Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our Lil' Punkin

Well, thankfully the British equivalent of Wal-Mart (Tesco) did indeed have pumpkins.

Although I have since learned that the pumpkin festival we went to actually DID have pumpkins for sale. They were just in a really hard-to-find location and there were no signs anywhere to tell you about them. If we had managed to find them though, and bought pumpkins, we could have gotten free entry to the farm, which would have saved us money. Sigh. But I digress...

On Saturday we initiated Madeline into the joy that is pumpkin carving. Daddy helped Madeline with her pumpkin while Mommy did the other one. Needless to say, Daddy and Madeline's pumpkin turned out best. Madeline even helped design the face for her pumpkin: Bill drew several sets of eyes, noses, and mouths, and let her pick the ones she liked best. She wasn't super sure about helping to pull out the seeds, etc. at first, but it didn't take her too long to get into it. We've put our pumpkins outside on the wall by our driveway, and we have lots of fun waving to them every time we go by. Thankfully no one's smashed them yet--I don't want to have to try to explain that to Madeline if it happens. She's rather fond of her pumpkin, as evidenced by the photo of her kissing it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Pumpkin" Festival

I must really have bad karma when it comes to food-themed festivals. It's getting to be something of a family joke.
It all started with the infamous "Cherry Festival" right after we moved to Illinois. There was not a single cherry in sight. All it was was a really cheap carnival.
Today the trend continued. As a big fan of Halloween, specifically the beautiful fall colors and pumpkin farms, I was excited to see that a local farm was having a "Pumpkin Festival" today. I promptly put it on the calendar and informed Bill that he was taking Madeline and I to it. I told Madeline we were going to a farm to get her a pumpkin. She was really excited, and talked about getting a "pumpkin for Madeline" the whole way there. Never make promises to a toddler if you don't have total control over the outcome...
It wasn't quite as bad as the Cherry Festival. There were a few, small pumpkins. They had a pumpkin sling shot, and at specific times (none while we were there) they had pumpkin carving. But we did not see a single pumpkin for sale ANYWHERE.
Now, it wasn't a total waste of time and money--Madeline actually did have fun seeing, holding, and feeding all the animals. And there was play equipment. And the weather was great. All told, we spent about two hours there, in fact.
But we came home without a pumpkin for Madeline.
I told her I'd buy her one at the grocery store. Sigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hardy Visit and Trip to Ireland

I know I'm a bit behind in posting this, but as you may have gathered from my previous blog, I kind of had other things on my mind...

We recently had the chance to spend some time with Bill's parents--they came over here to visit us, and then we all went to Ireland for a week together. It was wonderful (though admittedly a bit stressful with a two-year-old)! A big thank you to Corrina for helping me to plan the trip to Ireland--I couldn't have done it without all your great advice!

I've decided the easiest way to cover everything is to do a day-by-day recap. This means it's going to be a really long posting. It should probably be more like 7 separate blogs. Consider yourself warned. Oh, and a note on the pictures: even after trying to just keep the "good" ones, I still have about 300 pictures from the trip. That's what you get with three cameras going at once! If any of you really want to see them all, let me know, and I can send you a link to see them on a photo website.

So, here goes:

Bill's parents arrived about lunchtime on Friday, September 26th. In an attempt to keep them awake so they could adjust to the time change quicker, we went to the park with Madeline in the afternoon.

Saturday there was an "Autumn Faire" in our neighborhood, so we went and checked that out.

Sunday was a bit more relaxing--just church and then a bit of a birthday celebration that evening--Bill's birthday was the next day, and Madeline's was the coming Friday.

Monday we drove out to Woburn Safari Park. It's about an hour and a half from here, and it's loads of fun. We'd been there before, but it was nearly a year ago, so Madeline got a LOT more out of it this time. Oh, and the really good monkey shots were taken by Bryant (Grandpa) with his fancy new camera!

We also found an honest-to-goodness Mexican restaurant in the town near there so Bill could have his favorite food for his birthday supper!

Tuesday was mostly packing and preparation.

Wednesday the 1st of October we packed up the "MPV" (a.k.a. minivan) we'd rented for the trip, and were on the road by about 8:30am. We drove about 4 1/2 hours to the ferry port in Wales, and then the ferry itself took about 2 hours. Driving about 2 miles through Dublin once we got to the other side took about as long as the entire ferry crossing had! Hooray for Bill, who did all the driving on the trip. I'm glad it wasn't me.

Thursday we got up and went to the Dublin zoo in the morning, mostly for Madeline, though it is a rather good zoo, even if it is still partially under construction.

That afternoon we took a guided bus tour of Dublin, and went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I missed most of the bus tour, because by then I was holding a sleeping Madeline in the back of the bottom of the bus. She was not interested in being in a stroller any longer, but really needed the nap! So the pictures of most of Dublin are courtesy of Bill's parents, who were on the top of the bus.

Friday we left Dublin and headed down to Waterford to see the Waterford Crystal factory. This was one of the stops I'd really been looking forward to. We took the tour, which was really interesting, then poor Bill got to "entertain" Madeline while the rest of us shopped!

After Waterford, we drove to Cobh. This was the port that a lot of Irish emigrants left through, especially during the famine years, and was also the last port of call for the Titanic.

That night we had Madeline's birthday celebration, complete with a candle on cake at supper and lots of presents to open! Happy second birthday, kiddo. I promise one of these years we'll actually let you celebrate a birthday at home... (Last year we were on our house-hunting trip before we moved here).

Saturday we started out the day at the Blarney Castle. This was one of my favorite stops on our trip. Bill, Grandpa, and I kissed the Blarney Stone. Grandma didn't want to, and although Madeline did, she wasn't quite big enough. You may not all know this, but to kiss the Blarney Stone, you have to lay down on your back, and scoot backwards while the gentleman who works there holds onto you, then grabbing onto some iron bars, you kiss it upside down. So Bill found Madeline a "big Blarney Stone" on the side of one of the walls, and she got to kiss that one! Also, big kudos to Bill for carrying Madeline both up AND down the hundreds of teeny tiny, curved, steep, slippery steps to the top of the castle. I seriously don't know how he did it. I was holding on with both hands as it was, and I wasn't also trying to hold a squirming toddler... The grounds of Blarney Castle are gorgeous, and worth the visit for that alone.

After Blarney, we drove to Killarney and tried to go to the Muckross House Traditional Farms--a farm set up as it would have been in the 1920s/30s, before they had widespread electricity. Despite all information stating that it should have been open, and specifically timing our trip to be there on Saturday, since that was the day it's open, they'd closed a month early this year. Sigh. The Muckross House tour was impressive, but more than a little lost on Madeline! Although she did like the wool that the spinning demonstrator gave her...

Sunday we drove the Ring of Kerry, and we had absolutely gorgeous weather for it. I think this was the highlight of the trip for just about everyone. And the best part of the Ring of Kerry for us was a little island called Valentia that we took a small detour to. It's not on the main route, and tour buses can't go there, but it has some just spectacular and breath-taking scenery. Thanks to Stephanie (Grandma) for making the decision to go there! Pictures really don't even come close to doing justice to the beauty of the area.

Near the end of the Ring, we stopped at Torc Waterfall, which I'd wanted to see the day before when we were at Muckross House, but the weather had been too wet. I guess it made for an even better waterfall when we finally saw it!

Monday we went to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, near Limerick. The castle is decorated from the 1500s, and the folk park is more 1800s, so that was a little confusing at first, but it was worth the visit. I think the Folk Park would be better in the "high season" (summer tourist time), but the castle (and really, a lot of the places we went the whole week) was probably better during the off season. It was nice not to deal with crowds everywhere (especially on the steps in the castles!).

Unfortunately, after lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. We did actually go to the Cliffs of Moher (despite a ridiculously confusing detour due to a closed road), but literally couldn't see anything. In fact, I ended up staying in the car with Madeline, since it was so cold and wet and she was half asleep anyway. When Bill got back to the car, he told me it wasn't worth getting soaked for. Stephanie took a picture for me to prove it, and I have to admit it's one of my favorite pictures of the trip, just because it's so ironic! For those who don't know, the Cliffs of Moher is supposed to be one of the best views in all of Ireland, and I'm sure it is, on a clear day!

Since the weather was so nasty and we were a little behind schedule anyway, we decided to skip the rest of our plan for the day (a drive through the Burren) and just went to our B&B for the night. Incidentally, that B&B--the Springhouse, in Tipperary, was the best one we stayed at on the whole trip. I'd definitely recommend it.

Tuesday we went to the Rock of Cashel. It was really impressive, and had a somber and mysterious feel to it. At least it did to me, if that doesn't sound too corny. Some of that may have had to do with the weather--it was another gloomy and wet day. But I shouldn't complain: two wet days out of seven in Ireland in October isn't bad at all!!

I should probably explain that last picture: The inside of a chapel that was part of the Rock of Cashel had been painted with religious murals. During the time of the Reformation, they thought that those types of art were idolatrous, so they whitewashed over it all. They're trying to uncover and protect the old art, but it's obviously a painstaking process.

Unfortunately we didn't have time for our last planned stop of the trip. We were going to go to Powerscourt Gardens on our way back to the ferry, but we just didn't have the time, even if the weather had been nicer. I guess we'll just have to go back someday!

We got in to Wales at about 8:30 that night.

Wednesday, the 8th of October, we drove the 4 1/2 hours back home. Madeline was super happy to be home. Poor kid, she really was a trooper, but two-year-olds thrive on routine, and a "routine" of getting up every morning to leave and go somewhere else just doesn't cut it! Not to mention putting in over 1000 miles of driving (meaning being strapped into her car seat) in one week!!

Grandma and Grandpa left the next day to get to London. Their flight out of Heathrow was early enough that they decided to spend their last night in a hotel rather than try to get from Peterborough to London in time. Madeline misses her Grandma and Grandpa, but she had a lot of fun with them while they were here, and so did we. I'm glad I can now say I've been to Ireland, and it really is a beautiful place; well worth the visit.