Personal

Cat People

I’ve always considered myself a horse and dog person.

Not a cat person. Or a kid person, either.

Yet we have 3 kids and 5 cats.

Better than 5 kids and 3 cats, I guess.

Still, Maisie ranks above the cat population. So do the horses. (Please, don’t ask me to rank the kids.)

I could have lived a cat-free existence, were it not for the farm. With a barn and grain and sloppy horses, they are a necessity.

But I didn’t feel much affection or affinity for them until Mel and Frog came around. They changed my views.

Many years ago, after Old Kitty — an ancient, skeletal feline conveyance — finally keeled over, Martin and I realized that our supply was running low. With only Drippy, a lazy, drooling cat, we contacted a crazy cat lady and agreed to take two kittens.

We selected Tippy, a tiger-tabby with a tail dipped generously in White-Out. For color contrast, we chose his scrawny littermate named “Cool,” a Creamsicle orange-and-vanilla kitten with runny eyes.

Frog was an afterthought — a spare heir — scooped up last minute.

It was fall 2004. I’ll never forget, because my father had just been diagnosed with dementia. And I was emotionally wrung out…. hence my willingness to deposit a third kitten into our cardboard box.

Frog, Tippy and Mel (formerly “Cool”), two years later

Fast forward a few years. Tippy, unfortunately, disappeared around 2007; I believe he fell victim to local wildlife. (All three cats display a visceral aversion to cars, but roam to hunt.)

For more than a decade, Frog lived a relatively normal existence, even as our cat colony grew. She proved a top mouser and all was harmonious until a young upstart — Toulouse — rose in the ranks, and toppled the monarchy.

Mel (formerly Cool) gave Toulouse little thought. But the black panther intimidated Frog and last year, she was driven into exile. Her condition declined and she might’ve perished had she not snuck back into the kingdom.

The solution? Frog lives underground, in 5-foot-deep hole in the paddock: all that remains of the old outhouse. It sounds undignified but the dwelling suits her. It’s heavily-fortified by horse fencing, wire mesh and hot-wire. Coyote proof. And the broken wood cover allows her entry and protection from the weather. She is quite content and is the only feline who dispatches with mice on command.

As for Mel? Most of the time, he lives up to his “mellow” moniker, but he also reminds me of our old dog, Corrie.

While Maisie is the typical hardwired, workaholic Border Collie, she isn’t as nutty about walks as her predecessor. When Martin and I bought our first house — an old Victorian in Rockville with floor-to-ceiling windows — Corrie would stare us down after work. We’d collapse on the couch to veg out and Corrie would gaze fixedly through the wavy glass, her eyes boring into us, saying, “Hey! You’re not going to sit there, are you? After being gone all day? Hey! Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up….

It was impossible to ignore.

Mel has inherited Corrie’s commitment to the daily perambulation. He’s always enjoyed walking and will abandon food for a stroll, but as he’s matured, he has become more insistent about the daily routine. There are evenings when Maisie is snoozing in bed, while Mel sits at attention by the mudroom door…. staring. Waiting to walk.

In a calendar year, I’d wager that he misses 15 walks, tops. He more consistent than the postal service.

On these winter evenings, as we walk up the drive bathed in moonlight, or stumble along in the dark, Maisie jogs ahead, bouncing and barking. Meanwhile, Mel trots reliably behind us, pausing to purr and hurl himself into the grass for a roll. We are so accustomed to him, it’s odd when he’s missing.

Maisie is now 11 years old and Mel and Frog are 13. I hate to say that they are slowing down, but the signs are there. Nowadays, as we head home in the dark, I pause to call Mel to catch up. He’s not a cellar-dweller like his sister, the spare heir. And I don’t want him to become coyote bait.

I wait for him to catch up.

I guess that makes me a cat person.

With Drippy, Mel and Corrie, 2005

 

A cat and kid person.

Hadley and Drippy, 2009

Irish leftovers

IMG_6749 (1)

Last week’s blog post covered highlights from our Irish adventure. So what’s left?

Odds and ends.

Like the moment of gastronomic nirvana, when I stumbled on a cheesemonger peddling his wares in Kenmare.

IMG_5238

Time out: It’s possible that the term cheesemonger, and fishmonger and other mongers have gone the way of the Dodo bird. But this might be my only opportunity to ever use cheesemonger, so I’m running with it. Okay, time in.

Cheese is my one, true Kryptonite, my Achilles’ heel. I am powerless around cheese. If you apply the litmus test of questions that define addiction, I fit the profile.

“Do you eat cheese alone?” Sure. “Do you eat it in excess?” Absolutely. “Do you eat cheese to forget your problems?” Doesn’t everyone?

Decisions, decisions. I spent several minutes drooling over options. The cheesemonger was very kind; he offered samples to taste, even a smidge of his top-tier products. I bought several wedges and a 1/2 wheel — at a fraction of the price typically charged at home. One cheese choice was quite pungent. I stashed my stuff in the trunk, but within an hour, my haul had stunk-up the entire car.

Aside from the delectable cheese display above, I should also point out my constant travel companion: Ugly Backpack — that dingy, gray sack strapped over my shoulders. Ugly Backpack is a story in itself, and probably warrants a separate post. But suffice to say, it is proof-positive that Ralph Lauren’s Polo line includes some hideous looking merchandise. That said, Ugly Backpack is practical as hell; it has logged more airline miles than all of you readers, combined. The 4 of you.

Seriously, Ugly Backpack has visited 5 continents, and countless countries.

Here it is on a trip to Paris, 12 years ago:

IMG_1082.JPG

And before that, in Romania:

Romania and Budpest 039

Its travel log predates digital photography. (And based on these photos, that purple polar fleece is a real globe-trotter as well.)

Now I’m totally off-topic. Forget the cheese and Ugly Backpack. On to Kilkenny, which should have just been an overnight stay. But we were awarded a bonus day, thanks to Frog — shorthand for frozen fog — which hit London, and grounded hundreds of flights, including ours from Dublin. We couldn’t rebook until the next day, so we kicked around Kilkenny. And checked out Kilkenny Castle.

IMG_6883

We toured the place, both inside and out.

IMG_6895

As everywhere else, simply brimming with tourists…

Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the castle. (Hadley, don’t touch my laptop.)

IMG_5390

Admittedly, our fabulous trip wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

In our travels, several items were lost, including Cayden’s retainer. We searched every pocket of every bag, and contacted the hotels where we’d stayed, to no avail. Retainer replacement adds a big line-item to our vacation budget.

The missing mouth wear was a touchy subject until Martin broke the ice on our journey home. While we gained a spare vacation day, with it, came a 5-hour layover at Heathrow. We killed time wandering the concourse, eating, shopping, eating some more, shopping some more, until finally, we slumped in a row of airport seats and gazed at the digital departure board.

The kids didn’t want to slump and sit; they wanted to explore. But Martin and I were too tired to shlep our bulging carry-on bags and plod in pursuit. So we let them go. Alone. In Heathrow. One of the busiest airports in the world.

Cayden and Brynn were first to venture out, and as they slipped among the moving mass of bodies and luggage, Martin shouted, “Hey! Don’t lose your sister like you lost your retainer!”

That was worth a laugh, even as the kids were swallowed by a stream of travelers — some striding purposely to their gates, other wandering aimlessly between stores, parents dragging resistant, wailing toddlers, and solitary souls sprinting desperately to distant gates.

I got a little anxious when boarding time approached and we were still two kids down. But they turned up. (So did the retainer, according to hotel staff, but the news came when were home… after we’d ordered a new one.)

But hey, we left the States with 3 kids and we returned with 3 kids. And a bit of laundry.

Not too bad!

The questions is: Will there be another trip next year? An Irish five-peat? Are plans in the works for Sheepfest 2018?

As President Trump has taught me, anything is possible.

IMG_5215

Ireland & Sheepfest 2017

IMG_6666

Regular readers will recall my promise for an Irish relocation should Trump win the presidency. But I swapped that pledge for a more realistic winter romp, similar to prior trips. Past accounts are documented here, here, and here.

And a reference to my early Irish adventures from the mid-90s — the era of foxhunting, frequent partying and stealing signposts with Karen (aka, Sister Sheep) is noted Here.

Back to present time. Our crew wrapped up an action-packed, 10-day jaunt a couple days ago.

It’s fitting that we leveraged a shortened school week, due to Trump’s inauguration. And this time around, Martin came as well!

This marked Brynn’s 4th consecutive, jet-setting journey to Ireland, compared to Martin’s first foray in 20 years. (Not to mention his 10-year gap in any international travel, since Italy, May 2007. Yowaz! My passport is a restless beast which requires regular, frequent outings. At least once a year.)

Well, Martin quickly caught up; we immersed him in Irish life, starting with Sheepfest at Kilcolgan Castle. This has become an annual tradition, a celebration of silly nicknames and juvenile behavior from the good-old days.

This year’s sweet sheep treats. And yes, the cake toppers are wasted:

IMG_5221

 

IMG_5170

 

Here’s Tara, a more responsible “sheep in training,” and a descendant from the original herd (Mary’s daughter). Tara’s a talented musician and dancer.

IMG_6574

 

Ireland is virtually devoid of tourists in January. For good reason: It’s chilly and sunlight is in short supply. But it guarantees crowd-free excursions, last-minute bookings, and exclusive tours of castles and museums (provided they’re open).

St. Multose Church in Kinsale clings to 800 years of history. The graveyard is the burial site for victims of the Lusitania’s fateful voyage in 1915.

IMG_5272

Politics might’ve prompted this trip, but we dodged the presidential hype on TV and radio… until the big day. Friday, Jan 20th found us wrapping our stay in Kinsale. And we grabbed lunch at a pub recommended by Potomac Huntsman, Brian Kiely, who texted a plea for Cadbury chocolate. (Hey Brian, I got the goods.)

The well-timed name of the restaurant was purely coincidental — totally unplanned.

But technically, the kids can say that they dined at The White House on Inauguration Day.

IMG_6794

By the time Trump raised one hand and set the other atop a bible to take the oath, we’d migrated to Inchydoney.

We tuned in for the remaining inauguration coverage while the sun offered a tempting distraction:

IMG_5297

The next morning, we reverted to a news-free existence and focused on the beach, pubs, live music and other fun.

A morning stroll at low tide with ‘Zilla:  

IMG_6833

IMG_6850

Since so many destinations were deserted and crowd-free, Martin and I let the kids roam unfettered.

That’s how we lost them, or if you prefer, how we “misplaced them.” Most notably, at the quirky Glengarriff attraction: Bamboo Park.

We asked for trouble since the property consists of a labyrinth of trails hidden by bushy forest vegetation: dense bamboo and sprawling clusters of ferns and palm trees.

Here’s Martin, issuing a mild protest, when asked to pose by a sample palm tree: 

IMG_6726

Shortly before our vacation began, the kids stumbled on a TV showing of the 1973 movie,”Papillon,” starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as prisoners, who attempt a harrowing escape from French Guiana’s rigid penal system.

Bamboo Park was similar to the tropical rainforest depicted in the flick —  perfect to test the game version of Papillon. A kid and a parent would act as prisoners, given 60 seconds to flee and disappear in the maze of unmarked, tropical trails. Then, the remaining family members would serve as guards, and hunt down the escapees.

And upon locating them, beat them senseless.

Kidding, of course.

It took just two rounds for even the most vocal youngster to grasp the benefit of a hushed voice. And the importance of shedding bright-colored jackets. We ran down the paths and reduced communication to hand gestures.

In a later round Cayden, Brynn and I worked as guards, but failed to find the criminals. Eventually, we split up to scour more ground. Over time, we spied one another less frequently, until we were lost — swallowed by the foliage.

We never found our escapees. The round only ended when Hadley voluntarily surrendered. “We’re standing here!” she shouted from the distant greens. “You better show up in 2 minutes to we’re taking off again!”

Game over.

Considering all the photos of beaches, palm trees and tropical trappings, this trip resembles Florida, don’t you think?

Seriously, Ireland is virtually interchangeable with the Panhandle State. Actually, Google says that Oklahoma is the Panhandle state. Whatever.

It’s Florida, the EU version… if you set aside the frigid temperatures and ski jackets.

And the stone walls, and ruins and castles.

And the hilly terrain.

And the sheep.

IMG_6689

And the Irish people, of course. Their accents, culinary distinctions, and the whole driving-on-the-left-thing. And history and cultural differences.

Shed all that stuff and Ireland is the spitting image of Florida! Or French Guiana.

To be continued…

IMG_6640