Ireland & Sheepfest 2017

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:  

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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: 

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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.

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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…

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Santa Vulture

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Some kids don’t believe in Santa Claus.

Well, they better get with the program, because Santa Vulture’s coming to town.

We spotted him last Friday morning. I had all three kids with me as we drove Hadley to the orthodontist to have her braces cranked. We arrived around 8:30 and couldn’t ignore the solitary vulture, standing like a watchman in the grass by the office door. He eye-balled us but didn’t move when we approached. From the waiting room, we observed him through the window.

Perhaps he was sunning himself, but he’d parked right beside the holiday display, and he appeared to be watching ortho arrivals, and the flow of kids shuttling into the elementary school across the street.

That’s when I announced, with an authorative tone: “That — is Santa Vulture.”

The kids looked skeptical.

“Well, why else would he be here? He doesn’t need braces.”

“That is Santa Vulture,” the orthodontist confirmed, as he fetched Hadley. “He was wearing his red hat, but it fell off.”

While we waited for Had, I explained the details. “All those Santa-doubters, those non-believers at your school? On Christmas Eve, Santa Vulture poops on their houses.” 

“And the really bad kids? Really, really bad kids?” I paused to let them imagine any offenders. “Well, Santa Vulture pecks their eyes out.”

To be honest, the vulture sounded more plausible than the whole Santa Claus scenario: Flying, wingless, reindeer, lugging an obese man around the world, with a ton of toys?

At least the bird’s designed to fly. And as we observed, Santa Vulture was occupied watching the elementary school kids…. obviously noting the doubters. And we’d seen his buddies perched atop Tractor Supply or feasting on roadkill.

“That’s his posse,” I explained. “They help on the big night. And they celebrate Thanksgiving dinner on December 23rd, in preparation for their ‘deliveries.'”

By the time Hadley emerged from her tooth tightening, the story was set in stone and we were working on new refrains to old holiday hits.

he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good…or Santa Vulture’s gonna peck your eyes out….

It didn’t rhyme, but that didn’t stop us from singing, “Santa Vulture’s coming to town.”

It’s only a matter of time before I get a call from school — a report that the kids are terrorizing their classmates with Alfred Hitchcock-like stories of birds pecking out their eyes on Christmas Eve.

It’s so nice to share holiday traditions with others in the community…

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Santa Vulture, plotting for Christmas Eve

Moving on and looking back

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After living for 40-plus years on the same street, my mom recently sold her house. In a few weeks, she’ll settle into smaller digs.

I can’t speak for my mom, but I have no sentimental attachment to that house — I grew up two doors down. The house she’s leaving is just a structure of steel, brick and cement.

It’s the innards that matter. Memories glued to everything. Not just photos from family trips, but the dishes that we dined on for decades, furnishings that adorned both houses, trinkets scattered along Mom’s bookshelves, and Dad’s roll-top desk, the cubbies stocked with the same supplies for as long as I can remember.

Back in August, I rode the heart-wrenching roller coaster of sorting through my father’s stuff. With so much to tackle on a tight deadline, we had little time to reflect or review; I boxed anything sentimental — family records, photos and files — for future perusal.

I tried to be practical and efficient, unaffected by emotion. It worked for a while, even as I boxed framed family photos and my parents’ wedding pictures. But then I found Dad’s old telephoto lens, tucked in its case.

On family trips, that stupid lens was my responsibility…. perpetually slung over me like a bandolier. I lugged that thing all over Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and so on, year after year. I couldn’t stand carrying it and my only reprieve was when Dad would pop the 35 mm off his camera and say, “Gunga Din! Bring me my telephoto lens!”

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I hadn’t set eyes on that thing in 20 or 30 years. But there it was, in a drawer, in an old wardrobe in the basement. I burst into tears. After that, it was impossible to be emotionally detached.

I spent an exhausting two days boxing and packing, but it wasn’t all tearful. Lots of my grandmother’s things had been shuttled to the basement and I was reunited with oodles of photos and records.

Snapshots of my father as a toddler, my grandmother, out-skiing her family members before the war, and joyful images of my grandparents after years of living in DP camps, happily settled in the US.

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I also found a treasure trove of old family photos — unknown relatives, who apparently, were album-worthy. I discovered 200-year-old books, and mysterious ledgers and records from the early 1800s. All of those are in Hungarian — some printed, but others, barely-decipherable in early 19th-century scrawl.

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One of many mystery men

But all that was months ago, and those boxes have migrated to my attic.

Last week, Mom and I pawed through the remaining practical items — stuff that she won’t need, but we can repurpose. Dad’s chainsaw, gardening tools, extra sheets, beach towels, fireplace tongs, reading lamps… totally random stuff.

Maisie got a lifetime supply of tennis balls. When she comes in the house, she likes to stare at her stash.

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As I made a final pass through Mom’s house before unwanted items are sold, I thumbed through the books in the basement once more. And I found one that I’d missed: a long-forgotten children’s novel. One that I’d read a million times as a kid.

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The Good Master is a story set on the Hungarian plains (the “puszta”) and it follows a head-strong, tomboy named Kate, and her adventures with her cousin Jancsi and his family on their ranch.

My copy is tattered and worn — it’s a 1935 edition, the first year it was printed, and it contains the author’s original illustrations.

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I did not add The Good Master to the boxes in the attic. It’s in the kids’ room and we’ve been reading it every night. Aside from the adventurous plot line, the book’s prevailing theme is about the superiority of country life over urban life.

Of course, that resonates with Cayden, Had and Brynn, and further solidifies their notions about clueless city folk and hardy, resourceful country folk.

Out of curiosity, I googled The Good Master and — go figure — it has a wikipedia page. There I learned that it was never translated into Hungarian. But I also discovered that the author published a sequel, The Singing Tree, in 1939.

I found an original copy of The Singing Tree on Ebay. The kids and I split the cost. It’s on the way.

So I know what happened to my family in Hungary.

And in a few days, the kids and I will find out what happened to Kate and Jancsi, too.

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