Somber Week in Ireland

It has been a very sad week here in Ireland.  Six students, five Irish and one Irish-American,  were killed in Berkeley as the balcony they were standing on collapsed. Another seven – all Irish – were seriously injured.  It is hard to fully convey the sense of grief and shock that Ireland is experiencing this week. Although the incident was front page news in the US yesterday, the coverage seemed somewhat detached.  After all, most of these students were just staying for the summer.  Ireland is a small nation – just 4.5 million people.  To put the scale of this tragedy into perspective, it would be as if 867 American students were injured or killed in one freak accident.  This is further compounded by the fact that Ireland is a very tight-knit society.  Everyone knows everyone, so many are related, and people’s roots go very, very deep.

The students were on a program called the J1 Visa Program.  Quite honestly, I had never heard of the program before moving to Ireland.  It is a program by which Irish students can work in the US for a short-term period. Going to America on your J1 is a rite of passage for many Irish college students.  Because Ireland is so small and expensive, students often live with their parents or other family members while attending university.  So venturing out on your own to America to work at a summer camp, wait tables at a restaurant, or another form of employment is something that nearly every young person here looks forward to.  Over 150,000 Irish individuals have participated in the program in the past 50 years.  Many of my Irish peers spent time in America on their J1, and encourage others to do the same.

As this tragedy unfolded, people looked around and thought:  That could have been me.  That could have been my sibling. My friend. My cousin. My child.

The sense of shared grief is palpable.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

(May their souls be on God’s right hand.)

 

Photo Credit:  Irish Independent

Call the Midwife! The ONE thing I have in common with Kate Middleton

Prince William and Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) welcomed their second child into the world this week.  You may have seen something about it in the press. 😉  Everyone oohed and aahed over their baby girl, talked about how amazing Kate looked, and who made her dress, and even how early she left the hospital.  But one thing that did not get much press is that Kate chose midwife-led maternity care.  Although a team of doctors was at the hospital on-call, two midwives delivered the baby girl just two and a half hours after she arrived at the hospital, and Kate and baby Charlotte departed less than 12 hours later.  It was clear that she had a low-key birth.  From my perspective, it was a great example of the benefits of midwife-led maternity services that are definitely the norm in Europe.

My introduction into the Irish health system was fast and furious.  A week before we departed for Ireland, I found out we were unexpectedly expecting our third child. We were completely surprised. I don’t know anyone who plans to get pregnant in the middle of an international move. We were literally about to board a plane to the other side of the world, and there really wasn’t anything else to do but figure it out once we got here. I had to navigate a completely different maternity and healthcare system in only a matter of weeks.  In Ireland, as in the UK, you have your choice of public, semi-private, and private maternity care.  I won’t go into the differences in this post, but we chose private care simply because it was the plan most similar to the US system, and we had private health insurance through Brad’s employer.  As in the US, I selected an OB, and saw her at every appointment. The difference that I noticed right away was how my general practitioner and my OB treated pregnancy as a natural part of life, not a condition that needed to be ‘treated’.   For the record, I was very happy with my choice of OB for my first two pregnancies in the US.  My doctor was a very low-key, hands off, calm guy.  I say this only to point out that I wasn’t resentful, or looking for differences between the systems to prove a point.  No “ax to grind” here.

The approaches to pregnancy, labor, and delivery are just very different.  There was not a focus on the lists and lists of things pregnant women should avoid.  It was perfectly fine to exercise, eat seafood, even have a glass of wine occasionally. Part of this was that this was my third pregnancy in 4 years.  I knew what to expect, and when to speak up when I had questions. But I really liked the hands-off approach.  I felt less stress about doing all the “right things” vs “wrong things”. I am not a share-all-the-nitty-gritty-details-of-my-labor-on-the-internet kind of gal, but on the night Patrick was born, we checked into National Maternity Hospital around 11:30 pm. I was attended by a midwife the entire time.  Not only did she not intervene, she also relied on my judgement.  It felt like much more of an egalitarian relationship.  When Isaac and Liesl were born, the delivery room was full of people. Probably 8-10.  There were nurses and pediatric nurses, and an assistant or 2.  So many people! Part of it was that the hospital had rounds of medical school students that observed the birth.  (This didn’t bother me particularly.  When I was about to have Isaac, my OB asked if I minded if a few Physician Assistant students observed the birth.  I told him that I didn’t care if he sold tickets and popcorn, but the baby was about to be born RIGHT THEN. )

In contrast, when Patrick was born, it was just myself, Brad, and the midwife in the delivery room.  I was amazed how much calmer the room was, and how it felt much less chaotic.  Although my OB intended to be at the birth, things moved so quickly that she didn’t make it in time.  But even if she has been there, it is unlikely that she would have delivered Patrick, as the midwife was fully capable.  Patrick was born at 3:23 am, and we left the hospital about noon that day.  I wasn’t forced to leave early, and could have stayed at least 2 nights for a regular delivery and 4-5 nights for a cesarean birth.  But I asked to go home that day, as I was feeling fine, and would much MUCH rather sleep in my own bed and rest at home.  Now, I swapped my Jenny Packham dress for yoga pants and a t-shirt, and I’m sure my hair was a wreck and my skin was blotchy, but the health care system was completely supportive of me going home when I wanted.  The very next day, Judith, our local public health nurse, came by to check on Patrick and I.  She’s also a registered midwife.  She brought her own scale to weigh Patrick, and check him over.  She came every day or every other day for the next 2-3 weeks.  Patrick became jaundiced a few days after birth, and it took awhile to clear from his system.  It was so nice not to have to take a newborn into the doctor’s office with all the sick people around.  Judith just came to the house!

I spent a lot of time thinking about this over the past week, which is why I haven’t posted earlier.  I didn’t write this post because I think that midwife-led care is the answer to all pregnancy conditions and situations. I fully understand that pregnancy can be a complicated and volatile situation for some women, and that other women prefer to make other choices.  But I do wonder if there the standard of care was a low-intervention, midwife-led approach, would we have better maternal outcomes? I think there’s value in midwife-led maternity care and this is overlooked right now in the US.  I also loved how in Ireland, you could opt to have a low-intervention birth at a hospital.  I have written before about how the US can become a place of absolutes: hospital vs home birth! doctor vs midwife!  But there doesn’t appear to be a clear middle ground.   Here in Ireland, as in the US, a range of options is available, from midwife-assisted home birth to elective cesarean section, but I loved how midwife-led maternity care is the solid middle ground.

 

Photo credit: NY Daily News

My thoughts on Freelancing

I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Too risky. Too solitary. Too much work for too little reward.  Moreover,  I was never SO passionate about what I was doing that I wanted to work on it all.the.time. which is how I saw most entrepreneurs I knew.   When I was a senior in college, I took a class on entrepreneurship.  It fulfilled an elective requirement I needed, and met at a convenient time.  It was a masters class, with a fun group of students, a good professor, etc.  Most of the students in that class were there to work on their (already-hatched) business ideas, but the main thing I learned was, “Never in my life do I want to be an entrepreneur.”  I went on to work for a large engineering firm, and then to graduate school – all with the aim of returning to the corporate world.

Did I ever mention that moving abroad takes all those life plans and tosses them out the window? When we decided to take the opportunity in Ireland, our understanding of Brad’s work permit was that it came with permission for me (his spouse) to work as well.  Although that is technically true, I must have a work permit in order to work. To get a work permit, you must first get a job, and the vast majority of employers I spoke with only wanted applicants that had existing work permits, since the process takes about 12 weeks to obtain a new one.  It was a Catch-22. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a work permit, but the only way to get a permit was to get a job. When I finally obtained the all-important work permit, I ran into further problems.  Most employers, when they saw “USA” on my application, assumed that I did not have permission to work, because I am not an EEA (European Economic Area) citizen. Never mind that I had the all-important permit, they couldn’t get past one line on the application! I have continued to apply for jobs with some success, but have not yet found the right opportunity. (As an aside, this experience of trying to get a job overseas has given me a completely new perspective on immigration issues.)

In an effort to not go stir-crazy with 3 kids under foot (hence the picture above, with the dollhouse for added effect), I started teaching myself how to design websites in WordPress. At first, it was just to tweak items on my personal site.  Then I did a project for a local PR firm, and then another friend asked for help on her business’ site, and now I am working on several sites.  Despite the frustration of looking for full time jobs, my freelance web design business has been growing – with very little advertising or effort on my part.  Just word of mouth. As happy as I should be with this development, it makes me uneasy.  Why is that? I guess I feel this way because I never considered going into business for myself at all, and certainly not in web design. I look at friends and former classmates, and I’m wistful for their careers. I see the life that I willingly stepped away from, for the chance to move overseas. Career path! Responsibility! Salary! Entrepreneurship is never where I expected to be, and sometimes feels like a waste of my skills.  I struggle to decide – should I pour my energy into my freelance business, even though there are plenty of competitors out there?  Should I expand my skill set with more coding skills, even though those tasks can easily be outsourced? I worry I don’t have enough passion, or insanity, to make this gig work.  All the entrepreneurs I know are 150% invested in their work.  What if I’m not?  Is enjoying what I am doing, serving my clients well, and being happy with myself, is that enough?  Or do I need to have the desire of world-domination? (Ok, probably not that.)

On the other hand, should I focus solely on my full time job search, and hope that someone will be able to look past my nationality, and see the value I could bring to their organization? If I were to decide to return to the full time workforce after a few years of freelancing, would employers discount my experience? I worry it could be viewed as “well that’s nice, but it’s not a real job”, but maybe I just don’t have enough faith in myself to sell it as a valuable experience – which it is!  All of this leaves me with a conflicted relationship with freelancing. I worry that it is a waste of time because it doesn’t look like the career I always imagined. And yet, I really enjoy it because it challenges me in new and different ways.

For those of you who are entrepreneurs – are you comfortable in your decision? For those of you thinking about freelancing, what has held you back from jumping in?

Friday Finds – Easter Edition

Hello friends!

Happy Easter or Happy Passover to all who are celebrating this weekend.  Is it “Spring Break” where you live?  Here in Ireland (and in most of Europe), students have a 2 week break over Easter.  So life has slowed down a bit, as people enjoy some time off, or leave for a bit of sun!  Fun fact:  You can only buy brown eggs here.  They don’t sell white chicken eggs, so if you want to dye Easter eggs, you either have to buy duck eggs or dye brown ones.  Once dyed, the brown ones have these beautiful deep colours, like the ones above.  A few links for your weekend.

These jokes made me laugh. Or had me stumped. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Do you think America is obsessed with STEM Education?  Is this a good or bad thing?

Expat parents will enjoy this one.  I loved the analogy of the three concentric circles.

I thought this was an April Fools Joke, but no!  You can actually rent-a-ruminant (a goat!) to clear your unwanted grasses in shrubbery!

Need to kill some time tomorrow?  Here’s a good list of Easter crafts and other ideas for kids.

We’re off to Portugal on Monday.  In theory, we hope to escape the Irish weather and see a bit of sun.  Of course, the forecast in Portugal is for rain next week! Fun times ahead!

Have a great weekend.

x Rheagan

Photo credit: Deann Barrera via Flickr

Weather In Ireland: Handy Translation Guide

Complaining, or “giving out” about the weather in Ireland is a national pastime.  Ireland seems so idyllic from the pictures: rolling green fields, crisp blue skies, or perhaps, a soft dewy rain falling.  What those pictures fail to capture is the fact that it is bone-chilling cold, the wind driving in off the ocean, or the fact that that “dewy” look was created by the torrential rain that just passed by.

Combine this with the seemingly innocuous weather “forecasts” that we get from Met Éireann, and you could be lulled into thinking that the weather in Ireland is positively lovely!  Wrong. Now, we don’t get some of the truly life-threatening weather conditions that are common in the US.  There are rarely any tornadoes, hurricanes, extreme heat or drought.  It is more that the weather is low-grade bad and annoying for 90% of the time.  People are always shocked at how cold it feels here – even though the temperature may not be all that “cold”. We had a few weeks in the summer of 2013 where the temperatures rose to the mid 80s and it didn’t rain for 2 weeks.  You would have thought we had died and gone to heaven.  People took off of work, spend the day in the park, at the beach, or generally just laying outside.  For the rest of the year, if you want warm weather, better head to Portugal!

Here is the weather forecast for yesterday, copied directly from the Met’s website:

A mix of bright spells and showers today. A few of the showers may be heavy, with a slight risk of hail. Windy again with strong and gusty westerly winds, the winds will moderate in the late evening. Highest temperatures of 8 Celsius.

And my “real-world” assessment:

It lashed rain, and then the blinding sun would peak through between the storms. Most of the showers were heavy, and nearly every shower will be accompanied by hail. We were under a wind-warning. 50-60 kph (30-35mph), with gusts to 100-110 kph (60-65mph).  If it is your trash day, you can find your bin somewhere in the next county.  It was 5C/40F when I drafted this post.

Now, it’s not all Met Éireann’s fault.  The weather here is just…well…variable.  It’s not like the temperature steadily rises and falls, and the rain follows a noticeable pattern. Part of this is just life on an island in the north Atlantic.  But it would help if they offered wind speeds, wind chills, or numerical probability of precipitation, i.e. “There is a 40% chance of rain today.”

Given the discrepancy between Met Éireann’s forecast and reality, below is my handy translation guide to Irish Weather:

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]What Met Éireann says:[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]What will really happen:[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Mostly Sunny[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Mostly cloudy, but you might see the sun once or twice.[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Close[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Muggy[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Breezy[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Windy[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Fresh[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Freeze your a$$ off cold, regardless of season[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Cool[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Cold[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Clear or sunny spells[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]You might see the sky[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Bright[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Cloudy but not raining[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Warm[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]You will be cold[/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Unseasonably warm[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Don’t put away those winter coats.  It’s still May![/one_half]

[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Scattered Showers[/one_half]
[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”yes” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”” class=”” id=””]Raining where you are – without fail[/one_half]

Rugby! (An expat’s view)

Since moving to Ireland, one of the things that Brad and I miss the most is the college football season.  The fans, the rivalries, the regional politics – it’s great fun!  But one of the fun things about being an expat is learning to love new sports and new rivalries.  Recently, Brad and I have really become fans of rugby.  It is probably the sport that is most similar to football, in terms of play structure and scoring.  The ball is roughly the same shape, and teams score points in the same way as American football.  A “try” is where the ball is carried over the goal line.  A try is worth 5 points, and another 2 points can be earned via a conversion kick – very similar to the extra point in football.  Teams can also earn points via a penalty kick through the goal posts for 3 points.

In addition to the similar rules of the game, rugby also has the regional rivalry that I really enjoy. Right now, we are in the middle of the Six Nations rugby tournament.   The six teams that play are Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France, and Italy.  Since these teams are “national” teams, most of the players also play on professional rugby teams – so like in the Olympics, rivals become teammates and teammates become rivals.  Ireland is coming off a huge win this past Sunday against England – but matches with Scotland and Wales await us.  The video above was an advert that BBC Sport aired in 2012 for the Six Nations tournament, but the ad was banned in England for being ‘unpatriotic’.

The main differences in rugby are the absence of the forward pass, length of play, and absences of pads.  The lack of the forward pass makes the sport particularly frustrating to watch as football fans.  I keep yelling at the screen – “Pass the ball!!” Instead, they toss the ball in these strange horizontal formations.  The game is much much faster than football.  There are no timeouts, no breaks for change of possession.  If a player gets injured, I have seen the medical staff run out onto the field to tend to the injured player while the rest of the players continue with the game!  Referees can stop the game for (major) injuries or to issue penalties, but generally the time does not stop on the clock.  Rather, additional time is added at the end of the match – so you never know when exactly the game is going to end.  Did I mention that rugby players don’t wear pads?  It is really shocking to watch these huge guys run full force into one another. Receiving stitches on the side line is no big deal. Blood everywhere.  It’s just not as sanitized as football is.

These guys are incredibly fit.  (I can’t lie – the scenery is nice!) Would American football players survive rugby?  I’m not so sure!

February Blues

February is the worst month ever.  Seriously.  Especially if you live in Ireland.  (Or anywhere in the Northeastern United States!)

When I first moved here, a fellow expat mentioned that February was the worst month to live in Ireland.  I didn’t pay much heed to her comment at the time.  It was my first February in Ireland, I was 8 months pregnant with Patrick, and basically focused on getting to the end of what had felt like a very LOOOONG pregnancy.  But by the next year, I completely understood what my friend Andrea was talking about.  February is the worst.month.ever.  It is cold, and windy, and still full-on winter here.  The month still feels quite dark and dreary.  It’s not that the weather or lack of sunlight is so much worse in February than in other months, but it is the 4th month of wind, rain, and cold.

November is cold, but the holiday season is just around the corner.

December is full of fun, holiday cheer, and plenty of activities to get you out of the house.

January is “new year, new you” and usually starts out with enthusiasm, which quickly wanes.

…..And by the fourth month, we have all had enough.

It always seems like something goes wrong in February.  Last year, all 5 of us got the flu for TWO WEEKS. (The first year I had not gotten a flu shot – that worked out well!) This year, it’s been a pile of frustrations that have slowly been accumulating. So tired of it.  Also, February is the beginning of spring in Texas, and pictures of sunny days fill my social media, which makes me even crabbier.  Before I moved to Ireland, I thought Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was a myth.  I was wrong!  SAD (worst acronym ever) is very prevalent here.

So what am I doing about it this year?

  • I think that at least knowing that February is rough helps me prepare for it.  When the bad thoughts start to pile up, I think to myself – only a few more weeks until March.
  • Get outside, weather permitting. It was sunny last Monday, and the schools were off for mid-term break, so the kids and I went on a walk in Phoenix Park.  It was cold.  And windy.  But at least the sun was shining, and we all got a bit of fresh air.  It also helps me to see that my kids are just as happy hunting for sticks, while tromping through the mud, as they are running around at the beach.
  • My parents are here!  (Ok, so this really isn’t something that I’m doing, but it helps that my parents are joining us for a few weeks.)
  • I’m taking Vitamin D.  Because the angle of the sun is so low here, we do not get as much Vitamin D as someone who lives in say, Texas. It may have a placebo effect, but I don’t care.  I do feel a bit better taking it.
  • We booked a trip to Portugal over Easter. Having something out on the horizon to look forward to, helps tremendously.  Every time it starts to sleet (again), I just think, “Only 48 more days until we go to Portugal!”
  • And speaking of getting away, Brad and I are going to Berlin for a long weekend. Well, Brad has a conference. I’m taking advantage of my mother watching the kids, and tagging along. It will still be cold and dark, but at least I’ll be seeing new sights.

Is February bad where you live?  What do you do to banish the negativity?

Only 6 days until March.

Politics in Ireland Part 2: Voting

Last week, I wrote about an overview about Politics in Ireland.  This week, I’m writing about another interesting topic in Irish politics: Voting.

1.  For starters, although Brad and I are not Irish citizens, we are still eligible to vote in local elections.  These elections are the equivalent of municipal elections in the US.  When we first moved here, a local elections official dropped off a voter registration card for us.  We tried to explain that we were ineligible, since we weren’t citizens.  He looked at me as if I was nuts, and told me that “Of course you can still vote in the local elections!”

2.  There is no “Absentee” voting.  If you aren’t here on the day, you don’t get to vote.  Period.  To some degree, this makes sense. There are between 1M and 3M (depending on the source) Irish passport holders living abroad.  About 770,000 of those individuals were born in Ireland, and most of the rest are 2nd or 3rd generation Irish.  If everyone who holds Irish citizenship was allowed to vote, even if they never intend to live here, then a huge portion of the electorate would be making the decisions that they themselves do not intend to live with.  Given the size of the diaspora, it makes little sense to have them all vote.  I know there is an equally valid counter argument to this viewpoint, i.e. the American absentee ballot system, however this policy does go a long way to explaining why voter participation is so high (appx 64% in 2011) in Ireland.  Use it or lose it!

3.  For voting, Ireland uses the “Single Transferable Vote” system.  As a voter, you pick your top 3 candidates, and the order that you select them.  If for some reason, your #1 candidate does not have enough votes to win his/her seat, your vote is transferred to your #2 choice, and then to your #3 choice, if necessary.  It seems complicated, but once you understand the system, it actually seems quite fair.  The STV system eliminates the challenge that many American voters feel about voting for a third party candidate, the feeling that they are “throwing their vote away”.  With the STV system, you get to choose more than one candidate for the seat, thus improving your chances that at least one of your choices will emerge victorious. You can read more about STV here.

4.  Less “Election-Night” hype.  When the polls close for an election, the ballots are locked away until morning, when the vote counting starts.  There is none of the all-night parade of electoral commentary.  The votes are counted with representatives of all parties present, but there is not as much media fanfare as there is in the US.

5.  Again, all politics is local…really local.  When was the last time your congressional representative showed up at your front door?  Any candidates drop by to personally introduce themselves in the weeks leading up to the election?  Unless you happen to live in Iowa or New Hampshire, your answer to these questions is likely “Never.”  In Ireland, door-to-door canvassing is an integral part of campaigning.  In the last elections, last spring, we had candidates from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Socialist, Green Party, Labour, Sinn Féin, and an independent candidate come by the house (that I know of).  I am certain that I would never get that kind of interaction with my state or congressional representatives in the US.  Brad and I created a list of questions to ask the candidates – mainly questions about the building of a new school (we have totally turned into THOSE voters!)  The level of interaction definitely has its downsides – like constituents calling their representative to complain about every little thing.  But still, I like that the politicians aren’t as distant from their constituency.

Next week, I’ll write about some of the downsides of Irish politics, and European politics in general. (Hint: it’s sloooowww.)

Live and Let Live

By now, I’m sure you have seen this video from Similac, about the parenting/mommy “wars”.   It was moving and funny, but for me, left a bad aftertaste.  I both loved and hated how it played into the typical parental stereotypes – the “yoga-loving, earth mother”, “career mom”, “stay-at-home dad”, “cloth-diaper environmental fanatic”, “natural birth zealot”, and “breastpolice”.  The hyperbolic stereotypes definitely added to the humor – “drug-free pool birth, dolphin-assisted”, anyone?

The video also struck me as so…American.  My reaction doesn’t stem from a judgmental, everyone-should-live-like-Europeans way, but just how in American culture, we tend to reduce issues to black/white, liberal/conservative, wrong/right.  We draw lines in the sand and take sides.  The implication is that you can’t be the nursing mom who also supplements with formula, that you can’t love your career and love your child, or that generally, by making one choice, you are rendered incapable of seeing how someone else might make a different choice.

Somehow, it is a bit more nuanced over here.  They tend to see things in shades of gray, rather than black and white.  You want to breastfeed, that’s fine.  You want to bottle feed?  Also fine. Ireland has one of the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the EU, but I was never made to feel out of place or uncomfortable.  Co-sleeping? Definitely not the norm, but not criticized either.  The working vs stay-at-home debate is circumvented by generous maternity leave policies.  My Irish friends see the mommy wars as so over the top.  “Why would anyone want to fight about that?  Why would anyone care?” they ask.  I can’t recall any heated conversations I have had about parenting choices with my Irish friends. None.  Sure, my friends knew about my choices, and I know about theirs, but it just isn’t topic of debate.  (Now schooling choices…that’s a whole other ball of wax!)

Cynics might call this “Moral Relativism” – basically whatever is right for you is fine, and whatever is right for me is fine.  Even this is phrase is over the top, as it implies a moral choice.  That somehow, one option is morally superior to another.

I would call it:

Live and Let Live

 

The Best Onion Dip Ever

Happy New Year’s Eve!  Are you celebrating tonight, or enjoying a quiet evening in?  Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a great time.

I wanted to share a recipe I found last week that makes the most amazing onion dip.  Here in Ireland, many of the standard American party foods are not available.  There are no Fritos, Velveeta, proper Lays potato chips, ranch dressing (gasp!), or french onion dip.  Now – the Irish have plenty of their own “snack foods”, but they just don’t cut it when I’m craving good ol’ American-style snacks.  We had a small get-together on Christmas Eve with some friends, and we wanted to serve some dishes that reminded us of home.  I ran across this recipe in a Holiday Entertaining magazine from last year, and had to try it.  The results were amazing – this is so much better than the stuff you can buy at the store.  Don’t be put off by the amount of time it takes.  Seriously.  While the onions roasted, I finished other things in the kitchen.  You could make this dip for your New Year’s Party tonight!

Caramelized Onion & Shallot Dip

Serves 16 – but let’s be honest, 2 people could pack it away with enough motivation!

2 lb large yellow onions, thinly sliced.  I used our mandoline, but you could also use a food processor.

2 large shallots, thinly sliced. About 6 oz/170g total. Our shallots are tiny – I think I used 6.

4 sprigs thyme

1/4C olive oil

Salt and Pepper

1 C dry white wine (I used stock/water in a pinch because I didn’t have any wine at that moment.)

2 T Sherry vinegar (I used balsamic.)

2 C sour cream

1/4C minced fresh chives

1/4C plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt

2 t onion powder

Preheat oven to 425F/220C.  Mix onions, shallots, thyme sprigs and oil in large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast onion mixture, stirring and scraping down sides of pan every 10 minutes until mixture starts to break down and turn golden brown, 45-55 minutes.

Discard thyme sprigs. Add wine and vinegar; stir to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan.  Return onion mixture to oven. Continue roasting, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown and completely caramelized, about 15 minutes longer.

Let onion mixture cool to room temperature.

Transfer onion mixture to work surface and mince. Transfer to medium bowl. Stir in sour cream, chives, yogurt, and onion powder.  Season with salt and pepper.

Dip can be made up to 3 days ahead.

Enjoy!

Recipe can be found online here.