20 Ways My 2-Year Old is Like a Puppy

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I’m a full-time stay at home mom. I spend my days playing with my kids and my dog–perhaps I spend too much time playing with my kids and my dog. As I was watching my 2-year old playing with our dog the other day it struck me: toddlers and puppies have a lot in common. Here are my top observations in toddler/puppy similarities:

  1. They have endless energy–If we could find a way to harness the energy of 2-year old boys and 7-year old Border Collies I’m pretty sure we could power third world countries.
  2. My primary role as mother/owner is to keep them from killing themselves on a daily basis.
  3. They like to chew on things–especially things that are not meant to be chewed on.
  4. They like getting their heads rubbed.
  5. They enjoy playing in the toilet–putting toys in it, drinking from it, splashing around in the water. Lovely.
  6. They will eat things that really should not be eaten, and look at you like you’re a crazy woman when you jam a finger into their mouth to swipe it out.
  7. They pee on the floor and don’t clean it up. I really wish they would at least clean it up.
  8. They don’t wear out–If they get 5 minutes of rest they’re ready to go again at 100% capacity. No rest for the weary (mom).
  9. They enjoy lying in mud puddles and digging in the dirt. But, really, who doesn’t?
  10. They need regular grooming–see #9
  11. They love balls. Ball?! Did somebody say ball?
  12. They are small, squishy, and cuddly–if you can catch them long enough to squish and cuddle them.
  13. They want to wrestle. All. The. Time.
  14. They spread out on the couch/bed/chair that you were about to sit on–and they lie in such a ridiculous, haphazard position that there’s not a square inch of space left for you to possibly squeeze in.
  15. They like to bite themselves–not quite sure why they find this so enjoyable.
  16. They go crazy at the mention of words like “park” or “treat”.
  17. They need their “claws” trimmed about every 2 seconds.
  18. They make loud, obnoxious noises when they aren’t getting enough attention–and won’t stop until you quit whatever unimportant task you were doing and get down on the floor with them again.
  19. More often than not, they smell a bit funky. True story.
  20. They give unconditional love and I couldn’t imagine the world without them!

DIY Photo Collage Wall

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*Note* Sorry about the poor quality of the photos in this post. There’s a lot of glare and weird reflections of me taking the photos in the pictures. Turns out it’s difficult to take pictures of pictures inside glass frames!

A few years ago I saw a kit at Michael’s for making your own wall-size photo collage out of picture frames. I loved the idea, but it was ridiculous how much money they wanted for a few picture frames and directions on how to lay them out. I knew that I could make my own photo collage for pennies on their dollar.

We have a really long white wall in our “Great Room” (not that it’s especially great, I just don’t know what else to call the space) that I thought would be perfect for this project. It definitely needed some sprucing up, and I love the idea of having our photos be the centerpiece of the room where we spend most of our time.

To make my photo collage, I started by finding a bunch of black picture frames of different sizes. I already had several that were sitting unused in a closet and I found a few more at Goodwill. If you want to purchase inexpensive frames, Walmart always seems to have a good selection (there are few things that I will actually set foot in that awful place for, and cheap picture frames is one of them). You could also collect frames in a variety of finishes and spray paint them all the same color.

Then, I got to play picture frame puzzle! I laid out all of my frames on the floor and moved them around in different arrangements until I had a set-up that I thought looked nice. I got some inspiration from websites online, but mostly I just had fun playing around with the frames. Once I had a design that I liked, I snapped a photo of it so I’d remember the layout and I started hanging the frames on my wall.

For those of you who are more precise with lines and angles and such, you could actually trace the frames onto a large sheet of paper once they’re laid out in your desired arrangement. Then transfer the sheet to your wall and hang it up with painters tape so you can see where to place the nails for each frame. I’m more of an eyeball-it-and-take-a-chance do-it-yourselfer, so I skipped this step entirely.

For the actual photos in the frames, I decided to stick with back-and-whites. I like how classic and elegant they look. Plus, I’m really a bit afraid of colors–I never quite know how to use them and I feel like too many colors can make things look too busy and “loud”. I chose photos that are meaningful to our family–they show who we are and where we come from. Every now and then I print off updated photos to replace old photos in the frames. Here are a few of my favorites:

Our wedding– This frame is in the middle of the collage, and it’s a great reminder of the love that started our family.

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Awkward family photo– This isn’t a particularly good photo, but I still love it because of the memories I have of taking the photo. This was the first family photo we had with all 4 of us “posing” for the camera. It was at a dinner we had at my parents’ house for my sister before she moved to California for her internship last summer. Jacob was about 8 weeks old and, if you notice, he’s naked in this photo. That’s because he was in his diaper explosion phase where he would ruin about 10 outfits a day. Right before this photo was taken he pooped on the 4th (and last) outfit that I had brought with us. His options were to borrow a dress from our friends’ baby girl or go naked–so, here he is, naked. Both boys are looking off to the side where some commotion more interesting that the camera seems to have been taking place.

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Golden Gate Bridge– We had a 2-year stint living in the Bay Area while Jon was in graduate school. It was right before we had our first baby and it was a magical time in our lives where we both grew and learned so much. This photo of the bridge in San Francisco brings back so may great memories of our early marriage.

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Babies on Bibles– We took newborn photos of both boys laying on Bibles. It’s neat looking at both of them when they were at the same tiny baby stage. I also love the symbolism of the Bible being their firm foundation.

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Family Foursquare- This one has a picture of each family member (clockwise from top left): Jacob, David, our dog Bota (gotta include our first “child”), me and Jon. The photo of Jacob is the first time he smiled. The photo of David is a baby photo that I just loved so much I didn’t want to change it out for an updated one. The photo of me and Jon was taken on a family trip right before we got engaged–sweet, young love!

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Family Rules– I ordered this wooden sign for us off Etsy. I had actually wanted to make my own sign, but then I realized that I have two young children and “want” would probably never actually become “made”. On Etsy I got to choose all of the wording for the sign and they did a beautiful job handcrafting it for us. The sign is made of wood and cost about $25 (making it the most expensive part of this whole project, but still a great deal if you ask me!). I actually ended up liking this sign so much that I bought one for each of our sisters this past Christmas.

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Now I just need to come up with some ideas for the rest of my blank walls!

This Week’s Menu and My Recipe for Guinness Beef Stew

While we were in Ireland last week I spent the whole time trying to find some authentic Irish food. To my great disappointment, I discovered that you can’t find Irish food in Ireland. We found Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian and American food–everything we ate was delicious, but it left me yearning for some hearty Irish fare. Although they disappointed me in the food department, the Irish spared nothing when it came to their beer. There was no shortage rich, dark beer in the homeland of Murphy’s and Guinness. So, this week I salute Guinness–and the Irish stew I never found. Find my recipe for Guinness Beef Stew at the bottom of this post–it may just transport you across the Atlantic!

This week’s menu:

Monday: Enchilada Casserole–using up leftover tortillas and beans from our fajitas last week

Tuesday: Potluck meal at Bible Study–I’m bringing potato soup

Wednesday: Grilled Chicken–a quick dinner for after soccer practice

Thursday: Greek Moussakas–this is a new recipe I’m trying from Rachael Ray

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: Garlic Pasta Primavera

Sunday: Guinness Beef Stew (recipe below)–I’ll be making a double batch because we’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Guinness Beef Stew


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1 1/2 pounds round steak
5-6 Tablespoons oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
2 1/2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can/bottle Guinness beer (or any dark beer of your liking)
1 can beef stock
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons butter
Egg noodles, cooked according to package instructions

Cut meat into 2 inch pieces. Saute onions in hot oil until golden brown. Add meat. Season with salt and pepper and saute until well browned. Add brown sugar, red wine vinegar, bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Pour in beer and cover with beef stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover with lid and simmer for 60 minutes or until meat is barely tender, adding more beef stock if necessary. Thicken with a dark roux (2 Tablespoons melted butter and 2 Tablespoons flour). Simmer 20-30 minutes more or until meat is tender. Serve in bowls over egg noodles.

Irish For Newbies

A lot of things are different in Ireland. They drive on the other (some would say wrong) side of the car and the other side of the road. There are round-abouts everywhere (even in the middle of highways). They consider going-out time–even on a weeknight– to be from about 10:00-midnight. They don’t open stores or restaurants or coffee shops until at least 9:00–or noon on Sundays–(probably because they were out at dinner until midnight). They have about 5,000 different varieties of Kit Kat candy bars. And they have a lot of different words for things.

Turns out that even though the Irish speak English, there are quite a few differences in terminology. While we were in Ireland I picked up a bit of the local lingo. I had a few back-and-forths where my intentions got completely lost in translation–much to the frustration (and, eventually, the amusement) of both parties. I’ll spare you the trouble of figuring out all of these translations for yourself. Here are a few Irish-English translations I’ve picked up for newbies:

  • bog – toilet
  • nappy – diaper
  • hob- stove
  • cot (or baby cot) – crib
  • Maxi-Cosi – infant car seat (note: the airline attendant will become quickly agitated if you suggest bringing a carseat onto her aircraft. Those are huge bulky seats for toddlers and there is not room for them on the little Irish planes. A Maxi-Cosi, however, is perfectly acceptable.)
  • knickers – socks
  • brolly – umbrella
  • jumper – sweater
  • gherkins – pickles
  • lads and lassies/ ladies and gents – boys and girls/ women and men (I just think it’s cute that they actually call everyone by these names!)
  • chips – french fries
  • chip butty – a sandwhich stuffed with fries and mayo. Surprisingly delicious.
  • trolley – shopping cart
  • bap – hamburger bun
  • buggy or pram – stroller
  • lolly – candy
  • biscuits – cookies
  • savoury biscuits – crackers
  • creche – daycare/ child care center
  • child minder – at-home daycare
  • boot – car trunk
  • pitch – field (for playing sports)
  • football – soccer
  • wellies – rain boots
  • GHT – hair flat iron
  • mineral – soft drinks
  • garda – police
  • Sat Nav – GPS
  • mobile – cell phone
  • courgette- zucchini
  • aubergine – eggplant
  • mince – ground beef
  • soft cheese – cream cheese
  • clotted cream – whipped cream
  • craic – a jolly good time!

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I hope this helps if you ever plan your own trip out to the Emerald Isle (or if you just want to impress that bartender at your local Irish pub)!

Irish For Newbies

A lot of things are different in Ireland. They drive on the other (some would say wrong) side of the car and the other side of the road. They consider dinnertime to be from about 9:00-midnight. They are obsessed with round-abouts (even in the middle of highways). They don’t keep shops open past 4:00 in the afternoon. They have about 5,000 different varieties of Kit Kat candy bars. And they have a lot of different words for things.

Turns out that even though the Irish speak English, there are quite a few differences in terminology. While we were in Ireland I picked up a bit of the local lingo. I had a few back-and-forths where my intentions got completely lost in translation–much to the frustration (and, eventually, the amusement) of both parties. I’ll spare you the trouble of figuring out all of these translations for yourself. Here are my top Irish-English translations for newbies:

  • bog – toilet
  • nappy – diaper
  • hob- stove
  • cot (or baby cot) – crib
  • Maxi-Cosi – infant car seat (note: the airline attendant will become quickly agitated if you suggest bringing a carseat onto her aircraft. Those are huge bulky seats for toddlers and there is not room for them on the little Irish planes. A Maxi-Cosi, however, is perfectly acceptable.)
  • knickers – socks
  • brolly – umbrella
  • gherkins – pickles
  • lads and lassies/ ladies and gents – boys and girls/ women and men (I just think it’s cute that they actually call everyone by these names!)
  • chips – french fries
  • chip butty – a sandwhich stuffed with fries and mayo. Surprisingly delicious.
  • trolley – shopping cart
  • bap – hamburger bun
  • pram – stroller
  • lolly – candy
  • biscuits – cookies
  • savoury biscuits – crackers
  • creche – daycare/ child care center
  • boot – car trunk
  • wellies – rain boots
  • GHT – hair flat iron
  • mineral – soft drinks
  • garda – police
  • Sat Nav – GPS
  • mobile – cell phone
  • the craic – a jolly good time!

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I hope this helps if you ever plan your own trip out to the Emerald Isle (or if you just want to impress that bartender at your local Irish pub)!

Our Trip To Ireland

We just got back from an AMAZING week in Ireland! I seriously feel like I spent the whole week walking around with my jaw hanging open–I was just in such awe of the beauty and the history surrounding me in that magical place. The original purpose of our trip was to do some house-hunting. But, since Jon’s company still hadn’t gotten us the necessary paperwork, we weren’t actually able to sign a lease. I did drive around to see a few houses, though, and I actually got to walk through one to see what I might be able to expect when (if?) we’re living there.

Here are a few photos of the house so you can see what it was like:

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Most of the houses that you can rent there are fully-furnished townhouses. I think we’ll find a good one when the time is right!

Since our Plan A of looking at houses kind of fell through, we went to Plan B: looking at Ireland. Jon had to work most of the week, but Jacob and I had a lot of fun exploring on the days that he was busy (and we all had fun exploring together on the days he had off!). Read on to see more about our week in Ireland!

Day 1: Traveling To Ireland
Jacob did amazingly well traveling. We were fortunate to get a row with an extra seat for the long flight across the Atlantic, so we were able to bring his car seat on the plane with us. He fell asleep during take-off and took enough naps during the flight that I was able to watch a couple of movies and read my “airplane magazines” (the high-caliber celebrity magazines that I really only ever read above 10,000 feet). Our route to Ireland was a bit of the hop-hop-hop variety: we went from Seattle to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Cork, Ireland. Our 2 hour layover in Amsterdam turned into 5 hours because they had just gotten some unexpected snow and had to clear the runways. While we were waiting, I treated myself to healthy breakfast at the airport Starbucks (those Dutch sure know how to properly use whipped cream!).

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0002Jacob had fun looking out the windows with me. We watched huge snow plows blow past us clearing the way for all of the pretty blue Dutch airplanes.

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After about 22 hours of travel we made it to our hotel room. It was a nice, spacious room in a 250 year old hotel. They had even set up a “by cot” (a crib) for us before we arrived.

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After a quick nap we went out to get some dinner. We found a great pub with delicious steaks and boisterous “trad” music (traditional Irish music). Then it was time for bed. Jacob was a thoughtful baby and let me sleep for almost 13 hours (with a few wake-ups for feedings, of course).

Day 2: The Cliffs of Moher
Every person we know who’s been to Ireland and every guidebook that’s ever been written insisted that we visit the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of Ireland. We decided to take a clue and used our first full day there to drive out and see what all the fuss was about. The cliffs are–well–cliffs. Really big, tall, intimidating cliffs that jut right out of the ocean. They really are incredible.

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We spent a few hours walking the paths that line the cliffs so we could see every incredible angle.

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From what I hear, the weather at the Cliffs of Moher can be pretty treacherous, even in the middle of the summer. We lucked out with a relatively mild day, rolling fog, and even a few sunbreaks. The cliffs truly were as beautiful as all the hype made them out to be.

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After our glorious afternoon at the cliffs, we were feeling adventurous. Perhaps a bit too adventurous for sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, over-zealous tourists.  We decided that we weren’t done exploring yet and wanted to take a scenic route home. So, instead of driving straight back to our hotel (which was still two and a half hours away by the most direct route, mind you) we hopped on a ferry.

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By the time we had crossed the water and started looking for our scenic drive home, the sun was setting. We decided to ditch our plans for the 4 hour scenic drive along the water (what WERE we thinking?!) and find a quick route back to the city. This is when we learned that there are no quick drives back to the city when you are in the middle of the Irish countryside. It’s also when we learned that Irish country roads are actually small dirt paths that were built for horses, not Toyotas, and that on-coming traffic will barrel you off the path-road if you don’t scoot yourself out of the way quick enough. We also learned that it gets very, very dark in the middle of nowhere with no streetlights, stars, or settlements to help guide you. Did I mention that you also drive on the left in Ireland and that none of the street signs actually match up with the road names on a map? Let’s just leave this story here: it was a long drive, a terrifying drive, and one that we will never, ever do again. Lesson learned.

Day 3: Exploring City Cork
Jon was in Ireland for work, so he had to spend the next several days in meetings. I decided to spend my first solo-day exploring the city we were in. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, but that’s a bit deceiving. It’s only 1/10th the size of the largest city, Dublin, and has a population of roughly 100,000 Corkians (Corkites? Corkies?). Cork is the city we’ll be living in if we move over there, so I thought it would be good to get my bearings. Jacob was my little travel buddy, and he was a great little companion to take along on all of my adventures. We started by walking through downtown to look at all of the cute shops.

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While we were walking around we found the English Market, an indoor public market that began in 1788. They had lots of traditional Irish foods, including the largest selection of butchers that I’ve ever seen in one spot.

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Next, we crossed the river and climbed a hill to St. Anne’s Cathedral. You can see St. Anne’s Cathedral from anywhere in the city, and she is famous for her bells and her clocks. There are four clocks on the top of the cathedral, one pointing in each direction. The clocks have the nickname of the “Four-Faced Liar” because each clock tells a different time, all the time, except on the hour when they somehow sync up to tell the correct time.

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You’re able to climb to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower and they actually let you ring the huge church bells (called The Bells of Shandon). They even have music sheets so you can play your favorite song for the whole city to hear.

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After Jacob and I perfected “Happy Birthday” (I’m sure to the great annoyance of the church’s neighbors), we donned these fancy headphones for our climb to the top of the tower. You literally climb on top of the bells to get to the top of the tower, so ear protection was necessary (the bells ring every 15 minutes on their own, plus any obnoxious tourist can start ringing “Happy Birthday” whenever they feel like it).

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Once we got to the top, though, the view was totally worth it. Cork really is a beautiful city!

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The next part of our adventure involved walking back across the river to the other side of the city.

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We went to a massive old church (and by old, I mean that there’s been a church here since the early 7th century) called St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful building with a lot of history.

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After St. Fin Barre’s we hopped in the car and drove about about a mile outside of the city center to the Cork City Gaol (Jail). It was the city’s jail from 1823-1924 and held all of the most notorious crooks and criminals from those days. Plus, it was another impressive structure.

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They had jail cells open that you could go inside and see what it would have been like to be a prisoner in those days: cold, cramped, and quiet–they didn’t allow any talking or noise whatsoever. The guards even wore special pads on their shoes so thew wouldn’t make any sound as they walked the hallways. It was a beautiful, disturbing place (or maybe just beautifully disturbing).

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Day 4: The Rock of Cashel
After another good night’s sleep we woke up and hit the road for a little town an hour north of Cork called Cashel. Our destination was the Rock of Cashel: an ancient castle on the top of a massive stone extrusion. Wikipedia explains “The Rock” pretty well: “According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing inCashel.[1] Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.” How cool is that?!

We drove about an hour and a half north of Cork to get to The Rock. It was fascinating to see such a piece of history firsthand.

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We spent some time walking around the grounds and exploring until our fingers and toes were about to fall off due to the frigid winds that were blowing through the area. Honestly, I don’t know how we managed to walk into Siberia. Siberia or not, though, it was really, REALLY cool to see it (no pun intended).

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Upon returning to our car I realized that our parking was good all day, so we decided to stay in Cashel town to explore some more. I’m so glad we decided to stay because the town itself was one of the most charming places I’ve ever been. We’d be walking down the road and all of a sudden I’d look up to see…a castle.

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This castle was called Kearney Castle and now it’s a hotel and restaurant on Main Street. How crazy is that?!

We also found this little museum that explored the history of Cashel and the surrounding areas. It was technically closed for the winter, but the curator happened to be there doing some spring cleaning. He decided to let me in–for free–and spent the next 2 hours showing me every artifact in the museum and telling me fascinating stories about his precious collection. It was an incredible museum and I am so grateful to this man for taking time out of his day to show me so much.

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Day 5: Titanic Museum in Cobh
For my final solo day I decided to drive to a little town called Cobh that is about 15 minutes outside of the city. Years ago Cobh was called Queenstown, and it was the final port of call for the most-infamous of all ships: Titanic.

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I have always been fascinated by all things “Titanic” so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see this piece of the ship’s history first-hand. There is a great little museum in Cobh called the Experience Titanic Museum. The museum itself is housed in the old White Star Lines ticket office where the passengers would have actually boarded the ship. When you get to the museum you are given a boarding ticket with the name of an actual passenger who boarded Titanic in Queenstown (Cobh). At the end of the museum they have kiosks where you can learn more about your passenger and whether the survived or perished on that fatal night (I’m pleased to report that my passenger did survive. Unfortunately, Jacob’s passenger–a 15 year old boy–died). It was moving to learn more about the ship from a more personal perspective.

After the museum we walked around the town of Cobh. As with all towns in Ireland, Cobh has a rich history. This is the town where they brought the survivors of the Lusitania–the British ocean liner that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 thus beginning the world’s involvement in World War I. Cobh is a beautiful little fishing town with pristine waterfront parks and lots of cute shops lining main street. I would love to come back here on a warm summer day and just spend all day exploring.

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On our way back to the hotel I had to stop in a park to nurse Jacob. While we were sitting there in our car I got a wonderful surprise–a huge double rainbow that stretched across the horizon. I looked for leprechauns and even poked around the car to see if anyone forgot their pot of gold, but to no avail.

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Day 6: Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone
Jon got the afternoon off this day so we wanted to do something special together after his busy week of work. Blarney Castle (which houses the infamous Blarney Stone) is just outside of Cork City. We decided to spend our day exploring the castle and its grounds (which are beautiful, it turns out). The castle originally dates from around the year 1200.

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As you walk up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the castle you can poke into all of the rooms and imagine what it would have been like to live in such a formidable place. It was quite impressive to see all that they were able to build into a massive stone structure.

When you finally reach the top of the castle, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

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You are also greeted with the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is said to give the “gift of gab” to anyone who kisses it. Basically, kissing this rock is supposed to give you eloquent speech, wit, and wisdom (which is probably why it’s been a favorite destination for politicians and world leaders for centuries). This is what the rock looks like (it’s the long gray stone at the bottom of the black bars):

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And this is how you kiss it:

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You have to grip the black support bars and lean over backward over the battlements to get to the rock that’s underneath the ledge. Oh, and you’re about 100 feet in the air. It’s a bit exhilarating to hang upside down from such a height!

After exploring the castle we spent a good amount of time exploring the gardens, stables, towers, and trails that encompass the grounds. I have to say, Blarney Castle was probably my favorite excursion of the whole trip!

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Day 7: Kinsale and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery
We began our final day in Ireland in a little waterfront town called Kinsale.

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0305Kinsale is known as a foodie capital with great restaurants on every corner. Unfortunately, we got there pretty early before things were really up and going. Double-unfortnuately, we were there in the middle of February–the non-tourist season–so a lot of things were simply shut down for the winter. We did enjoy walking around the town to see all of the brightly colored buildings, and we had a delicious lunch of crepes before we headed out.

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On our way out of town we stopped at an old military fort called Charles Fort. It was a key player in the Spanish War of the early 1600′s. We decided not to go inside the fort for the tour, but it was really neat to see the structure (and the view, oh the view from up there!).

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We drove from Kinsale straight up to Middleton, home of the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.

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We went on a tour of the old distillery (the new, more modern production happens next door). We learned a lot about the whiskey-making process and even got to sample the finished product.

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We called it quits early on our last day because we needed to get back to our hotel and pack so we’d be ready for our 3 AM wake-up call the next morning.

The next day was travel day again. We were sad to leave, but also excited to get back home and see our little David who didn’t get to accompany us on this trip. We ended up having a very smooth, uneventful trip back to the states. Jacob was a trooper (as always) and slept for about 7 hours on the plane. I think traveling with a peaceful 6-month old is about as good as it gets!

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We had an incredible time in Ireland and truly loved every bit of it that we saw. The country was beautiful, the people were friendly (seriously, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life), the food was good, and the sights were amazing. I can’t wait to go back and see all of the places we missed on this trip!

Our Trip To Ireland

We just got back from an AMAZING week in Ireland! I seriously feel like I spent the whole week walking around with my jaw hanging open–I was just in such awe of the beauty and the history surrounding me in that magical place. And, lucky for you, dear reader, this blog is about to get a whole lot better. You see, while we were there we made a trek to the Blarney Stone–the fabled stone that gives the “gift of gab” to whoever kisses it. I managed to kiss the dang thing (see Day 6, below, for more details), so we’ll see how witty and wry my writing has become since that fateful day.

If you’ve been to Ireland before, you know what an incredible place it is. If you haven’t been, I’m sure you’ll be booking your flight by the time you’re done reading this post. I hope I can do it justice here!

Day 1: Traveling To Ireland With A Baby
Jacob did amazingly well traveling. We were fortunate to get a row with an extra seat for the long flight across the Atlantic, so we were able to bring his car seat on the plane with us. He fell asleep during take-off and took enough naps during the flight that I was able to watch a couple of movies and read my “airplane magazines” (the high-caliber celebrity magazines that I really only ever read above 10,000 feet). Our route to Ireland was a bit of the hop-hop-hop variety: we went from Seattle to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Cork, Ireland. Our 2 hour layover in Amsterdam turned into 5 hours because they had just gotten some unexpected snow and had to clear the runways. While we were waiting, I treated myself to healthy breakfast at the airport Starbucks (those Dutch sure know how to properly use whipped cream!).

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0002Jacob had fun looking out the windows with me. We watched huge snow plows blow past us clearing the way for all of the pretty blue Dutch airplanes.

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After about 22 hours of travel we made it to our hotel room. It was a nice, spacious room in a 250 year old hotel. They had even set up a “by cot” (a crib) for us before we arrived.

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After a quick nap we went out to get some dinner. We found a great pub with delicious steaks and boisterous “trad” music (traditional Irish music). Then it was time for bed. Jacob was a thoughtful baby and let me sleep for almost 13 hours (with a few wake-ups for feedings, of course).

Day 2: The Cliffs of Moher
Every person we know who’s been to Ireland and every guidebook that’s ever been written insisted that we visit the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of Ireland. We decided to take a clue and used our first full day there to drive out and see what all the fuss was about. The cliffs are–well–cliffs. Really big, tall, intimidating cliffs that jut right out of the ocean. They really are incredible.

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We spent a few hours walking the paths that line the cliffs so we could see every incredible angle.

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From what I hear, the weather at the Cliffs of Moher can be pretty treacherous, even in the middle of the summer. We lucked out with a relatively mild day, rolling fog, and even a few sunbreaks. The cliffs truly were as beautiful as all the hype made them out to be.

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After our glorious afternoon at the cliffs, we were feeling adventurous. Perhaps a bit too adventurous for sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, over-zealous tourists.  We decided that we weren’t done exploring yet and wanted to take a scenic route home. So, instead of driving straight back to our hotel (which was still two and a half hours away by the most direct route, mind you) we hopped on a ferry.

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By the time we had crossed the water and started looking for our scenic drive home, the sun was setting. We decided to ditch our plans for the 4 hour scenic drive along the water (what WERE we thinking?!) and find a quick route back to the city. This is when we learned that there are no quick drives back to the city when you are in the middle of the Irish countryside. It’s also when we learned that Irish country roads are actually small dirt paths that were built for horses, not Toyotas, and that on-coming traffic will barrel you off the path-road if you don’t scoot yourself out of the way quick enough. We also learned that it gets very, very dark in the middle of nowhere with no streetlights, stars, or settlements to help guide you. Did I mention that you also drive on the left in Ireland and that none of the street signs actually match up with the road names on a map? Let’s just leave this story here: it was a long drive, a terrifying drive, and one that we will never, ever do again. Lesson learned.

Day 3: Exploring City Cork
Jon was in Ireland for work, so he had to spend the next several days in meetings. I decided to spend my first solo-day exploring the city we were in. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, but that’s a bit deceiving. It’s only 1/10th the size of the largest city, Dublin, and has a population of roughly 100,000 Corkians (Corkites? Corkies?). Jacob was my little travel buddy, and he was a great little companion to take along on all of my adventures. We started by walking through downtown to look at all of the cute shops.

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While we were walking around we found the English Market, an indoor public market that began in 1788. They had lots of traditional Irish foods, including the largest selection of butchers that I’ve ever seen in one spot.

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Next, we crossed the river and climbed a hill to St. Anne’s Cathedral. You can see St. Anne’s Cathedral from anywhere in the city, and she is famous for her bells and her clocks. There are four clocks on the top of the cathedral, one pointing in each direction. The clocks have the nickname of the “Four-Faced Liar” because each clock tells a different time, all the time, except on the hour when they somehow sync up to tell the correct time.

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You’re able to climb to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower and they actually let you ring the huge church bells (called The Bells of Shandon). They even have music sheets so you can play your favorite song for the whole city to hear.

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After Jacob and I perfected “Happy Birthday” (I’m sure to the great annoyance of the church’s neighbors), we donned these fancy headphones for our climb to the top of the tower. You literally climb on top of the bells to get to the top of the tower, so ear protection was necessary (the bells ring every 15 minutes on their own, plus any obnoxious tourist can start ringing “Happy Birthday” whenever they feel like it).

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Once we got to the top, though, the view was totally worth it. Cork really is a beautiful city!

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The next part of our adventure involved walking back across the river to the other side of the city.

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We went to a massive old church (and by old, I mean that there’s been a church here since the early 7th century) called St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful building with a lot of history.

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After St. Fin Barre’s we hopped in the car and drove about about a mile outside of the city center to the Cork City Gaol (Jail). It was the city’s jail from 1823-1924 and held all of the most notorious crooks and criminals from those days. Plus, it was another impressive structure.

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They had jail cells open that you could go inside and see what it would have been like to be a prisoner in those days: cold, cramped, and quiet–they didn’t allow any talking or noise whatsoever. The guards even wore special pads on their shoes so thew wouldn’t make any sound as they walked the hallways. It was a beautiful, disturbing place (or maybe just beautifully disturbing).

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Day 4: The Rock of Cashel
After another good night’s sleep we woke up and hit the road for a little town an hour north of Cork called Cashel. Our destination was the Rock of Cashel: an ancient castle on the top of a massive stone extrusion. Wikipedia explains “The Rock” pretty well: “According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing inCashel.[1] Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.” How cool is that?!

We drove about an hour and a half north of Cork to get to The Rock. It was fascinating to see such a piece of history firsthand.

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We spent some time walking around the grounds and exploring until our fingers and toes were about to fall off due to the frigid winds that were blowing through the area. Honestly, I don’t know how we managed to walk into Siberia. Siberia or not, though, it was really, REALLY cool to see it (no pun intended).

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Upon returning to our car I realized that our parking was good all day, so we decided to stay in Cashel town to explore some more. I’m so glad we decided to stay because the town itself was one of the most charming places I’ve ever been. We’d be walking down the road and all of a sudden I’d look up to see…a castle.

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This castle was called Kearney Castle and now it’s a hotel and restaurant on Main Street. How crazy is that?!

We also found this little museum that explored the history of Cashel and the surrounding areas. It was technically closed for the winter, but the curator happened to be there doing some spring cleaning. He decided to let me in–for free–and spent the next 2 hours showing me every artifact in the museum and telling me fascinating stories about his precious collection. It was an incredible museum and I am so grateful to this man for taking time out of his day to show me so much.

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Day 5: Titanic Museum in Cobh
For my final solo day I decided to drive to a little town called Cobh that is about 15 minutes outside of the city. Years ago Cobh was called Queenstown, and it was the final port of call for the most-infamous of all ships: Titanic.

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I have always been fascinated by all things “Titanic” so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see this piece of the ship’s history first-hand. There is a great little museum in Cobh called the Experience Titanic Museum. The museum itself is housed in the old White Star Lines ticket office where the passengers would have actually boarded the ship. When you get to the museum you are given a boarding ticket with the name of an actual passenger who boarded Titanic in Queenstown (Cobh). At the end of the museum they have kiosks where you can learn more about your passenger and whether the survived or perished on that fatal night (I’m pleased to report that my passenger did survive. Unfortunately, Jacob’s passenger–a 15 year old boy–died). It was moving to learn more about the ship from a more personal perspective.

After the museum we walked around the town of Cobh. As with all towns in Ireland, Cobh has a rich history. This is the town where they brought the survivors of the Lusitania–the British ocean liner that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 thus beginning the world’s involvement in World War I. Cobh is a beautiful little fishing town with pristine waterfront parks and lots of cute shops lining main street. I would love to come back here on a warm summer day and just spend all day exploring.

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On our way back to the hotel I had to stop in a park to nurse Jacob. While we were sitting there in our car I got a wonderful surprise–a huge double rainbow that stretched across the horizon. I looked for leprechauns and even poked around the car to see if anyone forgot their pot of gold, but to no avail.

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Day 6: Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone
Jon got the afternoon off this day so we wanted to do something special together after his busy week of work. Blarney Castle (which houses the infamous Blarney Stone) is just outside of Cork City. We decided to spend our day exploring the castle and its grounds (which are beautiful, it turns out). The castle originally dates from around the year 1200.

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As you walk up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the castle you can poke into all of the rooms and imagine what it would have been like to live in such a formidable place. It was quite impressive to see all that they were able to build into a massive stone structure.

When you finally reach the top of the castle, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

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You are also greeted with the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is said to give the “gift of gab” to anyone who kisses it. Basically, kissing this rock is supposed to give you eloquent speech, wit, and wisdom (which is probably why it’s been a favorite destination for politicians and world leaders for centuries). This is what the rock looks like (it’s the long gray stone at the bottom of the black bars):

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And this is how you kiss it:

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You have to grip the black support bars and lean over backward over the battlements to get to the rock that’s underneath the ledge. Oh, and you’re about 100 feet in the air. It’s a bit exhilarating to hang upside down from such a height!

After exploring the castle we spent a good amount of time exploring the gardens, stables, towers, and trails that encompass the grounds. I have to say, Blarney Castle was probably my favorite excursion of the whole trip!

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Day 7: Kinsale and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery
We began our final day in Ireland in a little waterfront town called Kinsale.

Ireland Allisons iPhone - 0305Kinsale is known as a foodie capital with great restaurants on every corner. Unfortunately, we got there pretty early before things were really up and going. Double-unfortnuately, we were there in the middle of February–the non-tourist season–so a lot of things were simply shut down for the winter. We did enjoy walking around the town to see all of the brightly colored buildings, and we had a delicious lunch of crepes before we headed out.

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On our way out of town we stopped at an old military fort called Charles Fort. It was a key player in the Spanish War of the early 1600’s. We decided not to go inside the fort for the tour, but it was really neat to see the structure (and the view, oh the view from up there!).

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We drove from Kinsale straight up to Middleton, home of the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.

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We went on a tour of the old distillery (the new, more modern production happens next door). We learned a lot about the whiskey-making process and even got to sample the finished product.

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We called it quits early on our last day because we needed to get back to our hotel and pack so we’d be ready for our 3 AM wake-up call the next morning.

The next day was travel day again. We were sad to leave, but also excited to get back home and see our little David who didn’t get to accompany us on this trip. We ended up having a very smooth, uneventful trip back to the states. Jacob was a trooper (as always) and slept for about 7 hours on the plane. I think traveling with a peaceful 6-month old is about as good as it gets!

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We had an incredible time in Ireland and truly loved every bit of it that we saw. The country was beautiful, the people were friendly (seriously, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life), the food was good, and the sights were amazing. I can’t wait to go back and see all of the places we missed on this trip!