Farm Field Trip

 

 

 

 

I’m really on a kick this week, folks–and a farming kick, nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because you can’t drive more than 2 miles (er..kilometers) here without passing through a sheep paddock or a cow pasture. In fact, 1 out of every 7 jobs in Ireland is involved in agriculture and food. I love it. Yesterday I took the boys to our local farmer’s market (read more about our escapades here) and we had so much fun that I decided to take a little field trip out to a REAL farm today (mommy gold star: earned). It wasn’t difficult to find a farm to visit (like I said, lots of farms here) so I chose one just outside of Cork city called The Farm at Grenagh. It’s an open farm with real animals and tractors and crops…and lots of fun things for the kidlets, too.

When we got to the farm David was in a mood, so I sat him on a bench to brood while Jacob and I checked out the riding tractors. I even managed to snap a quick photo of him before he tumbled right off the slick little seat (don’t worry, Gramma Doreen, I caught him before he hit the ground).

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Seeing that the farm was actually a fun place (duh) David decided to join in our activities. The next place we headed was the sandbox. We had fun building sand castles (and, for Jacob, eating a fair amount of said sand castles).

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After getting our fill of sand (literally) we went into the animal barn to meet some furry friends. This goat was very friendly. A little too friendly for my comfort. Jacob kept sticking his foot up near the fence and the goat would lick his shoe. Knowing goats tendencies to eat assorted non-food objects (like, for instance, leather baby booties) I decided it was probably best for all involved if we parted ways.

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Just outside of the animal barn there were several pastures with cows, sheep, horses and donkeys. My children love donkeys. Both of them. Kinda strange, but you’ve gotta love something. As soon as we rounded the corner to where the donkeys were, both boys started heeing and hawing. The donkeys must have liked it because they sauntered over to the fence to say hello. The boys could have stayed at that fence all day stroking those soft little donkey noses but, alas, there was more farm to be seen.

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Next on our agenda was a lesson in cow milking. They had cow “statues” (not quite sure what to call a large metal cow with udders full of water) and the kids got to learn how cows are milked and put real milk suckers (again, not sure what to call them) on the cows to “milk” them.

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After our lesson in cow milking, it was time for a tractor-pull train ride. Jacob and I even managed to squeeze into one of the little barrels so we could tour the farm with the other kids.

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Then we went into the farms museum that was full of old-timey memorabilia. David enjoyed working as the telephone switchboard operator (after I told him that they were telephones, that is. Poor thing has only ever seen iPhones, so he really didn’t have a clue how to work them).

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We ended the day with a visit to the ball pit. There are many things I love about Ireland, and right at the top of the list is the fact that there are ball pits everywhere: at shopping malls, at playgrounds, at farms. There is almost nothing else in this world that brings my boys so much joy as a romp in a ball pit. Thank you, Ireland, for providing me hours of whine-free entertainment.

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And then it was time to go home. Singing “Old McDonald” the whole way.

 

Fun and Learning at the Farmer’s Market

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Today we went on a culinary adventure to our local farmer’s market. I’ve been wanting to visit this market ever since we moved here, and I’m so glad we finally made it! It’s a great farmer’s market with all locally-sourced food–and GOOD food, at that.

Farmer’s markets are really my dream come true: I love fresh produce, bread, cheeses and the like, but I have a hard enough time getting the kids fed and my teeth brushed each day to worry about things like gardening and baking (or cheese making, mind you. Although I can see cows from my kitchen window. Perhaps that’s in my future. We’ll see.). Thankfully there are plenty of people who enjoy doing those things and they gather together every week in the parking lot at my local shopping center so I can reap the benefits.

We had a lot of fun exploring the tents and tables of the farmer’s market…and sampling our way through the stalls. We all enjoyed this cheese (and by enjoyed, I mean the boys ate about 10 slices each) so I felt obligated to buy a round:

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It was getting close to lunch time and all of the food looked so yummy that I couldn’t resist getting a little something. We got some delicious pizza and raspberries–which David quickly smeared over his face like a clown with a bad face-paint job:

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And, since I’m always one to take the easy road for dinner-prep, too, I picked up some roasted chicken and veggies for tonight’s dinner:

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I would have been happy just camping out at a table in the center of the market and eating all day but, alas, my children had other agendas. Turns out 2-year old boys want to touch and smell and taste (read: lick) everything in sight. And babies who were forced to skip their nap so Mom could go to the farmer’s market get cranky.

Before we left, though, we made one last pass through the stalls to play a few quick “farmer’s market games”. The teacher in me couldn’t resist sneaking in a few teachable moments disguised as food-fun. For instance:

  • IMG_3341We compared the size, shape and colors of vegetables at one stand: What is the biggest veggie you can find? What is the longest veggie you can find? Can you find a red vegetable? Can you find a vegetable that is round like a ball?
  • We found vegetables that represented the different parts of a plant: Parsnips for the roots, celery for the stem, and broccoli for the flower.
  • We played farmer’s market bingo (print your own Bingo card here)
  • We played “5 senses”: we looked at, felt, smelled, tasted, and listened to the sounds different veggies made.
  • Together we came up with three questions to ask a farmer, and then we found an obliging farmer to “interview”IMG_3336
  • We counted: Can you put three apples in our bag? Which plate has more cookies on it? How many slices of pizza did Mommy just eat for lunch?
  • We voted for our favorites: after tasting three different cheeses we talked about which was our favorite and why
  • We learned about economics: Money is used to buy the things we want and need. See, Mommy stated with a wallet full of money and now it is empty. Now Mommy needs a second job to support her new-found market obsession.

With full tummies and a (truly) empty wallet, we left the market. Until next week, farmer friends!

Saving Money On Family Travel

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Last week we went on our first official “just the four of us” family vacation to Dublin. One of the great benefits to living in Europe is that we can literally hop in our car and drive to some of the most fascinating places in the world. In fact, this was one of the main reasons we wanted to move to Ireland in the first place: to travel and see as much as we possibly can in the next 2 years.

Dublin was a bit of a reality check for us, though. Turns out, it takes more than time away from work and a sense of adventure to travel with a family: it takes money. Loads of money. Especially in Europe. But I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure a lack of funds doesn’t keep us from our fun!

Here are a few ways we’ve found to save money on our travel. With a little extra planning and some flexibility, you really can stretch a dollar (or Euro) pretty far.

1. Travel Off-Season

Everything costs more if you travel during your destination’s peak season. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, travel when the area isn’t as popular (it will save you lots of money, plus there will be fewer crowds to deal with). If you need to travel at a specific time (like when your kids have a break from school), see if you can find a location that is off-peak during your preferred travel time. Many areas in the Bahamas and South America, for instance, have killer deals in the summer months during their “rainy season”.

2. Save Money on Transportation Costs

IMG_3213My friends over at This Beautiful Frugal Life just did a great post on saving money on airfare–really, if you want to save money on flights, this is a great post. Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll still need to get around. Many cities have great public transportation that is both convenient and affordable. If you plan on renting a car, you can often save money by renting for a whole week rather than by the day and by returning the car to the same location that you picked it up from (most car rental companies charge a fee for returning your car to a different location). For our recent trip to Dublin, we decided to spend a little extra money to have centrally-located lodging so we could walk everywhere and not have to pay for parking or taxis. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Be Creative With Your Lodging

Long gone are the days where hotels were your only (or even best) option for lodging on a vacation. For our family with two children under the age of 3 (read: two children who take naps and don’t sleep through the night), hotels are actually a BAD option. I need bedrooms. With doors that lock. And a kitchen to prepare the 5,000 meals a day that they require. We love renting from vacation rental sites like VRBO and AirBNB. For the same price as a modest hotel room, you can rent a whole house (or, for the truly adventurous, exciting options such as a gypsy trailer or a houseboat!). We have had several great experiences with rentals from these sites, so I really don’t see hotels again in our future for a very long time.

And, if you get really desperate for sleeping space, you can always let your baby fall asleep in the stroller then disassemble said stroller to bring sleeping baby inside.

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4. Buy A Pass.

IMG_3109Most large cities across the United States and around the world offer some sort of “City Pass” that allows you to visit several attractions for one (relatively) low price. If you’re planning on hitting up several sites on your visit, these passes can save you a lot of money. If you are visiting a U.S. city with a Costco, you may even check the local warehouse for City Passes on a deep discount. In Ireland we were fortunate to have Heritage Pass cards gifted to us–the cards give us free admission to hundreds of national heritage sites and parks in Ireland for an entire year. On our trip to Dublin last week we saved about $50 per person by using our Heritage passes to visit castles, old prisons, and government buildings. Many cities and states have a similar pass for parks, museums and public spaces.

5. Save Money on Food

IMG_3200Next to airfare and lodging, food is usually the most expensive part of any vacation. We like renting places that have a kitchen so we can cook the majority of our meals at home (plus, our kids are picky little things so it’s a waste taking them out to eat, anyway). If you can’t (or don’t want) to cook for yourself, consider buying share-able ready-to-eat meals (pizza or rotisserie chicken, anyone?). You can also order your restaurant meals as take-out to save money on tips and service charges (as an added bonus, you can even make your meal into an adventure by eating in a local park or at the beach).

6. Check The Group Deal Sites

Most major cities around the world are featured on group deal sites such as Living Social and Groupon. Sign up for e-mail alerts from your destination city to purchase vouchers for your vacation. I’ve gotten great deals on hotels, restaurants, and attractions this way.

7. Find Your City’s Free Admission Days

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Several cities that I’ve visited have a “free day” where museums, art galleries, and the like are free on a certain day each month. In Seattle, we had free first Thursdays, and here in Ireland they have free first Wednesdays. If you visit any of the sites participating in the “free day” on their specified day, admission is totally free. Can’t beat that!

8. Budget For Special Activities

IMG_3227There will always be one or two things that are really important to splurge on. Maybe it’s dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant or visiting an over-priced theme park. Decide what your “splurge” is, and budget that in ahead of time. After all of the money you’ve already saved, you won’t feel *quite* so guilty about consuming $200 worth of duck confit. After all, this is a vacation!

A Happy Reunion

While we had a great time exploring Dublin last week, the real reason for our trip up north was to be reunited with our precious dog. Bota has been part of our family for 7 years, longer than our human children, so we’ve been feeling incomplete without our fur-baby. Turns out, it is quite the process to import an animal over international lines–even if the animal in question happens to be the sweetest, happiest Border Collie you’ve ever met.

Besides the mountains of paperwork that needed to be completed, there were several vet appointments and certifications that had to happen within a few days of her arrival in Ireland. And, since we happen to already be in Ireland, my *dear* family that remained state-side got to sort through the logistical nightmare that is “moving a dog internationally”. I think I nearly gave my poor mom a panic attack (and added about 10,000 miles to her car) with all of the last-minute “glitches” that came up. In the end, though, a lot of prayer and fast driving got Bota to the airport just in time for her flight to Ireland, with all of the correct paperwork signed by all of the correct personnel.

From Seattle she flew via air-cargo to Atlanta, where she was kenneled and spent the night. The next morning she boarded her next flight into Dublin.  To our great horror, though, when the handler from the veterinarian in Dublin went to meet Bota’s flight, they had no record of her being on board–so the handler returned to the veterinary hospital to inform us to “not be alarmed, but your dog can’t be found.”

Ummm…don’t be alarmed? How can you lose a DOG? She’s in a kennel the size of a small house, she barks, and I’m assuming she may have even smelled a bit at this point in her journey. My first thought was of my husband’s luggage that could not be located on his last trip out to Ireland. It took the airline an entire month to find it (it was in Chicago, a city he had never gone to. Go figure). If it takes them a month to find our dog, that could be bad news. Needless to say, we were not-so-mildly freaking out at this point. And, to make matters worse, it was early enough in the morning that nobody was in their offices either here in Ireland nor in the United States so we couldn’t find a single human being to help us.

Luckily (for the people working at the airline), it took less than a month to find our missing dog. Apparently she had been “reassigned” (whatever that means) on her flight into Dublin. As a result of her being reassigned, she was not on the flight manifest so nobody knew where to look for her on the aircraft. Seems like a pretty major oversight to me, to lose a living being. I think the airline may need a better system going forward. Just sayin’. After the airline located our dog, we had to hang out for awhile longer so the courier could drive back to the airport and do her entry vet exam. Now that we could all breathe again, we decided to wait outside the veterinary hospital and have some snacks in the grass.

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As they say, though, “all’s well that ends well”. After what seemed like an eternity, the van holding our precious cargo pulled up to the vet hospital and we got our first glimpse of our (not-too-distressed) dog.

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I think the vet could tell that Jon was about ready to kill somebody if he didn’t get his dog soon, so the vet made quick work of the entry exam and then released her into our custody. I don’t know who was happier–us or Bota–but there was definitely a lot of excitement in the air as we were finally reunited.

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Shortly after we got Bota it was time to drive 3 hours back to Cork so we could show Bota her new home. Since we only have 1 small car here, we rented an extra car just for the drive back home. Bota got to ride shotgun with Jon since her kennel took up the whole back seat of the car–I think she preferred this arrangement to the cold, hard cage in the belly of a jet plane. Especially since Jon stopped at Burger King to get her a hamburger. Spoiled little thing.

The boys had a great time showing Bota around their new house and throwing balls for her in our yard (we’ve already lost half of our balls over the neighbor’s fence, so I guess we’re going to get to know them pretty well now).

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Welcome to Ireland, Bota! We’re so glad you’re here!

Dublin, Day 5: Viking Museum and Kilmainham Gaol (Jail)

Today was our last full day in Dublin–tomorrow morning we will get up early and go collect our weary dog from her overseas travel (poor thing, she didn’t even know what she was getting herself into joining our jet-setting family). There were still several attractions we wanted to see but, alas, time was running out.

First thing this morning we walked down to a restaurant my fellow traveler-friends have been raving about: Queen Of Tarts.

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And now I see why. The shop sells every sort of baked scrumptiousness that you could ever hope to find in one space. For a sweets addict like myself, this place could be big trouble if I lived close enough to visit every day (because I’m pretty sure I would go there just about every day). This morning We all had raspberry scones with raspberry preserves and cream. They were simply divine.

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After breakfast we walked across the street to Dublinia , a Viking and Medieval museum. Since Jon comes from Viking lineage, he really wanted to learn a bit more about his barbarous ancestors and their role in Irish history.

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The museum was really great. There were lots of interactive exhibits and period actors who kept things engaging for even the squirreliest of toddlers (mine). David got dig for Viking artifacts, sit in Medieval gallows, and try on Viking helmets.

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When we’d had our fill of Viking paraphernalia, we walked down the block to Dublin Castle. Dublin Castle was built in about 1200 and it was later used as the seat of British rule in Ireland until the 1920’s. It is now a major Irish government complex.

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We looked into going on a tour of the castle, but the wait was several hours. In my experience, waiting and little boys don’t typically go well together, so we counted our losses and moved on.

Our next destination was the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). The gaol was built in 1796 and housed many of Ireland’s most notorious criminals (and loads of other people who did terrible things like steal bread when they were starving…). Several leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned–and executed–here.

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We were able to snag spots on one of the last tours of the day. When we purchased our tickets we were forewarned that if our kids were being disruptive during the tour that we’d be locked in a cell and left overnight.

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Just kidding (kinda). Thankfully Jacob fell asleep in the Ergo halfway through the tour and we kept David busy with videos on my iPhone so we could actually make it through one whole tour on this trip. Hey, don’t judge. It worked.

The iPhone came in handy again after our tour when we boarded our bus back home. We barely managed to squeeze on to the overcrowded hop-on, hop-off tour bus–it was so full that we literally put David up on a shelf. He was seated between some boxes of tour pamphlets and a nice Swiss woman (who also managed to find a perch up on David’s shelf. Did I mention those dang “convenient” tour buses were crowded?). Anyway, Nice Swiss Lady let David play with her iPhone the whole 30-minute ride back to our bus stop. She taught David how to use this ridiculous app that makes all sorts of obnoxious sounds. David, of course, loved it.

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And just like that, our whirlwind tour of Dublin was over. We had many new experiences, a few incidents that I’d like to forget, and many great moments. I’m glad that we live close enough to return to Dublin some day, because it really is a wonderful city.

Until next time, Dublin!

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Dublin, Day 4: Double-Decker Bus Tour to Trinity College and The Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is a very difficult city to drive in: parking is a nightmare and the roads go in crazy patterns (so if you miss your turn, it could be half a century before you find your way back). Because of this non-drivability, we’ve been walking everywhere. Today, though, we decided to mix it up and try a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour.

While it was fun riding the bus and convenient getting dropped off at each destination, I think the big red bus actually caused us more trouble than help. It took a long time to get places (the loop through the city took over an hour). My kids don’t do well sitting still–and remaining content–for more than two micro-seconds, so that was a bust. Plus, most of the buses we “hopped” onto were super-crowded and I had to give puppy dog eyes to comfortable-looking passengers in the hopes that they’d sacrifice their seat for a distressed mother carrying a baby, a diaper bag, a stroller, 3 jackets and an ankle-grabbing toddler. In the end, though, the experience did make for memories (and a cute photo).

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The first stop we departed our bus for today was Trinity College, a several centuries-old university in the heart of Dublin. As a former college tour guide myself, I just had to go on the student-led tour of campus.

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Our tour guide was friendly and witty and loud enough that I could hear her over the two screaming banshees we were pushing along in our stroller. It’s a beautiful campus full of interesting architecture (one dorm didn’t get running water and electricity until the late 1990’s–and now the entire dorm shares one measly bathroom), traditions (graduations are–and always have been–done entirely in Latin. The poor graduates can’t understand a word of their own ceremony), and colorful histories (a group of discontent law students murdered their law professor–and got acquitted in court. Hey, at least we know the late-professor taught them well…).

The most famous piece of history that we saw at Trinity College, though, is The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a gospel book written in Latin by monks in the year 800 AD. It contains the first four books of the gospel, and it is beautiful. There are ornate drawings throughout the book and the text itself is so fancy you can hardly tell there are supposed to be words on the page. We almost didn’t wait around to see the Book of Kells because there was a horrendous queue, but I’m sure glad we did.

After we viewed the Book of Kells, we went upstairs to the long hall of the “Old Library”. It’s a massive room with hundreds of thousands of volumes of literature dating back hundreds of years (this library has a copyright agreement that entitles them to one copy of every book printed in England or Ireland every year–that’s a lot of books).

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After our tour of Trinity College we hopped back on our bus for our afternoon adventures. Jon was really excited to go to the Guinness Factory but, since neither me nor the boys enjoy drinking beer yet, we decided to part ways for the afternoon. Jon had a great time learning about Guinness brewing and learning how to pour (and drink!) the perfect pint.

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While Jon was at Guinness, the boys and I returned to the zoo to visit some of our favorite furry/feathery/scaly friends. The boys’ favorite part of the zoo today, though, was playing in the sand and hitting bushes with some sticks they found on the ground. Ah, cheap thrills.

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To round out our day we made one last stop in Temple Bar for dinner. We went to a restaurant that a friend of mine recommended called Boxty’s. A boxty is a bit like a potato crepe stuffed with savory fillings, and it is delicious. Really, really scrumptious.

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Another busy day of adventure–and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dublin, Day 3: Newgrange Tomb, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Stephen’s Green

For Day 3 of our Great Dublin Expedition we actually left Dublin and drove about 30 minutes north to a place called Newgrange. Newgrange (along with her sister sites, Knowth and Meath) is an ancient Stone Age passage tomb. When you first see it, it doesn’t look like much more than an earthen mound at the top of a knoll, but it is most certainly more than a lump on a hill.

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The tomb is old…very, VERY old. Since it was constructed long before people had a written language, the only way to ascertain its age is through carbon dating. Estimates place Newgrange’s construction at about 3200 BC–making it well over 5,000 years old. This means that Newgrange had already been standing for several centuries when Stonehenge and the great Egyptian pyramids were built.

Nobody knows for certain what Newgrange was used for, but it was definitely a burial tomb with deep religious significance. Incredibly, every year at 8:58 on the morning of the Winter Solstice, a ray of light reaches from the entrance if the tomb all the way to the central chamber and illuminates the space. For the life of me, I cannot fathom how people living 5,000 years ago constructing giant stone domes would be able to create such a flawless design. I barely passed Physics 101, so I know they wouldn’t want me on the planning committee.

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The tour of Newgrange takes you all the way in to the central chamber of the passage tomb. It would have been really awesome to stay and hear the tour guide’s spiel about the mystical and historical significance of this Neolithic wonder, but we were politely asked to excuse ourselves so the other guests could carry on with enjoying their day (“Ma’am, are you sure your squawking baby wouldn’t be happier outside in the fresh air?”).

It’s actually a good thing she asked us to leave, because shortly after we got outside David had an incident (c’mon, we’re traveling with two children under the age if 3. You just know something has to go terribly wrong). David was having a great time running through the grass in front of Newgrange and we were happy to let him blow off some steam. That is, until he ran across the field, pulled down his pants, and started to pee.

By the time I could catch up to him (running across this ancient burial site with Jacob in the Ergo and lugging 3 jackets in my arms), he was already mid-stream. Whelp, guess you just peed on the oldest sacred ground known to humankind, Buddy. Thankfully our tour group was still absorbed in their lecture, so I was the only one who had to witness the Great Desecration.

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Potty incidents aside, it was an amazing experience walking through Newgrange. Perhaps we will visit again some day–some day after our children are fully potty-trained.

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When we returned from Newgrange it was time for the boys’ afternoon snooze. I seized this opportunity to sneak out alone while Daddy manned the fort. I decided to use my alone time to walk down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (because, after the morning’s incidents, I realized that sacred sites and toddlers just don’t mix well).

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a 1,000 year-old stone cathedral that is said to be the spot where St. Patrick himself baptized new converts to Christianity. Incredible! Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels Was a Dean here and spent several years serving The Church. The cathedral is also where Handel’s “Messiah” was first performed in the 1700’s.

The inside is beautiful–full of marble statues, stained glass, and ornate carvings. It was breathtaking. The Cathedral Choir was also singing while I was walking around, their music echoing through the cavernous halls.

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It was a remarkable place to visit–and I’m so glad I got to see it sans-children!

By the time I got back from my trip to the cathedral, the boys were up and it was time for dinner. We wandered down the street until we happened upon St. Stephen’s Green, a large park near the main shopping quarter of Dublin (Grafton Street). We picked up some burritos to-go and had a picnic dinner in the park.

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The boys had a great time running through the grass, watching ducks in the ponds, and playing on the large playground. And, because no day would be complete without a treat, we stopped for gelato on our walk back home.

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A sweet finale to another great day.