Tuesday, May 29, 2007


The TN Renaissance Fair, our Memorial Day tradition

We've been doing the TN Renaissance Fair every Memorial Day weekend it seems for at least five or six year. I can imagine that we'll be doing it for many years into the future.

The budget wasn't as big this year as in some previous years, so we didn't get to play quite as many games. But it seems like everyone had a lot of fun. Both of the girls tried their hands at "Dragon Joust", but alas, they did not vanquish their foe. (grin)

We got to see lots of the shops, the living chess match, and the falconer's demonstration. I really wanted to see the entire knight's tournament event. But it'd been a long day already and was hot and dusty. So we called it a day after the first half of the competition, without seeing the fully armored combatants go at it with lance and shield. That'd have been really cool.
We'll also need to reinvest in costumes for next years. I think the girls missed having their little fairy wings fluttering in the wind. LOL!
I hope your holiday was great,

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Monday, May 28, 2007


In honor of Memorial Day

...please take a moment to read the letter Abraham Lincoln penned to a grieving mother:

Dear Madam:

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have had so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln


Sunday, May 20, 2007


Early Music with Kevin and Lara Lay

It's been a long time since I've seen my best friend from high school, Kevin Lay, and his family. I was really happy to get an email from them recently that they were in Nashville doing an early music show over in Belle Meade on a Sunday in which I was actually in town and not traveling!

The performance was at St George's Episcopal on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon and included music by Telemon and Purcell. I think there might've been some Bach in there too, but can't recall.

One thing that was really interesting about the performance was that it used all period instruments. It was much more lively and vibrant than what I'd thought typical of early music. Lara plays the oboe and has a Masters in performance, as does Kevin, though he specializes in cello and it's early predecessor, the viola de gamba. You may be able to see the ornate carved head do Kevin's gamba in the picture below. It was a truly masterful instrument made for a master musician of the early 20th century. He's very proud of it and rightfully so. I'm sure it cost as much as a decent car.
Kevin and Lara have two sons that are about Anna Lynn's age, but they weren't able come come up on this trip. Aiden, their oldest, is now so good at chess that he can best mom and dad 100% of the time now. Way to go Aiden!
I'm optimistic that I'll be able to get down to Huntsville and Madison some time soon for a visit. Cheers,


Saturday, May 12, 2007


Dylan at the Prom

Dylan went to the prom again this year. I have to admit that I don't really "get it". When I went to prom, it was a supremely couples-oriented event, although a bunch of couples would usually hang out together and party. Dylan and a lot of his friends this year seem to be going in small groups without necessarily having a date.
I'm not saying that's bad, not by any means. It's just one of those generation gap things as far as I can tell. Still, doesn't he look sharp?


Sunday, May 06, 2007


Anglo-Irish Slang

The Irish have lots of unique words that have no meaning in our American dialect. They also have a lot of words that mean something very different than what I, as an American, initially thought. Here are a list of words that I ran into that gave me some trouble:

Bespoke - "custom" or "boutique", as in Harold's Bespoke Tailor Shop

Banger - a breakfast sausage. Beware - they look like but do not taste anything like our sausage.

Bogger - a redneck, an uncouth, backwoods person

Braces - suspenders

Busker - a street performer. Dublin, especially, has oodles of buskers on their busy pedestrian shopping streets like Grafton Street.

Craic - pronounced "crack", means general goodness, as in "This party is craic! I'm glad I came."

Champ - mashed potatos with butter, sour cream, and scallions

Colcanon - same as champ, but with shredded cabbage

Colchie - a redneck

En Suite - a hotel room with its own bathroom. A suite in the USA is one that has all the amenities, such as jacuzzi tub, a kitchen, and a separate living room. Big difference!

Fanny - the king of all misunderstood words. Of course, in the USA, fanny is a totally inoffensive word meaning your rear-end or "bum" as they'd say in Ireland and the UK. However, there, fanny is a very vulgar word meaning a lady's, er, private parts. So do NOT say "Get your fanny down here!" to an Irish woman!

First Floor - second floor

Half-8, Half-7, etc - half past 8, half past 7, and so forth

Hoovering - vacuuming

Goujons - meat strips, as in "chicken goujons" meaning chicken nuggets

Knickers - ladies underwear, panties

Mac & Wellies - overcoat and galloshes

Nappy - diaper. Imagine the visual images this produced for those Irish who heard about Don Imus calling the Rugters b-ball team "Nappy-headed hos".

Nought - zero, pronounced 'not'

Pissed/locked/lashed/latched - drunk

Rubber - eraser

Slag - insult as in "She really slagged him down."

Soda - crackers, not to be confused with soft drinks (their term for Coke, Pepsi, etc)

Snog - kissed passionately, usually involving the tongue. When I first heard it, I thought it simply meant "kissed". However, I soon found out that you couldn't say "Come snog on your dad." Eeeew!

Starkers - naked

Sussed - figured out, thought about as in "He sussed it immediately."

Townie - an uppity city person

Zebra-crossing - crosswalk

Another amazing aspect of Ireland is that the accents are so different just one county way from each other. The people of Dublin, for example, are very easy to understand and at times almost sound Southern. The people of Cork, on the other hand, speak much faster, in sigher tones, and with a much stronger sing-song rhythm. Cork, as just one example, had many of its own usages and slang, such as:

Langer - a jerk, someone you don't think very highly of

Spanner - also a jerk, a.k.a. a tool

Allergic - bad, as in "The pub scene at McGerks was allergic"

Haunted - good, as in "So we left McGerks and went to O'Malleys. And O'Malleys was completely haunted!"

It was great fun to spend a lot of time with the Irish. I really enjoyed the pub culture and hanging out with people without being slaves to the TV. Another thing that was a lot of fun was that many pubs kept various instruments on hand. People would walk up, grab an instrument, and play a few songs. Many times, others would join in, with each person leading the choice of songs through 3 or 4 tunes.

It was loads of fun!


Saturday, May 05, 2007


How to Open Microsoft Office

Ok, these are just too good not to share! I had several laughs while enjoying these websites. First, have any of you actually encountered any problems trying to open Microsoft Vista or the new version of Office? This Flickr site (I like it best in slide show mode) makes it clear how much of a hassle it can really be!


Second, have you ever attended a technology event and the speaker just couldn't quite pull it together? Check out some of these "worst case scenarios" (aka "worst practices") humorously put together by MEDC team at Microsoft.


Enjoy, -Kev


Friday, May 04, 2007


A Quick Stroll Through Belfast

Ireland is a country on the move. As I departed by train from Connelly Station in Dublin, I could see out of my window at least 27 big cranes doing construction around the city. I can't recall ever seen that many big cranes in action at one time. And that was only 1/2 of the city! I couldn't see the other half, since the train cut my view in half.

Everywhere you go in Ireland, you can see evidence of the Gaelic or Irish language. It's not a hard language to sound out, but it's impossible IMO to sound it out properly using standard English pronunciations.

Other cities in Ireland were also showing a lot of evidence of construction, though not on the same scale as Dublin. As the train pulled in to Belfast, which is actually in a different country (the UK), I counted about 8 of the big cranes - the second largest number of construction cranes after Dublin. So it seems like the prosperity that is lifting the Irish economy is also helping out in Northern Ireland.

Many people asked about "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland and while things certainly seemed good, you could see evidence that the north has had its share of problems. For example, there were still many areas cordoned off with wrought iron fences with spear-like tops, nationalistic graffiti, and spots with barbed wire.

However, the vibrant economy really seems to be pulling up the area by it's bootstraps and improving the outlook for everyone. There is peace (though not necessarily good humor) between the opposing camps. And the area is definitely prospering. Here's a picture of me along with (from left to right) Damien McGivern (leader of the local user group), Karim Rauf, Alan Boyd, me, John Quinn, and Neal Gordon.

I was also able to visit the beautiful campus of Queen's University, just up the street from my hotel. It's a large, vibrant campus with thousands of students from all over the globe.
I also learned about the age-old pastime of "conkers". It's a game that reminds me a bit of marbles. It's a passion of the guys here that, while they're still in grade school, they try to find the biggest, hardest chestnut that they can find. They then drill a hole through the chestnut (or conker). Each kid takes turns holding their conker out dangling from its string while the other player whacks it with his own conker. The first one to break loses the game. I had never heard of the game, but when I later spoke at the presentation to 35 people (all men) everyone had played it as a kid except for the 3 American men in the room.
Funny stuff!


Thursday, May 03, 2007


More about Connemare County

One of the things that constantly brought a smile to my face as I toured Connemare County was the livestock. The sheep were allowed to roam free and only the colored marks on their wool enabled the farmers to differentiate theirs from the next mans' flock. The ewes often rested in the verge while the little lambs frollicked around. It was really cute.

Another element of humor for me were the cows. Now, these cows seemed just like the cows of TN except that they were always, without fail, laying in the grass! I seldom see that back home. So it made me laugh and watch expectantly every time I saw cows on the horizon or around the corner. Sure enough, they'd all be laying down taking it easy. I think that Ireland must be Margaritaville for cows.

In the background, you'd often see strange piles of what looked like dirt. The tour guide informed us that in these remote parts of Ireland, people still used sod (a.k.a. turf) for heating. They'd go out to the peat bogs dig up the turf into piles and let it dry for a season. The next season, it was fuel for the fire.

Finally, it's worth mentioning the cute Connemare ponies. Every year the farmers come together near Galway to trade their ponies. Their often shown in movies about Ireland and are spunky little critters.

Today, I'm finally sight-seeing in Dublin. Wish me luck.
Best regards,


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Galway, Connemare County, and the Kylemore Abbey

I had the greater part of Monday to explore Galway and its surrounding county, Connemare. I was very lucky to have good weather and relatively clear skies. I decided to keep things as simple as possible by signing up for a tour rather than try to do things myself.

The main things that I wanted to see in County Connemare and County Clare were the Kylemore Abbey and Cliffs of Moher (pronounced "more"), respectively. Each site, in turn, was spectacular in its own way.

The Abbey is actively run today by nuns and serves as both a boarding school for girls and the headquarters of the Benedictine nuns of Ireland. When it was first built, it served as the manor home of a British family of great wealth. It later passed to the Duke of Manchester, but his gambling and unwillingness to invest in upkeep caused the beautiful castle to fall into disrepair. In 1914, the Benedictine nuns were forced out of their home in the Netherlands by German shelling and were given refuge here at the Abbey.

Not only is the home beautiful, but the grounds are astounding. The Abbey is faced by a beautiful lake. And behind the Abbey are forests, striking mountains, and a fastidiously maintained Victorian Garden.

The county where Galway and Kylemore Abbey reside is known as Connemare (cohn-a-mar). It's beautiful and lush, with rather rocky soil. The local farmers have built up "drywalls" for generations to mark the borders of their land and to get the rocks out of the soil so they could till it. The green of the landscape and the gently rolling hills had me pining for Tennessee is short time. I can see now why the early Scotch/Irish inhabitants of TN liked it so much. It surely must've reminded them of home. Even our very common field walls are nearly identical to what you'd find in Ireland.

Another striking site south of Connemare County are the famous Cliffs of Moher, which are unlike anything else I've ever seen. They rise up about 700 ft in some places and face the western sea - the Atlantic. You can almost feel the wind on your face just looking at the picture. :^)
Another feature you would see in the country side were dramatic, roofless stone cottages. These are all vestiges of the old Irish Potato Famine of 1840. Evidently, the English and Scottish landlords would give the tenants a few chances to make their rent and if they failed to make their rent, the bailiffs would as a final measure pull of the sod or thatch roofs of the cottages so that the homes would become unliveable. In the decade of the Potato Famine, Ireland's population declined from 9 million to about 2 million. It is only in the last decade or two that population has grown to anything near the levels prior to the famine.

More to come in the next entry!


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