Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ireland Snow Day!

Happy Snow Day off today if you're in Ireland!

Arctic Siberian winds are blowing in from the north east (emphatically referred to as "The Beast from the East"), chilling down most of Europe to sub-zero temperatures. The west of Ireland breathes a sigh of relief, because for once their coast is non taking the brunt of the storm! The temperatures started dropping towards 0C this weekend after a 'heat wave' last week with temps around 10C. So without further ado, here is your super official Ireland weather update over the last couple days!

Sunday was sunny, but cold at 3C. Everyone else is bundled up, and here's a t-shirt.

Since it doesn't really get warm enough here to warrant ice cream, and the Irish won't pass up a treat opportunity, any time the sun shows up it's ice cream time, as far as Ireland is concerned. That's right, there are people in down coats waiting to get some ice cream!

I'm pretty sure the entire town of Bray was out that day, and Sammie wasn't going to miss out. She was strutting her stuff along the boardwalk, getting hemmed at hawed at, and sometimes even rubbed by passersby. Doggy heaven.

Monday we started stocking up on food as it was projected to snow for 5 days. Many grocery stores had empty shelves. Luckily, I use weird things like tahini, garlic infused olive oil, and peanut butter, so I was able to stock up. The organic fruit and veg were limited, but I got what I needed. We went back to Tesco on Tuesday, and there was almost nothing left in the fresh section, picked clean. I prepped multiple tupperwares of hummus, hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, and a vat of lentil soup, as power outages are also a possibility and we don't have a gas stove.

Tuesday morning : spitting

1C : Neva still dressed like this

Tuesday evening : starts coming down and sticking

Wednesday morning : our backyard

About 10 cm or 4" worth of snow

Dublin and Wicklow counties are said to get over 25cm (around 10") of snow by the end of tomorrow (Thursday), which is a lot for Ireland. Many schools are closed, including Neva's, so we celebrate Ireland's first snow day in a while.

First thing's first in our house, check on the chooks. In the early hours, only Henrietta was willing to venture out, and took temporary residence under the outdoor sink while trying to figure out what this strange substance that littered the ground was all about.

Filling the girls' bellies with fat pellets and hard seeds helps them stay warm in the cold temperatures.

Some are more adventurous than others! While Henrietta explores the white landscape, Chicken Middle and Big Red enjoy the comfort of their coop. We check their water and bedding every few hours just to make sure everyone is comfortable. So far, so good, and 2 eggs to show for today!

Even some of the local wildlife were looking for a reprieve from the cold. This Irish blackbird was saying hello to the chickens in their abode, and a tiny Irish robin came into the house somehow (Neva...). I picked her delicate body up gently to let her outside, she perched on my finger for a moment, and flew off. I hope they're all staying warm!

Once chooks are sorted, it's business time. The obligatory snowball fight begins!

Followed by the obligatory snowperson

Followed by obligatory snowball fight number two!

Aaaand again, no coat.

And with that, we are busying ourselves and enjoying each other's company with warm food, snow times, and indoor relaxing times. 

Neva moving her aloe plant clones away from the window. Hat inside? Oh brother, my backwards daughter!

Happy snow day from us all here in Ireland! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Introduction to Ireland

Ireland, that mysterious green island across the pond that evokes images of everyone wearing green hats, drinking merrily while singing in a pub, and speaking in the most welcoming accents you've ever heard. Okay, some of that may be true, but I wanted to discuss a few minimum cultural and historical facts, and some general information to be aware of before traveling to Ireland. I can't get them all in one go, but here's a few... (As a disclaimer, this is a foreigner's/expat's impressions of Ireland based on my experience thus far.)

Yes, that may be my dog Sammie and fellow biker friend Andrew having a pint at a pub in Dublin.

Language : Just to get this out of the way, no one says "top of the mornin' " please don't say that...ever. There are loads of beautiful Irish colloquialisms and idioms that stem from the Irish language, but that is not one of them.  And speaking of language, the native Irish language is Irish or Irish Gaelic (Translated from the Irish word Gaeilge), not English.  Though only the 7th most spoken language in Ireland, Irish is part of their rich culture, and where many of the complex and charming idioms come from.

Gaeilge is typically spoken as a primary language only in the west of Ireland. Speaking Irish has a long history of oppression and wasn't allowed to be taught or spoken in many areas for hundreds of years. Through a rocky road of politics and policy to bring back Irish, starting in 1928, Gaeilge is now part of the national curriculum. Neva is currently attending a full immersion Gaelscoil, where all instruction is given in Gaeilge. It's no coincidence that Ireland has bred so many poets and authors with its Irish language roots!

Neva on her way home from her first day of Gaelscoil. She wears a uniform which involves a snappy kilt!

Geography : I get asked many times by Americans if Ireland is part of the UK. The answer is no, N-O. Ireland is split between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (independent). Now, it's kind of a long story, but it started with the Normans invading Ireland in the twelfth century, a bunch of wars happened mostly surrounding English rule over the Irish, Ireland was then split into north (Anglo) and south (Irish) in the Irish war of independence in 1921, then officially became a republic (free from British Commonwealth) in 1949, ending with 'The Troubles'; a civil war between 1968-1998 waged on whether there should be a unification of Ireland or not.

This makes the Brexit business difficult because if Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don't have the same rules, it makes border control difficult, and I'll leave it at that. Knowing the history and difference between Northern Ireland and The Republic is important not only culturally when you visit, but economically as well. For example, the Republic uses the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the GBP.

Cost of Living : We live right at the border of County Wicklow (south of Dublin) and County Dublin. Dublin is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, right up there with London, however, in our daily lives, the main thing that was a notable difference as far as cost goes was the rent and housing prices. Ireland got hit much harder than the rest of western Europe in the global market crash of 2008, so interest rates are higher (eg. Ireland : 3.1% compared to France : 1.55%), banks are very cautious of mortgage approval, and the fact that Ireland is currently in a housing crisis due to high demand and low availability drives the housing prices up. Tourists aren't really affected by this, but if you're looking to move here, it should be a consideration.

We have the sea and the mountains within a 10 minute or less walk from us. The high quality of life of being easily near nature and the city was worth it for us!

Part of the reason houses are so high is because lots of people want to move here. To put this in perspective, Ireland only has a population of 4 million people, with 600,000 squeezed into the capital and surrounding areas. This doesn't sound like a lot, but considering the size of Ireland, and the size of where people want to be (Dublin, see above in yellow on map), the city is quite packed.

On the flip side, many places outside of the Dublin and Cork have more sheep than people. That is part of Ireland's appeal, how quickly you can be in the city, countryside, or at the sea. The longest it may take you to get anywhere on the opposite side of the country is a 5 hour drive, taking a long, windy backroad, making it a great place to go on holiday and see lots of interesting sites!

Cost of Tourism : As a tourist, Ireland is like many popular EU cities. You only tip if you had excellent service (maybe 10%) as waiters/cab drivers/etc. get paid a livable wage, and VAT is included in everything, so no math to add on extra tax cost, it is what it is! Bed and Breakfasts are popular in rural Ireland which are quaint and reasonably priced, and the rumor that you can ask anyone on the street for directions and be met with a big smile and detailed answer is very true. The hospitals have cost caps (our local one is 500), which we got paid back in full by our insurance just a few days later. Waits can be long during flu season, but our experience has been pretty good. Many Irish may disagree with me, but having experienced US privatized healthcare, where a short hospital stay can result in a multi-thousand dollar bill, pregnancy is a pre-existing condition, etc. Ireland is pretty good. In short, you can go on holiday here, and not have to worry about breaking the bank if you break your leg.

Me in the hospital with the mumps. Total cost after all said and done, $0.

In the year and a half we have lived here, I can say that we have been very welcomed; the classic Irish kindness and chattiness is refreshing. It's nice to be able to fairly easily travel around the island. Though it's a small area, the history is rich, and it is a country that should be taken at the speed of the locals, with appreciation for the land and of those that came before. There is so much to see here, and I am honored to call it my current home. If you haven't been, come visit, enjoy the craic, have a pint, and experience the beauty and rich culture that has fought to preserve traditions of old.

Below is a sneak peak of some of the beautiful Irish places we have been. I'll tell you all about them, and when to time!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Hello all! I wanted to share something a little personal today. The wonderful readers that you are deserve to know, so here goes. A summary of the last year.

Last summer, we decided to pack it all up and move to Ireland. It was a difficult time, selling a house, getting all the odds and ends ready for travelling internationally, finding a school from afar, but then, the unexpected happened. My father fell ill.

Neva and Dad sharing a mango lassi at an Indian buffet at Christmas time.

My father, J.R. Dick Fitch, is my biggest fan. He is the one who started me writing and editing at a young age. You see, he was the president, editor, and publisher of a local newspaper in Imperial Valley, CA, and had been in the newspaper business from aged 19-78. When I was 10 years old, he called me into his room to proofread one of his Sunday columns which he wrote weekly.

A proud Papa showing off his granddaughter at his job (one of 3 jobs, that is) at the Kerrville Daily Times. Dad wasn't very good at staying retired!

We both lived in Texas, only 5 hours away from each other, so we were able to see each other on a semi-regular basis. We would exchange holidays with each other, and we would go to him for his classic car club rides, one of his favorite retirement hobbies. The other was writing children's books, which he ended up writing 4 of, his first featuring Neva in the "about the author" section.

Top : Christmas, Bottom Left : photoshoot for "Opposites" about the author page, Bottom Right : Dad about to take Neva for a ride in the classic car.

When I found out he was sick, I went down to see him right away. Things escalated and when we thought he was to be released from the hospital, he went into emergency surgery instead. I had the pleasure and the honor of nursing him back to health from a painful surgery. Flossing his teeth, combing his hair, giving him company when he was awake, all the things he did for me when I was little. After days of getting better, it seemed we were in the clear; but then there was a setback. Dad's 78 year old body was saying go, even though his heart and mind said stay. June 26, 2016, Dick Fitch, Daddy, Papa, said goodbye.

Left : Dad's small family memorial service with a picture of him when he was 19, and some other special mementos of his. Right : One of the last times I saw dad feeling "well". Here he is laughing at the birthday card Neva got him, with donkeys on the front!

All the things that you won't do flood your mind. Dad had wanted to be our SAG wagon at RAGBRAI that year, just the following month. It was Neva's first year to cycle on her own, and he was so proud and excited to drive a car for us, pulling behind him one of his classic camper pods. But then you appreciate all the times you had, and it helps the pain. And I mean ALL the times, even the not so pleasant ones are a treasure when you lose someone you truly love. Remember to gives all the hugs!

It was hard for me to write on this blog, as he commented on every post I wrote, and I knew once I wrote a post, I would expect to see his comment that wouldn't come "great pictures kiddo", "what an adventure!", "tell Neva Papa is proud." None of these will come again. But I decided I'm ready. To share more adventures, tips and tricks. From cycling, to TSA rules, to international moves and laws, I'm ready to share again.

Our "backyard". The start of this trail is a 3 minute walk from our house. This is what it looks like at the top.

Stay tuned as this month will be all about Ireland. The process of moving internationally, Irish customs, hidden treasures in Ireland, cycle commuting and bike culture here, as well as our personal stories. We will see you soon! Or, as my dad would say, "See you in the funny papers!"

Dad giving us a warm farewell as we venture toward the Great Divide from his house in Kerrville, TX.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

6 Reasons to Run if You're a Bicyclist

As I'm nearing the end of my Master's program, I've become less active.  Where my mind and scientific writing has gotten quite the workout, my body has gotten much less exercise. To help with the metaphor of crossing the thesis finish line, I started running again as my exercise of choice when not bike commuting.  You may wonder why a bike addict would chose to go the way of the sneaker for exercise, so I compiled both biological and personal preferences as to why a cyclist should also incorporate running into their exercise regimen.

1. Impact Exercise to Prevent Brittle Bones

There is evidence to suggest that bikers may suffer from lower Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in the femur, neck, and lumbar spine compared to weight bearing exercises.  You can read the full 2011 study here. More research needs to be done, but there is substantial preliminary research that points to low impact sports like swimming and biking decreasing BMD. For anyone that rides in traffic and has potential to get hit by a car, or for off-road bikers who can take a spill from aggressive terrain, strong bones are a good thing.  Cross training biking and running is a good way to prevent unwanted premature bone deterioration.

2. Quick Boost to the Cardiovascular System

Now, this is just from my personal experience, but I find that biking in Texas does not prepare me for climbing mountains in Colorado, lung-wise. As a long-time long distance cyclist, any time I get on a bike, my body automatically adjusts to a moderate pace, which is good for enduring long distances, but it doesn't help when I really need to be building my lung power, and working on my breathing for future mountain bike climbing endeavors. Even if it's only for 20-30 minutes a day, my heart rate stays up the whole time when running.  There's no break during a downhill, when you stop moving your feet, you stop running.  This really helps me to improve my cardiovascular system quickly. This study discusses some of the physiological differences between cycling and running.

3. Building Strength in Complimentary Climbing Muscles

As you may (or may not) be able to see from the pictures above, there is much overlap of muscles used for both running and cycling. When mountain biking up steep grades in the Colorado Rockies, I was primarily standing up on my pedals to navigate large boulders and pull 100 pounds up the side of a mountain; and when going downhill off-road, you tend to stand up so your legs act as a shock and to maintain a strong sense of balance over your bike and load. When first starting out in the Rockies, this all too familiar position of standing up made me wish that I had incorporated running into my regimen beforehand to prevent muscle fatigue on long climbing days (which are most days in Colorado!). Also, keep in mind, the air is thinner at the high elevations, which is why a strong cardiovascular system that can get your oxygen to your muscles efficiently is important too (reference #2 above).

4. More Efficient Exercise when on a Short Schedule

My biking need has dwindled from about 150 miles per week to maybe 30 miles per week as I finish my thesis (yay!). Between schooling and family, I have less time for extracurriculars. If I really want to get a good workout on a bike (here in mostly flat north Texas), I have to be gone for about an hour or more. With running, I feel it right away and really notice a difference from something as small as 3-5 kilometers/day, which takes only 15-30 minutes. I can run while Neva is brushing her teeth in the morning, and be home before she is dressed. I feel somewhat accomplished, and don't beat myself up too hard if I drive that day due to time constraints (the guilt is real as a biker anytime you drive over biking!)

5. The Distance is Shorter, yet Effective

Not only does it take a while to get a good workout on the bike, you have to go quite a long distance to get in your hour-long workout. Typically you're looking at around 15 miles, and when you're in the heart of suburbia, you've very much left the neighborhood and have ventured into the next town over. That's not to say that you can't get in your weekend long-rides of 50+ miles; that's necessary for long-distance bike training. But for maintaining a daily routine, it should be something that's tangible on a daily basis, or something you can feel comfortable keeping up with.  Biking to work daily also fits the bill, but currently, I work from home, so that one is out for me right now!

6.  You Eliminate the Morning Stress of Dealing with Cars

When you don't have to leave your neighborhood, the urgency of morning traffic does not exist. Our neighborhood is a 2 kilometer course that I can run 2-3 times, and not worry about the stress of dealing with cars trying to get to work. Once you leave the neighborhood on your bike at 7am, you're right in the heart of traffic here in Texas, breathing exhaust fumes, and dealing with impatient drivers. When running, I notice that cars actually see you much better because the pace is so different from them, which takes down the stress level. Lastly, stretching is a mandatory part of post-running procedure, so a post-run 5 minute yoga and meditation session is a great way to destress your morning and start the day.

Relax like the Nevatar!

So, to recap, I am still a bike addict, and with many friends that are marathoners, I definitely cannot call myself a runner. However, I wanted to share the value I find in cross-training to strengthen my cycling performance. Neva also alternates between running and biking for her afternoon exercises, and we make a great team when I'm running and she bikes next to me. Since I cannot end a post without showing an adorable Neva shot, here's my biking running partner in action (with an iguana in tow)!


Friday, March 18, 2016

Quick Post : Neva's Ascent

Can you all feel it?  Spring is almost here, and the biking here in Texas has been great!  Neva's been putting her Beinn 20 to good use over the past month, practicing her hand braking, shifting, and overall technique on her 'big girl' bike. Here she is about to hit the trail.  (Note : sandals were not advised by mother)

Fun Fact : If you don't have a bike trail close by, the Beinn 20 fits nicely inside the car, only needing the front wheel removed. 

The easiest riding to get to from our house is a construction site a mile down the road.  On the weekends, there are no workers, and it's a tiny mountain bikers' dream! She started out walking her bike up a steep grade.  I reminded her that realistically, when you start, there may be some walking involved.

She did well going over the bumps and large vehicle "rumples" left behind, but is still working on standing up so her legs can absorb the shock of a bumpy landscape.  At the end of the trail was a large hill that looked over a small lake below.  She made it up part way, but needed to walk the rest of the way. Downshifting uphill is also another work-in-progress.

At the top, it was the first time that she had biked to an overlook under her own power.  She walked to the edge to take in the scenery. Smiling as a flock of geese crested over the horizon, honking loudly, as they usually do around dusk. 

She sat down, proud of her accomplishment.

Then it was time for the moment of truth. Now that she had gone up, could she go down?  



Neva left us in a cloud of trail dust, rapid-fire shifting, and speeding the whole way home! Luckily, she's got her hand brakes for speed adjustments, but this girl is not one to shy away from speed. Stay tuned for next time, there may be a GoPro Neva-cam video in the near future!