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Life in late summertime Bordeaux is très très bon! Quietly observe the locals in this jewel of a city and you’ll see they live by the popular French credo,  Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup (“Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly!”).

Never ones to shy away from local tradition, Mountaineering Man and I embraced the way of the Bordelais and spent four days enjoying everything the city had to offer.

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For starters, we opted for an Airbnb apartment over a hotel, something we’re doing more of these days. The lovely Julia’s central, third-story flat was perfect. Housed in a 200-year-old building but fully refurbished, it featured dark-wood floors, exposed brick walls and large windows that let in a lovely cross-breeze and lots of sunlight. I was grateful for the climb up the sturdy stone stairs to her apartmeIMG_5748[1]nt; by the time I got to the top, I’d rationalised away whatever treat I’d eaten earlier.

We tried to achieve that sort of balance on a daily basis, which is easy in this extremely walk-able city. The promenade along the River Garonne, with its sweeping views and breathtaking landmarks such as the Place de la Bourse, is the ideal running route and one we took full advantage of. Breakfast was always the same but never dull: a fresh-baked croissant from our local boulangerie, a glass pot of thick natural yogurt with fruit compote and a cup of café crème, enjoyed al fresco on rattan bistro chairs facing the street – bien sûr.

The weather in late August was slightly humid but quite mild, about 23 C (74 degrees Fahrenheit). Suspicious we may be returning to a cool, gray Dublin, we decided to explore the outdoor attractions versus museums and galleries. It was a good move. Within a day we’d familiarised ourselves with our new neighbourhood and found some real local gems like the Diabolo Menthe record shop and Plume Small Kitchen cafe, an airy, rustic restaurant with a focus on fusion and fresh, local ingredients. And though we didn’t venture inside, we walked the perimeter of the Basilique St-Michel, a formidable Gothic church with a bell tower we could see from our apartment window.

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Volunteers at CrossCare

 

Breaking bread is one of the most ancient and time-honoured ways of bringing people together. When people sit down to share in the comfort of eating a meal together, very little else matters. It’s about nourishing the body and taking pleasure in some good food with those in your community.

This is the thinking behind the cafes at Crosscare, a non-for-profit organisation that provides services to the homeless and disadvantaged. Unlike soup kitchens, the Crosscare cafes are beautifully decorated and look and feel like a lovely restaurant – complete with a blackboard of specials and wait staff. They are also open to the public, which means you may have a table of office professionals next to one with an elderly widower who comes for lunch every day. The prices are cheap and the same for everyone: €3 for a three-course hot lunch and even less for a sandwich or full breakfast.

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I learned about Crosscare a few months after I started working for Kellogg’s, because we donate lots of cereal to all of their facilities through our Breakfast for Better Days program. The bulk of the food is donated and there are many people who volunteer their time to keep the place running smoothly.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since I landed in Ireland. On the one hand, it seems like yesterday that I put an entire apartment worth of furniture into storage in Los Angeles and set out on what was supposed to be a one-year adventure here.

On the other hand, so much has happened since arriving – far more than the average for four years, if there was such a tracker (“How Many Major Life Moments Tracker” or something of the sort). I met and married Mountaineering Man;  lived in three apartments; had two regular radio features; am currently at my second job; visited Paris, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Seville, Brittany, Regensburg, London, Madrid, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Japan, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Mayo and a number of other towns and villages in Ireland since settling here. I’ve been to three wakes, two funerals, two weddings and one baptism. I’ve made dozens of new friends, both Irish and expats, and have chatted with at least 100 taxi drivers.

When you live in Ireland, you gotta (or “hafta” as the Irish would say) talk to the taxi drivers – they know everything.

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Family photo, Erly March 1953, (1)

(L-R: My grandfather (Ojiisan), Aunt Kyoko, Aunt Hiroko, grandmother (Obaachan), Uncle Eichi, my mother, who is the baby of the family, and Aunt Yoko)

My uncle has always been a dreamlike figure to me, someone who I know only through stories my mother told me. He was gone long before I was born, but that fact has never affected my fascination with him and his story.

He was born in the late 1920s in Osaka, Japan, an intolerant era for people born with any sort of visible disability. Because he had club hands and a limp when he walked, it begs to wonder if he ever had a chance at a normal life in a time where ignorance often led to discrimination. My mother told me about how when Eichi needed help finding something in a shop, some clerks would simply ignore him and pretend he wasn’t there.

Some would ask him directly what his mother had done to be given such an imperfect son. I always imagine those hurtful words being spoken with particular emphasis, considering he was the first and only son in the family – a position that, under normal circumstances, would have been acknowledged and even celebrated many times throughout his life.

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When I moved to Ireland just over four years ago, I went through my fair share of culture shock. There were the big things – like struggling to understand what everyone was saying (to be fair, I was living in Drogheda!) – and a million little ones, like seeing grated cheese in a cold sandwich (so…odd) and realising that you can’t buy liquor on Good Friday.

Life was quite different here than what I was used to in Los Angeles, my adopted hometown. I say “adopted” because I was actually born in Japan and lived there until I was five years old. With my mom’s entire family still living there, we go back to visit when we can, and a couple of weeks ago I went back again, this time bringing my Irish husband along for the first time.

I’ve heard many describe Tokyo as being like another planet with all its flashing lights and cosplay devotees and talking billboards. This is true, but Japan is also one of the most civilised countries in the world: it’s extremely clean, incredibly efficient and the people, respectful and polite.

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You can literally set your watch by the train timings; if a train is scheduled to arrive at the station at 13:02, it arrives and departs at 13:02. Taxi cabs are nothing like the ones here or in America. Drivers wear full suits and white gloves and doors open automatically via remote (in fact, drivers will insist that you do NOT touch the doors). They are so clean you can eat off them. When you walk into a restaurant or a shop, the employees immediately greet you with irasshaimase!, which is “welcome” in Japanese. And when you leave, the entire staff calls out a cheerful arigato!

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When I lived in Los Angeles and worked as a freelance writer, one of my favourite afternoon breaks involved going to the local art house movie theatre for an escape. The Laemmle Theatre in Pasadena always featured a good mix of indie and foreign films, plus they’d turn a blind eye when I’d sneak in a cup of good coffee from the cafe at  Vroman’s Bookstore next door.

I typically chose European films for the ambiance. What is it about skirts fluttering against the tailwind of a Vespa that sparks a desire in every woman to live out her own Fellini-esque fantasy? For two hours I’d sit alone in the dark, quietly sipping coffee whilst absorbed in these fanciful flights of imagination.

I’d dream of one day visiting the seedy piano bar in The Beat That My Heart Skipped or the muted rouge-hued cafes in Amelie – with a dashing European suitor, of course. Like the young schoolgirl who spent her evenings envisaging a new life abroad whilst singing along to Sur les quais du vieux Paris in An Education, I too would aspire to one day turn my Francophile fantasies into reality.

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RUNNING 2

Mountaineering Man is a bona fide runner. He started about 5 years ago and, countless 10 k’s later, has never looked back. Rain, sleet, snow or shine he’s out there, pounding the pavement 4-5 days a week.

Me? I’ve always been one of these sporadic worker-outers. I’ll  join a gym, religiously hit the cross trainer for several weeks before burning out and quitting. I’ll take a few months to decide what to do next, and then do that for a few weeks before taking another extended break.

It was during the last one of these hiatuses that I decided something had to change. I was tired of gyms, particularly as they are SO overpriced here in Ireland (I used to go to one of LA’s best gyms for 75% of the price of what I was paying at the mediocre gym in Clontarf I just left). And as I prefer morning workouts, I was also getting tired of the whole gym rigmarole – you know the one that involves packing all your work clothes, makeup, hairbrushes and other girly bits just to realise once you’re at the gym that you’ve forgotten something essential, like your underwear.

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Table peeps

As my fellow expat and friend Lily said during our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday evening, our friends are family to us as we don’t have our blood relatives nearby. Whether they know it or not, our mates play a very important role in our lives here – far away from our moms, dads, sisters and brothers back home.

This was the spirit behind what my friends Bill and Sharon dubbed Thanksgivingpolooza, a three-day weekend away in the midlands of Ireland to celebrate a very American holiday. The idea sprung about a couple of months ago, when Mountaineering Man considered who we could invite for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Every year we have to choose just a handful of friends, as our space in Dublin simply doesn’t allow for any more. A hunt for a bigger space was launched.

House

After some Google searches and Twitter queries I came across Bishopstown House, a beautifully-restored Georgian estate with multiple bedrooms, two sitting rooms, a roof deck and a massive kitchen. There’s also a private pub and more bedrooms next door in a converted stable house. There is some interesting history behind the building; Michael Jackson chose it to be his Irish estate but he passed away before the refurb was completed. It is now rented out as a holiday home. Sad for the King of Pop, but lucky for us! After a few group emails, I booked it and on Friday we all met up at the property with food, drink and supplies and hunkered down for the weekend. Thanksgivingpolooza 2013 was on!

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Food brings people together, and there’s no better evidence of this than the daily lunchtime meal at my office. I’m very lucky to work at a company that provides its employees tasty, inexpensive and healthy food for lunch every day, prepared for us by a staff of dedicated chefs. There is a different menu every day, each featuring a hot main course (always with a vegetarian alternative) and side dishes as well as a daily salad bar with plenty of variety.

Last week the Q Café at Kellogg’s featured some very special menus, one that I had a hand in creating. It was the much-anticipated Come Dine With Me competition: a representative from each department was chosen to create a full meal menu (starter, main course, dessert) with recipes, which the canteen cooks would make for the entire staff at our Kellogg’s European headquarters. I was putting my best recipe skills forward on behalf of the Marketing department. No pressure, right?

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Of course there was a kicker to the normal CDWM rules: We were each given a star ingredient that we had to feature in our main dish, and I – ever the unlucky one – drew FISH. I say unlucky because, in my experience, a lot of Irish people don’t like fish unless it’s battered and fried, and our kitchen doesn’t use a deep fat fryer. The others received relatively tame main-dish ingredients: Jenny (Nutrition) got chicken; Joe (Sales/Procurement) got beef; Diarmuid (Supply Chain) got ham/bacon and Ruanne (HR) had to feature pork in her main course.

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Someone recently asked me how I have found the first year of marriage. When this question is posed to newlyweds, I think the answer varies wildly depending on who you ask; some will speak of an extended honeymoon that just seems to keep on going while others will express surprise at how it wasn’t what he/she expected it to be (this could be good or bad, depending on the cause(s) of the surprise. Of course there are a million other answers in between.

For me, the first year of marriage to Mountaineering Man has continued to solidify the bond that was initiated on our first date just over three years ago. I’ve always wanted a partner in life, someone who truly accepts me – wobbly bits and all – and who shares similar values but also inspires new perspective and change. Someone I feel secure with; a person who can stand his ground but also considers there’s a different way to look at something.

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Our first year hasn’t been easy; as you read in my previous post, his mother is unwell and we’ve spent a number of weekends staying with his family who live two hours away. We’re always rushing to get basic chores done like cleaning the house (which we get to every few weeks these days!) and the worry of the situation has led to many sleepless nights – insomnia is rampant in our house lately! Some days we’re like two grumpy toddlers who desperately need a nap, but instead of throwing ourselves on the ground in a heap of tears we’ll snap at each other and slam a few doors to make a point (ahem, that would be more me than MM, I must admit).

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