Category Archives: spring

For The Birds

The sun came out and the snow melted and the hour went on, and suddenly children were playing together after school and I was chatting with my neighbours and we all remembered that this is what it’s like, life, when we emerge from our carapace of winter and interact with each other again like human beings.

Carapace is a good word. Everyone should use it.

Onwards. I have a story for you.

Mabel is currently in a phase. This particular phase is quite annoying. (I believe all phases are annoying. The ones that aren’t, we call maturity and/or good parenting, and are delighted about; until they disappear, and then we call the disappearance a phase.) She won’t go to the bathroom alone, she screams blue murder if you try to leave while she’s in there, and she won’t stay upstairs or downstairs alone either. She blames her father. (So do I. Why wouldn’t I? Her genes are 50% his, so it’s a good bet.) Specifically, she blames him for encouraging her to watch North By Northwest with him a few weeks ago. She seemed to like it at the time, but apparently some scenes were a little too tension-filled for her liking, and suddenly she’s scared of people bursting through walls while she poos, or something.

I suspect that if she hadn’t happened to watch North By Northwest there’d be something else she’d be pinning this new fear on. I think it’s just something that has come over her and it’ll go away in a few weeks. But that’s no comfort at 4am when she’s just noticed that I’m not in her bed any more and she can’t go back to sleep without me. (Did I mention that part? The part where she won’t sleep without me either. She won’t sleep without me, or at least not as soon as she rolls over and finds me missing.)

However! Silver lining! Today there they were watching Word Girl in their post-school veg-out TV time (and it’s educational! PBS for the win!) when suddenly I heard her laugh and exclaim, “It’s just like Daddy’s film. They’re climbing up Mount Rushmore!”

So obviously, having a pint-size movie critic who can already recognize an homage (say it in French: ohm-ahj, like the Americans do) to Hitchcock at 6 years of age is clearly worth all that time spent standing as directed in the corner of the bathroom beside the vent while she pees. I’ll just send the husband in next time, since it’s all his fault.

Bits, pieces, other people

The most alluring post title ever, right? Didn’t that just pull you in and make you want to read more? Oh well, I can’t be thrilling every time. Sometimes I just have some random things I want to tell you about.

Picture on the wall

Mabel drew a portrait of me and wrote an interview. It’s all squiggles except at the end it says “MOR TO COM”. This is not relevant to anything else here.

For one, there’s my friend Damien Owens in the New Yorker, as he so modestly puts it. Quoted, actually, from Twitter, when he made a funny about Gerry Adams that’s now immortalised in this very long but also very interesting, if I ever manage to finish it, article. It’s always fascinating to read about your own country from someone else’s point of view.

For another, there’s my other friend who is a court reporter for the national news in Dublin. She’s attending a trial that is by turns obscene and gruesome and bizarre and every time I read about its latest development I think of her and hope she’s getting danger money because it must be horrible to have to sit there all day and listen to it. (She is being offered counselling at work. I think that’s good.)

For a third, I just read another article about objections to plans for a retirement complex in my hometown. I was amused by the fact that someone was worried that “there would be safety issues with ‘large numbers of elderly people attempting to access [the town]'”, because I now have visions of hordes of octogenarians on zimmer frames and in motorized wheelchairs advancing as if in slow-motion on the shops and restaurants of the area, which of course will be powerless to defend themselves.

Finally, let us just pause to rejoice that spring really does seem to have sprung. We had a lot of snow last week, but this week it’s all rain, rain, rain, washing the nasty white stuff away. Yesterday we had 60 degrees and it was dry, and we stopped at the playground on the way home from school and suddenly there was a swarm of children swinging, running, chasing, whirling… it was a good day. Here’s to more of the same.

Pale yellow sunset

Snowy sunset

Feels like America

It’s that time of year when the weather is glorious, but lurches from high summer to chilly spring with very little warning. It’s the time when I scramble to figure out what I wear in summer and what we eat when it’s too hot to cook and which sunscreen I should buy this year and who needs new sandals. (Me. I need new sandals.) And then after complaining that it’s too hot one day, I’m back pulling out an extra blanket and finding a fleece that I’d put away and carping that nobody can see my pretty new toenails the next.

In other words, it’s spring in DC. The Americans can’t fathom it when I tell them this 75-degree weather is like the most sun-burnished summer day imaginable in Ireland. The Irish people will be spitting in July when I’m so done with 90 degrees and a million percent humidity and the need, the so tedious need, to take the kids to the pool again today because what on earth else can we do except flop around a darkened house complaining about needing a cold drink and an ice-pop and maybe a penguin habitat.

But the kids are playing outside a lot, which can only be a good thing. Dash has a baseball game twice a week and practice on Saturdays, and can also be found playing soccer on the street (thank goodness for cul-de-sacs) most of the time. Mabel eschews balls, but cruises around on her bike or her scooter and has taken up sidewalk chalking too. Soon the mosquitoes will be out in full force once it’s past 6pm or so, but for now it’s really very pleasant.

One day last week was a really hot one. I went to the supermarket early, straight after dropping Mabel to school, and when I came out the full blast of heat from the parking-lot asphalt hit me, the way it does when you come out of an air-conditioned environment; the way you never ever experience it in Ireland. “Ugh, it feels like America,” I thought, unbidden.

Well, that’s funny, I followed up with. It’s always America. But this felt like that other America, not the one I live in every day, but the one I used to visit sometimes, or the one that was new and strange still. It was like the America that was Texas, probably, most of all. It wasn’t just the heat; it was the unsalubrious surroundings of our frankly kind of ghetto little mall, and a tiny moment when the familiar became unfamiliar again. In the same way that the damp concrete footpaths of Dublin will always be absolutely home with their every nook and cranny and patch of moss and littering crisp-packet, the beating heat of crumbling grey asphalt and faded yellow paint will always be alien to my heart no matter how long I’m here.

Mabel with ice cream cone, shades and sunhat

Practicing for summer

Uncharacteristic pursuits

Apparently aliens landed and replaced me with a badly researched clone of myself the night before last, because yesterday saw me painting watercolours with the children and also gardening.

Or else it’s the spring air.

Mabel had been painting again the day before, and seemed to enjoy it so much that when I was at Target in the morning I picked up a watercolour pad I’d seen before and some brushes that looked a little more decent than the “brush that comes with the 1.99 paint set” we had at home. It was a raging success.

Mabel's assortment

Mabel’s assortment

The pad has 20 sheets of proper, thick, watercolour paper for 2.99, which seemed like okay value to me – though since we went through every one of them yesterday, I think I’ll be heading to an actual art-supply shop next time I’m feeling the urge. The brushes were also 4.99 for a selection of five different sizes, and they’re much nicer quality than the crappy Rose Art brushes I’d bought before. Both were from the Target Kid Made Modern range, which I really like. Their products are my new go-to kid birthday presents.


Dash’s stormy sky

My dad paints lovely watercolours, but he’d never really given me a lesson. I gleaned the tiny amount of knowledge I have much more recently, from Joanna and Emily. I talked about wetting the paper first with the big brush and soon the kids and I were happily bandying about the term “colour wash” as if we all knew what we were talking about.

One of my favourites by my Dad

One of my favourites by my Dad

(Okay, this is such a bloggy love-in bit here, but I have to explain. Actually, it’s all down to Jane at That Curious Love of Green. Jane asked Joanna to write a guest post on her blog showing how she does her lovely watercolours. And Joanna based her picture on a photo I had previously put on my blog. In the same series, Emily painted a beautiful picture for Jane to give away – and I won it, so it now graces my hallway here. I love the Irish bloggers.)

My lovely painting by Emily

My lovely painting by Emily

Meanwhile, in the garden, I discovered that our huge and indestructable rosemary bush had gone from partly dead to entirely and irrevocably dead, and was actually looking pretty atrocious, out there right in front of the house. So I cut it back as much as I could with the shears, in advance of informing The Muscles that we need to lug it out altogether. I also discovered that our poor rhodedendron looks so pathetic because it’s being crowded out by about four small trees that seeded themselves and started growing up right beside it. Apparently you have to keep a close eye on things or else they grow without permission. Then I dug up some dandelions and called it a day. My back did not thank me for that hour and I have strange pains in my forearms today. Much like housework, gardening is dangerous.

My masterpiece

My masterpiece

I think I’ll stick to painting.

My stance on mythical creatures

It’s Easter Morning and no bunny came to our house. The kids are fine with that. They haven’t really noticed. To be honest, I didn’t really notice. I thought for a good 30 seconds after I woke up to figure out what day of the week it was, and was happy when I decided it was a Sunday. I did not leap out of bed and get busy with baskets and fake grass and eggs of any description.

Not to say that we don’t do Easter things. We went to an egg hunt yesterday. There was a big guy in a bunny suit there, but he wasn’t handing out candy so my kids weren’t really interested in him.

Egg haul

Mabel’s eggs

When I first discovered – and Dash was about five when this happened so you’d think I’d have noticed before – that the Easter Bunny in America was like Santa Claus, an imaginary being who delivered things in the night, I was a bit horrified. Another one? Do we never get to give our kids anything ourselves? And since Easter always comes somewhere between B’s birthday and Dash’s, usually closer to the latter, we really don’t need an extra occasion for overconsumption.

Am I depriving them of a quintessential childhood memory? Will they complain to their therapists that the deep-seated trauma of never getting an Easter basket is at the root of their neuroses? Do I care?

I made a nice dinner for the grown ups last night, with a nice dessert to boot. Rhubarb, first of the season, grants a wish. The children didn’t eat anything, due to ill-timed large bready snacks in the late afternoon. Mabel is going through a phase (let’s charitably say) and the day ended with my carting all the soft toys and all her dolls down to the basement in a huff, because she wouldn’t even try to clean up. She’s been happily playing with Lego all morning.

Dash had a fever on Friday and is now in that “is that a rash?” in-betweeny stage. He might have strep, he might have fifth disease; he might just have a sore throat. We might go on an outing today; we might stay at home. We don’t need any more bunnies.

April Fools (Me Every Time)

I got a pedicure on Saturday. I sorted out the kids’ summer clothes and found out what still fits and what can go to some lucky slightly smaller people. I swapped the winter duvets on all our beds for the summer ones.

So of course, temperatures are going to drop into the 20s tonight. (That’s below freezing.) I would bring back the duvets, but B enthusiastically put them into vacuum bags and sucked all the air out and was delighted with himself, so I think it’ll be extra blankets all round.

You would think I would know by now, not to go casting clouts until April, at least, is out. But no, I am a rash and impetuous creature, governed by whims and flights of fancy and susceptible to the warm spring breezes. Aren’t we all, after that long, long winter? I should just be happy that all we got today was a lot of rain, not like the s-n-o-w they had further north.

Baseball-ready, 2014

Baseball-ready, 2014

Baseball season has started again, so Dash is happy. He ran the nursery school’s fundraiser 1k fun run on Saturday and won it for the second year in a row. Next year he’s going to have to just run the 5k and leave the 1 for the younger children or it’ll start to look like he’s hogging it.

Rounding the last bend, well ahead of the competition

Rounding the last bend, well ahead of the competition

It’s spring break and so far we’ve had a playdate, done the grocery shopping, and gone to the thrift store, where they had the amazing find of a green lightsaber. “I’ve missed having a green lightsaber,” said Dash, for whom two blue ones and a red double-blade are not enough, apparently.

His birthday is coming up – AGAIN – and he wants a Star Wars party – AGAIN – for he is a creature of habit. And I’m trying to think how we can disguise a Star Wars party as something subtly different so his friends don’t all die of boredom and think they’re stuck in a time warp. So I’ll be in the corner with my notebook chewing the end of my pen and writing lists, which is how I think best, for a while.

As always, you can find me waxing hilarious (be charitable) and/or sensible over on if you’re missing the more regular updates here.

Ode to suburbia

This is the time of year when I really love where I live. The streets are lined with trees drooping heavy with pink and white blossoms, like big fat balls of cotton wool, raining their petals down at the bump of a branch. The weather is my absolute favourite type: jeans-and-sandals temperature. Not too hot, but definitely warm. The sky is blazing blue, I can hear a woodpecker somewhere in the trees, and we’re digging out the shorts and wondering if last summer’s Keens might possibly still fit.

This neighbourhood is an oasis of small-town life in deepest suburbia. Once you venture beyond its bounds, you’re on the big anonymous roads with ugly strip malls and chain stores – Target, Safeway, Giant, Payless Shoes… nothing fancy, just the basics. They’re pretty soulless and indistinguishable from any other Targets, Giants, Safeways, Paylesses. But inside the bounds, it’s a village. We have a selection of one-of-a-kind establishments: a (really) greasy spoon, a takeout pizza joint, a barber’s, a shop that sells Keno tickets and hats, a Lebanese cafe that’s a live music venue too – and a co-op supermarket that’s not part of a chain. The first time I stepped inside it, I was transported back to supermarkets in the west of Ireland, the sort you went to when you were on your summer holidays, where they sold things with funny-looking labels and there was a distinctive smell and if you were lucky they had soft-serve ice cream.

Our local Co-op doesn’t have soft serve (at least, I don’t think it does) but it has that same distinctive smell, and exactly the same ladies at the cash registers – except instead of soft Galway accents they have Maryland ones. I don’t get that same spine-tingling thrill of nostalgia every time I walk through the doors any more, because I’m there at least twice a week; but I do still appreciate how special it is to be in a supermarket that’s not a chain, that’s different from everywhere else, that has wine and beer (not the norm in this state), and where I’ll usually see someone to say hi to around at least one turn of an aisle.

My mother stopped shopping at her local supermarket because she didn’t want to meet people she knew. Not that she’s anti-social; I think more because she’d stand there chatting for half an hour and the whole morning would be gone. I think I’ve already heard my children announce, in a deprecating tone that sounds oddly familiar, “…and then Mom met someone.”

But that’s what I love about it. I love that on any weekday morning I’ll drive the girl to school and pass at least two cars whose drivers I can wave hi to. I love that I’ll bump into a mom I know in the supermarket (to whom I can chat at length, or just say hi). I love that I know the fruit guy in Safeway and that the meat-counter lady asks where my baby is – followed by a laughing acknowledgment that she’s not a baby any more.

Much as I miss where I used to belong, I love that we belong here, because that makes it a home.


Spring in the suburbs


American robins are ginormous.

Or, for the other half of my audience, Irish robins are teensy.

The problem with moving away from where you grew up is that you become a total ignoramus – not just when strangers try to ask you directions, but also when your children innocently ask you what sort of bird that is. And you have no idea. Not only that, but you’re not sure what sort of tree this is or – what the heck is that creature at the bottom of the garden? (Hint: It’s a groundhog. They’re big.)

I’m actually not too bad at nature, so long as I don’t have to spend extended periods of time in it. I mean, my mother knows the names of trees and flowers and birds, and every now and then I look at something growing and a word pops into my head. Sometimes it’s “purple” or “spiky” but other times it’s more useful, like when I noticed a flower in our yard recently that made the word “hellebore” trip lightly across my mind. Followed closely by “belladonna,” “Socrates,” and “poisonous.” And “Oh, that’s nice, the kids are making pretend dinner in the frying pan I gave Dash because he watched Tangled again recently and wants to have his very own frying pan to fight bad guys with.”

I digress.

But wherefore the red-berried Cotoneaster of my youth? The fluffy Leylandii and shiny Griselinia hedges, the pink-belled Fuchsia of the Irish garden? (See, I know all the fancy names. But I had to look up the spellings.) The shy robin red-breast, blue tit (no jokes, please), and ubiquitous blackbird? The birch and beech, sycamore and horse-chestnut? I recognize all those. This country – this part of this country – has other stuff.

So the most common bird around here seems to be a sturdy mid-sized brown bird with an orangey front. I knew it wasn’t a cardinal – the bright red, very exotic-looking and smaller bird that makes me wonder just what sort of colour-blind predator ensured its evolution – but it was only this year that my friend-who-knows-about-birds told me what I saw was an American robin.

American Robin (image from Wikipedia)

Apart from the reddish breast, it’s nothing like an Irish (or British) robin, which is a tiny, delicate bird. I presume the poor pilgrims were so homesick that they decided this was the closest thing this land could manage when they named it. Or that everything in America was bigger.

European Robin (image from Wikipedia)

The other day the children were playing at the front of the house. I saw Mabel climbing in the smallish rhodedendron bush and decided nothing bad would happen if I went indoors. Two minutes later she ran in after me –

“Mummy, look what I found!”

 – and handed me a beautiful, tiny, greeny-blue, warm, egg. Intact. Before I had time to formulate an answer, Dash was behind her showing me a second egg. Apparently none of our parent-child discussions had yet covered what to do if you find a nest in a tree you happen to be climbing.

I took the two eggs very gently and told the children as unfreakingoutly as I could that they had to go back in the nest straight away, so that the mother bird wouldn’t miss them. To be honest, I thought that she’d smell us on them and abandon the nest forever, but we had to try. Dash said there were other eggs in the nest too, so I thought at least there might be hope for them.

The poor stupid bird had built her nest at just about seven-year-old head-height, right in front of a big gap in our half-dead, surprises-me-with-blooms-every-year, crappy rhodedendron bush. I’m amazed Mabel managed to climb in there at all without immediately stepping on it. But we put the eggs back and hoped for the best. Mabel got very angry with me for saying that the baby birds might not hatch, so I knew she was feeling bad about it and I tried my best not to sound as if I was blaming her. She honestly didn’t know the right thing to do.

So we talked about leaving nests alone and never touching eggs in future, and some helpful friends on Facebook told me that probably the mother bird would not actually fly away and leave her eggs to their unsatupon fate, and lo the next day I looked out the window and saw her happily back there, sitting on her stupidly low and exposed nest. She’s still there, intermittently, and I have great hopes that in a few days? weeks? how long do eggs take? we might even see baby birds from the comfort of our own front room, where we have a great view and won’t disturb anyone.

I don’t know if you can make it out, but that’s Mrs Robin in there

And I’ve given Mabel the task of making sure the neighbourhood cats stay away, any time she sees them outside. She’s taking it very seriously.

Getting to first base

At some point a long time ago, in my teenagehood, I suppose, I met the terms “first base,” “second base,” and so on – in a romantic sense, let’s say. In a book or a film or something. I had a vague idea of what they referred to, but I wasn’t so hot on the specifics. A lot of questions remained unanswered for many years: Which way did the sequence go – was “first” the very beginning or the final target? (First is the winning place, after all.) But then if first was the start, how many bases were there – was this an open-ended thing? Could you define your own bases, perhaps, to infinitely frustrate the boys?

The problem was that while I read American books and watched American films, I had no knowledge of American sports. Sure, I’ve seen Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, I can say something came out of left field or talk about home runs, but I’d never actually been to a baseball game. And those phrases, it turns out, about the bases – they’re talking about baseball. Well, except when they’re not, obviously.

And then. Dash took up baseball this season. He’s playing “machine pitch,” which is what they do for the seven- and eight-year-olds. It’s slightly harder than T-ball (where the ball is propped up on a stand to be struck) but easier than expecting the kids to pitch a hittable ball as well as hit it – a machine sends the balls at them in what’s supposed to be a steady stream of nicely centered, not-too-fast pitches.

Looking good

But after a couple of practices, B. pointed out to me that the poor boy has no notion what he’s meant to be doing, beyond the hitting and the catching (which are not as easy as they look). He’s never even watched a game on the TV, never mind in real life. So we decided we should take in a game.

I’ve never been one for sports, really, and I’m lucky enough to be married to a man who is also not very interested in watching the game, whatever game it might be. I’m pretty sure that the only time I’ve ever been to a professional sporting event before, it was (ironically enough) an exhibition game of American football in Dublin that we got free tickets to, and it was incredibly boring and totally incomprehensible.

Maybe I had lumped baseball with football and decided that it too would be incredibly boring. Maybe I felt that not going to a game was the last bastion of not being American that I wished to hold out on. Maybe I just had no reason and no interest. But however it came about, after ten years in the country, yesterday I finally went to a real actual proper ballgame.

Looks authentic, no?

Not the big leagues, of course. We started small, with a minor league game close to home – but still professional baseball. The weather was just right – warm enough but not too hot or sunny. The game was well-attended but not too crowded. Dash wore his shorts in case they needed an extra player at the last minute.

Dash demonstrates his swing
The genius of the people who plan these things, though, is that they understand that baseball is sometimes not the most thrilling of spectator sports. So it’s not like you’re watching Federer serve at Wimbledon, being shushed by the umpire if you sneeze. The place had lots of families, babies, dogs (is that a thing, or was it a special bring-your-pooch-to-the-game day yesterday?), and the players just did their thing regardless of whether my children were running up and down or clambering over the seats or wailing because their giant ice-cream cone was dripping all over their hands. 
“Need some help with that?”
And when they got too bored to keep watching, and we’d done the pizza and the ice-cream and refused the cotton candy, there was a carousel and a bouncy castle and pitching and hitting games right there to help parents donate even more dollars to the nice baseball people, and then hot dogs and popcorn. Not to mention the between-innings competitions and adorably bad pre-game show and requisite toe-curling rendition of the national anthem. And I think I’d even have quite enjoyed watching the baseball players if I’d had more than five minutes to pay attention to what they were doing.
We stayed for about an hour and a half before calling it quits just as a sprinkle of rain was beginning. I think we’ll probably do it again, it was that good.
What’s more, I would probably be able to reliably go back in time and let my teenage self know what was what with the bases. Just in case she ever needed to know.


What a relief! Summer went away and it’s nice and cool and rainy today. I’m sure there are people out there complaining about it – and I’m sure I’ll be one of them this afternoon when the children are all cabin-fevery and/or then I have to take Dash to baseball practice in the rain/mud – but right now my brain has switched back on and I can inhale deeply and I’m wearing my jeans and socks and it’s good. All that sunshine was giving me a headache.

And I let Mabel’s feet get sunburnt yesterday because I slathered her up nicely with sunscreen on arms and legs and face and neck but forgot that she would inevitably ditch her new purple sandals after ten minutes on the playground and leave her lily-white hoofers in the direct glare of the midday sun. Bad mother. (It’s okay, they’re not lobstered. Just a little extra pink.)

The pink and purple blossoms look positively luminous in the rain, too. It’s very April-showery.

A little bloggy PSA and self-publicizing now. As you might recall, I’m going to the BlogHer conference this summer, which is very exciting/terrifying, and because I’m paying more attention to my e-mails from BlogHer I noticed that they are now accepting submissions for Voices of the Year, which is a way they recognise some of the best blog posts from the past year. Even though I always assumed the people who won these things were the “big bloggers,” I thought what the heck, and submitted two of my favourite posts, because why not, and who else is going to ever notice your best work if you don’t tell them where to look?

The main awards are decided on by a panel of readers, which is fair and means that the blogs with the big readerships don’t scoop everything just because they have more people to vote for them; but there’s also a reader’s choice prize, and if you happen to be also a member of BlogHer, I’d be really delighted if you’d like to take a moment to go and vote for either or both of my nominations, if you like them. (You can still vote for everyone else as well if you feel that would be fairer.)

The page to vote for the first one is here, and the second is here. You can click through to the posts themselves from each of those pages.

And if you have a blog and are a BlogHer member, go and nominate your own favourite posts too and then tell me about it. (You can join BlogHer just to do it.) Share the love.