Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! Bram Stoker Festival

Each year, Dublin celebrates one of its most influential (and adaptable) writers- Bram Stoker.  The city ramps up the chills for a full weekend of fun.  We saw a flyer with the highlights in early October, and when we saw the list of events (many of which were free!) we knew it was worth a look.

Many of the free events required pre-registration.  When we looked through the catalog of literary talks, haunted walks, and scary stalks movie screenings, many were already sold out.  An author talk about the enduring charm and legacy of the ghost story did stand out among the available (free) events, so we signed up.

The talk was scheduled for 5:30 that evening.  The schedule of events had listed several other all-day events like street theatre and street markets with the theme of the festival, so we decided to make a day of it.  We made a picnic dinner, wore some since clothes for the book talk, and walked to City Centre just after lunch.

Our first stop was to see what the flyer called, "Spine Chilling Sights & Sounds in the City."  There were two places where such chillers were to take place.  We were to apparently expect street performances, costumed characters, music, dancing, and buckets of blood.  When we got to the first such public square, we only saw the usual throng of tourists and shoppers.  There was someone dressed as a scary marionette posing for photos, but we couldn't decide if she was part of the official entertainment for just a street performer in a costume playing for tips.  One event down, not much Halloween...

We moved on to the Science Gallery at Trinity College.  This unique museum displays works of art inspired by science and research.  The theme of the current exhibit was "Grow Your Own."  Each piece was a glimpse at a possible future wherein humans have mastered genetics.  Our favorite exhibit was a series of genetic profiles taken from DNA on littered cigarette butts on the street.  The researcher (and artist) were able to glean a great deal about the litterbugs in question.  A 3-D model of the face of each person was built, showing a possible look at their ancestry, height, face shape, and even genetic predispositions for obesity and other diseases.  An interesting gallery, but we were still in search of Halloween frights...

The real fright came as we left the Gallery.  A heavy rain came over the city just as we needed to make our way to the next scary sights.  We walked almost a mile in the driving rain and wind before ducking in to a coffee shop to warm up and dry off.  We had scampered past another of the "Spine Chilling..." sight locations to see one tent with a few guys in capes standing around smoking cigarettes.  Nice.  On our way to the literary talk, we had seen on the Bram Stoker Festival flyer a flea market.  This market happens every Saturday, and we enjoyed looking at the records, antiques, and vintage clothing, but we still didn't get much in the way of spooky Halloween spirit.

The ghost story talk was given in another art gallery on the North side of the city.  We walked up O'Connell Street and had our picnic supper outside the gallery.  The talk was entertaining, informative, and well-attended.  Two modern ghost story writers and a moderator had a great discussion about what makes us drawn to these stories.  The authors read from and discussed their most recent books, and finished with questions from the audience.

After the talk, we walked home, happy with our literary talk but just a bit disappointed with the Halloweeny nature of the rest of the day's events.  Maybe if we had gone up at night?  Maybe next year.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Skeleton Keys

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived in Ireland was the ubiquitous use of the skeleton key here.  I had not seen one of these keys ever used, and only on very old doors did I see the classic skeleton keyhole- the old kind through which one could surreptitiously spy on the occupants of the next room.

Here, they have been updated to stay with current key technology.  Modern keyholes are no longer open all the way through, so keyhole skulduggery is much more difficult.  The cuts of the keys are also much more refined, with as many ridges and shapes as the smaller, long-toothed keys we know in America.

This is not to say that skeleton keys are the only ones used here, many doors use the smaller keys we know and love, some even have two keyholes- a small key for the knob lock and a skeleton key for a dead-bolt.  Many locks and doors here use decorative knobs, that is, knobs that don't actually turn an opening mechanism.  Some knobs are simply handles with which to push and pull a door that has been unlocked with a key.  Doors like this are handy for automatic locking- just make sure to take the keys to avoid being locked out.

Our door uses a skeleton key dead-bolt with a decorative knob.  The door to get into the apartment building is of the automatic locking variety, so we use two separate keys to get into our own home.

A skeleton key on a white background
A Skeleton Key
A keyhole for a skeleton key on a white painted door
Skeleton Keyhole
The bolt is permanently locked on the decorative knob
Decorative knob- bolt is permanently locked
The skeleton key with the decorative knob does present one issue for which we were not prepared.  When the door is unlocked, there is no mechanical device actually holding the door closed, so it is free to be pushed open at will.  This isn't a security worry while we are home, but we found an annoying issue with air pressure.  When the hallway door was opened and closed, the pressure in the hallway would change ever so slightly.  This wasn't noticeable by the people in the hallway, but the gentle push of air was always enough to cause our door to push in about a quarter of an inch- and close again on its wooden frame.  This frequent door-banging got annoying quickly.

Locking the door wasn't as much help as we had thought- to our dismay.  The dead-bolt of the lock didn't sit tight in its socket, so the air pressure would cause the door to move and rattle the bolt in its socket a few times, almost louder than the door moving and banging on the wood frame!  Something had to be done, and I know just the man for the job!

Paper is used to pad the dead-bolt socket on the door
Stuffing the Socket
First, we had to pad that socket.  To the recycling box!  What do we have?  Newspaper?  A cardboard cereal box?  Great!  Add some clear tape, and we have a pad.  I simply had to find the correct size and shape of my pad through trial-and-error.  Easily done.

Now what about that door banging on the wooden frame.  Shouldn't I go to the hardware store and purchase some indoor stripping to pad that frame?  Haven't you been reading?  No!  Newspaper, cardboard, and tape!

Newspaper and cardboard pads a wooden doorframe
Padding the Frame
Now, things are just as we need them.  Our door still moves when unlocked, but the pad on the frame muffles the loud banging to a very dull "thump."  When locked, the pad in the dead-bolt socket holds it tight.  It's great to have a rental property where I actually have a good reason to practice my work-around home fixes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The World's Cheapest Suit

When I was offered my new job, one of the requirements was the purchase of an all-black suit.  Until now, my definition of a "suit" has been a black sport coat I purchased in 2002 for $1.50 at a thrift store with black slacks.  Finally, I needed to actually get something with matching pieces.

We don't need to go into my feelings on spending money in this post, but suffice it to say that I had certain financial hopes and expectations about my new suit before our purchase, and I was worried.  A department store in Dublin called Penney's (not J.C. Penney, despite the spelling...) offers department store fare with Wal-Mart-like quality and prices.  We could only hope that Penney's offered men's suits.  If they didn't, we would be stuck getting something nice.  We also hoped for a suit that would be machine washable.  I didn't want to be spending significant money maintaining a suit that I had just spend significant money obtaining, see?  

Our hopes were realized when we found the far back corner of Penney's, a small rack of polyester two-piece suits on offer for low-double-digit prices.  The polyester is shiny, but it fits reasonably well and is comfortable enough.  Where the suit does show its quality is in durability and care.

After the first few wearings, it was time to wash the suit.  I was certainly glad I could use the machine instead of the cleaners down the street, but I was nervous about what the machine would do to my new threads.  I had to go for it, so in it went.  

When the suit came out of the washer, it was clean BUT was thoroughly wrinkled AND the creases in the pants were gone, just gone.  "Now I have to figure out how to iron this thing?"  Turns out, it can be ironed, but very carefully.

Polyester pants with a damp T-shirt laid over them on an ironing board.
Ironing Polyester?
Using the internet, I saw some tips about ironing polyester.  A wet piece of cloth (a clean T-shirt did for me) laid over the garment protects it from the direct heat of the iron.  Using the wet cloth, I found out, requires much higher heat on the iron, but it achieves a nice, smooth result.  I was even able to get the firm creases back on my pants.  I daresay it looked better than when I bought it!

Well, now we are clean and pressed, but our suit time isn't over.  On the second wearing of the suit, both the front button and the back pocket button had popped off.  I couldn't hardly go to work with no buttons, but I wanted to make sure this wouldn't become a weekly activity.  I wanted to do it right.  Thanks again to the internet and its magical ability to teach someone anything without a teacher, I was able to get it done.

Scissors, needles, and thread ready to repair a button on black slacks
Getting materials ready
I went to the sewing kit for my materials.  We had everything we needed right at hand.  I learned quickly that the large curtain needles were not the correct tools for the job.  Luckily, I did find a smaller, sharper needle to penetrate the hard plastic fibers of these pants.

Needle nose pliers are used to pull a needle through the waist of pants to repair a button
Needlenose sewing pliers?

Penetrating the plastic fibers proved to be more difficult than I had thought, especially in the dense fabric of the waist.  I had to go to my fishing kit to collect my needlenose pliers to pull the needle through the fabric.

I was able to find a use for those chunky curtain needles in the form of a handy spacer.  The website I found recommended that I use a spacer to give my button a bit of wiggle room so as not to be too tight when buttoning fabric.  These large, blunt needles were perfect for this purpose.

A large curtain needle is used as a spacer on a button repair
Needle as a spacer
After a good number of stitches using doubled-up thread, I had a satisfying and durable button to securely hold up my pants.

A finished button repair on a pair of black slacks
Finished front button
Now for the back button.  This one proved to be a bit more challenging because the button sits inside of the back pocket.  The fabric was easier to penetrate with the needle, but I had to be careful with my positioning.

Repairing the back pocket button on black slacks
Working on the pocket button
It was tricky, but I managed it- a firm and pleasing repair.

A black back pocket button is fully repaired
There! All finished!
Experienced sewers reading this will probably laugh at my improvised methods and my excitement and pride at completing such a minor sewing task.  I am still glad that I was able to make this repair myself.  It even feels a bit "manly" and empowering to be able to properly maintain my clothing, where so many men before me passed this job on to their wives and daughters.  Men of the world!  Learn to sew!  It feels great!  And learn how to tie your own necktie while you are at it.  Don't know how?  Hit the internet, brothers!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Road Trip: West Lafayette, IN to Coralville, IA

Date         Stop   Odometer   Location                                       Time
7/1/20130214072Leaving W. LaFayette, IN10:02 AM
7/1/20131214083Pine Village, IN
7/1/20132214371Friend's Place- Coralville, IA
7/2/20130214379Final Mileage

From Cory's personal travel journal (revised.)


We got up a little after 7AM this morning.  We had a great breakfast with our generous hosts in West LaFayette, we had pancakes and even got a packed lunch to go!  What a break from the fast road food.  We relaxed and watched their busy hummingbird feeder before getting some great advice on a route that would take us home without going through or near Chicago.  It saved a big chunk of time I'm sure.

We ate our delicious road lunch at a rest stop in Illinois- sandwiches, fruit, carrots, and pretzels.  Perfectly convenient and non-greasy, for which we were thankful.

Frog poses with our road lunch eaten at a rest stop in Illinois.  Sandwiches, fruit, carrots, and pretzels are on the menu
Frog enjoying lunch

We arrived at Iowa City in mid-afternoon and took care of some errands.  We went to Stuff, Etc. Consignment store to cash out our account (nice total!) and visited the bank.  We took care of all of the moving paperwork and deposited a check.  I think we are (financially) ready to go!

We picked up Casey's Pizza (classy, but a favorite of ours) to take to our friend's place.  We had a nice group over for pizza, wine, stories, and good times.  We inflated our trusty (?) air mattress one more time for the last night of our road trip.

Frog poses with a plate of pizza and white wine in Coralville, Iowa
Casey's is on the menu!

This morning we cleaned out the car before leaving our friend's place.  There was a raccoon in the dumpster eating old pizza. Nice.  We threw away some of the bigger items we needed for the road trip but wouldn't be keeping.  We got in our (much cleaner and lighter) car to get Cory a haircut at his favorite cheap Coralville salon.  Before the salon opened for the day, we took a final Coralville walk across the Iowa River Power bridge near our first home in Coralville.  We took some frog pictures, got a haircut, and recorded the final mileage of our road trip.

Cory and Sara posing on the Iowa River Power bridge after the 2013 American Road Trip
After the road trip

Frog poses on the Iowa River Power bridge in Coralville, Iowa
Don't jump in!

Frog poses on the spillway on the Iowa River Power bridge in Coralville, Iowa
The spillway

A mother duck and several ducklings are the subject of the last photo we took on our road trip in Coralville, Iowa
The last photo of the road trip

Well, that's the road trip day-to-day journal.  So far, I've tried to keep theses posts as close as possible to the journal I kept each day on the road, without much in the way of reflection or hindsight.  One week from today, look for my personal reflections of the trip as a whole with some fun trip statistics.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'll Play Monster Party: Level 8 and The End

Finally finishing up with Monster Party.  We take on the cloud castle and the final boss who challenges Mark, historically, "COME AND DIE!"

In real life, the weather is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, and Ireland is settling down into mid-Autumn.  In fact, Ireland celebrates the end of Daylight Savings Time a week before North America does.  Interesting, eh?  This means I will get to watch NFL football games a full hour earlier-just this one week.

Next week, we will begin the epic adventure of Mega Man 2.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Mayo Curse

I just had a rare laugh-out-loud-while-alone-in-a-room-after-reading-something-and-look-around-the-room-uncomfortably-as-if-someone-had-heard-only-to-remember-no-one-is-around-then-laugh-out-loud-longer-and-louder moment.  I felt I would be remiss if I didn't share it here.

I was reading this week's issue of the UCD newspaper, University Observer- and excellent (and free!) piece of student journalism.  A particular article caught my eye about sports superstitions and curses, and the first story made me put down the paper, smile, and laugh.

I am, as an American, no stranger to sports superstitions and curses.  American sports fans all know about the Red Sox Babe Ruth Curse, broken earlier this century, and the famous Cubs Goat Curse- with no end in sight. I had never thought about the possibility of other countries' sports having similar curses, until today.

The article began by describing the dejected fans of the County Mayo Gaelic Football team after their defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland Football Final.  Many attribute this heartbreaking loss to the famous "Mayo Curse," dating back to 1951.  In that year, the Mayo football side won the All-Ireland Final and were celebrating maybe a bit too boisterously on their return trip home.  According to legend, they passed by a funeral in progress and their celebrations angered the officiating priest, who cursed the team, saying that Mayo would never win another Football Final while any of the 1951 team are alive.

In the years since, Mayo has lost six All-Ireland matches, strengthening the power of the legend.  Several attempts have been made to exorcise the curse, including official blessings from the local Catholic Church.  Despite these efforts, Mayo is still winless since 1951.  Maybe they will have to wait for the rest of the 1951 team to pass away...

This is just a great story, especially to a Chicago Cubs fan dealing with decades of baseball irrelevance and just-missed opportunities.  The parallels between this very Irish of curses and the American sports curses are stunning.  All of them started with the team making some brief lapse in judgement (although refusing to let a goat into a baseball game doesn't seem all that unreasonable, even in 1945...) and an angry proclamation that the teams would be doomed to sports mediocrity for their missteps.  All have been historically reinforced with decades of failures by the teams, often in unusual and coincidental ways.  All have had (mostly failed) efforts to reverse the curse- with blessings and a disturbing amount of goat-butchery and cruelty.

The article goes on to describe some individual athletes' peculiar superstitious habits- Serena Williams and her shower sandals and Michael Jordan's famous North Carolina shorts.  (Your shortssssshp?  From College?  Eeeeeeeeew!  -Daffy Duck, Space Jam).  Good storytelling and well put-together, but I couldn't help myself reading the Mayo Curse column one more time before reading on.  It's wonderful to see those little similarities, things one wouldn't think to seek out, when they appear without warning in an innocent student newspaper.

Thanks for the laughs, University Observer!  Oh yeah... and the good journalism... that, too.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seapoint Beach Sea Glass

On another low-tide trip to Seapoint Beach, I walked along the rocky shore on a pleasant morning.  I noticed among the rocks some pieces shining a bit more brightly than the surrounding smooth stones.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was sea glass, something I had heard and read about but hadn't ever seen.  When I got a look and feel of it, it was very beautiful and I wanted more, so I started digging.

Brown, Green, White, and a small variety of other colors of sea glass on display in Dublin, Ireland
The full one-day selection

Sea glass, upon some further reading, is formed when chunks of human-made glass are littered in the ocean and are ground smooth and frosty by the caustic properties of seawater and the mechanical action of waves pounding the glass against sand and stone.  This process takes time, and the age of glass can be determined by looking at how much the glass is 'frosted.'  The frosting occurs when the surface of the glass is pitted and scarred deeply by the sand and salt, causing light to be diffused.  The grinding of the salt and sand also smoothes and rounds sharp edges from glass, so it is all safe to collect and handle.

Brown sea glass is on display on a cardboard box in Dublin, Ireland
Closeup of the Brown of the Day

The most common colors of sea glass are the most common colors of glass that is littered into the ocean- brown, green, and clear.  Glass of this color was usually drink bottles in its past life.  Glass of other colors was used to make everything from medicine bottles and stoppers to marbles in days gone by.

A teal colored bottle-top piece of sea glass on display in Dublin, Ireland
One of My Favorites of the Day

Some pieces are clear enough to see exactly which part of the bottle or container it was.  Many of the bottle tops still have part of the lip or neck clearly visible.  Some pieces curve at a 90 degree angle if the piece was from the bottom and part of the side of a wine bottle.

A piece of dark blue sea glass on display in Dublin, Ireland
Love this Rare Color

I love the idea of sea glass- litter made into treasure by the natural processes of the ocean.  One must be careful when collecting sea glass on the beach, because some of it is actually...just...broken glass...  Given a few years, this may become treasure from trash, but it still makes me sad to see litter.  I feel like I'm picking up trash when collecting sea glass, even if I'm really not.  Oh well.  I am still thinking about what I will do with this sea glass.  I'd like to find something aesthetically pleasing and constructive.  I'll post it here if I do.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guinness Storehouse

In our first few weeks in Dublin, we wanted to enjoy the tourist experience while we were still fresh.  One of the most popular tourist locations in Dublin is, of course, the Guinness Storehouse.  Guinness if famously brewed in Dublin (and other places, now...) and many visitors make it a point to visit this holy beer ground before they head home.  We made a trip to the West part of the main city to see what it was all about.

A sign points visitors to the Guinness Storehouse around the corner in Dublin, Ireland
We're getting closer...

We walked from City Centre to get to the storehouse and museum.  I was hoping to see some of the brewing operation, but this isn't a brewery tour.  This tour is more of a museum to beer, specifically the god of Guinness.

Frog poses in front to the entrance to the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Frog at the Gates

Arthur Guinness signed a lease of the land upon which the brewery now sits with the City of Dublin in 1759 for 9000 years at 45 pounds per year.  Now that's a deal.  Guinness sits on a HUGE chunk of desirable urban land adjacent to the river for a measly 45 pounds per year, adjusted to Euros, but not to inflation.  The lease is on display under the floor near the entrance.  Despite being older than the American Declaration of Independence, it is in much better shape and is much more legible.  Storage does make a difference, it seems.

We went through several floors of Guinness-related exhibits.  Production, barrel-making, advertising, branding, pouring, and drinking all warranted attention.  Highlights for us were the Guinness pouring demonstration (not just dumped into a glass like most draft beers!) and the free-pint-with-your-entrance-ticket served at the Gravity Bar on the top floor.  The bar affords the guest a wide view of the city of Dublin from one of the highest points in the city.

Photo Gallery:

A handful of Barley at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Barley, Barely

A description of the role of barley in making beer at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Beer-making 101

A display of water and its function in making beer is on display at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Beer also has here's some water

The tour goes under the fountain at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
The tour goes under the fountain

Hops are grown for display at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Live hops growing on display

A classic Guinness Toucan sign on display at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Dedicated to Guinness Advertising

The harp upon which the Guinness harp logo was designed on display at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
The Harp, Nadir of the Logo

A sculpture of the Guinness advertising man running with beer at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Whoa! Run, dude!

Cory pretends to be surprised at the man lifting the I beam on the Guinness advertisement at Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Whoa!  That is cheesy, and we love it!

Two pints of Guinness ready to drink on the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Whew!  Free beer at the top!

Dublin is seen from a high viewpoint from the gravity bar on the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Nice View!

Frog poses with a pint of Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
Frog Enjoys a Cold One

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Quest to Find "Our" Neighborhood Pub

Pubs are important here.  I talked to one of my local friends who hinted that Dubliners navigate to new areas based on their proximity to pubs.  "Don't ever give directions by road signs, but go by the nearest pub!"  We are lucky (?) enough to have several quality pubs within walking distance of our place.  We set out to find the one that would be "our" neighborhood pub.  We had several criteria in mind as we began:  Proximity, Atmosphere, Price.

 The entrance to the pub Kiely's of Donnybrook in Dublin, Ireland

One of our first nights in the new place, we walked up to Donnybrook and checked out the pub/restaurant with the biggest storefront and signs.  Keily's of Donnybrook, with Rock Lobster seafood restaurant on the second floor (second floor American, that is.  In Europe, the ground floor is 0 and what Americans would call the second floor is called the first floor.)  The atmosphere was a bit large, it was close to our home, and the prices were ok.  We'll come back to this one.

Frog poses before pints of Bulmer's Cider and Smithwick's Ale at McCloskey's Pub in Donnybrook, Dublin, Ireland
Frog Enjoying Bulmer's and Smithwick's

A little bit farther North, but still in Donnybrook is McCloskey's.  The pub has a great atmosphere with retro red carpet and cushy seats and chairs.  It's nice and quiet, but not too cramped.  Prices are a bit higher for drinks here, but a bit lower for pub food.  The pub also has an off license (liquor store) attached, so the bartender sometimes has to walk to the walk-up window to sell a bottle to a customer coming off the street.  Frog enjoyed a Bulmer's Irish Hard Apple Cider and a Smithwick's Irish Ale here.

Once on our way back from Donnybrook, we saw at the back of the building housing Kiely's the following sign:
The entrance to Ciss Madden's Pub, attached to Keily's of Donnybrook in Dublin, Ireland
Ciss Madden's

Another pub at the back of Kiely's?  With whiskey barrels for tables on the patio?  We had to check it out.  Inside, it was just what we wanted:  Just enough space to not be cramped, but not enough to be cavernous, televisions tuned to sports channels, a lively group of regular visitors, and good prices for drinks.  On this day, we decided to try the less internationally famous Irish stout, Beamish.  Made in Cork, Beamish is a bit sweeter than Guinness, but we still prefer Guinness because the foam is a bit smoother and we both prefer our stouts just a bit more dry than sweet.  Ciss Madden's takes the cup... or the glass!

Two pints of Beamish Irish Stout on an empty whiskey barrel at Ciss Madden's at Kiely's of Donnybrook, Dublin, Ireland
Beamish on Barrel

Monday, October 21, 2013

Road Trip: Washington, D.C. to West Lafayette, IN

  Date        Stop   Odometer   Location                                       Time
6/30/20130213438Leaving Alexandria, VA9:30 AM
6/30/20131213512Hagerstown, MD
6/30/20132213597Myersdale, PA
6/30/20133213791Zanesville, OH
6/30/20134214072W. LaFeyette, IN10:30 PM

From Cory's personal travel journal (revised)

We made some cereal for breakfast.  We were to stay at the home of our newly-extended family in West Lafayette, Indiana.  We got the contact info for them and headed out of the city.  Traffic wasn't bad getting out of D.C., even with the confusing beltway system (optional toll lanes!?)  We hit (more!) mountains in Western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  It was slow going up and down those peaks, and we quickly got behind schedule.  

We stopped at Burger King for lunch and ate on the road.  Good thing we did because we hit a LONG road construction delay in Ohio after a severe storm had come through with wind, rain, and hail knocking trees over.  Good thing we missed it.

It was a very long day driving after the mountains and delays.  We called our hosts for the night, and they were amazingly patient with us stumbling our way West.  With the assurance that we could arrive late, we stopped for dinner at Fazoli's in Dayton, Ohio.  We made it to West Lafayette, but lost the highway we were supposed to follow through town. Our host called us at the perfect time and helped fly us in safely, even though my phone battery died while we were talking.  We made it to their beautiful home tired and ready to get out of the car.  We had a pleasant drink and visit on the porch before we retired for the night.

Glad we are finished with mountains for this trip.  I had almost forgotten about the Appalachian range in the East, I thought we had finished with high peaks in the Rockies a week ago.  We first crossed the Eastern range in Georgia, where the passes and peaks are lower.  I guess there was no avoiding the hills if we were coming back from Virginia.  We had considered swinging through Shenandoah National Park on our way back, but couldn't squeeze in the extra day.  Maybe next time...

Ed. Note-  There are not pictures from this day of travel.  It wasn't that we didn't see anything of note except...We didn't really see anything of note because of our frantic (grueling, for Oregon Trail fans!) pace.  For those keeping score, this day wins the "Most States Passed Through" award with travel through Virginia, Washington D.C. (not really a state, but not not a state, eh?), Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia again, Ohio, and Indiana.  That's six unique states and one District.  Whew!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I'll Play Monster Party: Level 7

In the World of Monsters, we are making our ascent through the tower on our way to the final level in the sky.  This level turns out to be pretty trivial with the help of our Bert-Power-Pills.  We examine the glitch(?) of having three bosses in the level but only requiring the defeat of two of them.  Facing and beating the third boss results in the key being taken away and forced in-game suicide.

In real life, we are settling back down from our Northern Ireland trip, and I almost get to talking about joining a social game club as we get under the gun.  Facing the last level next week will give us a longer time to discuss such trivial things are real life.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Finding the Golden Goose, the Guinness Glass

Whew!  My glass collection is growing.  I am still baffled by home many people steal glasses from pubs around here.  I am almost ready to feel a moral dilemma, but it's hard to tell if I am stealing.  Secondary stealing?  Finding something stolen?  Should I turn these in to the local Garda (police) station and collect them when no pub claims them?

Until I figure out where I sit ethically with these glasses, I'm gonna keep pickin' 'em up!  On this particular day, we found what we thought might be the Golden Goose:  The Guinness glass with the shaped contours and the raised harp logo opposite the printed Guinness logo.  Also, not as exciting, the red Budweiser glass.

An empty Guinness glass and an empty Budweiser Glass on our kitchen table in Dublin, Ireland
Clearly Awesome
We wondered about the Guinness glasses: Would I ever find one whole on the street?  Think about the logic involved here-  Lots of Guinness gets ordered in this town, mostly by tourists, older folks, and young-people-who-happen-to-be-stout-and-dark-beer-fans-who-also-happen-to-be-from-America-but-we-live-here-and-aren't-tourists-anymore-thank-you-very-much like us.  With so many glasses being ordered, might more of these glasses be floating around?  Especially if it is commonly ordered by tourists?  On the other hand, if the people drinking Guinness fits the above stereotype, than we could expect the older folks to finish their drink and leave their glasses in the pub (like adults) and the tourists who steal the glasses to keep the glasses with them as a souvenir. Finding glasses on the street requires two steps:  1) Steal the glass.  2) Abandon the glass.  It seemed like Guinness might be tricky if those rules held up, as the tourists would be likely to steal and keep and the older folks would be unlikely to steal.

A Guinness glass and a Budweiser glass sit in front of a black background on our hob in Dublin, Ireland
Black backing to show logos

Well, on this magical day, lightning may have struck as we did find the Golden Goose, abandoned on a street corner where someone likely hailed a cab.  It was even about 1/4 full of Guinness (and rainwater...) when I found it!  Yay!

[edit:  In the time since this post was written, we have found several Guinness glasses around Dublin, so our original Golden Goose designation was maybe a bit off.  We have other glasses that are now our G.G., but we'll comment on those on this blog later... when we find them!]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bicycle Basket

While out doing some glass collecting one day, I thought I would try my luck in Temple Bar in Dublin City Centre.  The Temple Bar district is like the New Orleans French Quarter, Dublin style: a neighborhood with an interesting and diverse history taken over by touristy kitsch and wild party bars.  Temple Bar is the place for the Stag and Hen Dos (a do is what the English [UKish?  Great British?  I don't know what to call these people!] call a party... don't ask me why) and a place of pilgrimage for most visitors.  I thought it might be a great place to pick up some glasses left over from the wild parties (dos!?) of the young twentysomethings trolling the alleys every night.

Turns out the pubs in Temple Bar are smart enough not to give drunk partiers (doers!?) real glasses.  I found a boatload of plastic cups with Guinness, Heineken, and Carlsberg logos all over the street, but no glasses.  The day turned out not to be a total loss when I saw this guy on the sidewalk near a toppled-over trash can.

A bent wire bicycle rack being repaired with spare wire
Twisted Metal Black

This closeup was taken after I had dragged it home and started the repair process, but it might be identified as a bicycle rack!  Right there in the trash!  It was, to be fair, crushed and bent almost beyond repair in the trash pile.  The rack clearly was supposed to be mounted on the front handle bar, but the mounting bracket was missing altogether.  The potential I saw with it was not in the front, but bolted to the rear rack of my own bike.  First, it needed some structural support.

A broken bicycle rack is held together with a shoelace and spare wire
Shoelaces hold it together

After bending the wires of the frame back into a mostly square shape, I reinforced the sides with a shoelace I found while out on another walk on another day.  The lace holds closed the gap left by the broken mounting bracket, as seen in the above photo.  A piece of wire I found on the seashore adds more support to the mounting gap.

Today, many weeks after finding and installing it on my bike with plastic zip ties (not pictured), the rack is still in service and holding weight like a champ.  Now when I go fishing I don't need to bring along our big backpack, and when I ride my bike to work, I can put my suit in a plastic bag and throw it in here for the ride.  This lends further credence to the classic Ron Swanson line...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Breaking Bad Party

The world is getting smaller, no doubt about it.  Technology allows us to be more connected than ever.  This isn't news to anyone, of course, but expats are more aware than most of these changes.  Years ago, and not that many years ago, moving to Ireland would have meant expensive and infrequent contact with family and friends in the States and an almost total abandonment of our favorite American entertainment.

It is certainly a plus to be able to contact our American connections with free emails, facebook messages, blog posts(!), and Skype calls.  This also means, for better or for worse, that we have access to all the American sports and entertainment we can handle.  We are probably less well assimilated to the culture here for it, but at least we get out of paying TV tax by simply not owning a television set.

Our TV fixes are satisfied by Netflix, our inexpensive American entertainment artery.  With the magic of...some additional software... we are able to trick convince Netflix and Hulu that we are accessing their services from the States and not have our content blocked.  This gives us access to the full Netflix library instead of the much more limited Irish Netflix library.

We did find an upside to logging in as the European residents we are this year.  Breaking Bad, one of the biggest shows in the Western World right now, aired its final season this fall.  In America, one could only (legally) watch it with a cable subscription.  The Netflix release had to wait for the US DVD release.  Other countries, however, can't get the American cable channels, so Netflix worked out a deal to play the Breaking Bad episodes for international customers the day after they aired on American cable TV.  "Turn off that...additional software... and let's see some BB action!"

Sugar cookies with blue sprinkles near a computer screen with Breaking Bad cover image.
Meth Cookies?  Crank-Covered-Crackers?
For the season premiere, Sara made up a batch of sugar cookies with blue sugar topping.  It was nerdy, internet-y, and amazingly cute.  The blue food coloring was difficult to find and expensive, but it added a fun touch to our Monday night entertainment.  In daily life, the lack of cheap, generic, stuff at big box stores takes some adjustment.  For many products (like food coloring, light bulbs, contact solution...), it is not as easy here to "just grab the cheapest one of the 17 choices on the shelf!" as it was in Iowa.  We are able to find all of our essentials, but we have to get used to a more limited selection and higher prices.

At least we can enjoy the sweet cookies... and all the American TV we can stomach.  Our Irish friends have convinced us to get into one of the big drama shows here called Love/Hate on RTE, so we can dip our toes into truly Irish-produced television entertainment.  We're already sold on sports television here, so we will have something new to watch until Hurling and Gaelic Football seasons start up again next year.

A black plate of sugar cookies with blue sprinkles to celebrate Breaking Bad
Nope, just blue sugar.  Glad we found that food coloring!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Press it Good- Ooh Baby Baby!

Coffee.  The fuel of America.  More than oil, Americans need this black gold every morning in oversized mugs and plastic travel cups featuring popular gas station logos.  Our habit in all of our years of marriage has been to have coffee ready first thing in the morning.  Our first coffee maker didn't have a timer, but we quickly upgraded thanks to our family to a timer-operated model.

We were accustomed to filling the machine with water and coffee grounds and setting the start timer for just before we were to wake up.  Nothing helps get someone out of bed more than the smell of freshly-brewed coffee waiting in the kitchen.  These timer-driven coffee machines needed to be plugged in and drawing power all the time, just another one of those appliances we never noticed drawing power all day-every day.  A machine like this wouldn't work in our new power plan paradigm, not after our reflection on power socket switches.

No worries, as machines like that aren't widely (and cheaply) available here anyway.  What can we use to make coffee in the morning?  Do we have to switch to tea?  Nope- enter the French Press.

Here, it's called a cafetiere.  That, ironically, must be the French word for what Americans call the French Press.  Confused?  Good.  These devices are certainly not unheard of in the States, but they are new to us, so they warrant the blog space here.  How do we use the press every morning?  Easy.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Road Trip: Dice Solitaire

How does one keep oneself entertained for all the miles in a trip like this?  Readers may have seen in earlier road trip posts that we listened to the full Harry Potter book series on our car stereo together.  We loaded the digital data of all seven audiobooks onto one 8GB mp3 player and used an FM transmitter to play it on the radio on our 2000 model year sedan's factory installed radio.

This wasn't all fun and easy, of course.  The meta data of the audio books (as are many audio books) was inconsistent and often incorrect.  The player we used was a windows-based player that doesn't use iTunes, so the files were sorted as if they were music albums and songs.  The strange meta data led to difficulties in finding individual tracks and folders.  For example, each disc of each book was labeled the following:  "(Book x) Harry Potter and the xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Disc xx."  On the player we were using, each title was scrolled through slowly from left to right, not displayed on a single line.  So, to know which disc was selected, the screen had to scroll all the way through the title until the disc number displayed at the end.  We had to be careful, because the screen would blink off if no buttons were pushed in a few seconds, which was just about how long it took to scroll to the disc numbers.  Sometimes the screen would go black, and the passenger would be forced to watch the scroll again.  Maddening.

Harry Potter fun aside, I brought along some alternate car entertainment to keep busy through the long hours on less-than-exciting landscapes.  Dice Solitaire is a game written by Sid Sackman played by one person with five dice.  Like any solitaire game, the player plays against the game in an attempt to win.  Unlike many card solitaire games, all games can be finished, but the final score can be negative- a loss.

Full rules can be found here.

Briefly, the player rolls five dice each round.  From those five, the player must select two pairs of dice to count on the scoring column and one die to throw away.  Points are scored (and lost) by banking scoring numbers.  For each scoring number (2-12) keeping one through four of those numbers counts as -200 on the final score.  Keeping five of those numbers counts zero points in the final score.  Keeping six to ten of those numbers adds to the final score, and each scoring number has a different value, less for more common numbers (like 6, 7, 8) and more for rarer numbers (2,3,11,12).  Craps players will be familiar with the probability table of rolling two dice. One may choose three numbers to be throwaway dice and must count one of those three throwaways each round.  Game is over when any one of those throwaway numbers reaches eight.  Check the link for the better description of the rules.

In the above game (played in the car on the back page of a journal entry) my final score was negative 50, mostly because of those -200 scores in the 4, 5, and 12 rows.  The number 5 was the throwaway number to reach 8 counts first, even though there was some wiggle room in 1 and 2.  The last roll here must have had a 5 and no 1 or 2 dice, so the game had to end.

This game had a much better outcome.  Some of this can be attributed to luck, some to careful decision making at different points in the flow of the game.  The only negative score came from the 3 row, with all other numbers giving positive or zero scores.

Yikes, this game was a mess.  Notice that the 1 throwaway got to 8 counts while the 3 only had 2 counts.  This was probably a series of bad dice rolls and very bad decision making.  Negative 880 might be a record low for me in this game.

This game helped keep my mind busy, especially during some of the angst-ridden whining in Harry Potter 5, but that's another post.  Comment if you try this game, highly recommended.  Once more, please check the game site for a better description of the game rules.