Friday, August 30, 2013

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

Medical science just keeps getting crazier and crazier. Now men can make eggs, women can make sperm, and cats can get blood transfusions from dogs.
Speaking of mad science, the world's first lab-grown beef burger has had a taste test. The verdict? "dry and a bit lacking in flavor."
Oldest depiction of the Americas found on globe made of ostrich eggs
"How Not to Move to Argentina" - a tale of bureaucratic hell. Having been on both sides of similar (though not nearly as bad) situations, I sympathize.
A field guide to uncommon punctuation
A video game about writing and typography about music inspired by a book. Next up, dancing about architecture?
I told myself I'd skip the Game of Thrones content this month, but I couldn't resist. So here's the Game of Thrones-inspired food blog and how to recreate the GoT ladies' hairdos. My look is really more of an Arya though.

Cool timelapse film of European landmarks at night:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


George Bernard Shaw once said that Britain and the United States are two countries divided by a common language. I am finding that this goes double for Ireland. After years of living in Francophonia I am used to struggling to communicate, but there's something especially jarring about having trouble getting simple ideas across while speaking one's native tongue. Living in Dublin is bringing a whole new level of "...what?" to my life.

Some of this is vocabulary. Now, I am familiar enough with British English in general to know all about brollies and wellies and the cookies/biscuits/scones and fries/chips/crisps confusions. But then the are the Irish quirks I did not previously know about, like that "gaff" means "house," the many and varied uses of "craic," and that if you ask someone for a ride instead of a lift you are in fact saying something along the lines of "wanna fuck?" That's an important one to know.

Some of this is accent. Some of the thicker Irish brogues are nothing short of impenetrable to my untutored American ears under the best of circumstances, and exponentially worse in crowded bar conditions. The accent problems go both ways though: bus drivers never seem to understand where I want to go on the first try, and bartenders always make me order twice. This is despite the fact that I know my bus stop is "Shrews-bree" and not "Shrews-berry", and that I am aware that the W in Smithwick's is silent and pronounce it accordingly. I'm trying here, I really am. You could even say I'm making a go of it. But somehow the twang always gets in the way.

I know some of this will get better with time. I'll get used to the local accents and the local slang, and my new habitat will slowly become more comprehensible. But there are still millions more Irish out there who I have not yet encountered, just waiting to meet me, listen to me speak, and reply, "...what?"

Friday, August 16, 2013


For the last few days the cat has watched in wonderment as I performed a variety of mundane household tasks. I feel like I should have an old-timey circus poster:

SEE Meredith iron!
WATCH her move laundry from the washer to the dryer
MARVEL as she empties the dishwasher!

And for the GRAND FINALE,
a feat NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED on this stage

Meredith will SCOOP THE CAT LITTER!!!

The reason for Jabberwocky’s astonishment is simple: for the past two years, fully half of his short life, these tasks have been handled by my housekeeper. Now with a reduced income stream and my return to First World labor prices I have to take care of my own house again, and the cat finds it unspeakably weird. So do I.

I’ve never been much good at the domestic arts. I subscribe to Lackluster Housekeeping, which features such articles as “A Little Dust Never Killed Anyone,” “Know Your Mold: Scrape It Off or Throw It Out?” and “If Laundry Falls on the Floor and No One’s There to See It, Does It Make a Mess?” Don’t get me wrong – I like things to be clean, I just don’t want to be the one responsible for making or keeping them that way. And when you combine my natural aversion to housework with being very out of practice at all things cleaning, the end result is not pretty. Just keeping up with the laundry and the dishes has been struggle enough, let alone attempting advanced housekeeping maneuvers like vacuuming and cleaning the sink. And I got all my boxes delivered on Wednesday, so the whole house is pretty much a disaster area.

I’m not expecting much in the way of sympathy here. I can hear you all rolling your eyes and laying the sarcasm on thick. “Oh, POOR Meredith has to do things for herself like a normal human being again. How AWFUL.” I know I probably deserve that . But housework is HARD, and I DON’T LIKE IT, and this is my blog so I can complain about it if I want. So there. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Cat Came Back

Two weeks to the day after his spectacular escape, the Jabberwock returned. I looked up from watering the basil plant I am trying valiantly to keep alive (for a change) to see him casually prowling around the backyard. By the time I got the door open he had migrated to the neighbors' yard, which I had to coax him out of with kibble. It was harder work than I had expected. He actually ran away from me at one point, the most unkindest cut of all. I think he had been enjoying the carefree rootlessness of the alleycat life and was reluctant to return to the confines of domesticity.

On the other hand, this cat is a definite fan of reliable meals, and the Chase It Down And Kill It Yourself Or Don't Eat Diet was clearly not meeting his ideal of comfortable living. He also prizes his dedicated Pet The Cat Time, which occurs at a contractually-obligated minimum of twice daily when at home. That itch is pretty hard to scratch in the wild. So after a minute or two of existential struggle he sacrificed freedom for security, which also comes with featherbeds and laser pointers and occasional nibbles of gourmet cured meats. He purred himself to sleep last night on one of the aforementioned featherbeds, so I don't think he's too terribly unhappy with his choice.

As you can imagine, I am delighted and relieved to have him back. To share my joy I am pleased to bring to your attention The Cat Came Back, a short animated film about a man with the complete opposite problem to the one I had. I've also had the song it's based on stuck in my head for the past two weeks. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The New Girl

One of the many unique aspects of the Foreign Service life is the constant change. Every 2-3 years you pick up and start over, new place, new job. Which means that every 2-3 years at least you will be the new kid in the office. I hate being the new kid. For me it's one of the hardest things about the FS. I really like feeling competent in my job, and it hurts me to show up in a new place and be suddenly at sea. Where's the bathroom? How do I get more pens? Who are all of these strange new people and how will I ever remember all of their names? It's completely normal and expected, I know, but it still makes me feel stupid sometimes. I hate feeling stupid.

Even having done consular work before only buffers this effect slightly, because every embassy has slightly different procedures and conditions. The workload here is very different from my last post: in a day Dublin does more visas than Conakry does in a week, more passports than Conakry does in a month, and more emergency passports than Conakry does in a year. You get different kinds of clients too. Ireland is on the Visa Waiver program, so most people don't need to apply for tourist visas.  This means that you end up processing a much higher percentage of other kinds of visas I didn't see as many of, like student and work visas. On the ACS side, you see a lot more American tourists here, whose consular needs are very different from people living permanently overseas. My previous experience is certainly coming in handy, but there's still a lot to learn. 

After two weeks I'm starting to find my footing, which is reassuring. I know that in a few months I'll have fewer questions and more answers, and feel like I'm at least halfway competent in my job. But in the meantime I still have a lot of questions to ask. 

Monday, August 5, 2013


I had a post all ready to go about the insane amount of money it cost me to relocate the Jabberwock from Conakry to Dublin - $2,690, if you're curious - but how it was all worth it because I love my kitty and am so happy to have him with me in Ireland. However, this post is now OBE, as the ungrateful little beast has run away.

I'm still not entirely sure how he made his escape, though my best theory involves a fairly death-defying leap from a second-story window to a none-too-sturdy bush/tree in front of my house. As there are no shattered cat remains around anywhere I assume his Houdini impression was successful and he headed off to have a few pints, hear some fiddle music, chase some tail, and otherwise partake in the local culture. At first I held onto hope that he had found some new hidey-hole inside the house, but when he failed to turn up for breakfast the next morning there was no question about it: the cat was gone.

This was a week ago. He hasn't come back. I've done what I can do - put up signs, placed ads on some missing pet websites, registered his chips with the local SPCA, walked around looking for him myself - so there's not much left but to wait and hope for the best. According to a study conducted last year by the ASPCA, around 74 percent of lost cats are eventually returned to their owners, so the odds are good. But in the meantime the waiting is hard. He's only been gone a week, but it feels like forever.