Friday, December 31, 2010

And now a word about the word YANK. People here and in the UK use this word to describe Americans. Personally, I find this term mildly offensive. But people use it constantly here! So let me break it down for you. First of all, if you're Irish, then compare "yank" to the term "mick." It's just...not nice.

The offensiveness of this term probably has its origins in the fact that people in the southern US states call us northerners "yankees" or "yanks," and trust me, it's not with affection. Now, some Americans might refer to themselves as yanks, but most of us would not.

This is my public service announcement to anyone considering using the term yank to an actual yank: Reconsider it. Is it really so hard to say "American"?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas is over! Yay!

Sorry, but I am not a big fan of Christmas, per se. I like giving presents, and I like getting presents, but every year after Christmas, I think, Thank god that's over. And that feeling is compounded here in Ireland where they also celebrate St. Stephen's day. So, all in all there was a lot of imbibing: First, on Wednesday, we had a dinner with friends at our favorite gastro-pub. Then, on Thursday we unfortunately had to attend the funeral of Mark's aunt the day after that. Funerals are, of course, followed by a get together at the local pub. Once we got back to the north side, and it being Thursday, we were obliged to go to the local pub (I skipped out on that, since I was battling a cold). Friday (Christmas eve), we wrapped presents and laid low at home. Then Saturday we headed over to Uncle Billy's in the morning with two gigantic Ikea bags full of presents. Mark went ahead of me to put the turkey in the oven, then I followed and we cooked the gravy, cranberry sauce, and brussels sprouts. We ate and drank all day long, played cards, watched all the Christmas episodes of the soap operas, pulled our Christmas crackers, and went home tired but happy. I think we overwhelmed them with the presents. I took some crappy photos with my phone, and they look a whole lot like last year's pictures, except Billy has new wallpaper (that we put up, and now neither of us ever wants to see wallpaper again.)

Normally this is where it ends, but see then at twelve thirty the next day we went back to the local pub, where half the neighborhood goes and gets their drink on for the aforementioned Stephen's Day. Actually, I was delayed, so I didn't get there until two something. Luckily, they close early. I took a snap: I never thought I would say this, but I was actually really sick of drinking alcohol! So I was happy to have a couple nights off. But now it's party season again as we gear up for New Year's Eve.

Speaking of New Year's, I'll be doing a DJ set at Seomra Spraoi for their New Year's party, so I'm pretty excited. Haven't decided what I'll play yet!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A friend of mine asked me what Christmas in Ireland is like. This is my second Christmas here, and while I can't speak for Christmas in Ireland, per se, I would like to point out some key differences in the Irish Christmas experience.

First of all, they have these things called "Christmas crackers." Contrary to the name, Christmas crackers aren't crackers that you eat. They look like this:
and two people pull on each end until it "cracks," and breaks like a wishbone. Inside the tube are various items, depending on where you've bought the cracker (I hear Marks & Spencers have the best ones). There's a little paper crown, a joke, and some little trinket. I like to tell people I've never gotten a Christmas cracker just to see the pitying looks on their faces.

Also, there's "Christmas cake," which is kind of like fruit cake but with a lot more booze in it, and I think it's generally round and often has icing.

What you cannot find: Egg Nog! I have not seen egg nog in the store. (Not that I can drink it.) I'm sure you can find it somewhere at those stores who cater to us ex-pats, and pay a million dollars for it, or you can make your own, but I am not dedicated enough for that jazz. Still, it's weird.

What I'm really missing, and I mean really missing (and have been since the fall) is apple cider. Now, for people not from New England, I'm not talking about the alcoholic fizzy beverage you get at your local pub. I'm talking about the non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, unfiltered, unsweetened apple beverage that you can mull into pure holiday perfection. There is nothing on earth like mulled cider! If you think, oh, how different can it be from apple juice, you have no idea.

What else? Kids go around Christmas caroling...for money. Some people think of it as industrious but I just think of it as extortion.

And as I mentioned last year, you don't get gift boxes with clothing. You are expected to wrap soft items in gift wrap or with a gift bag. Apparently, it's more fun that way. I think it's bogus and it will never feel ok, but this year I gave in. I just didn't have the box inventory!

It appears that the common meal is a turkey AND a ham, which is meat-tastic. Mark and I are headed over in the morning to Uncle Billy's house with a BOATLOAD of presents (seriously, this will be hands down the most presents these three elderly people have ever received for Christmas in their entire lives. basically they gave us money for Christmas and we spent all of it on gifts for them, like fools! ) and will cook the dinner. I've downloaded hours and hours of Christmas music, so I will be sure to play the Anne Murray Christmas album and the John Denver Christmas album (my mom's favorite) and think of my family back home. We got meat-free meat roasts for ourselves, but sakes alive I will miss Tofurkey. Nothing beats fake turkey like Tofurkey, in my humble opinion.

The presents are all wrapped and I can't wait to see everyone's happy faces when they open their gifts. So, all in all, Christmas is the same here in Ireland. Lots of effort, headaches, rushing around, then all you can do is hope it was all worth it. Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I don't like to make sweeping generalizations. But last night it was hard not to, as I swore and muttered to myself while biking to the IFI. Mark and I had not been on our bikes for two minutes when we turned the corner and came upon two boys, aged ten or eleven, swinging a PUPPY (it looked only a few weeks old) from it's leash. When I say swinging, I mean, swinging it around, in the air, by it's leash, and then dangling it, above the ground. This puppy didn't even look like it should be separated from its mother, let alone put on a lead in freezing cold weather. It was honestly not much smaller than my hand, and it looked terrified. Actually, it looked traumatized. It didn't make a sound, and just hung there, hopelessly.

I stopped my bike and asked the kids what the hell they were doing. They looked scared for a second because I think they thought from our lights that we were bike cops. Once they realized that we were just regular people, they just continued to hang the puppy from the leash. I told them that someone ought to do that to them to see how they liked it, and one of them replied that he would like it -- he thought it would be fun.

So here's my sweeping generalization. Sometimes it feels like the children in this country are wild animals. Boys, roaming the streets, doing whatever the hell they feel like. And you can't say anything to them, especially in your own neighborhood, where they can terrorize you, or else you're going to wish you hadn't. They throw snowballs into people's faces. They call you names. They look into your letterbox and try to spy on you in your own house. They set things on fire. They try to play chicken with you when you're cycling. I could go on and on. It fucking enrages me. When I was a child, I wouldn't have dreamed of acting that way towards strangers. But so many of the kids here have no fear, no fear at all, of adults or strangers. I just don't get it. I really don't. Back in the US, I only had an issue with one teenage kid, and he was clearly mentally ill.

And they travel in packs as well, for extra intimidation. It's not that I'm walking around, being actively scared of the children and teenagers in my neighborhood, but at the same time, I realize that they are in total control, and cannot be reasoned with. I've lived in crappy neighborhoods all over Boston and I've never experienced anything like it. Even in Brooklyn I didn't see kids acting this way. It's annoying. Most days it's just "one of them things" but yesterday, when I watched helplessly as an animal was being tortured, I just really wanted to leave it all behind me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Today Mark and I went to a discussion at the Irish Film Institute (IFI), a panel of artists, film producers, and movie makers. They were speaking in the context of a new film, The Pipe, which is about the fight to keep Shell from installing a raw gas pipeline in Rossport, County Mayo. This fight doesn't get proper media coverage, and I think that if people knew what was going on here, there would be outrage all over the world towards Shell. You can read about the movie on their website. Here's the trailer for the film:

Honestly, if you are in the Dublin area and/or have a chance to see this movie, I urge you to go see it!

The talk itself was an interesting discussion about the role art can play in activism. I can't really sum it up, but let's just say that considering how tired I was, the fact that I stayed awake was a testament to how good it was, I guess!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I've been working on this very VERY long post for ages. This happened in mid-October...

Speaking of Mary Harney and Healthcare...I have been meaning to share our recent experiences with seeking medical attention for my mother-in-law last month. It's incidents like these that remind me that Ireland is not where I will be growing old. As many friends as I've made, and for all the positive things that make my life enjoyable here, I know that I will be going back to the US for my winter years. And there's pretty much one major reason for that: the Healthcare system here is absolutely terrifying, especially if you are old, disabled, or alone.

Joyce is 80 years old. She was last in the hospital while Mark and I were away. She hadn't been well since before Christmas, but has a real reluctance to go to the doctor because the waiting time is between two to six hours. If you have an appointment, the doctor will likely not even walk into the building until two hours after your scheduled time. And then he'll see the six or seven patients ahead of you, not to mention make and receive telephone calls and take queries from the secretaries during appointments. When Mark and I first moved to Dublin, we signed up for this practice, not knowing where else to go. After each having two very bad experiences, we switched. When we suggested that his parents do the same, they responded that they'd been going there for over 40 years, and sure, they wouldn't want to make anyone feel bad by switching. So their answer to this problem is to simply go to the doctor as seldom as possible, no matter what kind of agony they are in.

In July, Joyce had been admitted to the Mater Hospital for fluid around her heart. She was in a hallway, waiting for three days for a room. At the time, I didn't think much of this, although it was disturbing, but my mental picture was of a patient in an American-style hospital, on a proper bed, and while I thought jesus, that's horrible, I didn't linger on it too long in my mind.

When she was discharged, Joyce was given a prescription for a water tablet, to be taken daily, to keep her fluid down. However no one seems to have explained to her the consequences of not taking this pill. Since going to the doctor meant a two to six hour wait, she wasn't likely to go for a follow-up appointment. I mean, logistically, if you're on a pill that makes you want to urinate all the time, are you really going to go to a place where you'll have to sit in a waiting room for several hours? No. You get frustrated, and not understanding why you're on this medication in the first place, you stop taking it. Or at least, she did.

So we noticed she wasn't well -- she seemed to have a cold, and a cough, and was not herself at all. But there's a fine line when you're caring for the elderly between taking control of them and letting them have some autonomy. We respected her wish not to see the doctor. But when we found out she was coughing up blood, Mark quickly went into action. We called the doctor, and they promised to make a house call within two hours. So far, so good. We called over to Joyce, where she complained that she had been sweating through her bedclothes during the night, and was still coughing up the blood. She said she was going to call the doctor in the evening, though we couldn't figure out why she wanted to wait. About an hour before the doctor was due, we casually let her know that we'd already set the plan in motion, and the doctor was on her way. We figured that she would examine Joyce, give her an anti-biotic, some cough syrup, and we could all sleep better that night.

The doctor sailed in, asked a couple of questions, listened to Joyce's lungs, made a phone call, then informed us that since she takes Warfarin (a blood thinner), and she was coughing up blood, she'd have to go to the A&E (Emergency Room). She asked if we wanted her to order an ambulance. We said no. But this was a big mistake, we were to learn later -- a big mistake that we will never make again.

Not wanting her to be too anxious, we assured Joyce that she'd be in and out of the hospital -- no need to pack a bag! And we called a taxi, giving her only a half hour to get some things together. She was very nervous about going, but we tried to remain upbeat.

The taxi dropped us off at the hospital at about quarter past three in the afternoon. We checked in, and had a seat in the crowded waiting room, which was filled with wooden chairs, all facing a small television perched on the wall. It played Sky news. For those who don't know, Sky news is possibly the worst news channel ever invented. It picks out the same five crappy news stories and repeats them over, and over, and over. The big story that day was about Wayne Rooney, this hotshot soccer player, who was threatening to quit. Stupidly, we didn't bring books or ipods or anything that might distract us. And even if we had, we would have felt bad using them while Joyce quietly suffered beside us. Within the first two hours, we were called into a little room, where a nurse took Joyce's vitals and asked some questions about why she was referred to the Emergency Room (A&E). He examined her, and then it was back out into the main waiting room. So far so good, we thought.

Behind us, sat a blind man, accompanied by a woman. You couldn't guess what was wrong with him -- he sat quietly in his seat, occasionally making his way to the rest room. Sometimes he would remark on how long he'd been waiting, but by that time, we were all in the same boat, so we all commiserated. At one point, a middle aged man came in with his very frail father. It choked me up a little to see someone so vulnerable in such a place. But luckily he was taken in right away.

As daylight waned and darkness descended on Dublin, the crowd in the A&E changed considerably. The zombies started to come out. Sure, there was your usual: car accident victims, a woman who looked like she was going to have a heart attack, etc. Then there was the dude who looked like he'd been in a bar brawl, and the guy who had pissed his track pants, who kept wandering around the waiting room, trying to get into other parts of the hospital. He kept grabbing at his tongue with his fingers. A guy walked in wearing a nice pinstriped suit, carrying a Dunnes Stores bag. I figured that he was there to bring provisions for a patient. So I was quite surprised when he sat down in the waiting room and began a sing-along with a drunk guy in a wheelchair. I managed to use my cell phone to record their rendition of "Leaving on a Jet Plane:" The bar brawl guy was NOT happy with them, and I thought he was going to lose it, but he managed to keep it together, more or less.

Another man came in, still with the plastic bracelet from his visit the previous day. He was trying to get admitted. Of course, I don't know what his story was but he was shouting, so the whole place knew why he was there, and it was heartbreaking: he said he'd been there every day for the past three days, apparently, but he didn't remember because he has dementia. He has dementia because, he shouted, he has "full blown AIDS." He also shouted that they could call the cops, he would be quite happy to go to Mount Joy (the prison across the street from the hospital), as he'd spent the last 30 years there and at least he'd have a roof over his head. The guy needed help, and it was difficult to see someone so sick begging for treatment. I'm not sure what happened in the end, if he was admitted or not. He was so confused, but at least knew why he was confused, and was able to try to advocate for himself, but it felt so hopeless. As he shouted in the waiting room, you couldn't help but to envisage the trajectory of this man's life.

Poor Joyce took it all in stride, even though she must have been in agony sitting in those chairs, sick as she was. It was more than TEN HOURS before she was called into the interior waiting area. When you walked through the door, it was filled with people in trolleys (hospital beds are called trolleys here) and chairs. Joyce was brought into an examining area, where she waited on an examining table for the rest of the night and into the next day. On a table. That she was too small and frail to hop on and off of (she is less than five feet tall). At one point, she set up a bed for herself on the floor, but she was ordered to get off the floor and back onto the table, but seeing as she couldn't get onto it, she sat in a chair. At some point, someone gave her a pillow, but she has such severe osteoporosis that the pillow was really no use to her. After nearly 24 hours, she was moved to a proper hospital bed, within the same waiting area. But still the bed was too high, so mostly she sat in the chair. They gave her an x-ray and determined that she had a bad case of pneumonia. But there was no bed available in the hospital. Our poor blind friend was across the way, in a trolly, waiting to be treated as well.

The real kicker was this: Joyce was standing next to her trolly, with her back to the curtain, brushing her teeth at the sink, and someone made off with her handbag. She was literally four feet away, and they nabbed it. Luckily, it had almost nothing in it but socks, underwear, and her bus pass. Still, the idea that someone would steal from a sick old lady made us all feel a bit angry and depressed. But finally, after two and a half days, she was admitted to a short term ward. This was essentially a large room with about seven or eight beds in it, and two bathrooms to share among them. Since Joyce was on a heavy dose of diuretics, this was a big problem. I won't go into the details. But in this room, women and men of all ages and circumstances were being treated. One guy across from her was vomiting and having diarrhea all night long. And I don't mean in the bathroom. A couple of nights later, an old woman with dementia thought Joyce was her daughter, and kept hovering over her bed, trying to take her shoes, and shouting at her. Basically, it was the worst conditions possible to try and recover from pneumonia in. We could see Joyce getting discouraged, wondering when she could go home. However the visiting hours were only between 2 - 4 and 6 - 8, so we couldn't hang around to make her feel better. We brought her magazines and treats, but I'm not sure how well it helped to pass the time.

Mark deserves best son of the year award for hassling the doctors and managing her care. He worked tirelessly with the doctors and nurses to make sure they knew all of his mother's conditions, and that they treated all of them. He also did an amazing job explaining it all to his parents in a way they could understand (to say they have a mistrust of medicine is an understatement). All in all, Joyce was in the hospital for *twelve* days.

When she came home, we had a bit of a surprise for her. While she was in the hospital, we had gone out and purchased (well, his dad paid) a washer/dryer unit and had it installed in their kitchen. If you can believe it, they've been hand washing their laundry for 80 years....with NO HOT WATER. They boil water in the kettle. Insanity! So we knocked out a cabinet, then went to IKEA and bought a new one to put on the other side, installed that (three trips to IKEA because they kept giving me the wrong drawer), and then cleaned the place up a bit. I'm not sure they're using it, but at least it's there if they choose to.

So October entailed a lot of running around. But it reminded us both of why we're here. Honestly I'm not sure Joyce would have made such a good recovery if we had not intervened. And it was just nice to be useful and to contribute to our family's quality of life. You know, the stuff life is all about, I suppose.

However, the experience also opened my eyes to how healthcare really works in this country. It doesn't. At times it felt as though we were in a developing country. The whole system was chaotic and, to be frank, unsafe. It made me wonder why hospitals aren't being constantly sued for malpractice here. But that's a question for another day. We were just really happy to have Joyce home, safe and sound.
I've been on a crafty bender for the past few days. Here's the latest project, the toilet paper roll wall art project from Design Sponge. I think it cost me 3.99 for a tube of sap green paint, and 1.60 for the glue, both of which were only half used. The wall it's on is a bit mold-prone (it's a front room, and believe it or not, our house is not insulated in any fashion), so I didn't want to put anything there that we are emotionally attached to, in case it got moldy. I really like the way it looks, though next time I'll paint the tp rolls before I glue them together!

I also made a paper wreath from Design Sponge. I had no idea where to get the green masking paper they used, and spray painting seemed too complicated in this weather (no basement to work in, after all!), so I went to a stationery store (Easons) and bought green paper in two shades as well as a sheet of silver gift wrap. It came out a little more stiff looking than I'd have liked -- if I did it again, I might distress the paper -- but all in all, it looks cute and can be used year after year. Not a bad deal for a cost of less than five euro!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Christmas decorating time! Last year, we didn't really decorate so much, mostly because we'd only been living in our apartment for a couple of days. Everything was a complete mess! This year things are much more relaxed. But we don't have a lot of money to go out and spend on silly things like decorations! Uncle Billy gave us some Santa votive holders and a little snowman for our mantle, and then I made some little stockings from some old pyjamas I had laying around the house. So the festive vibe is starting to get underway!

Here's a crappy photo I took with my phone:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The snow is here for a while, and it's funny to see how a town that isn't used to snow manages to cope. It's fantastic to walk around town and see things like this:

Unfortunately, city kids are city kids. Which means that you're likely to be hit in the face with a snowball at any moment, when you least expect it. Our poor friend Damo got hit in the mouth with a rock-stuffed snowball, which is pretty infuriating. But you can't really react because those kids travel in packs!

People also have no idea how to drive in these conditions, so you hear a lot of spinning out cars of people trying to simply get their cars onto the street. Hopefully they'll figure it out before the snow melts. We're going sledding again later, and I'll be sure to bring the camera this time!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving turned out to be a very pleasant day! We ate fake turkey, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy, and I even made pork loin for the meat eaters! We lit a fire and ate until we couldn't eat anymore, then we headed to the pub. Then we had leftovers for a few days, which was very tasty.

I don't have a hell of a lot of time to post, but I wanted to celebrate this:

For those of you that don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. In the month of November, you write your butt off and if you make it to fifty thousand words before Midnight on December first, you are a WINNER! There's really no prize, per se, except the satisfaction that you wrote a 50k word, 175 page novel in one month. I took on the challenge and miraculously managed to make it to my goal. I say miraculously because I wrote 20k of the 50k in the last 4 days. But I learned a LOT about writing, how I work, and now I have a really, really crappy first draft. And I'm not saying that to be modest -- it's really bad. But like any first draft, it has great potential! So hopefully between now and death I'll be able to revise it into something that doesn't make me cringe when I read it.

What else has been going on? Well, of course Ireland's economy is almost completely flushed down the toilet, and we've been taking to the streets. However most recently, we were joined by 50,000 to 100,000 other people who also took to the streets. Here I am, waiting to march, in about six layers (it was cold):

I gotta mention this lady because she had one of my favorite signs. Apparently I'm not the only one who HATES Pat Kenny:

There were so many people, it was incredible. People of all shapes and sizes and interests. I've never been on a protest of that size before, and I wonder if it did any good. But there will be more, I'm sure. There are lots of images from the day, but here's a pretty good flickr set that someone has up.