vacation

Flip the calendar; we made it to June.

I’m tired to the bone… as though I’ve been flattened by an 18-wheeler.

Which means it must be June.

Yea! We survived another season of hell. Most folks refer to this time as April and May, or “spring.”

Not us. One moment it’s late March: you’re cruising down the road, arm dangling out the window, and barely breaking the posted speed of 25 mph.

But flip the calendar to April and suddenly, the gas pedal’s been jammed to the floor. Your skull whacks the headrest as the car takes off, and you’re hurtling down the road at 120 mph, desperately clutching the arm rest and struggling to stay in your lane. The scenery flies by in a blur, but there’s no slowing down. You grit your teeth and white-knuckle the wheel until finally — thankfully — you hit max speed, activating the governor. The car slows, eventually rolling to a stop, and in a daze, you glance around wondering, “Whoa… what just happened?

You have raced through a mish-mash of activities, softball practices, games, parties, school performances, horse shows, hunter paces, steeplechases, pony club, doctor appointments, meetings, end-of-school events — one piled atop the other — for 8 weeks.

Or a marathon 11-weeks, since this year’s hell slopped onto a third page.

Apparently, today is… June 22.

The 22nd? Yowza.

Judging from Facebook, it appears that we party endlessly and trail Brynn and Rocky, obsessively photographing them at various venues.

Really, other stuff has happened. I’m just too tired to name it, or find any gooder words to describe… the other stuff.

So here’s an illustrated glimpse of recent going-ons —  based on iphone photos:

Yes, Brynn gladly accepted a couple of sidesaddle opportunities. (Thanks to Sarah, Liz and the pit crew who assembled child and pony at multiple events.)

And on one occasion, I actually wore a dress. (Yes, I do in fact, own dresses. The hat, however, was a loaner.)

Prior to her sidesaddle debut, Brynn added vaulting to her equestrian resume.

Her glam look was also short lived. Later that day — 50 miles away, with the word “West” inserted before “Virginia” — here she is, a few hours later:

I realize that there are usually two other kids in our possession. At some point in May, my mom whisked them off to France, for a 10-day jaunt in Paris and Provence.

I know, rough life.

Sometimes those kids — including the other one… the small, bossy model — forget how good they have it.

Like the day they set out for the pool, while Martin moved last year’s forage across the loft, and unloaded a hay wagon… in 93-degree heat.

When I discovered those chore dodgers, I accused them of the worst offense. “You’re posers — city kids pretending to be farm kids.”

Brynn burst into tears and wailed inconsolably… as if I’d cursed her very existence. (Nothing worse than being a called a “city.”)

Of course, I’d never curse Brynn. Out loud.

But some days stretched my sanity to its limits…

… and forced me to resort to desperate actions.

Let’s see… what else?

Brynn celebrated a birthday. Cayden “graduated” from elementary school. And Hadley participated in, well… everything.

At present, all 3 are at an undisclosed sleep-away camp. (They don’t want other kids to “discover” their retreat, so they simply call it The Camp. In fact, Hadley glared at me murderously, when I mentioned our drive to West Virginia. Good luck finding them based on that tip.)

In their absence I’ve been trying to restore order. On Monday morning, I composed a list of chores and plotted a clean-up plan.

The mudroom seemed a logical point of attack. I sighed, then waded in.

But that morning, I did not restore order.

I kicked clear a path, slammed the door, and spent the day guarding the couch and the TV.

You never know when they might try to escape.

And me without my dog crate.

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