Saturday, November 30, 2013

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

Pop-culture MBTI types; apparently I'm Palpatine, Draco Malfoy, and O'Brien. INTJs get no love.
In Internet grammar news, "because" is now a preposition and the period is now a sign of anger.
Looking to add some personal flair to the snacks at your next party? How about serving cheese cultured with your own skin bacteria?
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - The Comic. I have never cared for Eliot, but this makes his poetry much more relatable.
Has Wikipedia peaked?
1900s Dublin in photos
See Venice by couch, thanks to Google Street View
Fun with maps: word-origin maps and maps to get lost in

Lady Gaga gets a jazz makeover:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Things For Which I Am Thankful

Airplanes. Scarves. Cocktail cherries. Stepping out of my comfort zone. Direct deposit. DPO. Warm kitty snuggles on cold nights. Sunshine. The benefit of the doubt. Dancing shoes. Curiosity. Wanderlust. Dutch ovens. Warm welcomes. Congressional appropriations. Smithwick's. Personal growth. Professional respect. Corn meal. New friends. Old friends. Forever friends. Beaches. Electricity.   Good health for me and those I love. Boots. Tap water. Public transportation. Tea. And last but definitely not least, family - the one I was born with and the one I'm building for myself around the world. Love you guys!

Etc., etc., etc.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winter is Coming

Or, as far as I'm concerned, it's already here. The sun is keeping office hours, rising just before I go in to work and departing abruptly half an hour before I do. It's dark. It's cold. Not all that cold, objectively - so far it barely scrapes freezing, even at night - but for a warm-weather girl like myself it's bad enough. Except for a brief excursion to Iceland last January and some time in Germany in February I haven't really had to deal with winter in several years, and I expect it'll be a rough slog. There's a big difference between spending some playtime in a winter wonderland and having to drag yourself out of a warm bed to trek to work in darkness and sleet, just like the day before, and the day before that. Ugh. I am so not looking forward to this.

I'm not caving in just yet though. Winter's going to have to work harder than this to break me down. I'm stocking up on hats and scarves and mittens. I'm discovering - or rediscovering - tried-and-true winter coping mechanisms, like furry boots, extra-strength moisturizer, and hot toddies. The dutch oven I got for my birthday is quickly becoming my kitchen MVP as I fill it almost every weekend with assorted soups, stews, and braises. Take that, winter!

And there are some compensations. Ireland has winter, but it also has Christmas. I adore Christmas, and the lack of festive atmosphere my last two Decembers in Guinea hit me hard. But in Dublin the lights are up, the carols are playing, and everything smells like cinnamon. I love it. I'd love it more if Starbucks had peppermint mochas instead of those silly orange ones, but I suppose living abroad, even in Ireland, requires some sacrifices.

EDIT 12/10/13: Starbucks DOES have peppermint mochas, they just weren't advertising them. Yay! Christmas win!

Monday, November 11, 2013

As Gaeilge

As one of my new hobbies I am taking an Irish language class. This has no real practical utility for me at all. The odds of my ever meeting a person who speaks Irish but not English is spectacularly low, if such a rare and special unicorn even exists. Even in Ireland it's only the third most common language spoken, after English and Polish. There's an interesting documentary series about a guy who tries to tour Ireland speaking only Irish, and he has a rough time of it. The State Department doesn't test in the language, so no promotion fodder there. The most direct job-related benefit I get out of it is that it makes it slightly easier for me to figure out how to correctly pronounce the crazy Irish names I have to call on a loudspeaker on a daily basis. (Favorite example so far: Caoilfhionn = KWAY-lin. Seriously?)

The language itself is perhaps the most baffling I have been exposed to so far. The underlying structure is more Latinate than I had expected, but there are several quirks that I am certain exist for no other reason than to make things more complicated for me personally. Some examples I have encountered:
  • Irish has no words for "yes" and "no" - you have to use the positive or negative form of the verb in the question you're responding to. So the answer to "are you hungry?" is "I am." or "I'm not."*
  • There are completely different sets of number words depending on whether you are listing numerals, counting things, or counting people. 
  • There are no fewer than four different forms of the word for "year" depending on how many you're talking about. 
  • Irish uses the vocative case, which means that people's names are sometimes pronounced (and spelled) differently depending on whether you're talking to them or about them. 
  • The pronunciation generally is just ridiculous. We have yet to be given a full rundown on the system, but the sound of any given letter is highly reliant on what other letters happen to be next to it. This makes me long for the phonetic simplicity of Arabic - you have to learn what sound each squiggle makes, but once you sort that out you're golden. Irish also uses some throaty sounds very similar to the ones that gave me trouble in Arabic. 

I'm only taking two hours a week, and it's a conversation-focused curriculum so seven weeks in we haven't conjugated a single verb yet. This is kind of frustrating for me since I'm actually really interested in the grammar, but I'm also enjoying the relaxed pace and the lack of looming exams, an inevitable feature of all my previous language learning experiences. There are no stakes here - no grades, no deadlines, no need to cram it in and get to post on time. It's just something to do for fun, and if it stops being fun I'll stop doing it. It's kind of freeing like that.

* The actual construction is more like "Is hunger upon you? It is/It's not", but you get the idea. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Recyclable?

Ireland as a whole is much more environmentally conscious than the United States (with the exception of a few scattered hippie enclaves). My house has a programmable heater you can set up on a timer. The water heater has a switch that lets you determine how much hot water you want it to make. (Though on the other hand, my kitchen sink has different knobs for hot and cold water, so once you get a temperature and water pressure you like you have to keep the water running or you'll lose it forever.) And then there's the trash. I have not one, not two, but three big official wheelie bins that the truck picks up: general waste, mixed recycling, and compost.

I want to do my part for the environment so I have purchased three trashcans for my kitchen and do my best to sort my waste appropriately. But sometimes I just can't figure it out. A paper towel soaked in balsamic vinegar - compost, recycling, or neither? It's paper, which I would normally recycle, but usually that's dry, like newspaper. Does the vinegar make a difference? Presumably it would compost as well, but does it matter that the paper is bleached? Can I recycle a cardboard box that's still covered in packing tape? Aluminum foil doused in olive oil and chicken juices?

A visit to the pick-up company's website sheds no light on these problems, but it did inform me I'm not supposed to give them hazardous materials, like glass. But glass is recyclable! And what else am I supposed to do with empty jam jars and wine bottles? It's so confusing! But at least I'm trying.