Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Wrote What?

I wasn't going to specifically write a Year-In-Review post as other than Ireland (which feels like I just finished writing about), I don't really recall 2011 being a great year for recapping. I did, however, figured I'd mention a few moments in my "Hello 2012, I dare you to out-crap 2011" post I'm working of for tomorrow. As I reviewed a year worth of posts, I noticed something: I crack myself up.

I noticed this when I switched to the new timeline on facebook (and had to edit almost five years worth of status updates), and found myself chuckling alone in my apartment at my own willingness to be an idiot. So instead of a recap of "the best of 2011" or "highlights of 2011" or "the amazing things I did in 2011", I give you instead: the posts I most enjoy from 2011.

Don't brush and eat

I judge you based on the movies you watch

I still love you

Geeks need love too!

When I was sweet sixteen seventeen

I'm still younger than the Doctor

This is why I'm not allowed out in public

Then this happened... so I look into becoming a nun

Then this happened... so I look into become a cricket fan

I blame my dad for my whack sense of musical taste

I nerd out about ST:TNG again

I meet a lady who knew my dad when he had hair!!

I nerd out about Pluto having another moon

Canada lost an amazing man

I willingly posted a video of my singing

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut

If I put up pictures of Deanna Troi, I triple my number of page hits (true story)

I'm takin' it back to the old school cuz I'm an old fool who's so cool

Is mise AndreaClaire. Is as Canada dom. Conas ata tu? Pog mo thoin. Slan ge foill! (And that's about all the Irish I know!)

I love Christmas

That pretty much sums up me and it sums up my 2011. I had a late night last night thanks to a friend visiting from Switzerland so after much debate, I'm spending my New Years with a short guitar practice then one serving of ice cream and my Doctor Who DVD. Little Miss Wild-n-Crazy over here!!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Winding Down 2011

I'm just going to start this post by coming right out and saying it: Christmas was awesome. After a less than spectacular 2011 (Ireland trip aside because that rocked!), it's ending on a high note and that's really all I can ask for at this point. I had a fabulous two nights up in Nanaimo with my stepmom and Baby Bro, and then I had a wonderful Christmas Day with the rest of my family here in Victoria.

First and foremost, I got a guitar for Christmas! Well, my stepdad gave/loaned me one of his guitars, but the important thing is that I now have a guitar so I can learn to play. I even played my first song today, a very slow, laborious and painful heartfelt and emotional rendition of On Raglan Road. 

My version sounded exactly like that except guitar-only, much slower, with a plethora of mistakes and a voice that sounds nothing like Luke Kelly. But other than those tiny differences, exactly like that. It's not that I honestly expected the song to be any good right away but I just wanted to fumble through one song I'd like to learn so I know exactly how far I have to go. Answer? Pretty freakin' far at this point! It's also helped me set a goal for what will constitute #24 on my 101 in 1001 list as completed: participate in my local coffee shop's Open Mic. So simple and yet so freaking terrifying right now.

I also got Doctor Who Series Six on Blu-Ray!! Except I don't have a Blu-Ray player. ::sad trombone:: I had to do something I've never done before: I went to the mall on Boxing Day. Did you know that most stories won't do returns or exchanges on Boxing Day? Again, this was my first time ever going to a mall on Boxing Day. Lesson learned! At any rate, I now have DVDs which I can watch so, yeah, don't be surprised if I disappear for the next week...

As the year wraps up, I've been debating about whether or not I'm actually going to set resolutions or goals for 2012. To be honest, I set them every year... and then forget about them by February. Perhaps if I made them and put them in a place where I actually see them, I'd have more success. I know me and I know that I will do resolutions (although I prefer to call them goals) because I like making lists, but I'm also thinking I might just make them ridiculously simple this year. E.G. Don't leave house with curlers in your hair. (True story.)

While I was debating this topic yet again this afternoon, a friend shared this on facebook:

It reminded of a post on The Great Fitness Experiment earlier this year about a to-be list vs. a to-do list. I thought a lot about what would be on my to-be list at that time but then I got distracted by, oh, probably by my to-do list to be honest, and I never did get around to actually writing a to-be list. The six habits of happiness list overlapped a lot of my ideas for my to-be list and got me thinking about it again. So while I don't know if I'll formally set resolutions or goals, I will be writing a to-be list for 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

CMC: Christmas Dinner

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

No Christmas Memory Challenge would be complete without memories of Christmas dinner. From the small dinners of just my immediate family, to the larger dinners of family and friends, to the insanely large dinners of the Alberta family, Christmas dinner is the apex of the holiday season. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, vegetables you're not totally sure when they are because you just immediately smother them in gravy, and plate-licking deserts, Christmas dinner is just such a lovely meal.

But it's not just about the food. In this crazy, rush-rush world we live in, it's so lovely to take an afternoon (or even an entire day sometimes) to come together with loved ones and just enjoy their company. Whether you get stuck at the kids table where one of your cousins takes to yelling out everytime he hears someone fart (true story) or you're stuck in the middle of a political conversation regarding the current situtation in Northern Ireland and you're too young to understand half of it (also, a true story), it's an excuse to just sit and take two hours to enjoy one meal.

So, from my family to yours, I wish you a happy holiday season and I hope you enjoyed my memory challenge. And may you take two hours to enjoy your dinner tonight without political conversations about the current Euro zone economy crisis... even if your dinner is Chinese takeout for you and your cats. (Not surprisingly, that last part applies to at least two of you and you know who you are!)

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

CMC: Chistmas Stories

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

My dad always had a thing about each of us having a party piece, a poem or song we could perform at social gatherings. Usually, my Christmas party piece would be the songs I was learning for Christmas that year. When I was 12, however, my dad decided that I should learn a poem specifically, A Visit from St. Nicholas. I set about memorizing the whole thing, complete with actions (some where there is a picture of me, with a Santa hat on, pretending to swing a sack on my back). I stood in front of the Christmas tree and recited the poem for all the people who made an appearance at that year's party.

The following year, I still remembered all the words and so I performed it again. Almost twenty years on, I can still recite the whole thing from memory. I hope you enjoy it. (Apologies for the buzzing noise from my computer.)

ADDENDUM: This post was going to end with what you read above but then, I met my stepmom and Baby Bro in Duncan. While we drove up to Nanaimo, CBC radio played under our chatter until a familiar voice broke interrupted our discussion. It was Fireside Al reciting Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd. We pulled into the drive, turned off the engine and listened in silence until the recording was over.

Fireside Al's Christmas Stories were an indelible part of my childhood Christmases. Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus; Gift of the Magi; The Shepherd; and countless others are replayed every year in the dulcet tones of Canada's favourite radio uncle. I don't know if this link will work outside of Canada, but if you have 40 minutes, I suggest you listen to The Shepherd told by the late Fireside Al Maitland (story starts about 2 minutes in).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Running Away to Nanaimo

In 45 minutes, I'm on a bus heading up island for the next few days. I have set up two posts which should post at 8:00 AM PST the next two days... assuming that I've set this up properly.

I was hoping to have my vlog done by now but, you know what? It's Christmas and there's always socializing to be done so the vlog, while near completion, won't be posted until after Christmas.

I'm also sadly behind on my book reviews although I am pretty much up-to-date on the number of books I was supposed to read this year. Relief on that front because I thought I was a lot further behind than I am! Maybe I'll find a quiet moment before New Years to reflect on some of them. Or maybe I'll just say 'I read these books, figure out if you like them by reading them yourself'.


CMC: Waffle/Pancake Breakfast

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

When I was young and split the holidays between my mom's and my dad's houses, Christmas Eve and morning was spent at my mom's. After we opened our gifts on Christmas morning, my mom would get out the waffle maker and we'd all set about getting ready for Christmas breakfast. Big bro and I would set the table, while my mom made the waffles and my stepdad fried up eggs, bacon and tomato. Just before we all sat down to eat, out would come the champagne and orange juice for some breakfast mimosas. (When I was young, you'd be hard-pressed to actually find a discernible amount of champagne in my 'mimosa'. It was exciting when I was actually old enough to have a 50/50 ratio in my drink... exciting and enough to get a 14 year old buzzed for the day!)

When I got older, and I had three households I had to fit in* the order changed around and I found myself usually at my stepmom's house on Christmas morning. Waffles got replaced with pancakes but the rest of the tradition pretty much remained the same (except that recent years have seen the mimosas replaced with prosecco). It is such a wonderful way to start Christmas Day.

*I know I've mentioned this on here before, but my stepmom is technically no longer my stepmom. As I say to people when I have to explain why my dad lives in Victoria and my stepmom in Nanaimo: she's not actually my stepmom, but I find 'my dad's most recent ex-wife of 22 years who helped raise me since the age of four' a bit of a mouthful so I'm sticking with the term stepmom.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

CMC: Christmas in Alberta

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I've written about Christmas in Alberta before complete with pictures so I'm phoning in this post and instead I'm just going to say go here. Sorry, but there's Grandma's Molasses Cookies to bake today and a couple of other posts to get ready for the next three days when I plan to ignore the online world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CMC: Church

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

While I am not a religious person, members of my family are and so church, more specifically the Roman Catholic church, has played a part in my upbringing. I have to admit that for all my issues with the sexual abuse cover-ups, the amount of tax free money churches generate, and my blatant disbelief in a higher being, I love to attend a church service for Christmas (or Easter or Ash Wednesday, any of the big ones, really). I love to see the place all decked out for the season with candles everywhere. It's beautiful and calm inside a church at Christmas.

Midnight Mass was the best: no kids making a fuss while the sermon was being delivered and dark enough that no one noticed if I fell asleep in the back row after the first five minutes. Midnight mass in Alberta meant walking back to my grandparents, snow crunching underfoot, while my stepdad picked out constellations twinkling above us. It was the best part of Christmas. The hustle and bustle of our Christmas meals for roughly 30 family members were all done, and it was our moment of calm before the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning.

In Switzerland, I attended Christmas Eve Mass with Michael's family. We merrily stumbled down the village lanes, drunk on joy and wine, towards the tiny 15th century church. From every direction, walkers joined us in the short pilgrimage. The inside of the church was lit only by candles placed throughout the nave. Up by the alter stood the towering tree, decked out with candles and nothing else. It was breathtaking in its simplicity.

As we left the church, we were given short white candles which the priest then lit with one of the alter candles. We walked back the way we came, cheering a chorus of Froehe Weihnachten to the groups of twos and threes who left us along the way to head to their own houses until we were the ones receiving the cheer. Once settled in the house with hot beverages and a roaring fire, we used the candles from the church to light the candles on the Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

CMC: Playing the Piano

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I loved the week after Halloween when I was young because that's when I'd get a new piano book for Christmas. My dad would grumble that it was too early for Christmas music, I would kindly point out that in order to be able to play the songs for Christmas, I needed to start practicing now. I finally reached a level where I was able to teach myself the songs from my mom's big Christmas Carol book and it became the staple of my Christmas repertoire.

When I was nine or ten, my piano teacher asked me what my favourite Christmas carol was and I told her it was 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. She laughed when I answered why: it was the first carol I ever remember hearing in a minor key. All the other carols were in major keys. It still is my favourite carol for that same reason.

A few years ago, I was messing around on a friend's electronic piano (which didn't have a pedal and you 'added' the dynamics in the computer program, but other than that...) and given the season, we decided to record a few of the carols. While we record a dozen carols, I've only put three in the video. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

CMC: Canoeing on Thetis Lake

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

It started as a way to get us out of the house and out from underfoot while the dinner cooked. Decked out in Santa hats and carrying various bells, we'd strap our red canoe to the top of the car and make our way over to Thetis Lake (the closest lake to my dad's house).

We'd put the canoe in and paddle both the upper and lower lakes. Save for a few walkers we'd see from afar, we usually had the place to ourselves. When we did chance near enough the shore to speak with the walkers, we'd wish them a Merry Christmas and sing a carol as we parted ways. It never failed to elicit a smile from those we met. Then we'd stop in the middle of the lake and just enjoy the calm and silence... until one of us got antsy and we'd start shaking the bells and singing another carol.

Of course, our favourite year was when my dad got a little too excited about the bell shaking and sent our pole of bells flying into the lake and then almost tipped the canoe tyring to grab them before they sank to the bottom. We call that the jingle, jingle, oops! incident!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

CMC: The Nativity Scene

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I've mentioned my dad's nativity scene last year, but it bears repeating. The scene is nothing spectacular, it's not fancy, it's not even particularly nice looking. It's rough wood frame and glued on moss does make it a bit more authentic looking than some of the clean, plastic ones you see, but in my dad's house full of clutter you could easily miss it.

I never quite got the story straight - my dad either got it before going to Australia, when they were living in Australia, while they were backpacking back from Australia - but the important thing to remember is that my dad started to notice fewer and fewer pieces to the nativity scene every year. If you're doing a nativity scene correctly, you're supposed to add certain people on certain days. Jesus, for example, is supposed to be added after you return from midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

It's one thing to lose a wise man or a shepherd, but what point is there to a Nativity scene if you lose Jesus? Wanting to make sure this didn't happen, my dad took matters into his own hands... in the form of a hammer. Our baby Jesus is now nailed to the manager.

I have gotten so much mileage out of telling people that story, and I will never not find it funny.

Just Your Standard Rambling Post About Nothing

This post was supposed to go up Friday afternoon but my computer decided to be a complete twat. "Oh, you want me to open that link? Let me think about it... computer says no." So I decided that socializing with other humans was a better option than swearing at my computer. Take that, computer!

Then it was supposed to go up yesterday afternoon but my Internet decided to be a complete twat. "Oh, you want me to connect to the World Wide Web? Let me think about it... computer says no." So I went to the apartment Christmas party and unintentionally got drunk instead. Take that, liver!

Note to self: Eat dinner before going to the Christmas party next year because if you have as much fun as you did this year, you're not going to stick to your 30-minutes-chit-chat-back-for-dinner plan.

Part of the problem with not going up on Friday is that I missed the chance to talk about 'Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars' Day on the actual day. Last September, Katie headed off to school with her Star Wars backpack. She got teased for liking Star Wars because it was just for boys. Her mom blogged about it, it was picked up by Epbot - a wonderful site for all geek girls - and it snowballed into a huge movement. Katie became the hero for legions of nerdy girls who had also been told they shouldn't like something because that's for boys.

'Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars' is about more than just Star Wars, it's about showing your geek pride regardless of where your geek love lays. It's also to encourage people to donate a sci-fi themed toy to a local charity and make sure to specify that it's for boys and girls. It's about being proud about being a geek.

Just in time for WSTSST 2011, Jen at Epbot shared another story about a GGIT (Geek Girl In Training) getting teased. This time, Bryden dressed up as Spock for Halloween and was made fun of for dressing up as a boy. (Even one of the teachers made a remark about it which angers me to no end. A teacher should know better!) Once again, my heart went out to that little girl. And once again, the internet has proven what a wonderful place of support it can be! Go Geeks!

UPDATE: Um, awesome!
I found this BBC advert online Friday and shared it with facebook and twitter. Figure it's only right to share it here as well.

The natural world is such an amazing place, filled with so much wonder and beauty. It can be so easy, in our day-to-day lives to forget how fantastical the idea of life even is. All these plants and creatures that have evolved over millenia and adapted to their surrounds is no small feat and yet, here we are!* Something about this video must have kicked up all the dust in my apartment because something kept getting in my eye as I watched it.

Of course, I needed to remind myself that despite all that beauty, some people just don't like the world so I watched another episode of An Idiot Abroad. I stumbled across the show a few weeks ago and have been recommending it to anyone who will listen. The hilarity of watching Karl (who hates everything) travel to foreign places is just priceless. To get the most out of it, I'm limiting myself to two episodes a week. I tried to find a clip that summed the show up but ended up deciding instead to just share an advert for Series One. (Yes, they some how convinced him to do a Series Two.)

Christmas is in full swing around here. I've put up my one string of Christmas lights and I've blasted the Bing Crosby. Despite my love for Christmas, I don't do a whole lot in the way of decorations. Because the holidays are still mostly spent at my parents' places and I live on my own, I keep it pretty low key. (Also, we're not allowed real trees in our apartment building and I refuse to buy a fake one so...) At least I'm getting out to enjoy the festive season around me!

And on that note, I have to go shower and get out to enjoy the festive season around me!

*One of my biggest pet peeves about religious people's misunderstanding about those of us who are non-religious is that we can't appreciate God's work as it's all just science to us. It was realising that random happenstance of the interaction of molecular properties which brought us such beauty that helped me see how amazing this world is. When I still thought maybe it was just some guy in the sky, the world never was as amazing as I find it now.

CMC: Sleeping Under the Christmas Tree

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

It started the Christmas there was a cold snap. My dad's house is old and doesn't hold heat very well so we moved all our beds into the living room so we could sleep around the fire. I don't recall how long we slept in there - I think it was only two nights before it went back to more West Coast winter temperatures - but it was magical. I'd snuggle under my covers and stare at the lights of the Christmas tree until my eye lids became to heavy.

The following year, my brother and I moved all the presents out from under the tree one night and slept with our heads underneath it. The great thing about the Charlie Brown tree is that it meant we could see all the lights from that position. It created a lovely glow as only a tree full of Christmas lights can.

We didn't always sleep under the tree as we did that year - sometimes we slept next to it, sometimes the couches were just more comfortable - but we always had one night where we'd sleep in the living room with the tree lights on. (My dad would come in and turn them off after we fell asleep.) A few times, we even did it on Christmas Eve!

I ran into an old elementary school friend back in the summer. We got to talking, as you do, about things we had done as kids when she brought up sleeping under the Christmas tree. She had come for a sleepover on one of those nights and now that she had children, she had started the tradition with them. And it's definitely one I plan on continuing with my kids!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Today's Post Tomorrow

Todays' Christmas Memory Post wasn't pre-written. My internet connection decided to crash early this afternoon and was still down at 4:30pm. I went to our apartment Christmas party (I have the best building managers in the world, by the way), met four lovely boys, stayed waaaaaaaaaay later than I intended, drank waaaaaaaaaay more than I intended (I blame Roger, the male half of my managers because he kept topping up my glass without asking), and am currently in no position to write anything.

Well, obviously I wrote this. But I won't tell you how many times I had to hit delete to correct spelling errors- especially as there's probably still spelling errors I missed - so I'll clarify: I don't want to publish anything that I'll just remove tomorrow and pretend never happened.

So, two Christmas posts tomorrow and GOOD NIGHT!!

SOBER EDIT: That last bit about publishing the post should have read I don't want to publish anything that I can't just remove tomorrow... See? There was clearly a reason why I didn't post CMC yesterday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

CMC: The Christmas Tree

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

We didn't have normal Christmas trees when I was growing up. I mean, they were normal in the sense that they were trees but they sure didn't look like any of the trees our friends had in their houses.

When I was six, my mom took us home to Alberta to spend Christmas with our grandparents. My mom wanted to have a Christmas tree but didn't want a cut one that would go unwatered for two weeks so she pot a potted lodge pole pine. As we went back to Alberta every other Christmas, the potted pine was our permanent Christmas tree. It didn't stand much taller than I did, it had longer branches at the top than at the bottom, and it was never what you would call 'full'. Still, it was our Christmas tree and we loved it. Because of its smaller size, every ornament on it meant something to us.

My dad's trees came from our sizable backyard and because of this, we referred to them as our Charlie Brown trees.

You could always see every side of the tree no matter where you stood. You could reach into it to straighten it and not get poked in the face by branches. You could put on a heavy ornament and it would put the whole alignment of the tree out of whack. But despite the fact that they were often lacking in the branched department, there was always something so incredibly cheerful about them. They never looked perfect but they were perfect for our family.

We stopped going to Alberta for Christmas when my grandparents passed away, and we no longer cut down a tree at my dad's. Christmas tree now means a perfectly formed, store bought tree. They look nice. They smell nice. They're balanced nicely so they're easy to keep upright. But for all joy of finally having 'normal' Christmas trees, not one of them has ever had the personality of the lodge pole pine or dad's backyard finds.

I'll take a Charlie Brown tree with personality any Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CMC: Making Wreaths

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

When your home is surrounded by a forest, it's only natural that tree boughs play a part in the Christmas decorations. We'd grab the laundry basket and fill it with cuttings of fir, cedar and spruce. (Then we'd go back out and fill it with holly and ivy cuttings... 'tis the season!) Table centrepieces and sprays of boughs hung on the wall would pop up through out the house until one year, we figured out we could make wreaths by using a bent coat hanger as the frame.

What started out as a friendly get-together to make wreaths that year, turned into an annual wreath making party. There was the same three families every year and then a rotation of two or three other families. It was an event we all looked forward to with the day usually being booked in late October so we could ensure everyone could make it.

As the years went by and we became more adept at making the wreaths, we were able to ditch the coat hanger frames and some of the wreaths looked like they were made by a professional. (Never mine, of course, but Alan and Jim's were incredible.) By the end of the day, each family went home with at least two wreaths, a full belly, and a smile on their faces.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CMC: The Red Candle

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

Every Christmas, my dad would drag his big red candle out from the Christmas decorations and place it in the kitchen window closest to our front door. He'd decorate it with holly around the bottom creating a festive window display. For the week before Christmas, he'd light the candle as dusk gave way to night and then blow it out before going to bed. On Christmas Eve, he'd let it burn through the night.

It's to let Joseph and Mary know that they are welcome in our house, he'd inform me year after year. Or any traveller seeking shelter during Christmas.* It seemed a little suspect to me to allow 'any traveller' a bed in your home but my dad also lived in a fairly rural area and the only 'travellers'** who ever wandered up our driveway were held in the hands of family friends who were stopping by to say Merry Christmas.

Still, the candle was beautiful. There was something so calming about walking into the darken kitchen, away from the noise of the family gathered in the living room, to find the flickering light dancing off the counter tops and cupboards. While I waited for the kettle to boil for a cup of tea, I'd sit and watch it gracefully flit between the holly branches scattered around it. It was almost hypnotic, the bright but tiny light against the great big dark world beyond the window.

*When I was older, I discovered that this was an Irish tradition which would explain why I didn't know anyone else whose family did this. (I never did learn why the candle had to be red though...)

**a 'traveller' is an alcoholic beverage poured into a publicly acceptable carrier (e.g. Gin and Tonic in a 7-Up bottle)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CMC: Drinks For Santa

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

Like most people I know, we were a family that left treats for Santa. When I was younger, we left the usual - milk, cookies, apple or carrot for Rudolph - but one year my stepdad suggested we leave a beer for Santa. I know now that he was joking, but as a young child I hadn't quite grasped the concept of sarcasm. So I put out a beer for Santa.

And then I put one out the next year.

And the year after that.

That's how we became the family that encouraged drinking and sledding.

And you better believe that when I have kids, we're leaving Santa a beer. Santa deserves it!

Monday, December 12, 2011

CMC: The Movies

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I never really got into the Christmas specials that most kids did. I have no nostalgic memories of watching Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman; I'll watch them when they're on TV but I don't search them out and I'm perfectly content not seeing them. There are, however, five movies that I have watched pretty much every year since I was four. It's a tradition my stepmom started and even when I lived in Germany/Switzerland, I found three of them on television at odd hours and made sure to watch them.

A Child's Christmas in Wales

This was my dad's contribution to the annual movie line up. The year that Denholm Elliot passed away, my dad decided to tell me while we were watching this film. The following year, he decided to tell me again that Denholm Elliot was still dead. Thanks, dad! Because I was expecting Denholm Elliot to be the epicentre of the zombie apocalypse. Of course, now my Baby Bro and I always finish the title by saying "he's dead, you know!" which we think is hilarious... even if no one else does.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

We watch the Black and White version because we're traditionalists in our family. At least, when it comes to films.

It's a Wonderful Life

'Nuff said.

A Christmas Carol

First, I just need to comment "a spirited portrayal as Marley." BWAHAHAHAHA! Spirited!!! HAHAHAHA!

While I have seen plenty of adaptations, the 1951 one with Alistair Sims (again, not colourized) is my favourite. I have watched this film (in fact, all these films) at least 25 times. I am 31 years old. The scene when he can hear the bells ring turns me back into a terrified 4 year old. To the best of our ability, we try to watch this one as close to Christmas Eve as we can.

Note: The film was released in the UK as A Christmas Carol and in the States as Scrooge. It wasn't until we got the DVD about six years ago that we knew it had two names. I will always call it A Christmas Carol.

White Christmas

Is the movie really just a chance to showcase the talents of the four stars with a somewhat simplistic storyline and schmaltzy love story? Yes. Does it contain some fabulous songs and great dance numbers? Does it make me ridiculously happy? Yes. So really, it's a giant film of win.

And because this scene used to make me laugh so hard I'd snort (I don't anymore because I'm a lady... well, I'm an adult), here's a bonus video!

Vlog is Coming!*

I had set a plan for today which included working on a vlog for here (and it had nothing to do with Christmas!) but then this happened:

It's really hard to vlog when you have a video on in the background on continuous loop.

Also, it's really hard to talk when you're drooling in anticipation.

It's times like this I'm really glad I live alone.

If I don't get the vlog done tomorrow, it might have to wait a bit as I have friends visiting from out of town (and they brought a baby for me to play with!!) so that's my Tuesday/Wednesday gone.

And if you haven't seen the first season of Game of Thrones (or read the books) then you have until April to catch up. Stupid, stupid, way-too-long-to-wait April.

I think I'll go watch the trailer once more before I head to bed.

*Winter is Coming

Sunday, December 11, 2011

CMC: Kahlua

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

My step-great-grandma - I just called her 'grandma' to keep things simple - came over for dinner every Sunday. In early December, one of those Sunday dinners would include a Kahlua making session once dinner clean up was done. Grandma couldn't stand for long periods of time so as she sat at the breakfast nook, I'd make us all a cup of tea and my stepmom would get started in on the Kahlua.

The majority of the Kahlua got bottled up to be given as gifts but we had to taste some to make sure we were giving people a quality product! The year I was old enough to have a full shot of Kahlua in my coffee was a big deal, let me tell you. And the year I was allowed to keep my own bottle of Kahlua instead of just sharing the family bottle? I HAD ARRIVED, PEOPLE!! Oh yeah!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

CMC: Carolling

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.
Once a holiday season, my dad would bundle us all up and take us around the neighbourhood for a round of carolling. We lived in a semi-rural area with lots of small farms or very large lots so we knew pretty much everyone within walking distance from our house. Occasionally, we'd hook Rowdy the donkey up to the trap* and use him to get from house to house.

We'd always sing two songs: one my dad would chose as we walked up the driveway, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We probably sounded more akin to a group of drunken frat boys than those professional carolling groups that roam the malls each Christmas, but it was always a fun night out and the recipients always had smiles on their faces (if they weren't joining in with the singing).

Over the years, the area around us became fairly developed and many of our neighbours moved away, looking for the semi-rural life they were used to, while my brothers and I got older. Wasn't high school hard enough without being that uncool kid who went carolling with his or her parents? Now my dad just waits until we're all together and makes us sing to the neighbours over the phone.

Hmm, some thing's a little lost in the updated tradition.

*type of carriage, not some cruel animal-killing device

Friday, December 9, 2011

CMC: Lemon Meringue Pie

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

My mom's Lemon Meringue Pie is legendary... at least in our own house. It makes an appearance at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and it's arguably what we look forward to the most. Move over turkey, there's LMP to enjoy!

I want to eat this photo.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CMC: Heisse Maroni

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I've known the opening line to A Christmas Song since I was old enough to listen to Johnny Mathis - it's the song that starts with "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." - but I didn't know anyone who actually roasted chestnuts. Most people I know collect chestnuts in the fall simply because of the belief that they repel spiders. (Or if you're me and you're eight, you collect them so you can make a necklace which doubles as a weapon against your brothers when mom's not looking). Chestnuts actually roasting on a fire seemed like an old-timey thing, like sleigh rides, a goose for Christmas dinner, or a quiet evening spent as a family.

Then I moved to Germany and learned that while the open fire may be a thing of the past, roasting chestnuts is still very much the thing to do. I also learned that I adore the smell. Oh, the smell is divine. I didn't actually care about eating them, I just wanted to smell them!

In early November (or when the weather turns cold enough), heisse maroni (hot chestnut) stands pop up all over Germany and Switzerland (and I'm sure other countries too, those are just the two I'm most familiar with) and I'd buy a bag of them just so I could walk around smelling them all day. When people ask me what I miss most about Christmas in Europe, it's the smell of heisse maroni... and buying GlΓΌhwein at a street kiosk. But mostly the smell of heisse maroni.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CMC: Christmas Lights

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

Living as far north as I do, the days are quite short this time of year. I know, they're not Sweden or Yukon short, but it is getting dark by 5:00pm. It's no wonder that decorations of candles, eventually replaced by lights, became a part of the holiday traditions in the northern hemisphere.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CMC: St. Nicholas Day

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I know I said these memories were about remembering the non-gift giving parts of the holidays, but I kind of lied. Eleven years ago, I was attending university in Freiburg, Germany when my boyfriend's parents and sister surprised me with a visit. They arrived on December 6th because it was St. Nicholas Day and they wanted to make sure I got my gifts.

The first time I heard about St. Nicholas Day was in my first year of French class. In many European cultures, that's actually the day that St. Nick delivers presents with Christmas being more about family gifts. My gifts from Samichlaus (the Swiss name for Santa Claus) that year were lebuchen with a picture of the village, the best damn chocolates in the world (also from the village)*, and a Swiss calendar.

This started a tradition in my life. If I want to surprise someone for the Christmas season, I do it on December 6th. When I snuck into my office after hours to put up Christmas decorations without telling anyone, I did it in the evening of the fifth so it was a surprise when everyone walked in on the sixth. When I brought homemade cookies to my favourite coffee shop, I did it on the sixth.

So happy St. Nicholas Day! Now go surprise someone with a little treat!

*If you ever go to Switzerland, please let me know. I will give you money and explicit instructions as to how to procure the best damn chocolates in the world in exchange for you bringing some of them back to me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

CMC: Cranberries

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

"What are those," he asks as he points at the floating red berries in the punch.

"Cranberries," I tell him. He looks at me wanting more of an explanation. "Don't you have cranberries in Switzerland?"

He shrugs. Michael had moved to Canada for four months to study English, and he was spending Christmas with me and my family. I was introducing him to what 'Family Christmas Party' meant in my parents' homes, and it was clear there were a lot more cultural differences than either of us had assumed.

"Maybe but I've never had them. Why are they in there?" He squints at the punch bowl as if some unseen writing would appear which would answer his questions. I can understand his confusion, I had just poured us two glasses of punch while avoiding the cranberries as if my life depended on it. Why would you put something in a punch if you couldn't consume it?

"You can eat them, but I only eat cranberry sauce. They're very bitter in their natural state."

"I can try one?"

"If you want." It's my turn to shrug. He picks up a fork from the buffet table and fishes a cranberry from the punch. He smiles at me as his pops it in his mouth. Before he's even finished biting down, the smile is wiped from his face and replaced with the look of a toddler tasting his first lemon. He grabs a napkin and spits out the rest of the cranberry.

"That's horrid! Why did you let me eat that?" I can't stop myself from laughing as he spits a few remaining pieces of cranberry into the napkin before downing the entire glass of punch. "The punch tastes so good but those..."

"Hey, I told you they were bitter."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I had to find out for myself. Maybe our tastes are different, you know?" I nod.

"Come on. Let's get some food to get that taste out of your mouth."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

CMC: Christmas Around the World

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

Tucked away in one of my dad's boxes of Christmas decorations is an old book called Christmas Around the World which I first discovered when I eight. The book is nothing special, just a simple children's book about old traditions from around the world. Even when it was first printed in the 70's, I get the feeling a lot of these traditions were out of date. Not saying that all were (or even that they are all now), but it seemed to focus more on traditions which were apart of the countryside culture. I find it hard to believe that someone in London in the 70's was holding onto last year's yule log to start the fire for this year's log... assuming the flat even had a working fireplace.

Still, as a child, I didn't realise this. All I saw was all the ways that people different than myself celebrated Christmas and I loved it. I learned that our tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree is from Germany, poinsettias come from Mexico, and my dad is not the only person in the world (because he was out of my friend's parents) who puts a red candle in the window. I'd pour over the every year looking for new information about holiday traditions from places I had only ever seen on our gigantic map.

My obsession with this book eventually turned into a fascination with other cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Not just Christmas, but any sizable holiday. And not just the big community parts of the celebration, but the quiet things people do in their own homes. I think it also goes a long way to explain why I love the traditions of Christmas more than the actual idea of Christmas (we're celebrating the birthday of a guy who was born [probably] in September in December so it would line up with Saturnalia and entice the Romans to Christianity, and we celebrate by beating people up so they can't take the last X-Box priced at 60% off. Yeah, great idea).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

CMC: Christmas Music

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.
The first thing that happens after my mom brings the Christmas decorations up from the basement or my dad brings them down from the attic is that the Christmas tapes (yes, tapes. In fact, a few are even on records) would be pulled out and played. It's not Christmas until I hear those familiar melodies!

By far, my favourite version of this song.

Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, the Chieftain's, Canadian Brass Christmas and many more are pretty much on repeat from the moment we put them on to the moment we pack them up for another year.

Picked this video because my dad still has this record.

Over the past few years, I've slowly been building my Christmas CD collection so I don't have to hang out at my parents just to hear them. (Not that there's anything wrong with hanging out at my parents, I just don't think they'd appreciate me moving in for three weeks just to hear these songs.)

I'm not going to lie to you Marge, this song makes me cry.

This year's addition was Bing Crosby (and was only $5!! Thank you, sales!!). Now I'm stuck in that awkward point where the CD songs are in a different order than the record order and I keep telling my CD "no, no, that's not right! Get it right!"

This song always gets me dancing!

Part of my need to get my own versions of these records is because I've spent a Christmas or two without them and it's never quite the same.

Mahalia gives me chills. Love her!

And what you've failed to see by simply reading this blog is that I've spent over an hour drinking tea, searching YouTube videos, and dancing around my apartment feeling all Christmas-y. My Christmas season has officially begun thanks to this post! I'll leave you with a song from my favourite Christmas album.

This whole album makes me happy and if you've never heard it, you should.

Question: Any 'must hear' Christmas songs or albums for you?

Friday, December 2, 2011

CMC: Tree cutting

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas. You can also check out Shannon's memories here.

I was very lucky growing up because my dad's property was surrounded by a forest. I grew up thinking it was normal to climb trees in the back yard, make daisy chains in a field, watch deer walk past your window, and have donkey for a lawn mower. While I realise now this wasn't the 'normal' childhood most people had, it was pretty awesome. It also meant that come Christmas time, we'd hike into the forest and cut down our own tree.

My dad would scout for trees while he walked around the property so that come cutting day we knew exactly where to go. My dad, my brothers and I would get the chainsaw and flashlights and head out around dusk. It was a big deal when I was finally old enough to use the chainsaw myself! Once we returned to the house with our tree we'd take off any branches which didn't look right and do a final trim on the bottom with the hand saw.

The next step was to get the tree up in the living room. Normally, this is a simple task except by dad didn't have a tree stand for the first 15 years of my life. We'd place the tree in an ice cream bucket, cram rocks around the base of it, and then use fishing wire and a staple gun to attach it to the walls and the ceiling. That's right, ceiling.

We'd then enjoy a hot beverage before we commenced with the tree decorations. When we were young, that meant hot chocolate. As we got older, we usually put something a little strong in our cups!

Once us kids moved out, we stopped cutting down our own tree. While there is some ease in just showing up, paying some money, and walking out with a perfect tree, I miss the excitement and adventure (and alcohol) of getting our own tree by hand.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Final Countdown

While Al spent the final Friday taking a guided tour of Bru na Boinne and the Boyne Valley, I spent it catching up with family. I know I've said this before but I have a lot of family in Ireland. I could have spent the entire three weeks just seeing family and I probably still would have missed someone. Still, I'll take as many family meet-ups as I can get especially now that some of my cousins have kids and they say adorable things like "hi-ya!" when I walk through the door. Seriously, nothing cuter than a 19 month old with a Dub accent saying 'hi-ya'!

Saturday was run-around-buy-souvenirs-take-pictures day. Despite some very nasty rain clouds hanging about, we lucked out and managed to stay dry for our final day. It was a welcome change to the weather we had been having. We started the day by wandering O'Connell St on the north side of the Liffey. The street is named after Daniel O'Connell so it's only best that he stands prominently at the south end.

I think Ireland personified is telling you who to complain to if you have a problem.
It's that man, up there, above her. Complain to him!

O'Connell St is probably best known for being the location of the General Post Office (GPO).

The pillars are still pockmarked from the 1916 Rising. History nerd here finds that kinda cool!

The GPO acted as the headquarters during the Easter Rising of 1916. In the early hours of Monday, April 24th, members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Civilian Army, and the Irish Volunteers seized various buildings around Dublin* (most of which they felt were signs of British oppression), after which Padraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the GPO where two rebels flags had replaced the Union Jack.

After six days of fighting, the inside of the GPO was almost completely destroyed and the men stationed there, including five of the signatories on the proclamation, surrendered unconditionally to British troops. It would be another 24 hours before the rising was completely put down. The leaders were taken to Kilmainham Gaol, found guilty of treason and executed.

One of the things I love most about the Irish is their wit. If you put up a monument to anything, they'll have a nickname for it before the paint is dry. The prick with the stick, the hags with the bags, and the fluzzie in the jacuzzi are all nicknames Dubs have giving to various statues around town. My personal favourite is the the tart with cart, better known as Molly Malone.

Just one nickname won't do. Molly's also known as the flirt with the skirt,
the dish with the fish, and a couple of other nicknames as well.

For the first time in a long while, I had new nicknames to learn thanks to this guy:

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the stiletto in the ghetto, the stiffy by the Liffey, the nail in the Pale, the erection at the intersection, the, well, that's probably enough. The official name has something to do with light... I don't know, I didn't actually pay attention to that part, I just wanted to hear the nicknames! It seemed like everyone I talked to had another one to add to the list. Oh Dublin, I hope you never change.

Try as I might, I couldn't get all my family visits over and done before the Saturday night. We had to be up at 5:00am and a night out wasn't really what I wanted. Still, sometimes that's just the way the cookie crumbles. I had missed meeting up with my uncle in Armagh so he was coming down** to see me on my last night. There's not way to excuse yourself from that, is there?

Al and I had dinner with uncles Lorcan and Kevin and aunt Betty before doing a night time tour of Dalkey. The tour was part of a "let's see who's home" (answer: no one) which then turned into a "Bono lives there, Enya lives there, Neil Jordan lives there, Van Morrison lives there" drive. Of course, we had to stop at the beach by the Canadian ambassador's house and take a picture. That's just the patriotic thing to do!

Oh flash, why do you wash us out so?

Our evening ended with a drive up into the Wicklow Mts. I was sad that I never made it to the area during the day because it really is lovely but these things happen sometimes. We started the night at Johnny Fox's and all it's "traditional pub" touristy glory (although the stuff on the walls does make me laugh) before we moved onto The Blue Light. If you can get to it, definitely check out the Blue Light. Live music, amazing views over Dublin, friendly patrons, and incredibly relaxed. My kind of pub!

This is just proof that I can't take my uncles anywhere!
Look at all the Guinness Kevin wasted!

As much as I had hoped to avoid a Saturday night send off, I couldn't think of a better way to say good bye to Ireland. We told stories, made jokes, laughed until we cried, sang songs, and reminisced. The end of the night came too soon. We rounded ourselves up and headed out to the car. The next day, Al and I would be up before sunrise; we'd pass through Dublin in the dark and half asleep; we'd watch the sun come up as we ate breakfast on the top level of the airport; and we'd watch Ireland slip beneath the plane as we flew to Amsterdam, but our last real memory of Dublin was on that Saturday night.

*It should be noted that they were not successful in capturing all the buildings they went after.

**I wrote that he was coming 'down' because geographically looking at a map, Armagh is north of Dublin, hence, down. If you are ever in Ireland, it is important to know that everything is down from Dublin. We're going down to Donegal for the weekend. We're going down to Monaghan for the night. We're going down to Mayo in a fortnight. You do 'go up to the North' but if you're specifying where in the north, then it's down again. We're going down to Derry next week. Obviously, if everywhere is 'down' from Dublin, then everyone else comes up to Dublin for a visit so when I was talking with my uncle on the phone, he said that he was coming up to Dublin. I giggled because that will never stop being funny to me.

CMC: Grandma's Molasses Cookies

This is part of my Christmas Memory Challenge, a goal I set for myself to recall 25 things I love about Christmas.

You know that Christmas is coming when my mom and I start to plan when we can make Grandma’s Molasses Cookies. The cookies are legendary in our family and with our friends. I can’t tell you how many Christmas potlucks I’ve brought a plate of cookies to only to find them completely cleaned out before the other guests have arrived. We double the recipe and the process becomes an all-day event with my mom making the dough in the morning so it can chill before I get there. When I arrive, we put on a spot of tea in grandma’s silver tea pot, throw on Johnny Mathis* and then we start our assembly line of baking. Roll, cut, bake, cool, ice, decorate, taste test, repeat.

I can not image the Christmas season without these cookies. On the years when my mom is away over the holiday season, I pull out her recipe card and make these by myself. They're good but never as good as when we make them together!

*trust me, I'll be talking more about him later

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Connemara's Beautiful and Andrea's Wordy

We hold these truths to be self evident!

I awoke on our last Wednesday very stuffed up and suffering from a sore throat. As we our plans included the 1:00pm ferry to Inishmore, Al set off to do some shopping while I rested a bit longer. It seemed like everything was falling into place... until we met up at the ticket office. They had already cancelled the April-October 1:00pm ferry. Um, last I checked it was still October. Of course, the website is updated now but it wasn't when I checked two weeks before our trip. So now I was sick, tired and not going to the Aran Islands.

Well, at least it was gloriously sunny! That was a welcome change.

Looking back at Salthill on my walk into Galway

I pointed out to Al that we were 0 for 3 for cliffs in Ireland: we opted not to see Slieve League because of the rain, we couldn't see Cliffs of Moher because of the fog, and we didn't make it to the cliff at Dun Angus because of the ferries. Well, there's three very compelling reasons for us to have to go back!

I took the change in plans as an excuse to crawl back into bed for the afternoon. Figures, the sun is out and I'm walking around in a t-shirt... and all I want to do is sleep because I'm sick. I'd feel sorry for myself but then I remember that I was living it up on holidays. I could have been sick at home in Victoria while it rained. Perspective... it's good to have it sometimes.

The boat in the middle is called a hooker. It's also the name of a locally brewed beer.
The joke about 'Galway hookers' will never get old.
Yes, I have the maturity of a 10 year old.

Galway City as seen from the Claddagh.

I felt much better after my nap and when Al returned I agreed to head back into town for dinner and drinks on the condition that we didn't stay out too late. We had a low-key dinner, went to a pub know for its Irish music nights that just wasn't the Reel Inn, before deciding to stop at the Front Door for one more pint before bed. Then we met the world's second greatest bartender, Philip, (Emer is still our #1!) and enjoyed chatting with him so much that we hung around for a second pint. Then we met Mike.

I'm posting this photo of him for a reason. Remember this face, people!

He and his group of friends helped us make targets for Philip's elastics (until the night got too busy and Philip actually had to work)...

...and then his friend's left him with me, Al, and Lindsay (a lovely Yank he and his friends had met earlier in the evening) so he started buying all our drinks... and then a few drinks we didn't actually order.

This was actually my first time ever having a Butterball shot.
Where have these been all my life?

Towards the end of the evening, we had this exact conversation:
ME (pointing at my cell phone): Please tell me that says 12:10AM and I'm just too drunk to see the '1'.
AL: No. That says 2:10AM.
ME: Really? F*ck. A pint for the road?
AL: Sure.

So much for our early night. But you know what? It was worth it for the new friends and the awesome bartender. If you're ever in Galway, go to the Front Door, find Philip the bartender, and ask him for "ah, one, ah, hot chocolate" and then duck. Just trust me on this one.

Needless to say, when you crawl into bed at 3:00AM, 7:30AM comes ridiculously fast! Stupid tour of stupid Connemara at stupid o'clock in the stupid morning! But then you see this and decided that all is right with the world.

We switched tour companies for our second tour which meant we lost on the 2nd tour reduced rate but we also had a tour guide who didn't put the radio on! It was worth the extra money to actually feel like the tour guide was more than just a bus driver, so excuse me while I throw a little love their way. I would definitely recommend them if you're ever in Ireland. (As our guide, Michael D., would say they were a great tour company in and of themselves! Which might not make sense to you, but Al and I are rolling on the floor laughing at our hilarity!)

The day started (of course) with a visit to a friary. Having not seen one in almost three days, Al and I were going through withdrawals.

I actually really liked the Ross Errilly Friary because it was a) free and b) surrounded by sheep and cows (which, sadly, were not free. Best souvenir ever!).

Our next stop was the village of Cong which is best known as being the home of the Cross of Cong the village in The Quiet Man. In fact, if you've seen The Quiet Man then this pub should look very familiar to you. (If you haven't seen The Quiet Man then you should rent it tonight at watch it.)

Cong also gave Al and I a chance to change things up and visit an abbey! Always keeps things interesting when you don't get tied into just one type of religious building! It was also the beginning of the 'Mike face photos' which punctuated the rest of our travel photos.

I don't know which was better: the fact that this made us laugh as hard as it did or
the looks we got from everyone else every time we did it.

I liked the Cong Abbey because it was a) free (hear that, Donegal Castle? Two free ruins in one day. Boo-yah!) and b) it was right across the street from an awesome coffee shop. It was a common look for Al and I: camera in one hand, coffee in the other.

Cong is a very quaint, quiet village and while I'd suggest it as a stop for lunch (or coffee), we had half an hour there and were still back at the bus 10 minutes early. It's not really a place I'd recommend as a destination in and of itself. (Also, many of the stores shut down from November to March when there's no tourists so then I really don't recommend going there.)

Connemara is one of my favourite regions of Ireland (the whole northern part of the west coast is the bee's knees for me. The cat's pajamas. The dog's nuts. Wait, what?). Every time Al and I talked about possible Ireland itineraries, I kept putting "Connemara Day" into them regardless of what Al wanted because I'm a selfish friend I know that a trip to Connemara is always worth it. Even in the rain, Connemara is beautiful. If you go to Ireland and visit Connemara because of my recommendation and this it was a complete waste of your time, I will buy you a pint.*

Plus it's home to the Connemara Pony which sometimes you get to see. Or, if you go with the GTC, you'll get to feed one!

They call him Mr. Pony. Michael D opened the bus doors and whistled as we drove past.
Mr. Pony raced with the bus the length of the field and then patiently waited while we were
dolled out apple slices to feed him.

There's a lot of history in the region, lots of stories to tell about it, but more than anything else, it's just beautiful. It's a 'pictures will never do it justice' kind of place. But let's try anyway, shall we?

For hikers, the region is home to the Twelve Bens** and I've often thought what a wonderful weekend trip it would be to hike a few of them over the two days. Apparently crazy people like to hike all of them in 24 hours. For once, even my crazy thinks that's crazy! How can you enjoy the views if you're just running off to the next one? (Plus, that leaves no time for stopping in at the pubs!)

Like all Connemara tours, we eventually found ourselves at Kylemore Abbey. I'll be honest with you, I've now been to Kylemore Abbey three times. Next time, I'm bringing a book and staying on the bus... well, after I take the required Kylemore Abbey photo, of course.

Most original Kylemore Abbey photo you will ever see! EVER!

The grounds are very nice and if it's your first time visit, you should pay the entrance fee and go check them out (you do not, however, need to pay the fee to get the photo above) but it's not really a location which bears repeat visits (unlike Connemara itself). There's some lovely walks, they've done a great job with restoring the largest walled Victorian garden in Ireland (if you need that many qualifiers, I don't think you should get to brag about it), and... well, that's about it really: walks and garden. Knock yourself out, kids!

Still, we did get to see some lovely assess^.

WAIT! I was talking about these guys:

We stopped in Galway just quick enough to grab a bite to eat and then caught the GTC bus back to Dublin. As sad as I was to not actually get to see Ireland roll past us on our last bus trip, I was thankful to just get the trip over and done with especially now that it's a toll motorway that avoids all towns (as opposed to when I lived in Galway and you still had to drive through Athlone or other larger towns).

Returning to Dublin made it official: our trip was nearing its end.

*Totally serious on this one but you have to live close enough to me that we can go for the pint together and you can tell me exactly why you didn't enjoy Connemara. (I want you to look me in the eye and say "I hated it".)

**Ben (sometimes written Pin or Bin) is the anglicised version of the old Gaelic words for mountain (regional differences means I've found five different spellings of the original word, but beinn or beann seem to be the most common.). Many mountains in Ireland and Scotland contain 'Ben' in the name.

^The two guys in the first photo turned out to be really nice. They were on our tour and after a couple of quips back and forth through out the morning, they approached us at Kylemore and struck up a conversation. Unfortunately for them, Al and I just weren't function at all and I'm sure we came across quite b!tchy as we just wandered away after niceties had been exchanged. It was a moment I wish I could have gone back and redone when I wasn't so, um, under the weather. Our travel plans were the same for the next three days, they were Canadians who knew hockey, and they were hot obviously trying to engage us in perhaps meeting up in Dublin. It's not that I think we all would have become great friends and would totally stay in touch and visit each other, it just would have been nice to have someone to meet up with for lunch on the Saturday for example. I also debated about telling them to check out Croke Park because they were hockey guys and that would have been right up their alley. Instead, out of the three times I thought "mention Croke Park to them", I said nothing twice and then awkwardly mumbled 'see ya around' the last time. It's probably the only part of the trip I honestly really wish I could do over. If anyone reading this recognizes those two assess from the picture, please tell the boys Al and I say 'hi' and they should totally check out Croke Park.