Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Week 21 - Zombie to Limping

There isn’t much to say about the early part of the week. My cold came on full blown with an obnoxious cough. I struggled to get over jet lag, waking up around 3:30 for days, sometimes falling back asleep and sometimes not. I made it through work, luckily able to dig into a big project that kept me focused, but then would go home exhausted and wait for 9:00 so I could go to bed. I did go to knitting (being comatose with friends is better than alone at home) but didn’t swim. I was finally feeling relatively normal by Thursday and was able to contribute to the conversation at book club. By Friday I was making lists for the weekend and buying flowers over lunch. I was back, baby!

I went home a bit early so I could mow and shower before meeting Anne Marie and Andrea for dinner at Chips for Anne Marie’s birthday. Well, I had changed into my work clothes and was about to get the mower out when Billy showed up with two friends. He’d brought a trainee to take over now that he’s working at Burger King. So while they mowed, I got busy putting my closets back. I had called the floor guy earlier in the week to say he needed to reinstall one door in my bedroom but he was blowing me off so I decided to stop waiting. I was brutal in what I kept, ending up with 3 leaf bags full of clothes for Goodwill. That felt good and then I went out for a nice dinner. Great start to the weekend so far.

The three of us were together again for an Omaha run on Saturday. Anne Marie’s husband had taken all seven kids to Iowa for his uncle’s funeral so AM had a rare, child-free day. She and Andrea had stayed up late watching season 2 of Downton Abbey but hadn’t finished so Anne Marie sat in the back seat, watching DVDs while we drove and sometimes while we shopped. We hit all our regular spots – Personal Threads (I didn’t buy any yarn), Goodwill (dropped those clothes – done!), Penzey’s, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. We were home by mid-afternoon and I had a fully stocked frig again. Yay! I did a few more chores and went to bed. Sunday was my designated day for gardening.

Well, I was outside before noon on Sunday to start in the veggie beds and had been weeding for 45 minutes or so when I stopped to pet my neighbor’s dog before heading in for seeds. I bent down and something popped behind my knee and I gasped in pain. Clearly I was done. I couldn’t walk and my knee was seriously bent. I hobbled into the house and spent the rest of the day sitting and knitting. The garden would not be planted this weekend, nor my containers. Oh well. The bright side was it hadn’t happened on my trip. While being in pain wasn’t ideal, I was home and could cope. What a week!


Week 20 - Ireland and Home

The week started with Jean’s class on Pleats and Peplums, which was conveniently held in Powerscourt Centre, home of Dublin’s other yarn shop. After the class, which was fun, I did some damage buying yarn. All to support small, local businesses, of course. Then we had another free afternoon in the city. Some of us had talked about taking a taxi to the Kilmainham Gaol but that fell apart so Andrea and I took a city bus to the National Botanic Garden and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with flowers. I love the glass houses and it conveniently waited to run until we were inside the orchid house, where I took tons of pics because we were reading The Orchid Thief for book club. It was a nice end to our time in Dublin.

Since I could call American with a local number from the hotel, I spent a bit of time before dinner on the phone with American trying to guilt them into changing our tickets without charging us a fee. We had tickets to go back on Saturday, the day after the tour was over, that we’d bought because they were $600 cheaper than flying Friday. Each. Well, I got an agent in Indian with such a thick accent that I had to constantly ask her to repeat herself. I couldn’t even understand when she asked if she could put me on hold. And I’m not bad with accents. I asked her to book us on the Aer Lingus flight leaving Shannon on Friday around noon. She started out by telling me there were no flights from Shannon to Omaha. Duh! I told her we’d have to connect through Chicago. Then she booked me the Aer Lingus flight to Boston and another flight from Chicago to Omaha. She could not seem to get that I needed a flight from Boston to Chicago. After insisting 3 times, she looked it up and said. “It’s 953 miles.” My response – “THAT’S WHY I NEED TO FLY!” After she booked that flight she said it would cost $600 more. She clearly had completely missed my point about waiving the fee. I demanded to speak to her supervisor. Well, she transferred me to someone who called me Mrs. Jenson and said she could waive the $225 change fee but not the fare difference. I hung up, frustrated and red in the face. I calmed down over dinner at Fallon & Byrne.

Tuesday was a wasted day. I guess they’d thought the previous version of this tour was too rushed so we took an entire day to drive from Dublin to Killarney. The bus lost its turbo power before our first stop so we had extra time to kill in the little town of Nenagh while we waited for a replacement bus. I took advantage of the time to hit a grocery store for the cereal I like (Kellogg’s Country Store) and cookies and tea. I also found a thrift shop and scored some cheap, good quality yarn. We stopped in Adare for lunch and then hit Kerry Woollen Mills outside of Killarney. That was the first thing that was worthwhile that day. We checked in at our hotel (huge room!) and had dinner there. At least I got a lot of knitting done on the bus, finishing the socks I’d been working on for the entire trip.

We had our last class the next morning – a sweater class. Since I have no intention of ever knitting a sweater for myself, I opted out of the measuring and math instead starting a new pair of socks. The class was pretty intense and she lost most of the class by half way through so I certainly didn’t miss anything. We had a couple of free hours to grab lunch and we walked clear to the other side of town to check out the yarn shop, which was a total bust. At 2:30, we took taxis to Muckross House and Gardens for a tour. We didn’t get there until 3:00 so we didn’t have any extra time beyond the farm and house tours so I didn’t even get to see the gardens. Too bad we couldn’t have used some of Tuesday’s extra time. We had dinner at Bricin, which specialized in boxties, which are kind of a hash brown-ish pancake wrapped around yummy filling. It was another luscious meal.

Thursday was our last day and we were all on our last once of energy on the way to Dingle. We had the morning to shop and I was able to fill in a few gaps in my stocking stuffers. We had Irish music in a pub at lunchtime but the fish & chips shop next door where we were supposed to get lunch was closed so I ended up with a sandwich and chips from the market down the street, which worked for me and went great with another Guiness. We took the scenic route along the coast on the way back, which entailed driving on the edge of a cliff and at one point the bus was inches from the rock on a hairpin turn. We stopped at Gallarus Oratory – a dry mortar building that’s supposed to be the oldest church in Ireland. I was one of the first up the hill and so missed the fun when Andrea went through the window feet first, egged on by the group because Philip said it would bring her good luck for life. Something like that. After that we headed back to Killarney for our farewell dinner at the hotel.

It was hard to believe the trip was over! I was going full steam until the very last day, which was surprising based on other trips when I’ve been ready to go home well before the last day. I’d made some great new friends, bought a ton of yarn, eaten amazing food and had a blast. I couldn’t have asked for more from the trip.

We were on the bus to Shannon before 8:00, which was bittersweet. Andrea and I were going to try again to change our tickets in person at the airport. Well, that didn’t work. Aer Lingus hadn’t issued our tickets so they couldn’t change them. I was fine with checking in at the airport hotel and relaxing for the day with Freddie and Carolyn, who were also leaving Saturday. Andrea wanted to try again with American so was at the Aer Lingus desk getting phone numbers when everyone started streaming back from security. Apparently knitting needles weren’t allowed on airplanes and since their bags were already checked, I took needles from the Canadians to put into my checked luggage. I’d be mailing them back from home. Andrea and I headed across to the hotel, where I sat in the lobby and knitted while she struggled with American. It all became useless when they took so long that we couldn’t make the flight. We checked in and went back to the lobby to hang out, which is where Freddie and Carolyn found us.

We headed into the hotel’s pub at noon for some lunch. By then Philip and Jean, whose flight wasn’t leaving until 7:00 p.m., had joined us. We sat knitting and chatting for so long after lunch that it was time for tea. Then we lingered after that and it was time for dinner. We ended up staying for more than 8 hours. We had an early flight so said our goodbyes and went to bed. I stayed up madly trying to finish my sock so I could sneak my 9” circular needle onto the plane. In doing that, I made the sock too short so it was all for nothing.

Saturday came bright and early. We went to the Aer Lingus counter to check in and they asked me if I had a print out of my itinerary. Apparently the idiot agent in India had cancelled my return flights! Aer Lingus came to the rescue again and rebooked me but we were now seated in row 41 instead of up front. Figures. Chalk another screw up for American. We grabbed a quick breakfast then spent the rest of our euros on candy before boarding the plane. When I got to our seats, I couldn’t believe it. We were in the first row where the middle seats go from 5 to 4 across so we had bulkhead seats – the miserable stand alone seats where your tray and video come out of your arm. I was crammed into my seat and would be for the next 8.5 hours and with a full flight, there were no other seats to switch to. It was the last straw and I lost it, crying in my seat for the first hour of the flight. Yet another miserable American experience. I bucked up though and settled in for the long haul.

The flight was otherwise uneventful but since we had to wait for hundreds of people to get off the plane before we could leave, we were going to be pushing it again. We had to go through passport control, get our luggage, go through customs, recheck our luggage and take a tram to another terminal. Well, my luggage came out first so it was on me to run as fast as I could to the flight and make sure they held it. We’d met two other people who’d be on the same flight. So I race walked through O’Hare, arriving at the gate dripping with sweat on to find they weren’t even boarding. At least we’d make the flight but sheesh! It was uneventful and Lori picked us up and got us home in record time.

My floors were gorgeous! I had to make my bed and shower before I could get in it and at that point I’d been up for 20 hours. It felt great to sleep in my own bed, which I was in by 10:00. Too bad I woke up at 3:30 and after failing to fall back asleep, I got up and unpacked. I was comatose on Sunday, watching the clock and waiting for bedtime. I had a scratchy throat before the day was over too so I must have picked up a germ, which wasn’t surprising since I’d been in the 2 busiest airports on the planet in the same day. But at least I was home before that happened and my knee had held up too. And I was in my home loving on my kitties after a wonderful trip so all was well. Life is good!
P.S. If you want to see all the pics I took (hundreds), click here.

Week 19 - All Over Ireland

Monday was a magical day! We had to be ready to leave at 6:45 for the bus to the airport. We’d be flying on a little bitty plane (I’m talking so small that they weigh you and tell you where to sit) to the smallest Aran island – Inisheer (Inis Oirr in Gaelic). Some of the group were nervous about the flight but it was less than 10 minutes long and I was unphased. Here’s a pic of the entire plane from the back seat where I was sitting. Talk about a new experience!

It took 3 planes to get us all over and then we went out on a tractor tour of the island. We stopped at the shipwreck of the Plassey, which happened in 1960. The island is so small that you can see the wreck from just about any high ground on the island. The island had the same rocky geography of The Burren that we’d stop at on day 1. Our guide told us that the soil was all made with manure and seaweed, which I believed because there were no trees on the island. None. It was rocks and grass mostly. The tractors dropped us at the art center where we had fresh baked scones and tea then watched a movie about island life. Then it was on to class to learn more Irish knitting stitches, focusing on ribs since we’d already done cables. From class we walked down to the pub, where we had lunch and time to listen to music. I ended up outside on a bench knitting and playing with the dog that hangs at the pub. According to the teacher’s daughter, his Irish name, which I can’t remember, translated to Belly. He certainly mooched well, getting a nice piece of brown bread and butter I had in my bag. The ferry landing was right across from the pub and that was our way home. It was sunny, for once, and the trip was a pleasant way to ease back into normal life. And the icing on the cake was finding my luggage in the room when I got back. But talk about a buzz kill – Andrea’s didn’t come. I showered and changed into new clothes, which felt heavenly. When I walked in to dinner, everyone clapped. Another delicious meal was the end of a perfect day. Magical doesn’t begin to convey what it was like. I choked up on and off all day because I felt so lucky to be having such a day.

The next day was a driving day. We were on our way to our next hotel – Rosleague Manor, which would be my favorite, by far, of all the places we stayed. It’s an old country estate in the middle of nowhere that’s been made into a four star hotel with a wonderful restaurant. Loved it! After a gorgeous and sometimes scary ride along the cliffs, we arrived at Rosleague and had our Show & Share in conservatory. Check out this room. Talk about my version of perfection! And the food there was amazing. There was nothing not to like. The day after we got there we had a class (Shadow Knitting by Jean, which I’d already done on the Devon trip so I just sat and knitted my socks) in the conservatory then had the afternoon free. I missed a step that morning and had fallen in a full sprawl in front of the hotel manager and a guest so I was not up for a long walk in the country, which is what most people did. Jackie and I sat in the front room and knitted by the fire all afternoon. We ordered a pot of tea and relaxed the afternoon away. It was perfect and I’m sure the rest helped my knee. But the best part of the day was when Andrea’s luggage finally arrived SIX days after we had given it to American. Sheesh!

Thursday was our morning at the Leenane Sheep & Wool Centre. We’d had to choose between a sheep dog demonstration and a natural dyeing workshop. I’d been torn but ended up at the dyeing wishing I’d been at the dogs. After dyeing with natural stuff, I was sure I’d keep going with my kool aid and food coloring. Oh well. After lunch in the café there, we headed to the town of Clifden, where we had time to shop and grab dinner before the bus picked us up. We all ended up at Guy’s Bar for dinner, which where Philip and Jean recommended, and I took a break from the meat and seafood fare so far and had chicken a la king over pasta. It was yummy.

Friday was already day 7 of the trip! We toured Kylemore Abbey (I found a friendly cat in the greenhouse so got my kitty fix) and then got on the bus for the long trip to Dublin. There was lots of knitting time and I was sorry to leave the country. Our hotel room in Dublin was tiny compared to Rosleague and we were in the city. I’m sure it was fun but I’m always happier in the country on these trips.

To orient us to Dublin, we did a green bus tour on Saturday, which went all around the city. We were outside on the top level when it started raining. There wasn't room for all of us under cover so I put up my umbrella and toughed it out. I got a bit soggy but I'd live. Our tickets were good for 2 days and allowed us to jump on and off anywhere they stopped. Andrea and I stayed on past our starting point and headed to the National Gallery. It was a wonderful museum that was just the right size to see in a couple of hours and it had a wonderful gift shop. We then hopped back on the bus and headed towards one of the yarn shops in Dublin – The Constant Knitter. I found all kinds of fun yarn – not Irish specifically but dirt cheap European yarns that cost way more in the US. We walked back to the hotel from there, which was a bit of a trek but we stopped at a church to see a shrine to a saint (that’s Andrea’s influence) but also hit the thrift shop and used book store run by the nuns, where I got cute little sugar bowl and a book for the plane ride home. Nice! Dinner was at the hotel. When I got undressed at the end of the day, my brand new jeans had bled color when they were wet and my underwear was blue. Too funny.

A tour of Trinity College by a snarky philosophy professor was first up on Sunday followed by the Book of Kells. It was open to boring pages (I wanted to see the fancy illuminated pages) but the library was totally cool and I scored some great stuff in the gift shop. After stopping for a snack at Bewley’s, a famous Dublin coffee house, we met the crew back at the hotel to head to the Guiness brewery. We had a guided tour and ended with my first Guiness in 30+ years in the Gravity Bar at the top of the brewery. I totally enjoyed relaxing there, waiting for Andrea to arrive after her lesson on pulling the perfect pint. Everyone scattered from here to do their own things but we lingered over our pints chatting with a couple from St. Louis. We then took the green bus back, which took quite a bit of time but was free, and then hit Marks & Spencer’s for sandwiches for dinner (it was about half way through my last trip that I felt the need for some less extravagant food too) and Avoca, where I scored more stocking stuffers and souvenirs. We watched TV and had a hotel picnic for supper, which was a nice end to a busy day.

A wonderful week, n’est-ce pas? It started on Inisheer, population ~300, and ended in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, with lots of country time in between at Rosleague. And since we both had our luggage, those woes were over. And we still had a week to go. Yay!

Week 18 - Bound for Ireland

The beginning of the week flew by, with more progress made every day – frig cleaned out and produce brought to Lori for chickens, cookies brought to knitting, made cole slaw for food day, check, check, check. I was also busy packing for the trip and what was left in my bedroom went into boxes for storage. I had a small fiasco Tuesday morning trying to find dress clothes for a meeting at Central Administration, only to find out the meeting was cancelled when I got to work. But all in all, I was ready to go and monthly reports only took a single day so I was good to take all day Thursday off. That took the pressure off and I spent the day doing last minute stuff without feeling frazzled. My bags were packed and the house was ready for the floor redo. Nice.

Donna picked me up at 4:30 so Andrea and I were at the airport nearly 2 hours early for our flight. I always feel better once I’m at the airport so I sat there happily knitting waiting for the flight. But when I looked up after an hour or so and saw that it was delayed, I started to get nervous. I talked to the rep at the gate and she said it was going to be close and that since I couldn’t run, I should request a wheel chair to meet me at the gate. As much as I hated doing that, I agreed. Well, the flight was WAY late and the delay ate up our entire layover. If we could make it at all, it would be by the skin of our teeth. American Airlines screw up #1 – delayed flight.

Screw up #2 – No wheel chair. I heard the captain say that there was no wheel chair as I got off the plane so I didn’t wait and just started towards the other terminal as fast as I could go while Andrea bolted at Olympic sprinter speed. Despite our best efforts, the flight was gone. And what do you have to do to rebook? Pick up a courtesy phone and talk to a ticketing agent who is not at the airport. Their plan was to get us on the next night’s flight, which would not get us to Ireland until 5:00 Saturday, thereby missing the first day of the tour. I declined that and told them to check the direct flight from Boston to Shannon on Aer Lingus, figuring they could get us to Boston before Friday night. So, picture this. I’m sweating bullets sitting in a wheel chair (there were a dozen or so right next to the courtesy phone) talking to the agent and Andrea is across the terminal at the gate for a fully booked Boston flight and I’m yelling questions across the terminal for her to ask the gate agent. After a few screamed questions, I gave the agent on the phone the gate number for the flight and she called them directly. Despite being overbooked, they got us on the flight and booked us on the Boston to Shannon flight for the next night. We’d have time to kill in Boston on Friday but at least we’d get there.

Screw up #3 – In the last minute effort to get us on the flight to Boston, our luggage was never rerouted so we got to Boston at 2:00 a.m. but our luggage was still in Chicago. We talked to the baggage agent at Logan and convinced him that rather than send it to Shannon on American, which would guarantee they would have to drive it across Ireland on Sunday, they should get it to Boston on a Friday flight and we’d pick it up and check it ourselves on the Aer Lingus flight. He messed around on the computer a bit and told us it would be on the first flight Friday morning and that we should pick it up then. We got into a taxi for the 30 minute ride to the hotel American was putting us up in for the night, happy that we’d resolved the luggage situation. Well, fast forward to Friday morning where after only a few hours of sleep, we headed back to Logan. No luggage. The woman at the baggage counter said it was still scheduled to go to Shannon on Saturday via Heathrow. So after making the same argument to get our luggage to Boston Friday afternoon and having her punch at her computer and tell us it’d be on the next flight, we headed downtown for a bus tour since Andrea had never been to Boston. We got back to the airport only to find that they’d not put it on the afternoon flight so it would be arriving only 20 minutes before our flight left for Ireland. We had little hope of it making our flight but there was nothing else we could do.

Screw up #4 – We went to Aer Lingus to get our boarding passes for our flight to Ireland and American had hosed up our tickets so badly that they took us out of line and it took half an hour and the agent had to call American to get the ticketing straightened out. He also put an OK to Board on our luggage, just in case it could be transferred in time to make our flight. Aer Lingus was wonderful to deal with and was everything American was not. We found a restaurant to use our food vouchers for an early dinner and got on our flight. It was uneventful and we arrived at 6:00 a.m. in Shannon having gotten almost no sleep. So much for arriving a day early to adjust. And guess what? No luggage. Go figure. We filled all the forms out with Aer Lingus and headed upstairs to wait for Philip and Jean. We met up with Peggy and Jackie in the café and enjoyed a latte until pick up time. It was great to be there, even with the luggage worries. And it was wonderful to see all my friends (love my Canadians!) when the bus picked us up.

As usual, the first day of a Jean Moss knitting trip is chock full. Our first stop was the cliffs of Moher on the west coast. We walked in the bracing wind (that woke us up!) and checked out the scenery before heading into the visitors center for lunch, where we got to meet some of the other people on the tour. Then it was back on the bus for the trip to Galway, stopping to see the Burren (rocky land that’s full of cool plants, even orchids, that grow in the bits of soil between the rocks) and Kinvara for tea in a cute shop. We checked in at the hotel in Galway and I took a quick shower, changing into my only other outfit before heading down for the traditional first night slide show (Behind the Scenes from Jean) and dinner. Needless to say, we all fell into bed exhausted that night.

After a yummy breakfast on Sunday, we headed to Ann O’Maille’s (pronounced O’Malley for the non-Gaelic speakers) shop for our first yarn shopping of the trip. Then we walked down to a restaurant on the river for our first class – Classic Irish Cables, taught by Ann. After a few hours of knitting new stitches, we had the afternoon free. We grabbed lunch at the café of the museum across the street then Andrea and I did some clothes shopping. We’d heard nothing on our luggage and so weren’t taking any chances. The problem for me was, there are NO fat people in Ireland! The largest shirt in Marks & Spencer’s was too small for me. I bought it anyway and then found a garish tie dyed t-shirt at TKMaxx (that’s not a typo – it’s K instead of J in the UK and Ireland) that would fit and some socks. Andrea bought undies and a shirt too. I’d clearly be washing my spare undies in the sink that night. We were back at Ard Bia, the restaurant where we’d had class, that night for dinner and it was delicious. I was happy to see that Irish food was as good as English. Or maybe it’s just the restaurants Philip and Jean choose.

So, I ended the week in Ireland, happy despite the fiasco of getting there and still having no luggage nor definitive word of when it would arrive. At least I had a change of clothes and my nightie in my carry on. I could go on for a few days before getting cranky. I couldn’t fathom being unhappy when I was in another country, surrounded by friends and being entertained and fed amazing food at every turn. Having new clothes would be nice but I wasn’t going to let American win and ruin my trip. There was always hope that the next day would bring my luggage.