Saturday, September 30, 2006

Top Five Fave - Croatia (Hrvatska)

Before I dive into the Croatia stuff, I have some things that I've been thinking about and I'd love your thoughts on them as well...

 So, we’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately and we're about to be doing a heckuva lot more. So I’ve been thinking....why do we travel? I mean, obviously, we travel because we want to see the people, places and things that we can’t see in our back yard (shuh). So maybe it’s not so much, why?, but, what should we be getting out of it? It’s gotta be more than just checking the place off our list and collecting postcards. Right?

I recently read that travel was believed to “expand the mind, reduce prejudices, and cultivate taste.” Hmm...possibly a bit pretentious but I don’t think it’s completely off the mark. Maybe put another’s important to allow the place to affect change the way you think, the way you interact with the world, and the way you express yourself. Sometimes that’s easier said than done...especially as a tourist, where, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, everything seems packaged into little vignettes (the Eiffel Tower, the National Gallery, the this...the that...) and it all comes at you so fast. It takes time, many many breaths, for a place to burrow its way into your psyche. Without that time, and those breaths, it’s difficult to feel like we're really changed.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I guess only to say that the opportunity that Floyd and I have been given, to travel like this, is the experience of a lifetime and I don’t want to blow it. You know? So anyway....

Top Five Fave...Croatia (AKA Hrvatska)!!!

Who’s idea was this Top Five thing anyway? Top Five was fine for cities, like London or Paris, but how can I pick a Top Five for an entire country? But, rules is rules (and goodness knows, I NEVER break the rules). So, first, let me start out by telling you where we went, because I can just hear somebody saying....”but what about Zagreb?”... but, you see, we didn’t go to Zagreb. We flew into Dubrovnik, in the south, took an all-day ferry through the islands up to Split. From Split we took a ferry out to Vis, a little island wayyy off the coast. Back to Split, then bussed it up to Plitvice National Park, and bussed it to Trieste, Italy, then flew home. Bam. (oh, yes, and there were a few breaths along the way as well) So what did I enjoy the most? ...not necessarily in any order...

 1. The Dalmatian Coast. Aha....I’ve found a way to cheat the Top Five Fave! Just lump a lot of places into one category. The Dalmatian Coast includes pretty much everything from Dubrovnik to Zadar and the mess of islands off the coast but there was just no way for me to narrow it down. In a perfect world, the small, laid-back, island of Vis would not be tossed into the same bucket as Split or Dubrovnik, but it’s the cutthroat world of the Top Five Fave. They’re all very different places. The walled city of Dubrovnik is an amazingly picturesque, little postcard of a place that seems to be almost untouched by time. Beautiful to look at...but you start to long for the soul that may only exist beyond the city walls. Split, on the other hand, has soul (and shoe shops) in spades. It’s hectic, loud, and not quite so pretty to look at...although “pretty” is relative in a region that is stunning at every turn. I must admit, though, that I was a bit overwhelmed by it all after my mind had been numbed by the ease of Dubrovnik and the 8-hour ferry ride to Split.

 Now Vis...I could live there. I realized again that island life has some pretty consistent characteristics, regardless of the pond or the hemisphere, and I found myself comparing it to small islands I’ve been to in the Caribbean or even in the San Juans. The people were very kind. The island was quiet, stunningly beautiful, and Mel.low (notice the capital M). We looked for ways to change our itinerary to allow a few more days here....but there comes a time in every vacation when you’ve got to move on.

Oh, let me mention one more thing. Out of all this water and sun and people...there was not one jet ski. What do you think that says?

2. The Feeling of Warm Sun on My Skin. Let me just start out by saying that I’ve been living in Ireland for over a year now. Yes, we have sun here. Sometimes good stretches of quite lovely sun. It’s just never warm enough to where I feel inspired to strip down to an embarrassingly small amount of clothing and soak it up. Conditions were delightfully different in Croatia. After the, sometimes, torrential rain our first few days there, the skies finally cleared and, once we made it out to the islands of Vis and Biševo, it was divine.

 This is a picture of The Blue Cave on the island of Biševo. When the sun is in the right position on the horizon, it shines off the limestone floor of the cave and lights up the water to an azure color that you can only see here. There used to be some sort of a sea creature that lived in the cave (because of the language gap we could only gather that it was something like a manatee) but all the people visiting the cave, sadly, made it swim away.

 Floyd and I spent two days straight just roasting ourselves like pigs on a spit. This is highly unusual behavior...especially for Floyd, who has probably never “laid out” in his life. He moves. He does things. But he has needs, just like any other man, and he NEEDED to park his ass on a beach and do nothing. Man that felt good. Only getting up to cool off in the crystal blue waters and float around a bit (and get stung by jellyfish!). It’s a wonder we didn’t get fried. Our first day on the beach a nut-brown old man actually laughed at us...or maybe he was just startled and squinting at our blinding whiteness. By the end of the two days we thought we were bronze...and perception is everything.

 3. Fresh Seafood. And we’re talking feeee-resh. Like some old guy just puttered up in his little skiff and the chef met him at the dock, fresh. We were sitting at one restaurant (on my 39th birthday thankyouverymuch) and we had to get out of the way as the fish guy ran through the patio towards the kitchen, carrying the days catch. Moments later, our waiter brought us a few of these unlucky soles (hehe get it?) on a platter to choose from. I made the wrong choice, but Floyd, dear Floyd, made the right choice and it was the best fish we have EVER had. Our waiter called it St. Peter, which, up until this moment we thought was the most exotic of fishes. Maybe only found along the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic? Turns out it’s tilapia. Not so exotic. But, they grilled that baby up just so perfectly...and I’ll stop now for the sake of the vegetarians. And there was no sign of big, commercial fishing vessels. The fishing industry appears to be relatively Mom and Pop...and that makes me feel good.

 4. The People. I’m not going to say that the Croatian people were warm. Because they weren’t. At least not to me. They were actually pretty gruff. At first we thought we had done something to offend....but then we realized they were this way, if not gruffer (I know it’s probably not a word, but I like it), with their friends, that gruff is just how they are. No sugar-coating. It’s just plain honest. And, bless them, they don’t seem to mind too terribly much (and they’re certainly not rude) when they have to speak English to convey an important point. I suppose it’s the result of having a very difficult language and realizing that tourism is your major industry...with maybe a bit of kindness and sympathy thrown in there for good measure. You'd love 'em too if you didn't have to learn how to say "urinary tract infection" in Croatian (it's a great story, involving the oldest pharmacy in Europe - in operation since 1317-remind me to tell you sometime).

 5. Plitvice National Park. This is what brought us to Croatia in the first place. A couple of years ago Floyd and I happened upon a PBS show about Plitvice. It was haunting. Croatia felt so far away at that point in our lives...but Plitvice kept coming up. In conversations. Articles. It was very strange. So, once we got over here, it was an obvious part of the itinerary.
 I don’t have the ability to describe it, but there’s something quite magical about the combination of a myriad waterfalls, the eerie blue and green waters, and the quiet beech and conifer forests. It was enchanting on the one hand, but it certainly felt dark and dangerous on the other...undoubtedly an effect of knowing that it was home to the Serbian forces in the Balkan War. We took a long, long walk, hoping to catch glimpses of the wolves or the bears, or even a woodpecker (Ireland doesn’t have any of those things), but such were few and far between that day. And such is life.

 So. There you have it. Pretty splendid I’d say. But you know what the best part was? Spending 10 whole, uninterrupted days with Floyd. Heaven on earth my friends. He’s a good man...and there’s so few of ‘em left.

Next trip? I'm going to the French Riviera at the beginning of October to visit a couple of American friends that are renting a place in Menton for a few weeks. Sans Floyd :( ...but looking forward to it nonetheless. I'll try to get in as many breaths there as I can.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jezebel and the Tits

There are these little birds over here called tits. They’re a lot like the chickadees that we have back home. Small, flitty, often look up and see them clinging to a small branch, picking at bugs or somesuch. Cute as the dickens. They have names like coal tit, blue tit, marsh tit, and the all-time sniggler, great tit. Even birders (or “twitchers” as we’re called over here) can’t help but peel off a few tired lines every-now-and-then, e.g. “Why that’s a lovely pair of tits up there...” Actually, if I were to say something like that with a group of European birders, and follow with the snort, guffaw, knee-slap combo, they’d probably ban me from their birding group. So maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, I love the tits. I love them for their own sake but I also love them because they spend quite a bit of time flitting about in the big, scraggly crabapple tree in our yard. We have this great window in our upstairs bathroom that takes up essentially the whole wall and you can stand in the shower and watch the tits (and all the other birds for that matter) do their flitting thing. It’s my kinda bathroom. (It’s important to note here that the window looks out on the crabapple tree, our small side garden, and the great stone wall of the old stables. And that’s it. See the Ballyknockmilliedoon post if you want a better idea of where we live. I’ve only had one occasion of showering and needing to drop out of view from unexpected eyes, so the shade is never drawn.)

OK, back to the tits. The first thing I did when we moved in last year, around this time of year, was to go out and buy a couple of feeders. After a bit of research, I bought a sunflower seed feeder and a peanut feeder, occasionally putting up a suet feeder as well. And that seemed to suit these birds just fine. Before too long we had loads of birds using the feeders. The tits were, by far, the most abundant, but we also had chaffinch and greenfinch. The magpies and jackdaws would catch wind of it when things were really hopping, and they’d come ‘round to cause trouble. There were other birds, like the robins (my sweet sweet robins), the dunnock, or the thrushes that never went to the feeders, but they would watch from the tree and, oftentimes, drop to the ground below the feeders and eat the scattered bits.

And this is where my cat, Jezebel, enters the picture.

Despite being raised on the streets of North Portland (pre-gentrification), Jezebel was never a scrapper. She was vaguely interested in the comings and goings of birds and mice, but it always seemed to be more from a natural history, taking notes, kind of a me. She would just sit and watch. Even when the baby mouse was scurrying back-and-forth in front of her, she just sat...and watched. Despite her propensity for casual observation, we bought her a bell for her collar...just in case. We wanted the birds to have advanced warning of any potential disruption to their flitting, but, because she never felt the need to disrupt their flitting, the bell’s use became primarily a cat-finding device.

So, imagine my surprise, when I walked out to the base of the crabapple tree one day a few months ago and found Jezebel with two little bird legs sticking out of her mouth. Because of my astute skills as a biologist I surmised that she was in the process of eating the bird. Like the whole thing. She looked up at me and continued her bone-crunching chewing and I, in shock, could do nothing but stand there and watch the little black claws disappear into her mouth. Sadly, I couldn’t tell which species she had devoured, but I’m sure it was either a robin (my sweet sweet robin) or a tit because these were the birds that spent the most time on the ground below the feeders. So sad. Needless to say, they wouldn’t have been hanging out on the ground if it hadn’t have been for those feeders. I guess all this fresh air and farm living has inspired the vicious carnivore in our little girl. And I guess the bell doesn’t work for shit.

So, life’s been different since that day. I no longer fill the feeders. In fact, they got blown down in a wind storm and I don’t think I’ll put them back up. Now that the air has a chill and the leaves are turning, the tits are flocking and spending more time in the crabapple tree. Sometimes Jezebel hops up on the window ledge while I’m taking a shower and we watch them together.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006


That’s generally what people say when we tell them we’re going to Croatia. You know, like they’re stumped. After the initial bewilderment, sometimes people will nod their head, like “of course”, and leave it at that (like when you're looking at modern art and trying to play it off like you “get it”), and others, will ask, very honestly, “why Croatia?” So, why Croatia? Because it’s frickin’ gorgeous that’s why. With the Dalmatian coastline, the tangles of tiny, little off-shore islands, crystal clear blue water, Plitvice National Park, Dubrovnik, etc. I think the better question is...why not? The war is long over and tourism has become the major industry. It’s a huge destination for the Europeans (I can hear my friends back home...”Gawd, she’s becoming such Euro-trash”). Floyd and I are headed there for about 10 days. It’s our first “real” vacation since moving over here and we’re doing it all by our lonesomes. We need it big time.

You see, I’ve been a royal bitchy grump these last few days. The whole 3-year thing is seeping into my psyche like a nasty, black ooze and just wreaking havoc. I’m fuckin’, back to my infertility struggles, depressed. Maybe even more so. At least with infertility I didn’t get my hopes up and start buying little Thor things. Everybody seems to want to try and put some positive spin on it, but you know what? Stop it. Please. And all my lovely, internetty, baby waiting, gal pals seem so...upbeat. And I just feel like a fuckin’ toad. They’re getting on with their lives, talking about diapers and such, and I’m walking around with knots in my stomach. I don’t feel like I can talk about diapers or buy baby clothes, read books about China, or make a quilt. I feel like the rug’s been yanked out from under us and every “promise” has been taken away. How in the hell did I get here? Better do I get out?

I know, I know...I need to get over it. Who am I to bitch? At least I get to go to places like Croatia. Sometimes I just need to remember that I’m the luckiest girl in the world. So I should just forget about this pesky little baby thing, and enjoy my most fortunate of lives.

So, that’s where I’ll be for a while. Enjoying my most fortunate of lives. Oh, and if anybody has heard any good rumors, like somebody multiplied when they should’ve divided and the whole 3-year thing was a silly mathematical error, please send them my way (and feel free to make something up!). If you send me good news, I’ll love you forever and think of you and your big, big heart while I’m sinking my toes into the sand.

Gawd. I’m sorry. This post started out so positive. As Floyd would say, I’m just a big crankaholic these days.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Top Five Fave - London and Paris

How in the heck do you write about your travels? It would be silly to ramble on and say things like...”and then we did this, and then we did this, OH and then we did this...” Nor can I sum it all up in one, brilliant jewel of a sentence. I was thinking maybe a numbered list. Maybe something Cosmo like “Top Five Fave Things...”! Seems appropriate for the blog arena, oui? Ou non? Eh, whatever.

Top Five Fave Things to Do in London (so far)

1. Visit the National Gallery. I love paintings. It’s really weird for me to say that because, up until a few years ago, I thought art was just pretentious. Nature was where it was at. As if it had to be one or the other. I’ve since learned otherwise. In fact, a big turning point for me was getting a guided tour at London’s National Gallery. The guide was so enthusiastic and so, not pretentious, that he helped to instill his love and passion for art. Thanks art dude. That really helped. I don’t know much about art. Nothing, in fact. But there’s just some art that makes me feel really, really good and there’s some very good-feeling art at London's National Gallery.

2. Eat fish and chips at The Sea Shell. Wow. What can I say? Atomic Mama, you did not lead us astray. Those may very well have been the BEST fish and chips I have ever had. Why? Well, you get to choose the fish (which I had never experienced at a fish and chips joint before - I chose the halibut), the fish, itself, was incredible (fresh, thick-cut, you get the picture), the batter was perfection (so light and crispy), and the chips were not merely a side dish, they were obviously given the deep-fried attention they so deserve. Damn good meal.

3. Walk through Harrods. We ducked into Harrods to escape a brief, torrential downpour and it was like stumbling into a grocery/department store Eden. I had no idea such a place existed outside of myth and legend. Frankly, we were a bit overwhelmed and I just can’t do it justice. Go there. Admire. Buy something....anything (a chocolate-dipped strawberry...or maybe a little Stella McCartney outfit, whatever) and just experience the apex of all things retail.

4. Walk through Hyde Park. I like it in the morning. Like when the normal people (are they normal if they can afford to live next to Hyde Park?) walk their dogs, jog, or run their pony (oh yes). And I really really like the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Despite the fact that the Princess was never a fascination for me...I just think they did a great job with the fountain. It’s like poetry really. To me, the flow of the water is like life, and it tumbles over the rough spots and it glides over the smooth spots and sometimes the stone gives way to the water and sometimes the water wears away the stone. At least that’s what I see.

5. Eat Indian food at the place that Tommy Lee recommends with your sister and a good friend from high school that you haven’t seen in years. How do you pick out an Indian food joint in Covent Garden, where every other restaurant is Indian? Simple. Look for the one Tommy Lee recommends. St. Martins Spice was it’s name. I think the food was great but I enjoyed the company so much I don’t even know if I really tasted it. Thanks for the recommendation Tommy.

Top Five Fave Things to Do in Paris (so far)

1. Museums. I could spend all day in a museum, which makes me a pain in the ass to many people. But if you feel like you have a lifetime of art to catch up on, Paris is a good place to start. For this trip the museum highlights were the Picasso Museum and the Musee d’Orsay (I started choking back tears as soon as I walked into the Van Gogh exhibit...I think it must have something to do with his art yanking on my soul...but I’m not sure). Next up? The Rodin and L’Orangerie.

2. Go to Montmartre at night to hang with the peeps on the stairs of Sacre Coeur and watch the Eiffel Tower light up with the moon hanging right over it. I had only been there in the daytime so it was a real trip to go there at night and witness the scene. Throngs of people congregated on the steps, overlooking the lights of the city. Sitting, drinking. Beautiful, lively. We hung out to listen to some French kids and an acoustic guitar doing “Hotel California”. The world just gets smaller and smaller.

3. Eat. You just can’t go wrong. From the citron crepe at the sidewalk stand to the onion soup (oh. my. god.) and canard et peche (duck with peaches). How in the hell do those women stay so thin?

4. Have a picnic on the banks of the Seine with bread, salami, apple, cheese and wine...with the vittles picked up at the little shops on the Ile St. Louis and drinking the wine out of a water bottle because that was the best way to transport it from the apartment. This picnic is preferably followed up by the most amazing ice cream you’ve ever had at La Maison Berthillon. There’s only about 32 Berthillon shop fronts on the Ile St. Louis, each one sporting a long line of tourists stringing out in front of it, and those that weren’t in line, had their faces stuffed into the ice cream they had just bought. Quite possibly the key to world peace.

5. Hang out at the “sailboat pond” (can’t recall the park) where the little kids rent little, wooden sailboats and chase them around the edge of the pond. No tourists. Happy kids. Sitting down (ahhhhhh......). Great place to Parisian watch. I could’ve sat there for a very, very long time. Joy.

So there you have it. I could’ve listed a few more things...yeah, just a couple more. But in the Top Five Fave...that’s all you get.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Release the Demons!!

So, we got this e-mail from our good friend “Mags” yesterday and, despite the fact that she is so obviously suffering, she had us laughing hysterically. We laughed so hard that I thought I’d share it with you. As background, Mags and her boyfriend are in the process of buying a house and this is her description of doing the walk-through last week. It’s a slice of life man. Thankfully, not your life.

I’ve only edited out one word because it’s the only word my Mom told me never to say...but I think you’ll fill in the blank for yourselves. Thanks Mags.

“So, we were not able to close last week. We did our "walk through" on Thursday and it was absolutely ridiculous and bizarre. The basement, front yard, backyard and basement were all piled with stuff. Every room had some or A LOT of stuff in it. Steve and I were amazed. Where did it all come from? He had already filled a large POD and a U-haul truck and yet there was soooo much more. A junkyard with a house on it. Meanwhile, the only person who appeared to be doing any work was his realtor. The other two "helpers": weird meth cowboy dude who had a cigarette/TV break every 10 minutes, and young goth guy whose T-shirt (black of course) bore a picture of a nun masturbating with a cross, and JESUS IS A !*@$ in 8inch white letters on the back.

We had told him that we wouldn't release the money until the place was empty. But he couldn't move, he said, until he had the money. We tried to do a "Holdback", which would put $3000 of his money into escrow until the place was clean. But our lender wouldn't allow it.

SO, we were called back there again yesterday to give our approval. The garbage was gone (2 drop boxes, you guys, TWO!). There was still a lot of stuff, but it looked like it was staged to be loaded. How it's all going to fit into his new double-wide is beyond the limits of human thought.

What follows might have been a nightmare: Steve, the seller's realtor, and I were in the kitchen. David (the seller) opens the bathroom door while on the john. It might surprise you that this was far from a pleasant sight. The door slams and he starts ranting (it was really more of a cross between a rant and a chant, a ranting chant) in his own 3-pack-a-day toad voice, "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!.... RELEASE THE MONEY!.... RELEASE THE MONEY!....RELEASE THE MONEY OR I WILL NEVER LEAVE!...." Steve was freaked, because he thought he was saying "RELEASE THE DEMONS!"

See apparently this is somehow all our fault. Even his realtor has been trying to make us feel guilty every fucking chance she gets. Shit like, "if you want, I can get my 73 year old father over to help". I confronted her on that one.

But we decided that to act in good faith was the best thing to do. We had no choice but to release the money or walk away completely. He has until 5pm on Friday. We think it will happen. Poor guy. It just sucks that he's demonizing us, but oh well. I'll keep you posted. Hopefully there will be blessedly little to report.

So, I should get back to work. I also need to go out and pick up some sage and a new toilet seat.

Thanks for "listening"...


Now let's all send some good juju Mags' way (and maybe chip in for a Shaman).


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Shacklin’ My High* (i.e., harshin' my mellow)

What a great trip. And how. But I’m not here to talk about the bluebirds of happiness and our wonderful little, European holiday. I’ll talk more about that in another post (once we get all 2,378 pictures downloaded) where I’ll tell you all about the wonderful food we had, and the great art that we saw, and schlepping around in the biggest shoe store in Paris (this is where I make that sound that Homer makes when he looks at a donut)...but for now I need to bitch....because, since coming home, my high has been seriously shackled and my mellow has been determinedly harshed.

WTF happened while I was gone? Yes, Mary Mia got twins, which made me all kinds of (double) smiley, but that didn’t last for very long, because then I started checking in with my AltDTC peeps, and it would appear that our wait is now estimated to be at least 3 effing years??!! WTF? Please tell me I’m delusional.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the CCAA is getting cranky on our asses, telling us the increased wait will make us better parents (wh wh wha?) and denying our agencies any information that might aid in the decisions that we all need to make at this point, such as “what the eff do we do now?”

Whew. Taking a breath...thanks for’s almost over.

I know, I know. It’s only rumors at this point. But, gosh, even if they are rumors, this is so NOT why we chose the China Adoption Program. This situation is not reflective of predictability or stability to any way shape or form.

So we talk about our options. When I last spoke to my agency about the extended wait time (when it was hovering around the “remotely comprehensible” 18-24 month range) I asked them if we should change programs. They suggested we relax and settle in for the wait (and learn Croatian, write a symphony, and read Ulysses). But I’m afraid it might be time to stop asking for advice and just start making our own plan. Because a cranky China scares the hell outta me.

You see, we’ve never felt that some divine force was drawing us to China. I am happy for those folks that have that insight and guidance...but we just don’t have that. I have wanted to adopt a child for many years now and, for some reason, assumed that child would be Asian...but I haven’t a clue as to why I assumed that. Our hearts are open to a baby. Period. African, Asian, Canadian (OK, maybe not Canadian...joking!!), Russian, Texan, Whatever...Baby. But, while our hearts may be open, it doesn’t mean our minds are. Floyd and I have all sorts of little thoughts and hang-ups (which we’ll keep to ourselves thankyouverymuch), that guided us to China...and that may now guide us somewhere else. Our child is somewhere out there and, frankly, we don’t know where (but we do know it doesn’t appear to be hanging out around these dusty, old eggs). So, we may be back to the drawing board, because I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this 3 years thing (which is fitting because China seems to think this would make me a terrible mother anyway...just more proof).

So, there you have it. Thanks for letting me vent. How’re you guys doing with this whole thing?

Oh, and Ms. Bionic Valentine? I think we could all use a big (like global in scale) whack upside the head with your No. 838, The Fortunate Hammer. Tanksferdat.

*Floyd just pointed out that the appropriate phrase MAY actually be “shackle my hide” (vs. high)....but that’s not what I say. I always screw up these little phrases. This may be the ONLY thing I have in common with our good buddy George W.