Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Contingency Planning

In Manila we had a Go Bag packed.  There were enough bus bombings and military uprisings to warrant one.  In Togo we had a Go Bag packed.  There was enough barely contained political and economic tension threatening to bubble over to warrant one.  In India we got lazy, Chennai was sleepy.  Until the recent mob attack on the Consulate there of course.  If I were there now I'd have a Go Bag packed.

Now here in Jordan, we're definitely back to the Go Bag.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The last "baby" has one more year before becoming a teen.

Jonathon turned 12 on Sunday, but in all respects is still a little kid.  He loves to play video games and watch TV, wash the car and do crafts.  He's helpful and strong-willed and can be quite loud, especially when fighting with his brother.  He likes to cook and come up with his own recipes, swim, and work on his Warhammer characters.  He's going into 7th grade and needs to be reminded to shower and that his shirt can't be worn for 3 days in a row, or his pants for that matter. He remembers absolutely everything whether he's seen it, heard it, or thought it.  Right now he's playing a game called "Prison Architect" where the goal is to design a prison from the ground up, cells to jobs to shakedowns to plumbing.  I'm sure he'll come up with something no one else has thought of and even if it makes no sense it just might work.  His brain is definitely quicker than mine.

Birthdays in our house tend to take up more than a day.  While gifts and cake are always on the Big Day, we try to spread the fun around.  On his Big Day we went bowling at Mecca Mall, had milk shakes, and brought him to dinner at PF Changs. The following day we Skyped with the grandparents (or tried to, the connection was miserable). Yesterday we took our family and the neighbors to Climbat for indoor wall climbing.  I still plan to take him to see Despicable Me 2 although I'd better hurry since movies don't linger long in Jordan.

It's not every day you turn 12, right?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Creag Torthuil

When I say cottage, what comes to mind?  Probably the kind of place we stayed at in Hungerford, a small space, cozy, plenty of outdoors, quiet.

Creag Torthuil is a house.  A convoluted, somewhat under renovation, mishmash of a house. The history says that the house has been added on and added on, pretty much without design.

The kitchen was pretty awesome, though.  Fully stocked from top to bottom with everything you'd need (tool and pan-wise) to serve a full house, including spices, sugar, and other odds and ends. Roasting bags, tupperware, decanters, you name it this house had it, along with an awesome oven, a microwave, and a dishwasher. Some folks in our family moaned about the lack of WiFi and even cell service, but that dishwasher totally made up for it.  You know, some folks in Amman have dishwashers.  This is our fourth overseas post without one.  I cry foul.

With 5-6 bedrooms (bedroom 6 is under renovation), all with queen beds and the master with a king it's a perfect place to hold a family get-together.  The house really is odd though.  It has a hallway down one section that connects a stairwell to an upstairs bedroom (Katherine's room, it looked out to the Bay over the alpaca fields, had a bathroom and had a little library all its own), a den (with the TV that showed far too many game shows, and the library), the back door, a sitting room, and another bedroom (the boys shared this one as neither one wanted to sleep upstairs alone); a couple separate rooms in the middle that used to be bedrooms but now are pass-throughs and one has a stairwell that goes up to another couple bedrooms (one under construction, the other unused because the boys thought it was scary); and a hallway down the back section that links the kitchen, a bedroom (Rebecca's room with bathroom), a hallway bathroom, the master bed/bath, and the entrance hall.  We never used the front door, and the back door led to a small deck with steps down to an outdoor eating garden, a shed with the laundry, a pathway to the car park area, and a pathway to an alpaca paddock and the rest of the farm.

On our first day we walked around the farm and said hello to all the alpacas.  One field held baby alpacas with their moms, far cuter than the recently shorn adults.  One decided to play with a bird and was hopping all over the field, others were all grouped together with a single adult like they were in school.  Alpacas are weird.

The sitting room was the brightest of the rooms and a great place for breakfast, even better than the kitchen. I liked to sit here in the mornings when everyone else slept.  The house had a decent library and most of the Harry Potter books were sprinkled around the house so I picked up the Philosopher's Stone and enjoyed the quiet.  The house does sit on the one road through town and behind a stacked slate wall on the other side of the nearly single lane road we often had cows checking us out.

It was a house we pretty much fell in love with, after we got past the decidedly creepy feel to it.  I'm not sure if it was just those weird middle rooms that had no purpose or the family photos on the walls of strangers peering out of the darkness, maybe it was the lewd art in the master bedroom or the painting of a nursing mother that didn't seem to fit any genre, but it did take a day or two to walk from room to room rather than sidle past.

I guess it didn't help that out in the garden was a big plastic owl.  It wasn't being used, rather it was tucked along the banister of the deck half hidden in a bush.

I placed it on a windowsill by the front door, looking in.  And then on the windowsill to the living room, looking in.  And from there it took on a life of its own.

Each member of the family was "owled."  From hallways to stairs to the kitchen table and in bath tubs, the owl appeared all around the house and creeped everyone out in turn. At one point Katherine tried to put it in the boys' room but Jonathon wasn't quite asleep yet and upon seeing the owl did a minor freak out with "No no no no no no....." It said good morning to Rebecca outside her door.  And yes, it made an appearance in the master bathroom that really is creepy when you glance in the mirror and there is it, staring at you.

It was awesome.

We had plans to "Alpaca Picnic" but on our day to do it Ian twisted his ankle on a geocache hunt so we propped him up in the living room instead and left the alpacas alone.

That's OK.  Alpacas are weird.

Geocaching was huge fun though.  The Burren has a number of stashes and we saw things we wouldn't have otherwise, like the Iron Eye, and an old village that was mostly washed away by a big storm years and years ago.  The village is right behind where the current "town" of Fanore is, between the little store and the water if anyone is curious.

Mick O'Toole in the store and tackle shop was really great.  We posted a box from there, items we bought along the way and couldn't figure how to bring home with us in our suitcases.  It ended up being an expensive box, but he totally worked with us when we showed up when the P.O. was closed, provided a box for us to use, asked us to leave it open so he could figure out if the final weight would be cheaper in one box or split, and then allowed us to guesstimate the payment, leave the box there untaped, said he'd post us a receipt when the P.O. was open, and said he'd take care of all of it the following day (we were leaving early in the morning to make it to Dublin and get to the Guinness Storehouse).  A few days after our return, we received the receipt and a couple locally made cards of the Burren because we'd overpaid by 6 Euros. Mick O'Toole rocks.  Pat and Patricia O'Donohue across the street at O'Donohue's Pub were very cool too.  And they made awesome pub food.

Anyhow, we found caches along the Caher "River" and tried to find one in a park in Ballyvaughn but that ended up in a sprained ankle and no cache.  Guys, if you want to hide something well, fine, but saying you won't give any more clues after a certain point, say, the bottom of the stairs, is terrible. Especially when the GPS also stops at the bottom of the stairs and on both sides is forest, and the only other information is "replace the frame and cover with leaves."  The entire place was covered with leaves and we never deciphered "frame."  That sprained ankle didn't help.  I saw Ian falling in slow motion and wouldn't you know he probably made it worse by trying to save the Diet Coke in his hand rather than the foot attached to him.  I always knew Diet Cokes were trouble.
The view from the deck: alpaca fields and Galway Bay
Let it be known that Fanore and the Burren are one of my favorite places in the world.  And that's saying something.  Just keep the Diet Cokes away from Ian.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to happier things. The R&R scrapbook is almost done.

If you're looking, like I was, for a place to land for a week at a time, check out holidaylettings.co.uk Don't let the URL confuse you, they do rentals all over the world.

Although we did a night in Cardiff at the Future Inn, and a night just outside Dublin at the Kingston Hotel, and 2 nights at the Hayes and Harlington StayCity Serviced Apartments, the best times were had at the cottages.

Staying in London can be prohibitively expensive.  For 6 people at a hotel we always need 2 and sometimes even 3 rooms (like at the Kingston).  This time I looked at cottages.  Since we knew we were getting a car, the cottage could really be anywhere, so I looked far out of town.  To get from to our first cottage in Hungerford, not far off the M4, directly west from Heathrow, took about an hour.

This was College Barn.

If you couldn't tell, it's a converted barn, and it was in the middle of nowhere, or so it felt even though it was less than 20 minutes off the M4.  The yard would fill with rabbits at night and birds during the day.

Inside, the home had a very open floor plan.  Den, kitchen and 2 "bedrooms" upstairs were all open to each other.  The upstairs was something special, a floor that was split in 2 with an open hallway between the two sections,  It was like walking on a gangplank.  One end was the master bedroom that had no door, only a curtain to pull, and the other end had a bed right out in the hall space (Nicholas slept there), a bathroom, and a closed door bedroom (Rebecca).  The other bedroom downstairs with 2 twins was shared by Katherine and Jonathon and had its own bathroom.  It was actually a very cool and very cozy space.  We didn't spend much time there with all the driving around we did, but the beds were comfortable, the outdoors spacious, and our host very kind.  When we were driving to the place we arrived later than we'd hoped.  Our host said it was all right and he'd leave the house open.  He meant open.  Both sets of glass double doors were wide open to let in the fresh cool air after a warm day (you heard the UK was in a heat wave, right?).  It was a reminder of how very far away from Amman we were.

Next door (loosely "next door") was a massive plot of land guarded by huge gates that apparently belonged to a Saudi prince.  But who cares when the approaching sunset looks like this at 9:30 at night?

And the drive to get there winded through paved cow paths under tree domes.  Actually, we spent a lot of time on this trip careening down single or nearly single lane roads trying not to die.

But that's neither here nor there.  It was pretty.

Then we moved on to Ireland and landed in Fanore at Creag Torthuil.

Oh if only it had been that easy.

We'd stayed overnight in Cardiff to cut a bit of driving time for our transit day.  It was a long day anyway.  An hour plus to the ferry port, an hour waiting for the ferry, a 4 1/2 hour ferry ride, then a 5 hour drive from the Ireland port to our cottage.   Late sunsets for the win.  But after a stop in Tipperary for dinner and a Tipperary fair, even the late sunset wasn't going to help.  We called the homeowner and told him we'd get there pretty late.  He said he'd leave the house open.  We made it to Fanore in pitch dark at midnight.

And the directions for the house were practically useless: 2 km past the town, yellow house on the left.

Here's what you need to know about Fanore.  It's really dark at midnight because there are no street lights so a yellow house is indistinguishable from a blue, green or pink house, the roads are very narrow with hedges on both sides, there is a town line but here's the kicker, there is no actual town.

There is a pub.  There is a store.  There is a cafe'.  There is a tackle shop.  They occupy the same section of street, and if you blink you will miss it.  So we did what every lost traveler does in Ireland, we stopped at the pub.  It helped that it was the only thing open.

We bickered for a few minutes about who was going to ask for help at midnight about an alpaca farm at a yellow house, when I approached a lone girl sitting outside at a table.

She had no idea what I was talking about.  Seriously, a town this small and she had no idea about alpacas.  And then the guy she was with came out with their pints and he had no idea.  We'd found the two people in the whole town who were not actually from Fanore and had no idea. She thought she might know which house though, and we hopped in our car and followed her in hers up and down the dark street stopping at homes and peeking in yards.  Eventually we ended up calling the homeowner and getting directions and finding the place.

But get this... these folks who helped us out, we're "friends" with them on FB now.

They didn't know Fanore, but they do know Amman.  They come here every year, to Dubliners, for Saint Patrick's Day, and they plan to come down for the opening of a new Irish bar at one of the hotels at the Dead Sea.

We've promised to buy them a pint when next they're here.

So back to the cottage we finally found.  It was a house, a convoluted, mismatched, wonderful house.

More on that tomorrow though.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Living in an Uncertain World

There's not much to say that hasn't already been said by the media, the couch experts, the twitterfeed, and every know-it-all @sshat in-between.  Pardon my language.  I just finished reading a comment stream that was filled with a very few sane people and whole lot of folks I wouldn't want to meet in person.

Like the guy who said "We should just arm ourselves [meaning here, where I work] us and start blasting the Star Spangled Banner and say 'You want some of this? Come and get it.'"

Tons of folks chime in with "They all hate us anyway, why don't we just close all the Embassies down?"

Interesting question, after a sweepingly stereotyped statement.

How about the folks who say "This is just another false flag to distract us from the NSA stuff."

Dude.  Not everything is about you.

Honestly, who ARE these people?  Especially that first guy.

He scares me more than anything.