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.

IMG_3257

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.

IMG_3259

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.

IMG_3266

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).

IMG_3282

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.

20130807-211147.jpg

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.

20130807-211527.jpg

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.

20130807-211930.jpg

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.

20130807-212626.jpg

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.

20130807-213531.jpg

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.

20130807-214105.jpg

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.

20130807-214426.jpg

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.

20130807-215311.jpg

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!

20130807-220029.jpg

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).

20130806-211106.jpg

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.

20130806-210856.jpg

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).

20130806-212018.jpg

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.

20130806-212558.jpg

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.

20130806-212839.jpg

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.

20130806-213111.jpg

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.

20130805-152359.jpg

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.

20130805-153558.jpg

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.

20130805-155523.jpg

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.

20130805-155626.jpg

20130805-155714.jpg

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).

20130805-215456.jpg

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.

20130805-215831.jpg

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.

20130805-220520.jpg

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.

20130805-220641.jpg

A sweet finale to another great day.

Dublin, Day 2: Dublin Zoo

For our first full day in Dublin we decided to do something child-centric (perhaps if we appease the munchkins upfront they’ll allow us to enjoy some museums and cathedrals later this week. I know it’s probably unrealistic, but I can still hope…). The Dublin Zoo came highly recommended to us–and, as an added bonus, we have free admission thanks to our season pass to our zoo in Cork.

After a frustrating attempt to find breakfast before 10 AM (really, do Irish people not have kids that wake up hungry at 6:00?!?! If so, I need to know what “supplements” you give your children to help them sleep in), we drove across town to the zoo.

20130804-161720.jpg

It was a really fun zoo with lots of lively animals. David INSISTED that we find hippos (thankfully they actually had them at this zoo), so we bee-lined it up to the African Savannah portion of the zoo. Here’s David with his beloved hippos:

20130804-161945.jpg

The hippos were actually quite entertaining to watch, but I think the main reason David wanted to see the hippos was because he was hoping they would sing and dance like the hippo in his favorite YouTube video.http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zHDLUbssMIw

The hippos didn’t sing, but they did swim and chomp and pounce upon each other.

20130804-162654.jpg

By late afternoon, everyone was exhausted and ready for a nap (hmmm…maybe we shouldn’t wake up at 6 AM, children). We didn’t quite see everything, but we made some good progress. Since we get in to the zoo for free, we may go back again if we have some extra time later in the week.

20130804-163200.jpg

After a much-needed siesta we walked along the canal to an area with lots of restaurants. We typically avoid taking the boys out to eat very often (because they’re loud and messy and require more attention than the meal I just paid $20 for) but, hey, we’re on vacation. We found a great Asian street food restaurant called Neon. The food was good and (by Dublin standards) relatively cheap, so the place was busy. Just busy enough that I don’t think the other patrons could hear David yelling 10,000 times about wanting to play the coloring game on my iPhone, busy enough that I could blame the pile of noodles under our table on the family sitting next to us.

20130804-205538.jpg

The day was absolutely grand. No, it was brilliant (look how Irish I’m becoming–already using fancy words like grand and brilliant!). Brilliantly grand.

Dublin, Day 1: The Rock of Cashel and Temple Bar

This weekend we decided to take our first mini-vacation since moving to Ireland. Monday is a “bank holiday” in Ireland, meaning Jon has a 3-day weekend. We wanted to do something fun with the long weekend and get out of town for some exploring. And, since our fur-baby (dog) Bota will be flying in to Dublin on Thursday morning (yay!!!), Dublin was the natural choice for our getaway.

We left our home in Cork on Saturday morning and started driving north. One of my favorite spots that I visited on my last trip here, The Rock of Cashel, is just off the main highway between Cork and Dublin. Jon didn’t get to see “The Rock” with me, so we decided to stop by on our way up to Dublin.

The Rock of Cashel is an incredible castle built on a high precipice overlooking the town of Cashel. The Rock is reputedly the site where St . Patrick converted the king of Munster in the 5th century, and was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years.

20130804-153634.jpg

It is an impressive space to walk through and imagine what life must have been like inside these walls 1000 years ago.

David’s favorite part of The Rock was running through the cemetery (we got a few nasty looks for this one, but you do what you can to make history interesting for a 2-year old).

20130804-154231.jpg

It was un-Irishly warm at The Rock, making for some beautiful views of the castle and the surrounding countryside.

20130804-154430.jpg

After our stop at The Rock we loaded back into the car and headed on to Dublin. We are staying in a rental house that we found on airbnb.com. As far as I’m concerned, air bnb is the best travel tool ever created. The site allows individuals to list their homes for short-term rentals–and allows people like me to rent out a full house for the same price as a cheap hotel. Plus, you can rent castles on the website. Real castles. I will do that some day, but for this trip it was a bit out of budget. Anyway, our rental house is comfortable and close to all the action in downtown Dublin so we can walk to all of the local attractions.

Things don’t really get hopping until about 9:00 around here, so we gave the boys a late nap and then took our babies out for a taste of the night life! On our first night in Dublin we walked to the infamous Temple Bar area for some dinner and trad (traditional Irish music).

20130804-155214.jpg

We ended up finding a great place called the Vat House. The food was excellent and the music was so much fun! The musicians even invited the boys to dance and help play their instruments.

20130804-155817.jpg

20130804-155850.jpg

We were enjoying ourselves so much that it was nearly 11:00 by the time we left the pub. A late night, but well worth it (well, at least until the boys woke us up at 6:00 the next morning…but I’ll save those adventures for my next post!).

The Ultimate “Busy Bag”

IMG_2960

When we moved to Ireland a few weeks ago I had a lot of concerns. Would I get homesick before we even left? Would we like our new home across the sea? Would I remember to pack all of the essentials? But the most important question of all: How would we survive a 10-hour flight with two boys under the age of 3?

Grandma to the rescue! My mother-in-law is incredibly gifted with all things crafty. She can take felt and a sewing machine and fabricate incredible creations (whereas I would take the aforementioned objects and make something worthy for display at a Kindergarten art show). She took her crafting skills to a whole new level when she created this: The Ultimate Busy Bag.

IMG_2933

Inside is a treasure trove of games and activities that could satisfy children not only for a 10-hour plane ride, but for weeks–nay, months–on end.

IMG_2936

She created the bag itself from fabric scraps and her own design. Many of the games were also her own creation, but she did get several ideas off Pinterest and Etsy. The bag is *literally* bursting at the seams with great ideas, so I thought I would share some of them with you here. If you wanted to recreate just one or two of these ideas instead of the whole bag (because, really, I don’t know anybody else who could make all of this in one sitting!) each would make a great small project in itself. These are great ideas to have tucked away for a rainy day (or even a long summer day when the refrain “I’m bored…” starts echoing through your home). I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

1. Felt pieces and finger puppets.
One of the sides of the busy bag is made out of felt. There are several felt pieces that can be arranged on the “felt board” for imaginary play or story telling. Most of the pieces were cut out of colored felt and then decorated (my mother-in-law’s 6-year old neighbor helped with many of these pieces).

There are sea creatures and an underwater scene:

IMG_2941

Fluffy clouds and an airplane (each of the windows and “decals” can be re-positioned on the plane):
IMG_2942

A house and garden (even our dog, Bota, makes her appearance here!):

IMG_2940

Noah and his ark full of animals (each animal is a finger puppet that can be used separately from the felt board for songs, stories, or pretend play):

IMG_2939

And, of course, the rain and the rainbow for Noah:

IMG_2938

Jesus and his disciples can even sail across the Sea of Galilee in their trusty boat:

IMG_2937

2. Dry erase markers and letter practice.

IMG_2923There is a folder filled with sheets of handwriting practice, each page inside its own plastic sheet protector. Each dry erase marker has a color-coordinated pom-pom hot-glued to the cap that can be used as an on-the-spot eraser. David uses the colorful dry erase markers to trace the letters and color the pictures in his handwriting book–when he’s done, he just flips over the marker and uses the pom-pom eraser to clear the page. It is easy to find handwriting worksheets online (just do a Google search for “handwriting practice” or “handwriting printable” and look under images). You could also insert pages from coloring books, outlines of common objects, or blank pages for your child to draw on with the dry erase markers.

3. The Mitten book and finger puppets

This is one of the boys’ favorite activities in the busy bag. My MIL found this activity on Etsy, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The activity consists of the picture book The Mitten by Jan Brett and a large knit mitten full of finger puppet versions of the animals in the story.

IMG_2929

If you haven’t read this story, you should. Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors, and this one is a classic. In the story (a Ukrainian folktale) a little boy loses his white mitten in the snow. Woodland animals find the mitten and, one by one, they burrow inside the lost mitten to keep warm. As I read the book, David helps to put each animal into the mitten as they appear in the story. It’s a great age-appropriate interactive reading activity–and he just can’t get enough of it. If you don’t have your own mitten and animal finger puppets, you can print off your own mitten craft from the author’s website and make your own!

4. Felt Numbers and Letters

There are two sets each of felt letters and numbers for David to play with and manipulate. The possibilities here are endless! We’ve been using the letters to play “find the sound” (I’ll say a sound and he has to find the letter that makes that sound) and “letter match” (we’ll find a letter in a book or on an object in the room and he has to find the same letter from his pile of felt letters).

I used the numbers to show David representations (using balls, of course, because he will learn ANYTHING 10 times faster if it can be somehow related to balls):

IMG_2944

And we even practiced putting the numbers in order from 0-10 (OK, I did this, but he helped me count the numbers after I got them all set up):

IMG_2952

5. Art and Craft Supplies

IMG_2948There are several art and craft supplies that David can use for his own creative works: markers, scissors, a sketch pad, colorful pipe cleaners, stickers. We’ve been practicing how to use markers on paper ONLY and that we only use scissors when there is a grown-up there to help us. He’s actually been doing really well with all of his “big kid” supplies–especially the fact that he can now color a picture and then cut it into a million pieces. Toddler confetti!

We also like using the pipe cleaners to make “bowls full of worms”. The boys thread the pipe cleaners through the holes in the pipe cleaners (I put them in for baby Jacob) and then pull them out. It’s good fine motor practice..and also just a lot of fun!

photo

6. Some Personal Touches

IMG_2934

There are several smaller items that are personalized to David and Jacob. There is a little American flag so they can remember where they came from (represent!) and a little bendy bear that their dad used to play with when he was little. There is also a really cute set of “ABC Bible Verses” where each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding Bible verse (print your own here). We may have to use these for some memorizaton practice soon!

Thank you for the special gift, Grammy! We will treasure it forever!

IMG_1542