Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why did the turkey cross the ocean?

This is the obligatory Thanksgiving-in-a-foreign-country post.  But you'll find out more on that in a minute.  First up, this past weekend.  It was a roller coaster for me and, as any good weekend should, taught me a lot about what I want my life to be like here in Oz. 

The highlight of the weekend was our regional youth activity.  The church in Ireland is not huge.  There are 2 stakes, one centered in Dublin and one in Belfast.  Then there's our district based out of Limerick.  The activity was all day Saturday and involved youth 14-18 years old from all over the island, about 120 all together.  It was a hoot seeing them all together.  Carpools from the south and west came along with buses full of kids from the north and dropped kids at our church building around 9:30am.  It was pretty much all go from there.  Morning speakers, games and a service project, lunch, seminary (a kind of Sunday school), a talent show, dinner and lastly, a dance.  Scarecrow and I were there consistently from the beginning till the end.  I counted and by the end of the day (we left and came back after the dance) I had sat down a grand total of 4 times.  But I loved every bit of it.  I can't wait till next year when Toto is old enough to go to these kinds of activities.  It was great to see how much the kids care about each other, how close they are despite the distance.  I loved meeting other leaders from around the country and getting to know them better.  Scarecrow and I had a great time and really wished that a lot of people lived a lot closer. 

Church on Sunday was great, the little primary kids had a program which is always an uplifting thing.  Our lesson in Young Women's was great.  But when we got home I just found myself getting overwhelmed and frustrated at little things that normally wouldn't bother me.  Scarecrow proved yet again why I love him so much and just let me cry it out.  And contrary to every male stereotype, he knew just what to say.  Everything always seems brighter and better after a good solid cry.

And wouldn't you know, Monday was even brighter.  I got my gang out the door that morning, went upstairs to work for awhile, and was greeted when I came back down by a package!  A lot of my amazing friends have been asking me if I need anything for Thanksgiving.  I've felt really loved at all of the offers and had said I really don't need anything.  I know how much it costs to ship things over here and didn't want to put anyone out.  One sweet friend never even asked, just surprised me with a fabulous treat.
Leslie, one of my oldest friends from way back in the day, sent a couple little things to make it feel more like Thanksgiving.  And so, why did the turkey cross the ocean?  To get to the other side, of course!  Scarecrow was pretty amused by that one.  So now Oz has perhaps the only set of turkey salt and pepper shakers along with Thanksgiving tea towels and Leslie's favorite Thanksgiving movie, Son-in-Law.  She's also a great reader, something we share, and so she sent me a book she thought I would like.  My mother-in-law got a good laugh when I pulled these things out.  Clearly it's not a holiday that gets much attention outside of North America.  Toto has been asking if we get presents for Thanksgiving.  I'm learning it's a hard holiday to explain.  Last night we went and did the shopping for the trimmings.  I'm feeling a little intimidated at what I've gotten myself into cooking wise.  I actually like to cook, don't get me wrong.  But my reputation precedes me.  Not to mention I'm nervous to be introducing so many new things to my Irish family.  They've been good sports about the whole thing, not even just Thanksgiving.  When I cook it's not in the way they're traditionally used to.  No one has ever complained, but I don't want to go pushing people too far out of their dietary comfort zone.  So next week you'll see if this holiday got pulled off or not.

Lastly, had a nice night out a few nights ago.  I went and caught a movie with a couple of girls.  And not just any movie, Breaking Dawn part II.  Oh it was good!  It was sad, not the movie, but during a part of it I almost cried when I realized that I wasn't seeing it with my MoH, my Meg of Honor.  I saw this bumper sticker a few months ago, not too long after I moved here.  I'd been meaning to post it but I think it's more appropriate now.
Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I'm celebrating with the newest extension of my family and I'm very excited to be able to do that.  I'm grateful for them and for all their love and patience as I've learned to adjust here.  I'm grateful for Toto and how sweet and funny she is, even in her teenager moments.  I'll always be thankful for my Scarecrow.  Do you know why I call him the Scarecrow?  Do you remember at the end of the Wizard of Oz, right before Dorothy leaves Oz and goes back to Kansas?  She's saying good bye to everyone and she turns to the Scarecrow and says, "I think I'll miss you most of all".  He was her best friend, the one she felt like she couldn't have made it without.  This ruby slippered girl feels the same way.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

There's no place like home, or a home office

I feel like it's been raining A LOT the past week or so.  The odd thing is, it's actually been pretty warm.  Yesterday we got close to 14 C (or 57 degrees F for our American friends).  I hear the weather reports in Kansas and as soaked as I feel I'm not really ready for sub-freezing temps just yet.  And yes, I did just begin my blog post with a weather report.  Meteorologist till the end.

There have been no big adventures this past week.  There weren't any major revelations or Irish quirks that seemed to jump out at me.  It was just...normal.  I'm sure that the land of Oz still has things left to surprise me, it's just that it didn't really surprise me this week.  Scarecrow and I seem to have settled in and now that we've passed the 3 months married mark (woo-hoo!) we seem to finally be accepting the fact that the other person isn't going anywhere.  Can you blame us?  After 5 years of an on again/off again, trans-Atlantic relationship we had some decent adjusting to do.  This morning, for instance, was a bit manic.  Wait, that was just me?  Still a good lesson in normality.  We had Toto (my step-daughter) with us last night and so I got her up, ironed her uniform, got her up again, made her breakfast/his lunch, dropped her off at her bus stop and barely made it back in time to swipe a quick peck before Scarecrow's lift to work showed up.  It was strange, but in a good way.  Does that make sense?  No, probably not.  But like I said, we have adjusted to life as we know it.  Are we done adjusting?  Absolutely not.  He still laughs at the sound I make when I brush my teeth and I still get woken up by his grizzly bear-like snoring.  It's funny how life progresses.

As I said, I don't have any witty anecdotes to share with you this week.  Instead, I have something else.  I work from home on my thesis.  Well, I try very, very hard to work from home.  I'm still trying to figure out what works best for me in order to stay focused and accomplish as much as possible in a day.  Some things have been great and others not so much.  I think it's very person dependent but I thought I'd share some tips/things I really wish I could have to help make working from home much easier. 

Working From Home 101
  1. WAKE UP AT A REASONABLE TIME, exercise, eat breakfast, shower.  Get everything out of the way that could be used as a potential distraction later.  I don't mean clean the house from top to bottom but I'm finding that if I empty the dishwasher or maybe catch up on reading my blogs BEFORE I start working than I have fewer excuses later in the day to stop what I'm doing.  Oh, and put on real pants.
  2.  If there are other people in the house (it feels like my house is the Times Square of the Emerald City sometimes) make sure they know that this is what you're doing during the day.  I really don't mind this kind of distraction once in awhile during the day.  I do get to feeling very anti-social if everyone's around and I'm holed up somewhere on my laptop.  But, and this is more a message to me, don't let it distract TOO much.  
  3. Set "office hours" for yourself.  This is one I am still experimenting with and want to get better at.  I will typically work off and on, here and there.  But I know when I had my office at the university that when I had a dedicated chunk of time to work, it was go time.  So make sure you know what time "go time" is and stick to it.
  4. Have a dedicated space.  Again, this is a tricky one right now.  On the days when Scarecrow leaves me the car I try and go to the library and work for awhile.  I know this is contrary to the title "working from home" but sometimes I just can't find the right space at home to work.  Some things that I love about working in the library that I wish I could have at home: a chair with a straight back that is short enough I can put both feet on the floor; a clean, blank, flat surface to work on; lots of big windows.  All I want is my laptop and my notebook on my work surface.  That's it.  They have these great white tables at the library that are a bit mod looking.  If I could have one of those and put it in a space with a lot of natural light I think this whole working from home thing would be so much easier.  Or maybe something along these lines. source

  5. I feel like every good "how-to" list should have 5 things.  So here it is.  Be accountable to someone.  I think a lot of people who work from home have to report up to someone.  I am grateful I have a weekly meeting with my adviser via Skype that keeps me on the ball.  I want to be sure that I've accomplished what I need to before I talk with him.  But there are those lucky people who are their own boss.  Who do they report to in order to stay on the ball?  I would suggest to those, find someone you can check in with.  Friend, colleague, it doesn't really matter who.  Just someone you can call and say, "This is what I wanted to get done and this is what actually got done".
With that out of the way now that it's 10am in Oz I'm going to have a shower, eat breakfast, and get to work.   Hopefully...


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Holiday in Oz Part II

 I would first like to make an apologetic statement.

Dear Dingle Peninsula,
I have long held you as one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.  I love the salty sea smell, the crashing waves and of course, Harrington's.  Who doesn't admire the fortitude of the people who once lived on the Blasket Islands or the many seamen who set out from your sweeping bay?  But, I'm ashamed to say, I have found a new love.  I have found a place that is so rugged, so lovely, that I can't ignore my feelings anymore.  Yes Dingle, you will always hold a special place in my heart.  But a new love has come in.  And that place, dear Dingle, is Donegal. 

The Scarecrow and I pulled out of Limerick on Tues, Oct 30th.  It was a long drive but overall we were pretty lucky.  With the trusty Garmin programmed we set out on the 5 and a half hour journey to the north of the island.  With only one detour (ok, that sucked) we made it to our hotel, the Gweedore Court Hotel.  Even though it was only about 6:30pm it was pitch black so we really didn't see much of our surroundings.  You'll see momentarily what we woke up to outside of our hotel window.  That night we checked in, went to the pool/hot tub/SAUNA (!!!)  and ate dinner in the hotel restaurant.  We were completely beat from the drive so after dinner was a relaxing veg and some much needed sleep.

In the morning I opened the curtains of our room and was astonished to find this view:

I audibly gasped, it was so beautiful.  The mountain in the first picture is Mt. Ergil.  With better weather we may have tried it, but we had other hiking plans for the day.  So after a full Irish breakfast we jumped on our trusty broomstick and took off for Glenveagh National Park.

But first, the drive to the park.  It was incredible.  We couldn't have been luckier for the weather and we were ooo-ing and aww-ing the whole way there with a photo op stop.

I married a goober.
How cute is that church!
Please ignore the fact that I look like a 15 year old boy in every picture.  We were hiking, not clubbing.
Now, Glenveagh.  It's a fascinating place with a quirky history which I won't go into.  But these nice people did so you can read about it there.  We began with a 4 km (2.5 mile) hike to the castle.  They had just upgraded the trail and it was only finished 2 weeks before us.  Can you say score!  It wasn't overly straining but felt great to fill the ol' lungs. 

Scarecrow on the "beach".  Can't say he doesn't take me exotic places.
The castle itself.  The second owner had a very interesting story, and a book is shortly being released about his life and disappearance.  I really wish I could have hung out with the last owner of the place.  He seemed like a real character.  He put in exotic gardens representing countries from all over the world, false doors, and an outdoor swimming pool.  Yes, I think we would have had fun, he and I.

Read the plaque for the statue below.  It really caught me off guard to see this in Ireland!
This one's for you Erin!
Belleek swan.  This one's for Grandma, she now loves all things Belleek.
After that we grabbed lunch in the tea room and set off on our next excursion.  Our tour guide recommend we take the View Point Trail, which is another 2 km (1.2 miles) hike up to a point where you can see almost the entire valley.  Tough trail, completely worth it. 

New favorite picture
We were pretty well beat after that hike so we took the bus back to the car.  We went and had a look at the Bloody Foreland which, with the rain, wasn't as impressive as perhaps it could have been.  We decided to be a bit lazy again and have dinner in the hotel another night.  So after a soak in the hot tub and dip in the pool it was dinner and lounging around.  Oh, plus it was Halloween so there were cute little kids staying in the hotel running around in their costumes.

Next day was another Irish breakfast and slowly getting ourselves together to hit the road.  Have I mentioned how much the Scarecrow loves me and how good he is to me?  He even stopped in the POURING rain in Sligo so I could see W.B. Yeats' grave.  Yes people, that is love.

All in all it was a great trip.  The rest of the week went quietly.  Just a couple more pictures to display.  The first one is just after the Scarecrow was given a heart attack by this furry little dog toy that is a motion sensor.  He leaned in close to read the sign next to it and I thought he'd been shot he jumped so high.  Priceless.

And lastly, my Button turned 1 year old!  Grief, how did she get so big so quick?  And by big I mean still itty-bitty but at least bigger than she once was.  And a big thanks to my sister for making the bow at least somewhat proportional to the size of her little head.  That is hands down my biggest baby pet peeve.  That's all from Oz!