Category Archives: travel

Reframing for the memories

Here we are, finally galloping towards the finish line as the last week of summer looms and everything goes into fast forward, after the creeping, juddering back-and-forth of the very long break, longer than ever before because this year in their wisdom the county decided to move Back-to-School to after Labor Day instead of the third week of August. Yesterday my Timehop showed me that Mabel had started second grade this time a year ago, that Dash started Kindergarten six years ago, and a myriad of other milestones. Mabel wishes she was already back at school; Dash still has to finish his summer packet so it’s just as well he’s not.

I’ve seen other people’s photos and posts about how it’s been the best summer ever, about all the fun they had and the things they saw and learned and did, and I was feeling a little down about our summer. It wasn’t the greatest ever. It wasn’t fun all the time. It was, perhaps, a summer of too much of too little to do, a summer of fights and arguments, of conflict and boredom and screens and complaining. But then I remembered it’s all about the reframing. Reframing isn’t just how we make our boring lives into enviable blog posts and Facebook updates – it’s how our brains remember things so that our childhoods glow in memory and holidays gain a sheen in hindsight that they didn’t have in the moment. It’s how our brains deal with childbirth. We focus on the good and gloss over the bad. Besides, I don’t take photos of the fights and the whining.

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I know the waves don’t look big here, but the beach shelves dramatically just there

So our almost-week at the beach was … nice. Yesterday I realised that when I think back I won’t really dwell on the things we didn’t do or the times we disagreed, or even the spectacular sunburn I managed to procure because I am the queen of making sure everyone else puts on their sunscreen but I’m a bit blasé about doing my own. I prefer my swim top and my big floppy hat, but sometimes I happen not to be wearing those and … oh well. Sun and me don’t go. You’d think I’d know that by now.

Kids in bumper boats

Genuinely the most fun at the amusement park

So: we had a lovely time. My children were impressively brave (but not foolhardy) in the big waves on the shelving beach. My children were adventurous and tried new things (go-karting, bright red tortilla chips). My children fulfilled long-held ambitions (doughnuts for breakfast every day) and laughed at each other’s jokes till milkshake came out their noses. We walked home in the dark singing variously, simultaneously, songs from Hamilton and hits of the 80s. The people-hating eight-year-old easily made friends on the beach a few times. We saw an eclipse. (Not totality, but about 80%.)

Girl and man looking up at sky wearing eclipse glasses, shadows through trees

Eclipse watching. See the little crescents in the shadows of the leaves? That’s the eclipse.

I did no laundry, the absolute minimum of shopping and cooking, and was forcibly prevented from Facebooking too much because I didn’t have my laptop and I’m terrible at typing without a real keyboard. I sat alone in the serene peace of the screened porch and read a book instead. I drank real coffee and ate too much sugar. It was almost like a holiday, not just the same old thing in a new location – at least some of the time.

beer in sunshine

Now there will be buying and eating of fruit and vegetables, imposing of schedules and picking up of schoolwork, making of appointments and doing of useful things, because we are refreshed, because a change is (almost, maybe) as good as a rest, and because we’re nearly there.

Beach looking back at the sunset

Quiet evening beach

A short story about Luther Vandross

My best friend from Ireland got married in Italy a week ago and I’m so glad that I was there to see it.

People I met at the wedding were asking how I knew her, as people do at weddings, and there’s no short answer. “Friend of the family” is sort of true because our dads worked together. “Childhood friend” doesn’t quite cut it, since we grew closer as we left childhood behind. We did a J1 summer in San Francisco together – a formative experience indeed – and we went to London together (and with a bunch of her college-mates) the summer after that. We did the same one-year post-grad course and shared a flat as adults. She was my only bridesmaid. She’d have been my firstborn’s godmother only we didn’t do the church thing. She’s basically been the closest thing I’ve had to a sister.

The wedding was just as beautiful, well-planned, thoughtfully put together and utterly perfect as I knew it would be. No need was left uncatered to, no want unanticipated, and if some of us only just squeaked into the ceremony with a minute to spare, that was nobody’s fault but our own for each assuming someone else knew exactly where the church was.

There was a tree in the area where we all milled around before and after dinner that they’d decorated with old family photos from both sides – pictures of the bride and groom as babies and children, of their parents as young adults and their parents’ weddings. There I was too in one of the photos, in all my metal-mouth, terrible hair, twelve-year-old glory. It made me feel like one of the family. I barely restrained myself from dragging all the new friends I’d just made during dinner over to show them.

After the amazing dinner, the even more amazing desserts, the cocktails and the conversation, after the most excellent swing band had played the first dance and all the dances that followed, there was a DJ. I made friends with the DJ.

If you’ve ever gone dancing with me, you may know that this is a thing I used to do, in my wild and shameless youth. I would always endeavour to “make friends” with the DJ – i.e. go up and talk to him, maybe make eyes a little, you know how it is, and ask him to play something good for dancing. Maybe ask him to play something “not crap.” DJs love that. It always works. Ahem.

But this time I actually did make friends with the DJ, because I met him in the queue for the loo. We exchanged a couple of sentences, and I was a little confused because he was dressed like a waiter (black trousers, white shirt) but seemed to have an Irish accent, like the guests. All was explained a few minutes later when I went back outside to find a tiny DJ station had been set up and my new buddy was standing beside it working the turntables.
“Are you the DJ?” I asked, putting my staggering intellect to good use.
“Yep.”
“So . . . are you Irish?”
“Yeah, I’m Irish, but I was born in Rome,” he said. (When I recounted this to some of the other guests they shook their heads as if to say “Well then, he’s not Irish”, but evidently I’ve lived in America for too long because it made perfect sense to me. Maybe his parents are both Irish.) Anyway, he’d spent a fair few formative years in Ireland and now he lives back in Rome again.

And he didn’t have a playlist, just a vague instruction to play songs from the 60s to the 90s. He would welcome requests, he said. You don’t have to ask me twice. What an opportunity.

I pretty much squandered it because after “Love Cats” and “Kiss” I ran out of things I could remember I liked to dance to, but several other guests took up the cause and we ended up with a great selection of dancing tunes. There came a moment when I was bopping half-heartedly to something someone else had requested. I told her apologetically, “It’s a bit… Luther Vandross-y for me.” Even as I said it I thought to myself that that was a weirdly specific allusion that would probably be lost on her, as she was definitely younger than me, and I wondered why on earth that particular musician had come to mind just then.

“It IS Luther Vandross,” she said.

I was impressed by my astuteness. Is Luther Vandross back in the charts? I still don’t quite know how that happened.

 

You have reached your destination

So I have this reputation, let’s say, as someone who’s efficient. I can do stuff. I’m capable and sensible.

It’s all a sham.

Someone capable and sensible and efficient would not find themselves driving the same 15km stretch of road FOUR times in an hour – yes, that’s twice in one direction and twice in the other direction – because they trusted technology over just flippin’ looking at a map before they left, would they? Especially not when the technology had already proved itself to be somewhat untrustworthy.

And yet, in spite of my failings, I managed to get myself to Italy and back, to find where I was going, to catch my flights as scheduled, check into my hotels as planned, and not leave anything behind.

I did somehow forget to pack deodorant, but that’s what the supermercato is for.

Most of my hilarious travel stories involve how the satnav sent me the wrong way, and those stories don’t really have much of a shelf life so I’m not sure how many of them I should trot out now. The rest of the time … well, I spent three days travelling for 48 hours of fun, and it was well worth it.

There was this other time, though, which I will illustrate with some diagrams I drew in my notebook on the flight home, the better to remember.

Quite often in dreams I have a stressful situation where I’m driving but I can’t keep my eyes open, or I can’t see properly, or I’m somehow hampered by having to drive from the back seat or the passenger seat, or I can’t operate the pedals. And sometimes I end up precariously dangling over precipices or teetering on the edge of canyons in vehicles. All fairly standard stuff. I never actually die, though sometimes I damage the car and am always relieved on waking to remember I didn’t.

So there I was on Friday afternoon, after a lovely lunch with my sister-in-law and her friend, and I had to find my way back to the main road I’d come off, for the last half hour or so of my journey to the wedding venue. Of course, I should just have turned around and gone back the way I’d come, but instead I thought I’d give the sat nav a try. I turned it on and programmed in the name of the town I was going to. It seemed to recognise it, so I set it down and started driving, anticpating the soothing voice of the nice lady who would tell me which way to turn. The nice lady spoke up, but in Italian. I wasn’t expecting that, because the on-screen instructions had been in English, but I gamely decided I could try. I know my sinistra from my destra.

She said something I didn’t quite understand. I decided maybe it was “Go straight on” so I went straight on. She said it again and I couldn’t help thinking it was more likely “Turn around when you can”, so with a bad grace I turned around and went back the way I’d come. Then she had me turn right, and left, and right again, and soon we were deep in the zigzags of the little town. Clearly, on paper this was the most direct route to wherever she thought I needed to be, but the map did not take into account the elevation. The map looked like this:

But if you could have seen the elevation, it was more like this:

Straight up one side of the hill, around in a big sweep to where I could admire the lovely view over the lake – that’s nice, I thought vaguely, not looking, as I gripped the steering wheel gamely and forged ahead down an increasingly narrow road – and down again, via some hairpin bends on roads that were not wide enough for my modest rental car (a Ford Fiesta; but a Fiat 500 would have been ideal here) to make the turn in one go.

And so it was that I found myself in a dreamscape, but not the good sort. I came slowly halfway around a hairpin bend and stopped, facing directly into a foot-high wall that offered scant protection from the sheer drop to the road below on the other side. In front of me was, once again, the beautiful vista of the lake. Once again I was not really appreciating it. “I’ve dreamed this,” I said out loud, with just an edge of hysteria. The challenge, I could tell, because I’m SMRT that way, was that this time I didn’t have the option of floating gently to the ground, or waking up, so I just had to pull the handbrake, push the gearstick firmly into reverse, rev until I felt the catch, and back up a bit. Reverse hillstarts, with an option of Death, in a rental car I mustn’t scratch, I thought: my favourite thing. Then forward, then back, lather rinse repeat, until the car was facing the right way. And on down, effing and blinding at the nice insane Italian lady in the sat nav who I would never listen to again.

Not, at least, until two days later when she disgorged me onto the wrong motorway, in the wrong direction, 200 km from the programmed endpoint, and blithely commented – in English, because I fixed that – “You have reached your destination. Please turn around.”

Here’s a nice picture of the lake in question. I took it from the bottom of the hill, not the top.

Obnoxiousness

I don’t want to sound obnoxious, but I’m having lunch with my sister-in-law on Friday.
What? Not obnoxious yet? How about this: I live in the US, she lives in Ireland, and we’re having lunch in a little town on the banks of Lake Trasimeno in central Italy.

A little obnoxious, am I right? Sorry.

This trip is basically the antithesis of the one I took to Dublin in June. That was unexpected, last-minute, stressful, filled with tricky decisions and hard work. This one has been long planned and long looked forward to. It will involve a certain amount of being-a-grownup – driving from Bologna to Perugia on my own, for instance (and back), but also the fun parts of being a grown up – staying up late, dancing, drinking wine, meeting old friends in new places. (Lunch with my SIL is actually a bonus. I’m really going for my oldest and bestest friend’s wedding.)

Yes, I am hella lucky that I can flit over to Europe twice in one summer. Though long flights and long airport layovers are not entirely my idea of fun, they are much easier (though perhaps more boring) without children who need to be fed and entertained. I get back on Monday, so I’ll probably spend longer in transit than the two days the wedding will take up, but them’s the breaks. I’ll muddle through.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I have a nice new phone and will be Instagramming my trip, so if you haven’t followed me over there, now might be a good time. Pictures of Frankfurt airport and scenic Tuscany/Umbria, plus lots of delicious food, to come. I’m @AwfullyChipper over there, same as on Twitter. (Hint hint.)

I’m leaving the kids in the capable hands of their father (and vice versa), and have stocked up on everything they might possibly run out of – pasta, sandwich bread, peanut butter, cat food, cat litter, goldfish crackers, ice pops… I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’ll miss them terribly.

Helper cat

 

Lagging

New Year’s Day
I feel vaguely as if I’m coming down with something but I think it’s probably just the jet lag, or the time displacement, or whatever you want to call it when you’ve had enough sleep but you’re five hours out of kilter. Yesterday we went to a kids’ New Year’s Eve party, which is a lovely tradition we seem to have become caught up in, and was just the ticket for us, because we got to count down and release the balloons and sing Auld Lang Syne at about 7:15, and we were home by 8:30. Whereupon three of us went swiftly to bed and one decided he was going to stay up and stick it out no matter what. Around 2am I heard noises downstairs and investigated to find a morose ten-year-old who had unaccountably been unable to keep his eyes open after 10:45 and had missed the whole thing. Since midnight here was 5am in Ireland, where we were until two days ago, I’m quite surprised he managed to stay up that long.

I have a 2000-piece jigsaw on the go and mostly I’d have liked to spend all day staring at it but instead we went out to a New Year’s Day party this afternoon, which was probably the best thing to do because there’s nothing like being in a room full of friends and watching your kids running around in a pack with all the other kids they know to remind you that it’s not so bad to live in a place you don’t come from, if the place you get to live in is this one.

There’s always that touch of the blues that comes with the return journey for me, that makes me wonder why we do it, why we leave what’s so right and familiar and is part of our bones and our souls – the sea and the sky and the stones and the trees – to come to this other place that has all our stuff but none of our history. Except it has all the history of our children’s childhoods now, and as our lives are entwined with theirs, so our futures and our pasts must be too.

Mabel just asked me why we can’t have someone deliver the pizza, instead of going out to get it. I made noises about it being quicker, and it being hotter that way, and because we can, but really it’s because if we got the pizza delivered, America would have won and stolen our souls. (Never mind the fact that people in Ireland also get pizza delivered.)

The day after
Today I feel properly woozy, as if I’m on a boat, or as if I just got off a boat and the world is still rocking. I keep having cups of tea and eating unhealthy things to make it stop, but so far only going back to bed for a while has actually helped. Now the boys have gone off to Rogue One and Mabel and I are watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with a large bowl of popcorn.

My jigsaw met an untimely end, for now – but the good thing about jigsaws is that even when they’re broken they’re not actually broken. I’ll take it out again some time when it’s not the last day before back to school and small tempers aren’t so frazzled.

I’m starting to crave properly healthy food like lemony broccoli and yogurty dressing, but all I could throw together without a trip to the supermarket was roasted sweet potato wedges and chickpeas, with halloumi draped over them. Not bad, but a little dry.

Tomorrow, back to school, back to fresh air and exercise and normality and reality and some writing. It’s going to be good. Here goes, 2017. Don’t fuck it up for us.

Mossy tree beside a small river.

A picture from our walk in Powerscourt three days ago and half a world ago.

Giving grace

Three figures on the beach

I spent the weekend mostly not looking at Facebook.

I spent the weekend a stone’s throw from the Atlantic.

I spent the weekend reading a book and going to bed early and listening to the ocean waves crash and recede.

I spent the weekend being thankful for American restaurants that cater to children who don’t eat anything but french fries with no seasoning on them, that provide word searches and mad libs and paper for games of x’s and o’s, and chocolate milk and lemonade and apple juice. And beer.

I spent the weekend adjudicating rows and acceding to demands and telling short people to stop kicking each other, because some things never change.

I spent the weekend sharing a queen-sized bed with an eight-year old.

I spent the weekend buying buckets and spades and ice-cream cones at the end of November.

I spent the weekend with my people, by the sea, and it was good.


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Presque – or maybe even Completement

Sometimes, all it takes is a road trip. Forced into a moving vehicle with no wi-fi access, in close proximity to your family members, on a sunny day… well, it’s either going to end well or really, really badly.

Our trip involved driving northwest for six hours for B to run a marathon, and then driving home. Our destination was exotic (no, it’s not) Erie, Pennsylvania. You may not have any preconceptions of what that would be like, but for me it was all quite a surprise (largely because I’d been busy with the book sale and recovering from the book sale and hadn’t given our trip a thought until about Thursday). Erie is in the top left-hand corner of the big rectangle that is Pennsylvania, and it’s on the coast of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. (Here’s a helpful map.)

Map showing northern Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Google Maps. We came from halfway between Baltimore and Washington, drove along the bottom of PA, and up past Pittsburgh all the way to Erie.

I’ve been to Chicago, but otherwise haven’t experienced any of the lakes, and I never think of lakes as having beaches, even if they’re really darn big lakes. Not proper beaches. The website, when I finally looked at one, seemed to call Erie a beach town, but I was unconvinced.

We lived in Pennsylvania for a couple of years before we were married, and I think of it as a state of rolling, tree-covered hills punctuated with big red barns and domed grain silos. Amish and Mennonite people. Scrapple. Placenames that make you giggle. (Intercourse, Blue Knob, and Blue Ball, to cite a few.)

On the way we stopped at Fallingwater, which is a very famous house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s. It’s tucked away on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, which is somewhere we’re not usually passing, so this was a good opportunity. B and I visited it once before, in 2000, which was a long time ago. The thing about Fallingwater is it’s a perfect time capsule, this ahead-of-its-time architecture right on top of a waterfall, with all the original furniture and fittings still in place. We did the tour and the kids acquitted themselves really well, managing not to touch or break or leap upon anything that was not meant to be touched, broken or leapt upon.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Look familiar?

(It’s so famous it even has a Lego incarnation.)

Anyway. That’s proper Pennsylvania. When we got to Erie,
it suddenly didn’t feel like Pennsylvania any more at all. (Okay, it takes way too long to type Pennsylvania. I’m just going to say PA now.) Erie may be PA but it felt a lot more like TX to me. Or maybe SC. It’s a beach town. (I’d say it’s like Florida but I haven’t actually been to Florida.) We didn’t see the city proper, we only saw the slightly scrubby suburb near the peninsula where the marathon took place, but its wide streets and cheap motels and tattoo shops and warm wind felt like nothing so much as South Padre Island, that we lived near in Texas.

So that was the first surprise.

We arrived after dinner on Friday so there was no time to explore. On Saturday morning we headed out for breakfast and a drive around, and found ourselves on the peninsula that’s almost an island (that’s its name: Presque Isle) where the marathon would be the next day. It’s a little blob that sticks out into the lake – except everything’s much bigger than you think when you’re talking about a Great Lake, so it’s actually a 13-mile drive around the little blob.

Map showing Presque Isle and Erie, PA

Nearly an island

Going up the inland side, we stopped about halfway along and got out to take in the bay. It was overcast and very choppy, though still warm. The kids scrubbed around for stones to throw in the water, and there were a couple of fishermen. It was pleasant to be out in the wind, but not what you’d call glorious, though the sun was starting to come out.

Kids playing by grey, choppy water

Crappy phone photo

Then we got back in the car and drove down to the end, around the tip, and started up the other side. The kids were grumpy and didn’t want to get out of the car again, but I convinced them that we should stop and see if we could wave across at Canada. (Or maybe we just stopped the car and said “Deal with it.”)

We stopped at a deserted parking area and crossed the small dunes to see what we could see. The wind had died down. The sun was shining. The water was bright blue fading to almost tropical green at the edges. There wasn’t another person in sight, just a few gulls and some artistically scattered driftwood. I felt as if we’d walked through a portal to the Caribbean. (I’ve never been to the Caribbean, though, so my impressions may be off.)

B and the kids on a beach with calm blue water and clear blue sky.

This is a proper beach. It really is.

It was so unexpectedly lovely, this magical Other Side of the Island, that I just stood there with a big grin plastered to my face while everyone else started paddling and skimming more stones and writing in the sand with sticks. Everything was just generally delightful and it was worth the six hour drive each way and the crappy motel room with no wi-fi there and then.

We went back in the afternoon and found a different beach, with a lifeguard and swimming. So, totally without planning it, we managed to bring the children to the beach this summer after all. Juuust under the wire.

Kids playing in sand at beach

Classic game of bury-your-father

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Mothballed memories

I wasn’t blogging much ten years ago, what with the move and the baby – a glance at my archives shows one short (but lyrical) entry from early August, and nothing else until the following January. So I never did write down what that road trip was like. I wrote a big screed about the first one, two years earlier, in the other direction, with the television sitting in the laundry basket on the back seat, but I haven’t been able to find it. For some reason I didn’t put it on the blog. So here are my road-trip memories, pulled out of the mothballs of my mind.

I remember that the baby cried and cried on the long highway up from Brownsville to San Antonio and on to Houston, and I made B pull over so that I could give him (the baby, that is) some boob, because apparently he was hungry, and then we’d start driving again and he’d start crying again and I’d look at him in despair because I’ve just fed you so there can’t be anything wrong, and I can’t hold you because we’re in a car, and you’ll just have to fall asleep. Eventually, he would fall asleep, but it was stressful driving.

We gave ourselves five days to do the trip, so that there was plenty of time for pulling over, and so we weren’t imprisoning the poor child in his car seat for eight hours a day. We probably sang “Don’t Fence Me In” to him a lot, because that was his theme song.

I remember thinking that it should be interesting driving through the deep south, but that the Interstate looked like the Interstate pretty much wherever you were, especially when it had those big pinkish sound-muffling walls on either side, as it so often did. We didn’t see anything of the leftovers of Hurricane Katrina even though I’m sure the towns around Mobile, Alabama, where we spent an unmemorable night, were still very much in recovery.

We had a night in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’d never been to Florida so I looked out the window with interest, trying to take it in and see something special or different about it. It was only Jacksonville, which is one of those armpit places, I’m told, so there wasn’t really anything to see. I still feel that I’ve never really been to Florida.

Trees in a square

A Savannah square

We stopped in Savannah, Georgia, because it sounded romantic and like the sort of place we’d like to see. It was very pretty, with its dangling greenery and intricate wrought-iron-work. I remember an ambulance coming past us with its siren going, waking the baby and terrifying him, making me furious at its thoughtlessness. We stayed in a cool-looking retro motel where the person who’d checked out before us hadn’t bothered taking their stuff with them: the closets still held suits and jackets and shoes. We told reception and they took care of it, as if it was a perfectly normal occurrence, but I couldn’t help wondering what sort of person just wouldn’t bother packing before they left.

South Carolina had long sandy beaches, not very wonderful to our eyes as we’d just come from the environs of the similarly long sandy beaches of South Padre Island, Texas. We stopped near Myrtle Beach and got out to take a good look. There were wooden boardwalks out over the dunes, which were pleasantly novel. And it was very windy at the Atlantic. I thought the Atlantic should feel more like home than the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s all the same water really, and it was still the wrong side of the Atlantic from the one that would feel like home.

Beach houses and boardwalks on the dunes

South Carolina coast

We had been planning to head to somewhere like Newport News, Virginia, the sort of area where Dawson’s Creek was filmed, which would probably look nothing like the peaceful inlets and idyllic tiny docks of the show, but we were being tailed by a hurricane (Ernesto, it must have been), so we headed inland instead and stopped in some tiny place whose name escapes me instead. It turned out to have nothing but a very nice Holiday Inn with a restaurant where I ordered shrimp and grits and enjoyed them mightily. I was quite getting the hang of this southern eating.

When we finally got to Maryland, we stopped in a town called Waldorf to stay at a Super8 and eat at an Olive Garden, and I wondered what sort of place this was. When you’ve lived somewhere all your life, the very sound of a placename seems onomatopoeic: you can tell that it’s rough or posh or the back of beyond or the most Stepfordesque of suburbia just from the sound of the word. But all Waldorf said to me was salad. Apples and walnuts in the Home Ec book. I still don’t know what Waldorf is like, because we haven’t been down that end of the state since, but I know the motel wasn’t very upmarket.

We had to take shifts over our dinner that night, I remember, because the baby wasn’t in the mood to sit around and watch us eat. The waiter was very understanding and kept things warm as first one of us and then the other paced up and down outside with the tetchy four-month-old. You poor thing, I thought, whisked away from everywhere you’ve ever known and staying in a new place every night for a week, no wonder you’re grumpy.

But we’re still here. We’re your people, and we’re here. Isn’t that enough?

He was a baby. That was enough.

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Six-minute update (with very important information)

I need a blurb. That’s what’s at the foremost of my mind right now. The things that make people buy a book are the front cover and the description on the back – that’s called the blurb, honest to god, it is, even though it sounds like a pretend word that someone used because they couldn’t remember the technical term. It really is the technical term.

“Why do you need a blurb, Maud?” I hear you ask. Because I’m self-publishing this darned book, so I am. I got the last – very kind, very nice – rejection from the last person I’d sent it to, and now I just want to get it out of my headspace and into the world, where it deserves to be no matter what those other people say, so that I can concentrate on the next thing, which is halfway written but starting to meander dreadfully in search of some excitement.

I have to say it’s immensely satisfying to be able to take control and do something concrete and immediate with my work, after all this time of sending it off and waiting months for a response, amending things, sending it off again… Doing the work myself to get it uploaded to the system is so much better. (I’m not designing my own cover, I’ve asked someone, so I do have to wait for that, but it won’t be long.)

In other news, Dash got so much in the way of gift tokens and straight-up money for his birthday that he bought an iPad mini. This was sort of my idea, in that I suggested it, because I couldn’t imagine what else he could possibly spend all that on. Now, of course, I’m remembering all those reasons I had for why he shouldn’t have his own device yet, and thinking that maybe just buying 57 green light sabres instead mightn’t have been such a bad idea.

Mabel is disgusted, of course. She shouted for a while about how it wasn’t fair that he was born first so he gets to have big parties and lots of presents and he’s ten, and then somehow she made me say that we might get a fish. She is now set on a fish and I don’t know how to get out of this. I have no interest in a fish, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

Time’s up. Ding!

But I wasn’t finished… other things…

We went to Philadelphia, which I’d never really been to and it’s lovely, we should go back. We spent a lot of time in a very fancy hotel, not waiting for Justin Bieber like some of the other people there but attending a wedding which was lovely, and for which the children actually dressed up, which I consider a bigger achievement on my part than my elegant yet comfortable shoes or the fact that I really liked my dress. On the last day we walked around and the sun came out and the kids climbed on possibly the best statue in the world (so many animals!) and it was quite breathtaking.

And now my to-do list has nothing on it. Just “Hit publish”.

Oh, I know what I wanted to say. You want to buy my book, right? You know lots of middle-grade girls who like reading and have access to an e-reader? You love YA fiction yourself, actually, especially when it’s set slightly nostalgically in Ireland in the 80s, yes? But I don’t want to give up my anonymity – such as it is – here by linking to it directly. So here’s the deal: if you’re even a tiny bit interested in knowing more about it, drop me a line – yes, an actual email, it doesn’t have to say much at all, just what you’re looking for – to awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll open the door to the mysterious other side – that is, I’ll send you the link to the website I just made for the book, where you’ll find all the info on how to order it when it’s available. And you can share that, and the FB page that goes along with it, to your heart’s content.

In fact, I’d be awfully grateful if you would. You guys are my ground zero, you know. No, wait, you’re my Typhoid Mary. My… what’s a non disaster associated way to say that? You’re the inner circle, that’s it.

You know what you have to do.

Dash and Mabel at City Hall, Philly

Philadelphia in the rain

Mabel on the statue of a bear under blue skies

And in sunshine

Hurtling

Quiet airport sceneOn Wednesday afternoon, I went to the airport. On Sunday afternoon I was back there. In between, I hurtled through the skies in a metal tube, kept aloft by nothing but will power and loud noises, as far as I can tell, to a small country 3000 miles away; and then did it again in the other direction.

It’s a strange life we lead, in this twenty-first century, where people can do things like that.

The first time my dad visited the US, he came on a boat. It took five days. He’s not so old that they didn’t have flights back then, but it was probably much cheaper by sea. But I can imagine that doing it that way at least gives you a sense of distance. You use the time in between to come to terms with leaving one place and going to another: you’re not so surprised when you finally get there that you’re a long way away now.

But when I walk onto a plane, time stops. (This does not apply when travelling with children. Then time becomes infinite.) Then I walk off, and – inexplicably – my surroundings are more familiar than anything I left behind me. The air is damp, the streetlights are orange, daylight creeps into being, voices sound like home. I can navigate to the other side of the city without thinking too hard, just heading in the right direction. I know which way that is.

I spent three days seeing a very few family members and friends. I did some useful things. I threw away a lot of ancient pieces of paper. I brought away a small amount of memorabilia and another tranche of my teenaged bookshelf. I decided I will live the rest of my life quite happily without being in possession of my piano exam certificates, my secondary school homework notebooks, or even my terrible teenage poetry.

Back in the airport before I left I couldn’t shake the feeling that, even though I was returning to nothing but a delightful life with the people I love, Ireland was the right place. Ireland’s just better, in spite of no concrete evidence to support that fact in almost any direction beyond scones and jam, cheese and sausages, people in the service industry who are genuinely happy to help, not finding your presence at their counter a tedious imposition.

The feeling persisted on the other side, at least for a while: I felt displaced, even after all this time, not at home.

Home. Other home. Wrong home, right home, different. It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Here I am.

Harbour scene