Saige and Time…

Everyone is more than aware that we’ve reached the one year mark with covid. For Ireland, March 13th was the day that everything changed. I went to work that morning and that afternoon we sent the entire studio home in taxis with their computers, which is how we’ve been working ever since. The pubs were closed down. St. Patrick’s Day was cancelled. It was a Friday the 13th to rival them all. 

A year on, the pubs are still closed down. St. Patrick’s Day is still cancelled. But vaccines are rolling out (glacially slow in Ireland!) and there is hope that we are at the beginning of the end. The pandemic has been hard for everyone (some more than others of course). And everyone has had different things that helped get them through it. And you know what’s helped me the most? 

Saige. 

Saige is my 7-year-old niece who lives back in the States. Her parents allowed her access to facebook messenger for kids and she just started calling me one day when the lockdown first started. And she’s been calling me nearly every day ever since. I’ve lived in Ireland the entirety of Saige’s life, so my time with her had pretty much been limited to my visits home in the summer and at Christmas. Well, there were no visits home for me this past year, but Saige and I got to know each other better than ever through our virtual visits. 

We did all sorts of things on these calls. She called me yesterday to show me what she got at Target (for those interested – a blue raspberry and cherry slushie, sunglasses, tic tacs and a kinder egg), Saige taught me how to use filters on my phone – though I’m still not a fan of them. We played a “dice” game called Pass the Pigs. I met all of her dolls and stuffed animals, learning everything there is to know about LOL dolls, Shopkins and Beanie Boos in the process. I watched her dance. I listened to her sing. I watched her draw and paint – she was very excited to start working in acrylics. We baked huge oreos out of regular oreos (I don’t know. It was something she saw on youtube). We made paper snowflakes to decorate for Christmas, and we both got matching Baby Yodas – hers from Santa and mine from… her. 

When we first started our online exchanges, Saige would complain that she wasn’t smart and that she couldn’t read very well. But I’ve been able to witness her reading getting stronger and stronger first hand. At Halloween and Thanksgiving, she read me some poems she’d collected in a binder. She has written several stories for school – including “Kalli’s Big Leap”, starring her real-life dog. She now dabbles in both fiction and non-fiction. She also reads to me regularly now. Our current favorite is the Sesame Street classic starring Grover, The Monster at the End of this Book. Recently she even messaged me picture of a poem she wrote about writing a poem. Mind. Blown. 

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t inform you all that she also got a 100+% on her math test last week – the + is because she got the bonus question right. She was nearly jumping out of her skin when she called me to show me that test. I’m not sure who was more proud – her or me. 

I know that eventually, Saige won’t call me anymore. Like with my older nieces and nephews, school will get more intense, there will be sports and clubs and friends and jobs and everything else that goes with being a teen today. And that’s okay. I know that’s how things go. But Saige and I have had something really special over this past year. I’m not sure she’ll ever understand this, but Saige has truly helped me survive this pandemic. My lockdown would have been so much harder, so much lonelier, so much worse, without her. 

As we enter the Covid pandemic’s second year, I truly hope that all of you have managed to find your Saige and that your year has been made even a little bit easier as a result. Everyone should have a Saige to help them get through these difficult, unprecedented times. 

Saige loves filters. I hate them
Saige called me when I was walking back to my apartment. I asked her to give me five minutes and then call me back. I got these texts in the meantime.
Saige’s family got a dog this year. Kalli often joins us for our chats.
A couple weeks ago Saige messaged me this picture of an orange. I still do not know why.

Are you blue?…

Apparently last Monday, January 18th was blue monday, the most depressing day of the year.

It’s all pseudoscience based on an algorithm that takes into account the distance from Christmas, the amount of daylight, the number of broken resolutions and some other stuff. I guess it’s been a thing for a while but it received lots of attention on the news over here this year because, well, because of the year we’ve had.

While blue monday is silly and not a thing, it did bring attention to Seasonal Affective Disorder (often known as the winter blues), which absolutely is a thing and something I’ve dealt with ever since moving to Ireland. Dublin winters are cruelly dark. And this year has been worse as we are in our third wave of covid. We’ve had daily case numbers in the thousands for the past several weeks, the vaccine rollout is achingly slow, and it was just announced today that we are looking at another six months of strict lockdown. That’s enough to make anyone blue.

An expert I saw on the news suggested that’s if you are feeling blue, it might help to write down what you are missing during lockdown – don’t ignore what you long for, acknowledge it. And that did get me thinking about what I’ve really missed during this year of covid.

  • Obviously I miss my family back in Buffalo. It’s been over a year since I was last there and I hate it.
  • I miss travel. I’m normally someone whose suitcase is always in some state of being packed or unpacked.
  • I haven’t had an actual holiday since November 2018 – I could really use one.
  • I miss the various industry events I normally travel to. Not only are these events good for me professionally but they are a chance to unwind and have fun with others in my industry, many of whom I only see at these events.
  • I miss going into the office/studio. I’ve worked from home at various points in my career and I take quite well to it. But I miss my colleagues and the collaboration that goes with being in the same place.
  • I miss my friends. Friends here in Ireland, friends in Paris, friends in LA, friends in Buffalo – I haven’t seen most of them in far too long.
  • I miss pubs. Pubs are a way of life here in Ireland. I miss going for a pint after work on a Friday. I miss randomly meeting up with friends on a whim. I miss nipping into my local on my own for a glass of wine.
  • I miss Paris.

And now, when I think of these things, I am trying to think of them with hope rather than sadness. Easier said than done sometimes, but actually acknowledging what I am missing is helping to make my winter blues slightly less blue.

If you are really having a hard time this winter or if you suffer from clinical depression, which is a serious and deadly disease, please do seek help. Here in Ireland there are several supports and services that can be found here: https://www2.hse.ie/services/mental-health-supports-and-services-during-coronavirus/

Things will get brighter I know. For me. For you. For all of us.

From the threshold…

Greetings from Lockdown #3. Sigh.

Here in Ireland, we are at a record number of cases and hospitalizations. The UK variant has arrived and is causing the virus to spread faster. Sure, the vaccine rollout has started but it feels glacially slow and experts are saying we will be lucky if the majority of the population is vaccinated by August.

Again, sigh.

But 2020 ends tonight and that, my friends, is something. I know there is no guarantee that 2021 will be better. I realize that covid doesn’t just end because the year does. But it’s hard not to view this as a milestone, as something significant. As something hopeful. Hope. I think that is what many of us are clinging to as we not so much ring in a new year as give the current one a good kick in the arse out the door.

I could focus on my loneliness as we face a lockdown that will probably go into March. I could focus on my anxiety regarding the rising numbers. I could focus on my anger at the selfish people who still aren’t taking this virus seriously. But I think instead I shall focus on hope. I’m hopeful about many, many things as we bid adieu to 2020 and say bienvenue to 2021.

  • I’m hopeful that my friends and family (and me!) will be able to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll get back to Buffalo to see my family and friends.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll get to take a holiday somewhere fabulous.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy a night at the pub again.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll get to see my Dublin friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in over a year.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll get back to my beloved Paris.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll become an Irish citizen (and maybe at some point get my passport back!).
  • I’m hopeful that my friends who have experienced devastating loss this year will start to find some semblance of peace.
  • I’m hopeful that 2021 will be better than 2020.

I always like to include a quote in my New Year’s posts. This one from Alfred Lord Tennyson seemed quite appropriate:

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier.”

I hope he’s right.

Happy New Year, all! Here’s to 2021. And 2020, seriously, feck off!

A Very Covid Christmas…

Christmas is coming. But for just about everyone, it’s not going to be normal – just like pretty much everything else in 2020.

For the first time in my life, I’m not going home to Buffalo for the holidays. I don’t like it, but I’m resigned to it and I’m going to make the best of it. In another first, I’m hosting a couple other stranded expats for Christmas Eve. It will be a hand-sanitizer-infused, windows-open-with-fresh-air-circulating, socially-distant Christmas Eve, but it’s something. And honestly, the bigger danger might be that I’m actually attempting to cook. But I knew that if I was going to stay in Ireland I needed to do something on Christmas Eve – it’s always been bigger, more important, and more celebratory than Christmas Day for my family. So, sitting alone watching telly was not an option. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing on Christmas Day! I’ve no plans for the 25th, and I’m okay with that. Eating leftovers, drinking prosecco and watching Elf and Love, Actually on a loop sounds like a not-so-bad time.

But before Christmas, there is another very important date in the Celtic calendar – the winter solstice. It happens tomorrow and it is the shortest, darkest day of the year. But after that, we start to gain light. Just a tiny bit at first – in Dublin, we get an additional four seconds on Tuesday, then eleven seconds on Wednesday but by the end of the month, we will gain more than a minute of light daily. And it just keeps going from there. It may seem like small amounts when looked at on a daily basis, but all those seconds and minutes add up and, sooner than we might realize, we will be back in the light. Literally.

But also figuratively.

I am daring to be hopeful about Covid in 2021. I know that cases are still rising and a new strain has appeared in London and we are heading into another lockdown after Christmas. But the first vaccine is set to be approved by the EU tomorrow and up to 5000 people could be vaccinated in Ireland before the end of this year. My sister, who is a doctor in the States, got her first dose of the vaccine last week. So, it feels like maybe, just maybe, we might be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are just at that “four seconds” point, but still, it’s something. And like the daylight we will be gaining, I am hopeful that we will continue to make gains in this fight against Covid and that we will return to something resembling normal over the next several months.

Christmas isn’t going to be great for any of us in 2020, but for so many of my friends, too many of my friends, it’s going to be especially cruel because this is their first Christmas without someone they love who passed away this year. My heart breaks for all of them, and reminds me that though it’s going to be different, this Christmas for me and my family is going to be just fine.

So, dear readers, for those of you grieving and for those of you just spending the holidays a bit differently this year, I am sending you lots of love… and lots of light.

Vaccine Dream…

Greetings from week 5 of lockdown 2. Things are going… not great. Cases here in Ireland started plummeting in the first weeks of this new lockdown but now that progress has halted and we are back up to new cases per day in the 300s and 400s. Level 5 restrictions were supposed to bring us down to 100 or fewer cases by the beginning of December but that feels quite out of reach now. Sigh.

But some good news that not only Ireland, but the world, has recently received is about the vaccines. Two of them – one from Pfizer and one from Moderna – have been shown to have effectiveness of 95% and 94.5% respectively. I think the world did a collective fist pump and “YES!” when this news came out. Could it be that something is finally going right and the end to this covid nightmare could be in sight?!

The vaccines now seem to be a question not of “if” but of “when”. For me, the “when” cannot come soon enough but I also think that my “when” will actually not be any time soon. Obviously, health care workers, other front line workers, the elderly and the vulnerable will be given priority. I will fall into the category of “general population” so I’ll be down the line. And I get it. Those being prioritized should be prioritized – doesn’t make me any less anxious about when I’ll be able to get my jab though!

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been quoted as saying that in States “… starting in April, May, June, July — as we get into the late spring and early summer — that people in the so-called general population, who do not have underlying conditions or other designations that would make them priority, could get (shots)”. I hope it will be the same in Ireland, but I worry that people like me will have to wait even longer, well into next summer. I’ve a trip home planned for April/May of next year (replacing my Christmas visit) but can I still go if I’m not vaccinated? And what if I’m away and miss my place in line here in Ireland? Would I, as a US citizen, be able to get vaccinated in the States instead? So many questions!

Now that it looks like we will have at least two approved vaccines by the end of the year, the emphasis switches to logistics and distribution. Ooh boy, this could be rough. Ireland really impressed me when the covid crisis first hit but now I am not filled with a great deal of confidence, especially when it comes to things involving logistics and communication. For feck’s sake, at one point during our second surge people who tested positive for covid were instructed to do their own contact tracing because the government test and trace system was overwhelmed. Utterly ridiculous and shambolic. Though in fairness, things have now improved.

And Ireland’s communication to the public, which started out so strong, has crumbled over the past months. We have often been left guessing (and stressing!) about what the government is going to declare and when they are going to declare it. Tensions and in-fighting between the government officials and health experts is becoming more apparent, which doesn’t instill a lot of confidence to those of us watching. Communication about who gets the vaccine when and exactly how and where, is going to need to be crystal clear from the get-go. The government cannot issue one set of guidelines (with a fancy chart) and then a couple weeks later release a new plan. We need clarity and decisiveness – both of which have been in remarkably short supply in recent weeks.

But Ireland has been known to surprise me and I’m sure the government knows how important it is that they get this right. And the big thing to not lose sight of is that finally, finally, Ireland – and the world – has something that has been far too fleeting since March…

HOPE.

Exhaling…

After watching nothing but CNN since Tuesday, I am watching the Irish news this morning and I think Ireland might be as excited about Biden winning the election as I am. And why not?! Ireland hates Trump nearly as much as I do and being surrounded by people who shared my feelings made the past four years somewhat easier. Plus, Biden has Irish roots. His ancestors are from Ballina in County Mayo. And I can’t help but wonder if Joe Biden Plaza will be appear there soon much the same way Moneygall in Country Tipperary, where Barack Obama’s third great grandfather lived, now has this:

I seriously did not know what I was going to do if Biden lost. It’s no secret that I hate Trump with a passion. But it goes deeper than that. The things he did literally hurt people. He fomented racism and white supremacy. His immigration policies were cruel at best and criminal at worst. He has pretty much ignored the coronavirus pandemic and more than 200,000 Americans are now dead. He took the US out of the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. The Trump presidency was traumatizing for so many people, not only in the US but around the world.

But now, we can all exhale.

I truly feel like I can relax now. I feel l like I’ve been clenching my shoulders and holding my breath for four years. And I’m an upper middle class white woman who doesn’t even live in the States anymore. I can’t even begin to imagine how the marginalized people of the US must be feeling. Relieved doesn’t even begin to cover it, I’d think.

Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done in the US but I believe that Biden will strive to do that work. And do not get me started on our new absolute queen of a Vice President, Kamala Harris. A woman, finally. And a diverse woman at that. We have adults in charge again!

I was messaging and chatting with so many friends while everything was happening this week. One of them on Wednesday evening said “It’s gonna be fine.” I didn’t believe him at the time, but it turns out he was right. It’s going to be a long road but I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time. I really think that maybe it will be fine.

Everybody exhale.

Spewing Rainbows…

Ireland has gone into a Level 5 lockdown for the next six weeks. Six. Weeks. We had been warned all along that a second surge was possible, and probable, but in those long-ago days of July when we had less than ten new cases per day, I (and I’m sure many others) thought that Ireland had triumphed over covid. But we didn’t. Restrictions were lifted and covid came back with a vengeance. And so now here we are. For six weeks.

And if going into another lockdown wasn’t bad enough, Ireland entered winter time today with the clocks falling back, and that triggers my seasonal anxiety. I absolutely hate losing the light once daylight saving time ends. At least in the first lockdown, we had the “grand stretch in the evenings” to help us through but now, we’ve got darkness at 2pm (okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much!). Normally at this time of year, I can at least start looking forward to my trip back to the States for Christmas. But not this year. For the first time in my life, it looks like I won’t be going home for Christmas.

I was feeling quite sorry for myself earlier this week. My anxiety was kicking in big time and everything felt rather hopeless. And the thing with covid is, while it is unifying in that everyone is going through it, I also always feel the need to asterisk my feelings by acknowledging that so many people (including many people I know and am close to) have suffered so much more than me during all of this. They have experienced immeasurable loss, they have had to bear far, far more than I have, their stress and anxiety is, justifiably, so much greater than mine. And so I feel guilty for feeling bad about my situation. Yes, things suck for everyone right now, but there are degrees of suckage, and I feel I always need to remember and acknowledge that – and I still always feel guilty about it.

I was messaging my sister about this and, as she often does, she got real with me. She said that just because my situation isn’t the suckiest doesn’t mean I have to spew rainbows all the time. You know what? She’s right. And knowing that I didn’t have to spew rainbows made me feel better in that moment – well that, half a xanax and a FaceTime from my niece where she recited Halloween poetry for me. But still, I felt better.

And today, I’m even feeling a little rainbow-y. It looks like the level 3 restrictions that started a couple weeks ago here may be working – we had our lowest number of cases in two weeks on Friday. While it does look like the second wave is starting to hit the US, Western New York State, where my family lives, seems to still be doing well – so, yay! I may not get to go home for the holidays, but I think I’m going to invite a couple friends over (restrictions allowing) and host my first ever Christmas Eve celebration.

Hopefully things will continue to get better here in Ireland, and in the States and, well, everywhere. But when I need to, I’m going to allow myself some slack when it comes to rainbow spewage – I hope you all allow yourself the same kindness.

Leveling Up…

Ireland reported 1012 new cases of Covid 19 yesterday. That’s the highest daily number ever over here. Sigh.

It’s all very disheartening. Back at the end of July it looked like we had things under control – case numbers were low and hospitalizations were even lower. The lifting of restrictions went well at first, but then things went sideways and here we are. This second wave was predicted and it isn’t only in Ireland – most of Europe is experiencing it right now. But, Ireland’s health care system is simply not up to snuff compared to most other european countries. So we need to do something.

We are currently in a Level 3 lockdown. Dublin has been at that level for more than two weeks, while the rest of the country was put into it last week. Now talk is about whether we need to go up to level 4 or 5. What are all these levels, you may ask? Please refer to this chart and it will all become perfectly clear (haha!):

See? Simple.

This morning it sounds like some sort of “circuit breaker” lockdown is being discussed. But it’s all a guessing game and NPHET (Nation Public Health Emergency Team) do not meet again until Thursday. So we are left hanging and wondering. If we are going into a stricter lockdown then I kind of just want to know. Or if we are just going to stay at level three, I’d also like to know that (there is some evidence that the level 3 restrictions are working in Dublin). All the guessing and second guessing just makes me anxious and doesn’t instill much faith in those in charge. Good lord, when this new five level system was introduced, Dublin was literally put on “level 2 and a bit”. That’s what we are dealing with over here.

Everyone is exhausted from this pandemic. Everyone’s pandemic is different, but the exhaustion is, I think, universal. I may start hugging trees and pretend those are my friends since I’m not allowed to touch any actual, you know, people. There’s a very good chance that I’m not going to be able to go home for Christmas this year. I’ve never gone this long without seeing my family back in the States. Never mind that not traveling at all is depressing and demoralizing to someone like me who, in the past, was nearly always packing or unpacking her suitcase.

This sucks. It sucks for everyone. And I think this second wave sucks more not only because we don’t have the sunshine and daylight that helped us tolerate the first wave, but because as a country, we tried really hard to do what needed to be done. But now, here we are again. And it’s colder, and darker, and we have the fear that even if we follow the rules, will we be back here again the moment we try to resume some sort of normalcy.

But what else can we do? We have to try. Again.

Citizenship Quest Continued…

I’ve written a couple times in this blog about my quest for Irish citizenship – it’s been a bit of a roller coater and I haven’t even submitted my application yet. There was a controversy last year when a judge ruled you couldn’t travel outside Ireland at all in the year previous to your application – something that would have been nearly impossible for me. But then, relief! The judgement was overturned and now, travel of up to six weeks in the year previous to your application was allowed. Great! It would be hard, but I could manage six weeks.

And then Covid hit and everything changed for everybody. Amidst all the fear and worry and hand-washing, I realized that 2020 was going to be a year of no travel for me. Despite some grand plans for both work and play travel, I have been in Ireland since I returned from my Christmas holiday on January 5th. I’d have less than six weeks of travel this year no problem – heck, I’ve got less that six days of travel so far this year. And after not accepting new applications for several months because of Covid closures and restrictions, I got word last week that they are now accepting citizenship applications again! Yes! It’s still a bit nerve-wracking because I have to include my current original passport with the application and being without it feels like being without my right arm. They cannot guarantee how long it will take to get my passport back but did assure me it should be in plenty of time for my (hopeful!) travel to see my family in December. 

Luckily, my application has been nearly ready to go for a while now and I’ve just got a few last bits to do. I’ve asked my three Irish friends I’ve known the longest (since nearly my first day in Ireland) to be my references. It’s a bit trickier since I can’t see any of them in person, but the filled-out forms should be back to me via post this week. Then, I just need to get passport photos taken, a bank draft for the application fee and everything notarized. All going well, the application will be off early next week at the latest. And then I wait – for how long is anybody’s guess. 

A lot of people ask me why I want my Irish citizenship, which I suppose is a fair question. My fellow expat friends who have gotten their Irish citizenship were living here with US passports, so it’s obvious why an Irish passport would be a good thing. But I’ve got Italian citizenship and many wonder why I would bother getting Irish citizenship, since Italy is in the EU. A big reason is Brexit. Ireland and the UK have an arrangement called the Common Travel Area that pre-dates the EU. Under the CTA, Irish citizens have the right to live, travel, work and study in the UK. Despite all of this Brexit foolishness, access to the UK is something that would be beneficial to me. And more broadly, according to the Henley Passport Index, the Irish passport is number one in the Global Passport Power Rankings (along with Belgium, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand.) Italy is part of the number two ranking and for those wondering, the US is way down at number 20 – oh how the mighty have fallen.  

I would also like to be able to vote in any and all elections in Ireland. I’m able to vote in some as a resident, but not all. I live here, I have a vested interest in what happens here – I want to be able to vote. Ireland has had some pretty huge referendums in that past few years (gay marriage, abortion) and, while the votes did go the way I hoped, I would have liked to be part of this Irish history. 

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want my Irish citizenship because Ireland is my home now. I’ve lived here for nearly eight years. I just bought a home here. While I don’t deal in “forevers”, I do see myself living here for the foreseeable future. So, I want to be a citizen of the place I call home. I want to be Irish. 

 

Home sweet home?

So, how have you been keeping yourself busy during lockdown? I have not baked banana bread or taken up yoga – I bought an apartment. Why not, right?! I mean, I don’t like banana bread or yoga so I had to so something.

I’ve been living in the new place for exactly one week. I need to be completely out of my old place by Thursday of this coming week. Weirdly but conveniently, I bought a place in the building where I’ve been renting so that has made the transition much easier. But that’s about the only thing that has been easy during this process.

I’ve been renting for a long, long time. When I think about the amount of money I’ve paid in rent it makes me sick. But, I’ve also been a mover for a long, long time. Since graduating from undergrad I’ve lived in Michigan, Los Angeles, Florida, New Jersey (metro NYC area), back to Los Angeles, Dublin, Paris, and back to Dublin. I’ve never lived anywhere I wanted to stay long enough to buy a place (well, except Paris but c’est trop cher!)

I came close to buying here in Dublin before I moved to Paris. I put in several offers on one-bedroom places but had no success. I was being kicked out of my current rental, so I cut my losses and moved to Paris for 15 months. One of the big reasons I returned to Dublin (other than you know, loving and missing it) was that I really did want to buy a place – and Dublin was where I wanted to do it.

Dublin is not an easy place to buy. Places are expensive (though not when compared to some other places I’ve lived like Paris and Los Angeles) and first time buyers must have a 10% down payment (if it’s not your first time, you need to put down 20%!). That’s a lot of cash, and it’s that down payment, not the mortgage payments, that keeps a lot of people off the property ladder. This time around I decided to buy a two bedroom and my down payment and closing costs came to nearly €53,000 ($63,100) – and that’s before doing anything to the place and buying furniture. Yikes! Is it any wonder I had a panic attack when I signed the contract?!

But now it’s done and I’m a home owner. I’ve loved things like picking out paint colors and furniture. I don’t love worrying that every little creak or squeak means some expensive repair. I love that I was able to afford a place in my beloved neighborhood of Ranelagh. I don’t love worrying that maybe I should have bought a bigger place in a different neighborhood. I love being out of the brutal Dublin rental market. I don’t love when my brain starts pestering me as to whether I’ll live in this place forever. I don’t know, brain! Please shut up!

But one week in, the love moments outweigh the worry moments and I do think my new home is rather sweet.