearsed, including mine. The plane was delayed (surprise!), and we finally got on the plane at 4:10 for a 3:19 flight. When we boarded, we packed ourselves in like sardines and waited.

Ten minutes later, they brought us off the plane again. Newark, NJ, has all planes grounded because of the weather. Because of the nature of the flight (small plane, small passenger numbers), we had a 45-minute wait to get clearance to take off. So, now we are sitting back in the terminal, which is nice because the seats are about six inches wider than on the plane.

We'll see what happens now.

------------

Well, once we got off the ground, things went swimmingly. The flight from Pittsburgh to Newark was blissfully quick and uneventful, and the busses to get from one terminal to the next were efficient and large. The place was waiting for us at the terminal, and there was no wait to board. Once the last of us was in the plane, they closed the doors and moved to take off.

The international flight was actually fairly decent. The normal stuff was present: questionable food, not nearly enough leg room, and the person in front of me immediately lowered her seat into my lap. I spent the six hours of the flight gleefully kicking her seat until she got annoyed enough to put it level for a little while. The seats all had individual television screens, and the movie choices were pretty good. There was a plug in between the seats on the ground level, so when I got off of the plane, all my devices were close enough to fully charged.

First thing I noticed: the soft drinks were still the same brand names. Next thing: lots of other different brands. Different yogurts, different candy bars, etc. We arrived at around 7am local time, which is 2am Pittsburgh time, so most of the group is currently more than a little zombified.

Nice note? It's about 60 degrees right now, which is about forty degrees cooler than Pittsburgh was when we left.


We waited in line at customs, and our luggage was waiting for us when we got through. Now we're on the tour bus, and we are headed to Dunratty Castle at the start of a busy first day. I have a feeling that most of the chorus is going to nap their way to Dunratty. We'll see.

-----------

We stopped about halfway to the castle for a rest stop. They had a Subway restaurant, which some of my less adventurous colleagues utilized. The rest stop was typical rest stop type food, and many of us roused ourselves from a reasonably sound sleep and took advantage of the coffee. Ironic that we travelled 3,300 miles east to drink Seattle's Best coffee.


The scenery outside the bus is a lot of green farmland, with lots of cows and sheep and such. Every so often, the ruins of a castle tower appear. It's not significantly different from central Pennsylvania, actually, with the exception of the tower ruins.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad