Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins

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When we went back to the states for Christmas I noticed several changes that had already taken place since we’d move: new housing developments had sprung up all over the place, all of our friends had new babies, and the Seahawks were on their way to the Superbowl (!). Lots of big changes. No change struck me as much, however, as the introduction of this new product into the American marketplace: cookie butter. What the what?! Cookie BUTTER? I mean, come ON.

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I just had to try it. Thankfully, my ever-observant sister-in-law read the desires of my heart and I was the happy recipient of my own (rather large) jar of cookie butter on Christmas morning. The stuff is good. Really good. It tastes a bit like creamy shortbread or graham cracker pie crust. The only problem is, what am I supposed to do with nearly two pounds of cookie butter?

I’ve tried the cookie butter spread on toast (yummy) and as a dip for fruit (delicious), but I was ready to step out of my cookie-butter-comfort-zone and try something new. I found this recipe for cinnamon cookie butter muffins and, after a few tweaks, I was on the road to cookie butter perfection. It’s not exactly health food in a muffin tin but, man, are they tasty:

Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins
Makes 1 dozen mouth-watering muffins

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups flour
½ Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup cream cheese
¼ cup milk
8 Tablespoons cookie butter (find cookie butter at Trader Joe’s, Costco, or on Amazon)
Cinnamon sugar (combine 2 Tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C for all of my Irish friends who may be reading this!).
2. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
4. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the cream cheese, milk, and 2 Tablespoons of cookie butter and beat until combined.
5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
6. Spoon muffin batter into muffin liners until about 1/2 full. Spoon about 1/2 Tablespoon of cookie butter onto each muffin, then top with another small spoonful of muffin batter.

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7. Top each muffin with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.
8. Bake muffins for 10-12 minutes, until the muffins start to turn golden brown.
9. When you go to pull your muffins out of the oven, DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDE OF THE OVEN thus burning your hand and spilling the muffins in the process. This may have happened to a friend. Her muffins looked like this:
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10. Let the muffins cool completely before you eat them (remember, there’s a molten core of cookie butter in the middle). Enjoy!

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The final verdict? Cinnamon cookie butter muffins are every bit as delectable as you imagine they would be. So go bake yourself a batch. Now!

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An Exclusive Interview With Mimi The Monkey

My son has a best friend. David spends about 90% of his waking hours (and 100% of his sleeping hours) snuggled up with his special friend. She’s small in stature, has short brown hair, and dark eyes. And, oh yes, she is a monkey. Meet Mimi:

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Mimi was a gift to David when he was a baby, and she truly is his first love. David has such a strong rapport with Mimi that he knows her entire history. You can ask him any question about Mimi and he has a ready answer. This game of “know thy monkey” amuses me to no end. And now, for the first time ever, David has agreed to an exclusive on-the-record interview with Mimi. Since Mimi is a bit shy, David decided to act as her interpreter during our exchange. Here is a glimpse into our conversation:

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Hi, David! Who is that you’re holding?
Mimi.

Who is Mimi?
A monkey. She’s my friend, but she’s a monkey.

Is Mimi a boy or a girl?
A girl.

What is Mimi’s mom’s name?
Allison.

What is Mimi’s dad’s name?
Jonathan.

How old is Mimi?
I don’t know…17. I’m 3.

Is Mimi older or younger than you?
Younger than me.

But 17 is a bigger number than 3.
Can we watch Toy Story?

What is Mimi’s favorite toy?
She likes yo-yo’s. She just loves yo-yos.

What does she do with yo-yos?
Umm….ummm..puts them in a video.

What kind of video?
Tangled.

Does Mimi like to watch videos?
Yes, Tangled is her favorite.

Why?
Because it’s good for her to watch. Because it’s kinda nice. There’s a golden flower.

That is nice. What else does Mimi like?
Uh…balls. She likes ball games. She likes football games!

Does Mimi play football?
She plays it when she’s a real monkey. And shoots the ball right into my hoop! She will bring the football right outside to my hoop and she does pretend bites. We only do pretend bites. Pretend bites don’t hurt.

That’s good. We don’t want to hurt anybody. Does Mimi ever get in trouble?
Blank stare

Alright, moving on. Does Mimi like to eat?
When she’s a pretend monkey, leaves are good for her to eat. She will cross the river and I think they are in the grass. The leaves are in the grass. She likes to eat the leaves from our park across the street.

Does Mimi ever go the park without you?
Yes, she does! She runs away to Blackberry Trail (the trail that runs behind our house). But there are no blackberries now. We need to get more blackberries and eat them. I think we should use a spoon and fork to eat blackberries.

Have you taught Mimi how to use a spoon and a fork?
Uh-huh.

Have you taught her how to do anything else?
Nope. That’s it. She doesn’t know how to do anything else. She’s not going to do anything else. Ever.  Should we watch Toy Story now?

Is Mimi tired of me asking questions?
Yes, Mom. I think you want to stop.

Yes, I think you’re right. You’re very insightful like that. I think I do want to stop. Thank you for your time, Mimi and David.
You’re welcome, Mommy Pig (that’s another story for another day).

Oh, Mimi. Thank you for loving my son unconditionally. What would we ever do without you?

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Beach Day in Youghal

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This week Jon is away on a business trip in the Ukraine so it’s just me and these two munchkins holding down the fort:

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I wanted to take a special “field trip” this week to help break up the time. We actually got some nice sunny weather in the middle of the week which reminded me of summer which reminded me of the beach…so, we went to the beach! Yes, it’s January and it’s still frigid out there, but the boys were up for the adventure. I decided to check out the beaches in Youghal (pronounced “yawl”) because they’re not too far from our house and I’ve wanted to go back there ever since we visited  the town’s medieval festival in August.

Our day started with a picnic lunch on the beach. Jacob approved.

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After lunch we spent a couple of hours playing on the beach. David had fun digging in the rocks and the sand:

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And the boys made themselves a “house” on top of this rock. David collected a few dozen rocks that he used as the “fire” and the “plates”. Jacob mostly just stomped around destroying everything that David tried to build.

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Once he’d tired of his menacing brother, David moved on to “sand sliding”. He loved climbing up this little sand dune and then jumping and sliding back down.

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After we’d had our fill of beach fun we decided to drive through the town before heading back home. Youghal is an ancient walled city and there are still some pretty cool relics from its medieval past.

We drove through this, Youghal’s clock gate. It was built in 1563 on the former site of Trinity Castle, one of the five principle gates into the walled city during the late 14th century.

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As we continued down the road we passed Tynte’s Castle. Now set among shops and restaurants on the main street of Youghal, Tynte’s Castle is a 15th century urban tower house–the last tower house that remains in Youghal today.

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Finally, we came upon the crowning glory of the medieval town: the town wall.

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The Youghal town wall was built in 1250 and it is the second-longest surviving stretch of town wall in Ireland. The sections of wall that still remain stretch for about 1 Kilometer–not bad for a fortress nearing its 800th birthday!

We had a grand time climbing to the top of the wall and peering out through the windows where guards used to patrol with bows and arrows.

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The view wasn’t too shabby, either:

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And, since David’s newest obsession is the Disney movie Tangled, we had to check out the tower to see if Rapunzel was hiding out inside (she wasn’t).

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After walking along the top of the wall we decided to climb back down and see what was on the other side. Just inside the wall is St. Mary’s Collegiate Church and Cemetery. What? A medieval cemetery? I just had to see this.

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While we were wandering through the cemetery we came upon this section of the medieval wall. See the coffin-shaped cutout in the stone work? A coffin actually used to reside there. This was the former location of the “pauper’s coffin”. When someone too poor for a proper burial would die, their family would first put their body into the pauper’s coffin. Then the body would be wrapped in a shroud, buried, and the pauper’s coffin would be returned to the wall for the next body. Craaaaazy.

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From the cemetery we continued down into St. Mary’s Church. The first church built on this site was a monastic settlement in the year 450. The church that stands today was begun in the year 750 and completed in 1220. The original Irish Oak roof is still intact and the timbers have been carbon dated to the year 1170–which means the roof was constructed before saw mills were even invented. Somebody (rather, somebodies) went out into the woods with an axe, cut down giant trees, and hewed each piece by hand to an exact size and shape before fitting it into the roof.  It’s incredible, really. And the church is beautiful–stained glass windows, intricate stone work, and fascinating tombs line the walls.

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After exploring the church it was time to go home. As we were heading out of town we passed by this restaurant, The Old Thatch. This restaurant has been in business since 1662. People have been drinking beer here since about the time the Mayflower set sail for the New World. I wanted to go in for a snack but, seeing as both boys had already conked out in the back seat of the car, I decided it was best to just keep driving.

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It was a wonderful day exploring with my two little sweeties. And now we’re one day closer to Daddy coming home!

A Photo Tour Through My Irish House

One of my favorite shows on TV is House Hunters (and its sister show, House Hunters International). If you’ve ever watched the show then you know the thrill of peeping into other peoples’ homes for a glimpse of how they live. When we were getting ready to move to Ireland I basically stalked the local house listing website to see every house that came on the market–every potential spot that I could be living. I wanted to know what the houses were like and how they would work for our family. Now that we’ve been living in Ireland for half of a year (how does time go so quickly?!) I feel like our “Ireland House” is our home. And I know that some of you are as curious as I was–what is it like? So, in the fashion of House Hunters International, I will now give you a little photo tour of our “typical Irish house”:

This is the view of our house from the street (our house is actually the third one in from the left with the silver car in the driveway). We live in what is called a “terraced house” (posh wording for townhouses). Most people I know here in Cork live in terraced houses similar to ours. Some people live in semi-detached homes (a duplex). Once you get out of the city you may even find a fully detached home. Notice the lack of garages–I don’t think I’ve seen a single house with a proper garage anywhere in Ireland.

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Once you walk down our driveway you come to the front door. There is a mail slot in the door where our “post” is delivered each morning (if I want to mail a letter myself I have to walk to the shop by David’s preschool to drop my letter in the large green an post bin).

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After opening the front door to our house you come into the entrance way. There are stairs to the right that lead to the second level, the kitchen is straight ahead, and our “sitting room” is off to the left.

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We have converted our sitting room into a multi-function room as it is the only extra space we have in our house. The left side of the room has a couch, a chair, a fireplace, and a TV. Our house was “fully furnished” when we moved in–meaning that most of the furniture, knick-knacks, decorations, appliances, etc. you will see in these photos actually belong to our landlord. In fact, our house was so fully furnished when we moved in that there were still clothes in the closet and dirty dishes in the dishwasher!

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The other side of the sitting room is our makeshift office and storage facility.

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If you were to continue walking down the hallway past the sitting room you’d pass a small bathroom and then enter the kitchen. The kitchen is a pretty good sized room so we spend most of our communal time in this space. The far end of the kitchen has our dining space and baskets full of the kids’ toys .

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The other end of the kitchen has all of the kitchen-y stuff.

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We have a fridge/freezer that is quite large by European standards and an oven that is about the size of an Easy-Bake oven. Here is the oven all opened up. If you look closely you can see a 9×13 pan on the single rack–the edges and top of the pan are nearly touching the sides of the oven. Thankfully it is a double oven, so we can actually fit 2 sheets of cookies in at the same time!

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Another surprising feature of our kitchen (at least to us Americans) is the washing machine right next to the dishwasher.  The dryer, however, is not in the kitchen. When I’m ready to dry a load of laundry I first switch on the power to our shed in the cabinet that is next to the washing machine.

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Then I carry the wet clothes outside, walk across the back yard, and go into our shed.

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Then–Ta Da!–we find the dryer amidst the gardening tools and outdoor toys. After the clothes are dry I retrieve them from the shed and hope that it’s not raining too hard when I carry them back to the house.

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As you walk through the back yard toward the house you pass this little contraption. At first I thought it was a compost bin–how handy! In fact, it is a coal bin. Full of coal. Note the zip-ties that keep the coal bin door locked shut–for some reason this is the boys’ favorite place to play and hide their toys.

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We’ve never actually burned coal in our house. I don’t like the smell of it and I know that the boys would have a heyday smearing coal soot all over my house after the fire burned out. Instead, we use our lovely radiators. We are able to set them to come on 3 times a day. When the radiators are on, they’re ON. As in, we go from freezing to boiling in a matter of seconds. I’d kill for a Nest thermostat here.

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Continuing right along our tour, now. Upstairs we have 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Jacob’s bedroom is at the end of the hallway. It’s a cozy little space that the Irish refer to as the “box room” (because it’s tiny and is typically used to store boxes, not babies). Luckily for him, Jacob is tiny so he doesn’t mind the small space.

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And we’ve even managed to squeeze some boxes into his little box room.

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David’s room is a pretty good-sized space. Unfortunately, most of the room is taken up with a queen-size bed. David sleeps in about 1/10th of the bed and the rest is used to store his numerous “Gigi’s” (blankets) and stuffed animals.

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Next to David’s room is our “hot box”–a storage closet with the hot water heater on the bottom. The boiler heats up this tiny closet like it’s a dry sauna–perfect for keeping towels toasty before a shower or warming your hands during the hours between heat bursts from the radiators.

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Next you come upon the boys’ bathroom. The tub is always full of bath toys, the toilet seat has broken off, and the room always seems to smell vaguely of urine. It’s not my favorite room in the house.

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Finally we come upon my little oasis: the master bedroom. It’s not a large room, but it has a door with a lock so I love it.

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…Even if I do have to share my special space with about a dozen Rubbermaid bins of assorted storage that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

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Our bedroom also has its own bathroom. Most of the sinks here have separate hot and cold taps. If you want to wash your hands in warm water you have to turn on both taps and move your hands rapidly between “boil your hand off” and “icy stream”.

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In order to take a shower you have to first flip a switch on the wall that turns on the hot water. Then you turn on the water inside the shower and adjust the temperature on the wall mount. This took a little getting used to, but now I actually really appreciate our electric shower.

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And with that, you have seen our whole house in all of its Irish glory. A lot of things are very different from what we were used to in America, but that’s part of why we moved here. To experience something different. And, do you know what? I love it! I love how our house is small and cozy. I love that the view out of my kitchen is lush rolling hills with meandering cows. I love that we are learning new ways to do things and that I am being forced to be creative in how I approach everyday tasks. Yes, things are different, but they are good.

Now, one final photo. This is the view you would have if you were walking out our front door. I hope you enjoyed your tour and we’ll see you next time!

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Slán (Goodbye)!

The Kids-or-no-Kids Quiz

When I was a teenager I enjoyed doing the quizzes that came in teen magazines. You know, quizzes that gave you answers to vitally important questions such as “What’s Your Best Prom Perfume?” and “Which Hunger Games District’s Nail Art Should You Try?” (real quizzes from this months’ edition of Seventeen Magazine, by the way). Now that I’m a mom I don’t have time for quizzes or magazines or reading, for that matter. But I still thought that it would be fun to put you to the test. This little quiz will reveal to you in 14 simple questions where you fall on the parenting spectrum. Just keep track of your answers as you go along and tally up the results at the end. I like to call this:

The Kids-or-no-Kids Quiz

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1. For lunch today you:
A) Dined in a classy restaurant with friends while sipping rose’.
B) Ate a nutritious kale and raspberry salad with high-Omega-3 salmon splashed down with a tall glass of milk.
C) Heated up leftover Mac ‘n Cheese…and reheated it 3 times before you had time to finish the bowl.

2. The Pandora radio station you have playing right now is:
A) Nicki Minaj Dance Mix–and you’re twerking when nobody’s watching.
B) Dave Matthews Band–how very grown-up of you.
C) Disney Family Radio–Nothing like a rousing rendition of “M-I-C-K-E-Y” to get you moving.

3. You are currently wearing:
A) Clothing that has the words “dry clean only” printed on the tags.
B) The latest outfit you copied off Pinterest.
C) Your pajamas…and it’s 2:00 in the afternoon.

4. The last time you handled someone else’s pee/poop/puke was:
A) OMG. Gross.
B) I emptied the bucket for my husband the last time he had the flu.
C) I don’t know–this morning? 5 minutes ago? RIGHT NOW.

5. The last time you had a date out with your spouse was:
A) We go out for drinks after work most nights and still make it to the club on the weekends.
B) Friday night.
C) 2012

6. The furniture in your house consists mostly of:
A) Beautiful pieces straight out of the Pottery Barn Catalog.
B) Ikea–affordable and practical.
C) Craigslist and Goodwill finds. The Pottery Barn stuff is in storage for the next 18 years and all of the Ikea crap broke.

7. If I were to look into your purse right now, I’d find:
A) A designer wallet and department store make-up.
B) A coin purse from your trip to Peru last summer and some Chapstick.
C) Baby wipes, a pacifier, 2 boxes of raisins, a used burp cloth, and a clean pair of size 3T underwear in case there’s an accident on your next public outing. But where’s my wallet…

8. Your idea of a vacation is:
A) Traveling to an exotic locale where you stay in one of those bungalows on stilts over pristine blue waters.
B) Somewhere close by–you’re saving up for a down payment on a house.
C) Walking the garbage cans out to the curb by yourself.

9. The best time of the day is:
A) When you leave work.
B) When your spouse gets home from work.
C) The hour or so between the kids’ bedtime and your bedtime.

10. When you see other peoples’ kids throwing a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store you:
A) Roll your eyes and complain to a manager about the disturbance in Aisle 4.
B) Recall the discipline techniques you read about in That Parenting Book and wonder why these parents can’t seem to get it together. At least your future children will know well enough to behave when they’re out in public.
C) Run over to that poor, distressed mother and have a good cry with her.

11. The back seat of your car is:
A) Nonexistent. Why would you need a backseat in a sports car?
B) Empty, except for your yoga mat that you actually use 3-5 times a week.
C) Covered in smooshed raisins and pulverized Cheerios, has about a dozen assorted toys and books strewn about, and a hole in the seat-back where somebody is trying to dig out all of the stuffing.

12. The most important criteria in a restaurant is:
A) A great happy hour with a resident mixologist.
B) Great ambiance and amazing food worthy of a Food Network special.
C) Noisy, fun table-top kids activities, fast service, cheap.

13. The best part of the weekend is:
A) Sleeping in.
B) Sleeping in.
C) Having your spouse with you to share in the misery of not sleeping in.

14. The best thing you’ve ever heard is:
A) News that you just got that promotion at work.
B) That you’re pregnant!
C) Your child saying “I love you”.

Mostly A’s: No kids, no way
Kids are a far thought from your life. They’re loud, they’re messy, they’re inconvenient, they’re expensive. Pass. Enjoy your freedom while you have it, because chances are that it won’t last for long.

Mostly B’s: Dreaming of babies
You’re saving up money while cutting back your hours at work to see how you can make everything work on a tighter budget. You exercise and eat all of the right foods for a healthy womb. You chart your ovulation. You secretly read baby name books and watch A Baby Story on TLC. You are full of hope and optimism. Bring on the babies!

Mostly C’s: In the trenches of parenthood
Your family consists of at least one mini-me. You wake up most mornings feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck and the coffee can’t make itself fast enough. Your kids are loud, they’re messy, they’re inconvenient, they’re expensive. And, yet, you wouldn’t trade your life or your kids for anything.  You know that parenting is not clean or easy or in any way glamorous. Sometimes it’s not even fun. But it’s a job full of joy and love, and that makes it all worth it.

God’s Faithfulness in 2013

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The new year always brings with it a time of reflection: what have I accomplished, where have I gone, what would I change about the last year? And with that reflection I often find myself praising God for the way He has been working in every thing that I’ve done, every place that I’ve gone, in every hardship that I’ve faced. Today at church we were challenged to reflect on God’s faithfulness over the last year, to really notice His presence. 2013 was a year of very high “highs” and very low “lows” for me. Yet, through it all, I know that God was with me.  He has been, as He always has been and always will be, faithful. Faithful. How do I know? Because I am here.

It was almost exactly a year ago that we first felt called to move to Ireland. It seemed crazy at the time (and more than a few people actually told us that we were crazy for even considering it), but we just knew that God had something new for us.  There was a LOT that needed to happen if we were going to uproot our young family and move halfway around the world. A lot of mountains that God was going to need to move to clear the path for our passage. But He did it. Every single mountain that stood in the way–even the mountains that we didn’t see coming–were vaporized before our very eyes. God is faithful.

For starters, we were at the whim of Jon’s company to relocate us internationally. Not such an easy task when you consider the legal, logistical, and monetary aspects that come into play. But, after months of paperwork and negotiation, they signed off on the move. We had our green light. God is faithful.

Then came all of the logistics for actually moving. What would we do with our house in Washington? What would we do with our dog? Where would we live in Ireland? God had an answer for each of those questions, too. Our good friends agreed to move into our house, care for it, pay rent, and let us leave a garage FULL of our belongings in storage there. Check. My parents sacrificed countless hours and put hundreds of miles on their cars running our dog around to state veterinarians and cargo airlines so we could have our beloved dog shipped overseas to us. Check.  God placed us in the perfect house (just enough space inside and out, comfortable, and a view of pristine Irish farms out my back window) , in the perfect neighborhood (some of our best friends live across the street, tons of kids for the boys to play with, walking distance to David’s school and our favorite pub), in the perfect city (beautiful, lots of activities, close to everything) for our family. Check. God is faithful.

After the logistics started falling into place, we knew that this move might actually be able to really happen. But what would we do? Would we have any friends? Would we be able to find a church? Would we even like Ireland (which, at that point, neither of us had ever visited before)? Again, God answered every question on our heart. Before we even moved a friend of mine from my teaching days in California contacted me. She heard that we might be moving to Ireland and said  if we ever got over there we should check out this little church that a friend of hers pastors. It’s in this city called Cork, had I heard of it? Cork, the city we moved to. The first Sunday we were in Ireland we went straight over to check out this “little church”, and it has been our home ever since. From the moment we walked in the doors, we knew that we were in the right place. We were welcomed with open arms from these brothers and sisters who we’d never even met, and a few short months later, they are our family. We worship with them, we celebrate with them, we love them. God has blessed us through Calvary Cork. God is faithful.

And, as far as Ireland goes, I love it more than I thought I could ever love a place. Before we moved here I don’t think I ever would have taken the time or spent the money to travel out here. But now that we live here, I get sad just thinking about the day that we’ll have to leave. Ireland is a beautiful place with a rich history and the kindest people I have ever met in my life. It’s a magical place where you see rainbows nearly every day and people drive tractors on the freeway. I love it here. God is faithful.

We went into 2013 knowing next to nothing about our future. It was a big year of questions for us. Yet God showed His faithfulness to us in every answer. Looking back now, I would say that the overarching theme of our whole year was exactly that: God is faithful.

I don’t know what 2014 has in store for us–last year taught me to go into things with few expectations and much trust. So that’s exactly what I will strive to do in this new year of 2014. To trust mightily in the God who is always faithful. That no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what peaks and valleys I may face, just to trust. Because God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Because God is faithful.

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Our Trip Home: From A to Z

Yesterday we returned from an incredible three-week holiday at “home” with our loved ones in Washington state. This was our first time returning home since our move to Ireland six months ago and we savored every moment of it. As with any trip of that magnitude, there were ups and downs during our stay. Here are the alphabetical highlights of our trip:

The ABC’s Of Our Christmas Vacation

IMG_0169A is for Annual Christmas date: I have gone on a Christmas date with my mom every year since I was 4 years old. It’s something I look forward to every year…no matter how old I get! We’ve done lots of different things for our dates over the years, but my favorite is always going to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. And, since I was feeling nostalgic this year, that’s exactly what we did. After our matinee performance (which was beautiful, as always) we walked around Seattle Center to look at the fountain and the Space Needle all decked out with lights. Then we walked up the street to the Melting Pot for some delicious cheese and chocolate fondues. It was a perfect evening, and I couldn’t ask for a better date!

IMG_0551B is for “Besties”: We’ve been missing our friends, so it was great just spending time with them and catching up. It’s amazing how time and distance can’t even change the bond you have with your best pals! From evening runs to dinners out and gatherings in peoples’ homes, every moment we had with our friends was precious. In addition to seeing our friends, I also loved meeting all of the sweet new babies that have been born since we were last here–the future best friends of our children, I’m sure!

C is for Christmas:

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We had a very low-key Christmas this year. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Jon’s side of the family and spent Christmas day at my parents’ house. The boys had a blast opening all of their Christmas gifts (David’s favorite gift is a tie between his blue basketball and all of his new Angry Birds gear; Jacob just liked rolling around in all of the wrapping paper). After brunch we went for a walk around the neighborhood and played with all of our new toys. We ended the day with a yummy Christmas dinner (ham) and a noteworthy Christmas film (Curious George’s Christmas Special). Then it was off to bed where visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

IMG_0040D is for Dentist: We love our dentist so much that we made time to visit him during our little stay in Washington. We all got cleanings, and Jacob even got his first turn in the big chair. Both boys did great job letting the dentist clean and count their teeth!

E is for Everett: During most of our visit we were staying with my parents in Federal Way, but we made a few trips up north to our former hometown of Everett. While we were in Everett we got to visit friends, check in on our house, and visit some of our favorite local places. We wish we could have spent a bit more time up there visiting more people but, alas, time was of precious short order on this trip.

unnamedF is for Family: Our family is the main reason we decided to pack up and head home for Christmas–and thankfully we got to see a lot of them! Besides our local family in Washington, we also had family members come up from California and down from Alaska to visit while we were there. To all of our parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who we got to see: thank you for making the time for us. It really meant the world to each of us to spend time with you!

IMG_0802G is for Grandpa: Unfortunately, four days after we arrived in Washington my grandfather passed away (you can read my tribute to him here). Grandpa was an incredible man, I loved him dearly, and it’s difficult to say goodbye. Still, though, I am so grateful that I got to spend some last moments with him before he passed–I will never forget that last day that I spent with him. Living so far away from home now I realize that this was God’s grace to me that I got to say goodbye in person and spend time mourning with my family. I love you and I miss you, Grandpa!

IMG_0177H is for Holiday With Lights: For the second year in a row now we decided to brave the elements and venture out to Holiday With Lights at Wild Waves, a local theme park. The whole park is decorated for Christmas with beautiful lights. Most of the rides were open–we enjoyed going on the carousel and the roller coasters (which are a bit scarier in the dark!). We even got to visit Santa just in time for our annual photo-op.

I is for iPhone: A few days before we left Ireland for our trip to Washington my iPhone died. I was a bit panicked for those 3 days that I didn’t have a phone. How would I call people? How would I check the weather before I went outside? How would I get people’s status updates on Facebook in real time? It was terrible. So, as soon as our plane landed we made an appointment for me at the Apple store to see if they could revive my poor little phone. In the end, though, the phone was bricked–as in, it was as useless as a brick. I sucked it up and traded in my “brick” for a new phone–and life went on again.

IMG_0814J is for Jetlag: Traveling with kids is difficult. Traveling halfway around the world and dealing with jetlagged kids is horrible. I’ve discovered that, for kids at least, it takes about 1 day of adjustment per hour of time difference that you travel. So, if you travel through one time zone, you’ll be back on track in one day. If you travel through 8 time zones like us, though, it takes 8 days before the kids figure out again how to sleep at night and not be terrors during the day. Moral of the story: jetlag SUCKS.

IMG_0533K is for Kid’s Museum: On Christmas Eve my mom and I took the boys to the Tacoma Children’s Museum for a fun morning of play and exploration. It was a beautiful museum with lots of fun activities that were perfect for the boys (and, best part of all, it’s totally free–donations accepted, of course!). Both boys loved the water play area, the drums, the soft “snowballs” that they could throw down tunnels and tubes, and climbing on the giant DaVinci-esque flying machine.

IMG_0418L is for Leavenworth: Jon’s parents live over the mountains (and through the woods…) in a little tourist town called Leavenworth. The town is in the middle of the Cascade Mountains and is set up to look like you’re in a Bavarian village. It’s all very cute and unique. We spent 3 days over in Leavenworth visiting Grammy and Grandpa Pete. During our stay we played in the snow, fed the deer that frequent their yard, walked through town, played pool, and relaxed by the fire. We had a great time on our mini-vacation!

IMG_0452M is for Mars Hill: Mars Hill is our former church that we attended for several years before moving to Ireland. The church has several campuses and both our church in Everett and my parents’ church in Federal Way got new “homes” while we were away. We got to visit both of those new buildings for services and catch up with our friends there. All I can say is “Wow!”. God is so good!

IMG_0561N is for New Year’s Eve: We rang in 2014 with some of our closest friends. New Year’s Eve was spent at our friends’ house where we played games, visited, and caught up with each other. We also started what will have to be a new tradition: a Christmas tree bonfire. The Christmas tree was quite impressive going up in flames…and it made for a nice warm fire on a cold evening.

unnamed (2)O is for Oregon: On January 3rd our family from near and far gathered in Longview, WA for my grandfather’s memorial service. It was a lovely Military funeral complete with Marine color guards and a gun-salute. It was a wonderful time for our family to spend time together, share memories of Grandpa, and honor his life. After the funeral we drove down to Oregon where we were going to spread Grandpa’s ashes the next day. Eleven of us stayed in a huge beach house called Arch Cape Lodge right on the Oregon coast. The next morning we drove out to one of Grandpa’s favorite places: Cannon Beach. When I was growing up we would visit Cannon Beach frequently and I have many fond memories of playing in the sand and walking out to Haystack Rock with Grandpa there. It was Grandpa’s wish to rejoin his fallen comrades in the Pacific after his passing, so Cannon Beach seemed like the perfect place. Incredibly, the day that we were at Cannon Beach to spread Grandpa’s ashes was one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear sunny days that I’ve ever seen at that beach–especially in the middle of winter! Yet again, God’s grace shone through.

IMG_0677P is for Pike Place Market: You can’t visit Seattle without a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market. So, of course, we went. We walked  through the market admiring all of the fresh fruits and veggies, the wide-eyed seafood, the lush bouquets of flowers, the samplers of homemade jams. And, since we were already there, we stopped by the new Storyville Coffee for a little pick-me-up before heading over to the Seattle Art Museum (it was First Thursday so admission was free–definitely an added bonus!). Then the icing on the cake: we walked down to the Seattle Waterfront and went for a spin on the Great Wheel. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as my last giant Ferris wheel ride in London, the views were definitely worth the price of admission!

Q is for Quiet Time: I took several naps on this vacation. That’s a rare enough occurrence that I thought it warranted it’s own little shout-out here. So, to the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles who played with my kids so I could sleep: from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

IMG_0458R is for Russian Spa: Jon and I met up with a friend in Seattle for a new and unique adventure: our first experience at a Russian spa. The spa, Banya 5, consists of a tea room/relaxation area and a large room with several pools and saunas that you circulate through. At one point you go from a 240 degree sauna right into a 45 degree icy plunge. It literally takes your breath away. Crazy as it sounds, it was all pretty fun…and even a bit relaxing.

S is for Stomach Flu: It all started with one person having an upset stomach–and, before we knew it, every person in our family was sick with the stomach flu. For one solid week (Christmas inclusive) we took turns being sick and passing our sickness on to each other. By the end of the week, 11 of us had our turn with the sick bug. It was miserable. The one saving grace is that I wasn’t sick alone, which meant I had people to help care for my children and let me sleep when I felt like death. Moving on…

IMG_0809T is for Travelers: The boys did so well traveling on this trip. During all of the plane rides and car rides and airport layovers I just kept waiting for one of them to explode in an uncontrollable fit. But it never happened (Thank you, Jesus). In fact, both boys actually slept for the majority of our long flight home. It definitely helped that we had good seats on our flights and fun new toys from Christmas to keep everyone entertained. Still, though, I am so proud of them. What great little travelers we have!

IMG_0521U is for Ummelina: Instead of giving each other gifts for Christmas this year, Jon and I decided to go out on a special date. We started our date at Ummelina day spa where we each got glorious 90-minute massages and plenty of pampering. After our massages we walked down the street to Purple Wine Bar for a delicious dinner of bacon poutine, braised short ribs, lamb meatballs and pasta. Not exactly spa food, but it was incredible. We rounded out the evening at the cinema watching “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (by the way, we both give the movie two thumbs up). It was a wonderful evening with an even more wonderful date!

IMG_0640V is for Volcano: On New Year’s Day we drove out to Mount Rainier National Park (the mountain, by the way, is technically a volcano). My sister, her husband, and my nephew Noah were up visiting from California and they REALLY wanted to see snow. Washington has had very little snow so far this winter, so we had to drive deep into the mountains to find some good playing snow. It was a lot of driving, but the mountain rewarded us with an amazing day. We ended up having clear blue skies and sunshine, a bit of a rarity this time of year. All of the kids (and kids at heart) had a great time sledding and sliding and frolicking in the snow. Quite the start to 2014!

IMG_0666W is for Washington: Washington is where we came from, and it will always be home to us. Being back home reminded me of what a beautiful and unique place Washington is. After being away in Ireland for several months we were able to see things with new eyes and appreciate things in a different way. I heart you, Washington!

IMG_0376X is for Xbox One: Jon ordered himself a new XBox while we were in Ireland and it was waiting at my parents’ house when we arrived. Ah, boys and their toys…

Y is for Yummy Food: There are so many foods that I’ve been craving since we’ve moved to Ireland. And, me being me, I decided to try to eat ALL of them while we were home: Macaroni and Cheese, Pho, Reeses, Goldfish crackers, graham crackers, Mexican food…you get the picture. I guess the diet starts next week?

IMG_0683Z is for FeliZ Cumpleanos (Spanish for Happy Birthday): I know that it’s a bit of a stretch, but there is a “z” in feliz. Plus, this is really important. On January 2 we celebrated Jon’s grandma Doreen’s 91st birthday. NINETY-ONE! If I live 91 years I hope that someone will dedicate at least a few sentences to me on their blog. Grandma Doreen is an incredible woman: kind, confident, joyful, strong, and sharp as a tack. She is a big part of our lives, and we were blessed to spend this special day with her. We celebrated with a small family dinner at her house (decor provided by fresh flowers from Pike Place Market) and red velvet cake for the birthday girl. We love you, Great-Granny Doreen!

Our trip home had a little bit of everything: adventure and relaxation, excitement and heartbreak, health and sickness. What it had the most of, though, was love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love this place that we come from. I think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right: There’s no place like home.