An Irish Country Fair

There are so many reasons why I love summer: the sunshine, the days that never end, going for walks outside after dinner…in the daylight…while wearing a t-shirt. And there is no better place to enjoy the long, warm days of summer than at a good old fashioned country fair.

When I found out that one of the largest fairs in Ireland was taking place this weekend in West Cork, I just knew I had to go. I mean, how could we not see a country fair in a country that is known for their country-ness? Jon is travelling in Korea for work this week, so it was just me and the boys. We skipped out of town on Sunday morning and headed out to the Charleville Agricultural Show, located an hour west of our home in Cork.

We got to the fair at 10:00, about an hour after the gates had formally opened for the day. As is commonly the case here in Ireland, we were one of the first ones to arrive for the festivities. Our first stop was at the horse jumping centre where the riders were doing some practice runs. Jacob was obsessed with the horses and kept screeching (much to the annoyance of the horses): “That one! So fast! Horsey running!”

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After getting our fill of so-fast-horseys we made our way through the maze of vendor stalls. The brightly-colored toys and balloons caught the boys’ attention. And, since I want to coerce them into enjoying the fair as much as I do, I indulged them each with a new ball. The boys thought they’d won the lottery.

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I decided to take advantage of some momentary peace while the boys sat contentedly in the stroller admiring their new balls. We continued browsing the vendor stalls, where they were selling everything from clothing to ancient-looking farm tools to homemade jams to high-tech cow milking stations. True story. I even bought myself a little souvenir from one of the antiques stands, a metal sign that I will hang outside our house. It reads Cead Mile Failte, which translates to “a hundred thousand welcomes”. Reflecting upon our time here in Ireland, I can not think of a more fitting phrase to display in our home.

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After shopping time was over, we moved on to the vintage car and tractor show. Here’s David “driving” a restored 1915 tractor:

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Then it was on to the amusement park rides. Most of the rides were a bit too big for my little guys, so we spent our time on a huge inflatable slide. It was a hit.IMG_6493

One of my favorite sections at the fair was the old time crafts exhibit. They had people there demonstrating how to make felt from wool, weave wicker baskets, and chisel letters into stone. David even got to help a woman spin yarn on an old-fashioned spinning wheel. They started by “brushing” the wool (which came from the sheep shearing demo at the fair earlier in the day) with these huge roller brushes. Then they fed the smooth wool into the spinning wheel and wove two bobbins of string together to make the yarn. Grammy Pete would have been impressed!IMG_6511

David also tried his hand at metal-working. A very brave craftsman (with very tough looking hands) allowed my three-year old to bang a hammer on a metal rod that he was holding.IMG_6519

The end result was a copper leaf, which was then hung from a string and worn with pride for the rest of the day:IMG_6523

After our busy morning, we needed some nourishment (nevermind that we’d already eaten cotton candy and ice cream before 11:00). We noshed on some burgers and fries…because what else would you eat at the fair?IMG_6530 After lunch we wandered around some more and found some cookery demos. At one table they were churning butter by hand–and giving out free samples. It was the most creamy smooth butter I’ve ever tasted. We liked the butter so much that I bought a big tub of it to bring home. After all, who knows when the next time is that I’ll have access to hand-churned butter.IMG_6532 Before calling it a day we made one last stop in the arts and crafts tent to check out the local talent. There was kids’ artwork, handmade Limerick lace, poetry, and lots of home baking. I, of course, wanted to sneak a taste of every cake I walked past, but I managed to restrain myself:IMG_6533At this point Jacob had fallen asleep in the stroller and David was on the verge of three-year old meltdown, so I read the signs and made my way back to the car (which was parked conveniently close to the exit, due to our “early” arrival that morning). When I asked the boys later that evening what their favorite part of the fair was they both said, “EVERYTHING!”.

And that, my friends, is what we call a success.

Frozen Frog Pond Activity

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Last week we had our first real week of summer. We had sunshine every day, which was both amazing and confusing to us. What do we do outside when it’s actually warm out?  I think it reached 70 degrees one day and, having grown up in a rain cloud, my poor children thought they were dying from the heat. So, I came up with a simple game that would help keep us cool. I call it:

Frozen Frog Pond

What you need:
small containers (I used snack size Ziploc food containers)
plastic frogs (I got mine at the dollar store)
kiddie pool or a large plastic tub (although the bath tub would work just fine, too)

What you do:
1. Put a few frogs into each container and fill with water until the frogs are just covered. Freeze for 2 hours or until the frog-cubes are frozen solid.

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2. Pop the frozen frog-cubes out of the containers

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3. Put the frog-cubes into the pool. Challenge your kids to see who can set the frogs free from their icy prisons. Whoever gets the most frogs out of the ice wins!

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That’s it! The boys had a lot of fun trying to get their frogs out of the ice and they certainly got cooled off in the process (Jacob kept muttering, “So cold…” as he fumbled with his ice cubes). Here are a few other ideas to extend the froggy play time:

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– Gather sticks, leaves, and rocks and make homes for your froggy friends in their pond (this one probably wouldn’t work so well if you’re using your bath tub…)
-See how many pairs of the same frog you can find
-Order the frogs from smallest to largest
-Sort the frogs into color groups
-Have a leapfrog race
-Count the frogs or work out simple story problems using the frogs (“If I have 3 frogs in the pond and one jumps out, how many are still left in the water?”)
-Have a color race: Hold up a solid-colored frog, set a timer for 30 seconds, and see how many items your child can find that are the same color.

Stay cool, friends!

A Week In The Life of An Irish Summer

This was a significant week in Ireland: Summer finally made her appearance. For the past 10 days we have had nothing but blue skies and sunshine–quite the welcome change from the typical Irish summer, which is only differentiated from winter by the fact that the rain is warmer.

Like most people who have lived their whole lives in cold, rainy places I go a bit manic when the sun actually comes out. I feel like I have to spend every waking moment outside soaking in enough Vitamin-D to get make up for months of deprivation. I can not, will not let a single sunny moment go to waste (especially since the rain is predicted to return tomorrow). It’s difficult to squeeze a whole season’s worth of activities into a single week, but we gave it our best effort. Here is a little snapshot of how we spent our week of Irish summer.

Monday:
We started our sunshine week with a little hike. There is a wonderful trail, which we have dubbed “Blackberry Trail”, that starts right behind our house. The trail winds for miles and miles through the woods, along a stream, and up into the hills where you can explore the ruins of an old manor. As always, the boys’ favorite activity was throwing rocks into the stream. They will literally spend hours there just picking up stones and chucking them in the water:

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After all of our hard work hiking and throwing stones, we needed a little refreshment. Popscicles (called “ice lollies” here) were the perfect reward. Many, many Popscicles were consumed this week!

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Tuesday:
On Tuesday we stayed home and made use of our fantastic back yard. Inspired by the World Cup that started this week, David practiced his soccer skills:IMG_6108We also spent a good portion of the day splashing and playing in our new blow-up kiddie pool:

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Wednesday:
What is summer without a day at the beach? On Wednesday afternoon we met up with some friends at a wonderful beach called Garrettstown Beach, just past Kinsale in East Cork. Garrettstown Beach is a Blue Flag beach, a distinction given to the loveliest beaches in Europe. We had a relaxing afternoon visiting with our friends, digging in the sand and splashing in the waves:
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On our drive home after the beach we made a slight detour to view Old Head, perhaps the most scenic and exclusive golf course in Ireland (it’s a favorite of Tiger Woods, I hear). You have to be a registered guest to enter the grounds at Old Head, but the viewpoint overlooking the area was still stunning:

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That night as I was folding clothes on the picnic table in the back yard (why not?) the sky caught my attention. As the sun began to set, light was bouncing off the clouds–it felt like a slice of heaven (minus the clothes-folding):

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Thursday:
While David was at preschool, Jacob and I went on our usual Thursday morning jaunt to the Farmer’s Market. The market was full of local delights that are just coming into season: berries, rhubarb, peas, gelato, and bunches of beautiful flowers:

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After the Farmer’s Market Jacob helped me hang our laundry out to dry. He actually is a very good helper, and his favorite “game” is handing me clothespins (and then scattering the bag of pins all over the yard). He also loves running through the lines and playing peek-a-boo behind the clothes:

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On Thursday night I went out for a fun evening road race at our local pub. Yep, that’s right, a legit pub run. I was expecting a small neighborhood gathering, maybe 100 people, to be at the race. I was quite surprised then to see not dozens, but thousands of runners all turned out for the race. The race started at the Mount Oval Bar (next door to David’s preschool) and wound it’s way for 6 miles through the surrounding neighborhoods and farms. It was a beautiful course, I finished in my goal time, and there were beer and free burgers at the finish line. It was the perfect race, really:

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Friday:
We spent Friday at our local zoo, Fota Wildlife Park. Fota is one of our favorite places to visit–there are fun playgrounds, beautiful landscapes and, of course, plenty of animals to spy on! The park is laid out so that you feel like you are actually entering the animals’ turf. There are very few fences or barriers to the animals so you can get up close to them and see how they behave in a more natural environment. Our favorite animals are always the cheetahs, the monkeys, and the giraffes (including the babies that we’ve been watching grow up this year):

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We also got to view Dourga, one of the new tigers that just arrived at Fota a few weeks ago (thankfully for us, she is inside a proper enclosure–I don’t think any of us would want an up close and personal experience with a jungle cat!):
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On Friday night, I went out on a date with this handsome man:

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For our date we went into Cork City and saw Pulses of Tradition, a traditional Irish music and dance show. It was a wonderful performance with highly entertaining musicians who had us laughing and clapping and singing the whole night (we also picked up a few interesting tidbits about the history of dance and music in Ireland). After the show we stopped by our Local for some drinks before heading home. The pub was hosting a “craft beer festival”, which piqued Jon’s interest as he’s been on the lookout for a proper IPA ever since leaving Seattle. Unfortunately, the beers were not quite up to our (snobbish?) Seattleite standards–but we did enjoy a good bit of craic.

Saturday:
We lounged around for quite awhile on Saturday morning while Jon and I took turns catching up on our sleep. We did manage to squeeze in a little play time at the playground in Passage West before it was Jacob’s turn for a nap:

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While Jacob was sleeping, Jon snuck out to get a massage (his Father’s Day gift). After nap time we walked up to Mount Oval Bar (for the third time in 3 days) for a family fun fair they were hosting. The boys loved jumping in the bouncy house (and, judging by this photo, they also enjoyed bouncing on other children):

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There was also a see-and-touch animal show, face painting, a guy making balloon animals, BBQ…and the creepiest ice cream truck I’ve ever seen:IMG_6304

Since Saturday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, we celebrated in style. The kids were driving us crazy so we put them to bed at 7:30, then we shared a bottle of wine, and went to bed before the sun even set. Hey, nobody ever said parenthood was glamorous.

Sunday:
The last day of our sun week, Sunday, had arrived. Before church we went out in the field across the street from our house to practice our golf swings. Perhaps the boys were inspired by the Irish Open (the largest golf tournament in Ireland) that was happening right here in Cork this weekend:IMG_6311Before we went back inside, David wanted to pick some flowers to make a “centerpiece”. He found quite a lovely collection right in our driveway, and proudly displayed his pickings:

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After church we came home, ate lunch, and got ready for our afternoon. Our plans were set aside, however, when the boys fell asleep while watching Engineering lectures with Jon (not sure how they could possibly fall asleep during such a thrilling activity…). I spent my surprise afternoon “off” curled up with a new book–the perfect luxury to end our season-week of summer.

We had a memorable week exploring the treasures that are right here in Cork. And, I have to say, summer in Ireland is pretty amazing–even if it does only last for a week!

Canary Islands Vacation

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Last week was a big week for us with much to celebrate: my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. With all of these big events happening in the same week, we thought it would be exciting to take a once-in-a-life time family vacation. Our destination: Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands.

We left for Lanzarote in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, June 8th. Our taxi to the airport picked us up at 4:00 in the morning and we boarded our plane before the summer sun even had a chance to greet us:
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We decided to try out Ryanair, a budget airline, for the first time. We’d heard mixed reviews about the airline: yes, it’s cheap (we’re talking $15 tickets from Dublin to London…CHEAP) but it comes at a price. Ryanair has very strict baggage requirements and you pay extra for every little thing, so we’ve been hesitant to fly with them and our kids and our 5 billion things that our kids require every time we leave our house for even 5 minutes. In the end, though, they were much more lax than we’d heard, we had comfortable flights and, most importantly, we saved ourselves loads of money.

Landing at the Lanzarote airport feels like you’re going to crash into the ocean. It was quite thrilling. The runway is only a few meters from the beach, so as you’re dropping down from the sky at 100 MPH it feels like you’re actually dive-bombing into the sea. Luckily we landed on solid ground and our vacation could continue as planned:

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We rented a car for the first few days so we could explore a bit of the tiny island before retreating to the confines of our resort and the beaches for the second half of the week.  As we were driving from the airport out to the resort I was struck by the landscape. The whole island of Lanzarote is volcanic, and in the late-1700’s there were non-stop volcano eruptions for 6 straight years. As a result, the topography consists entirely of volcanic rock and, when you approach the ocean, sand. There are no plants (except for the palm trees the resort-builders have planted) and almost no native wildlife (except for fish and bugs). I kept getting the sense that we had actually landed on Mars rather than being 78 miles off the coast of West Africa:

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The land is so barren, in fact, that there are no sources of fresh water on the island. This could pose a problem for anyone who, you know, wanted to survive for more than 24 hours. Thankfully the resort builders thought this one through, too, and they have built desalination plants all over the island. These desalination plants turn the plentiful salt water from the surrounding ocean into clean water (well, clean enough to wash your hands with and take a shower in…you still can’t drink it or anything). I’m pretty sure the island also keeps the bottled water companies in business year round with the demand for drinking water.

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When we got to our resort (the Lanzarote Gardens, if you’re keen to know) we checked in and dropped our bags off in our room. We had a bungalow, a nice two-level place with a kitchenette and two outdoor patios. It was perfect for our family and right across the way from the swimming pools and children’s areas. Then, after we’d gotten settled in, it was time to explore Lanzarote!

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For our first full day in Lanzarote we decided to go out on a glass-bottomed boat tour. We met our boat in the nearby town of Playa Blanca (Well, actually every town in Lanzarote is “nearby”. You can literally drive from one end of the island to the other, in any direction, and be there in about an hour).

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The boat ride itself was lovely. We had a jovial captain who grew up on the island in the pre-resort days when there was nothing on the island but a few fishermen’s shacks down on the beach. He gave us a brief history of the island as we sailed past beaches and towns and soaked in our often-missed sunshine.

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Unfortunately, the “glass-bottomed” part of the boat was a bit disappointing. We saw a few fish and sea urchins and a starfish when we were close to the harbor where our boat docked. Other than that, though, there was not much to see in the water. Despite the lack of underwater viewings, we thoroughly enjoyed our little boat ride.

The next day, Tuesday, was my birthday! It was definitely one of the most memorable birthdays I’ve ever had. We spent the day exploring Timanfaya National Park (also known as “Fire Mountain Park”):

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Upon entering the park you are greeted by hundreds of camels, just waiting to give the obliging tourist a ride up into the lava-rock hills:

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We were more than obliging, so we saddled right up and went on our first family camel-trek. Our camel (who we nicknamed “Rocky”) hated us. He kept glaring at us and trying to sit down when his camel friends were scurrying up the path. Sorry, Rocky–I wouldn’t want to carry four heavy people (including two squirmy, kicky, hair-pulley little people) anywhere, let alone up a mountain. But we thank you, anyway. It was an epic adventure:

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After our camel ride we drove to the top of the mountain where there is a visitor center and restaurant. It being lunchtime on my birthday, we decided to go into the restaurant for our afternoon meal. There were floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the restaurant for a 360 degree view of the park. It was breathtaking:

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Amazing as the views were, though, that was not the best part of the restaurant. No, the best part was the food–or, rather, the way they cook the food there. You see, instead of cooking with a boring old stove they cook over the heat of a volcano. That’s right, a volcano BBQ. The volcano we were perched upon still produces a good amount of heat and fire, so they set up their cookery right over one of the hot spots. I’d never seen anything like it before (and, by the way, everything was delicious!):

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While we were dining we could also look out the windows from the restaurant and watch a steam show. One of the park rangers would dump water into special vents that were placed over some of the hot spots in the ground and steam would burst out, kind of like a geyser. Cheap thrills, folks:IMG_6113

After lunch we hopped on one of the waiting buses for a 40-minute guided tour of the park. We gazed down into calderas and marveled at the 30 different types of lichen growing on the volcanic rocks and drove through the middle of ancient lava floes:IMG_6271

Our tour of Timanfaya concluded our exploration of the island. There were a few more sites we could have visited, but we really just wanted to spend the rest of the week relaxing at our resort. So that’s exactly what we did.

We spent countless hours at the resort’s 3 pools. David and Jon are part-fish, so they are right at home when they’re in the water:

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The water was a bit cool for my comfort (If the water’s not warm enough for me to fall asleep with a pina colada in one hand and a good book in the other, then I’m just going to stay on dry land). Jacob felt a bit the same way as me, so we set up shop on the lounge chairs. We had a good vantage point from our poolside perch to watch David jumping and splashing and sliding to his little heart’s delight:

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Just across the street from our resort was Las Cucharas beach, a lovely white sand beach with a swimming area and plenty of space for water sports (windsurfing seemed to be the most popular choice). We spent a few afternoons at the beach building sandcastles…
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…and frolicking in the ocean:IMG_5803

There is a beautiful promenade that follows the coastline. I followed the promenade for a few miles one day and couldn’t see the end of it, so I’m not sure how far it actually goes if you want to walk/run/cycle the whole thing. We had a great time walking down the promenade and taking in the stunning views:
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Another favorite resort activity we enjoyed was Kids Club. Kids Club is a magical place at the resort where parents can drop their kids off so they can run off and enjoy a few hours swimming or beaching or napping. While Mom and Dad are off doing boring grown-up stuff the kids play games, make crafts, and get hyped up for the World Cup (alright, I’m sure that’s not the case most of the time, but this being the first week of the World Cup–and Europeans being obsessed with soccer–it was kind of a big deal):

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There were also two playgrounds at the resort where we could take the boys to run around and burn off some of their boundless energy:IMG_5836

 

After playing hard all day, we were usually pretty hungry. We had a half-board package at the resort (breakfast and dinner included), so we enjoyed most of our meals at the on-site restaurant. Everything was buffet-style–lots of meats, potatoes, pastas, salads, and international cuisines:

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There was even a separate childrens’ buffet with kid-friendly fare like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and Jell-O. Lots and lots of Jell-O:

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We all agreed that the best buffet in the restaurant, though, was the dessert buffet. Ice cream, pies, cakes, cookies, fresh fruit and even a chocolate fountain. Yummmmmmm….IMG_5774

Each night there was entertainment at the resort. There were shows for adults–Chinese acrobats, musicians, dancing, theater–but we didn’t see any of them because they didn’t start until 9:30 and, well, we’re old and that’s our bedtime. We did, however, go to the kids’ dance party “Daisy Disco” most nights after dinner. David and Jacob loved singing and dancing and parading around the room with clowns and throngs of other children:

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On Thursday Jon and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary! It was a special day, so we celebrated with some special activities. We went for a family walk on the beach and re-created one of our favorite wedding photos. My how our family has grown in the last 9 years!

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For our final anniversary celebration we went out to a nice dinner in town. The menus–as with everything in Lanzarote–were written in three languages: Spanish (because we’re in Spain), English and German (the last two languages being for the tourists. There are LOTS of German tourists in Lanzarote):

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We went out for Mexican food and it was delicious. We drank margaritas and ate burritos and jalapeno poppers. We had a wonderful time, despite having our third- and fourth-wheels (our children) with us for our romantic evening out. And, just so we wouldn’t forget this memorable anniversary, the kids also decided to get sick at dinner. Jacob threw up all over me and had a diaper explode with diarrhea (sorry, TMI?) but, like I said, it was…memorable.

Our poor kids spent the last couple of days going in and out of yucky sickness. This meant that they also had a hard time sleeping–which meant none of us slept. One morning Jacob was up almost all night so, at about 5:00 AM, I decided to take him for a little walk to see if I could get him to fall asleep. We ended up walking up and down the beaches for two hours–my poor sick baby never fell asleep, but we did catch a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean:

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Despite everyone feeling a bit yucky, we still managed to squeeze in some fun during our last couple of days in Lanzarote. We even found “The Fish Spa”–a very unique experience, for sure! You basically put your feet in these giant fish tanks where swarms of little fish nibble dead skin off your feet. It sounds weird…and it is. But it was fun and kind of tingly and I’d do it again!IMG_6014We blinked and then it was Sunday again, time to go back home. Sunday happened to be David’s day to be sick, so we stuffed plastic bags in our pockets (to contain the inevitable sickness), packed our bags, and headed to the airport. Poor little David was so sick that he fell asleep in the airport waiting for our plane…and he didn’t wake up until 5 hours later when we touched down in Ireland:
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Volcanoes, camels, beaches, swimming pools, boat rides, sunshine, and some good quality time with the people I love the most–I couldn’t ask for a better vacation (well, maybe minus the sickness). Many memories were made, much fun was had, and much joy was celebrated. It was definitely a vacation none of us will ever forget!

Daughter Promises

On Jon’s first Father’s Day, when I was still pregnant with our first baby, I gave him a book. The book was called Daddy Promises, and it is one of the most beautifully-written children’s books I have ever read. It is about all of the promises that dads make to their children, and how that connects to the promises that God the Father has made to us, His children.

The first time I read the book I cried, and I still cry tears of joy when I re-read it. I know that my husband is demonstrating God’s love to our boys through his forgiveness and grace and bedtime wrestles. He is an amazing dad–the best dad I could have picked for my kids. The other thing I think about when I read this book is my dad–the best dad I could have picked for me.

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My dad is a rockstar father. He has loved me unconditionally, prayed for me unceasingly, and supported me through my most difficult times. I even remember one time that he drove up to my house, an hour away, one night just to be with me after I’d had particularly rough day at work. The time, the distance didn’t matter–he just wanted to be there for me. When I was in labor at the birth center, the hospital, wherever they took me–he was there, up all day…then all night…then all the next day in the cramped little waiting room, patiently waiting and praying for me and my baby. He is a model of Christ-like love, and he has lived out so many of God’s promises for me.

In honor of Father’s Day this weekend, I have a few promises of my own that I want to share with my dad–my daughter promises.

I promise to stay true to the path you have set me on. That even when I wander (and maybe do crazy things like pierce my belly button) I will remember the way you have taught me, so that “even when I am old I will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 

I promise to walk in faith, and to trust the One who is leading me, even when you are not there.

I promise to live in the peace of Christ that you have taught me. That I will not let worry consume me or doubts take away my joy.

I promise to be persevere. I have always thought that our mutual perseverance (stubbornness?) is our best trait!

I promise to keep healthy and active. Otherwise I won’t be able to keep up with you when you’re running marathons in your 60’s and beyond.

I promise to maintain the magic of childhood for my kids, the same way you did for me. Right now I’m working on mastering the whole “pulling off my thumb” trick.

I promise to pray for you, just as you have always done for me.

I promise to teach my children proper anatomy, starting with the pectoralis.

I promise to love my boys the same way you love your girls: unconditional, unceasing, unrelenting parental love.

I promise to love you forever and always.

To all of the amazing dads out there, Happy Father’s Day! The world would not be the same without you.

Foods of Ireland

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ve probably realized a few things about me: I can’t wait for my next adventure, my kids are pretty rad, and I love food. I love eating food, I love cooking food (when my rad kids aren’t getting in the way), I love reading about food. I even love just looking at food. This is not a new thing. In fact, my mom has always joked with me that all of my memories in life are somehow tied to food–what we were eating at a certain pivotal point in my life, the restaurant we visited on a vacation, the food that was served at an event. It is no wonder, then, that the food of Ireland has enthralled me.

Much of the food in Ireland is similar to food available in America. There are a few culinary delights that stand out to me, though, and I’d like to share them with you. Some of these unique-to-Ireland foods are common throughout the country, and others are more indigenous to my “native” County Cork (which, by the way, produces the best food in the country. It’s a foodie’s dream, really). Now, here are some of my favorite Irish foods:

Potatoes: In the case of the Irish, the stereotype is true: they love potatoes. At the grocery store there are at least a dozen varieties of potatoes to choose from (and none of them are the basic Russet baking potato that is prevalent in America). Every meal is served with some form of potato: mashed, fried, baked, roasted, boiled, stewed. The humble potato still reigns supreme.

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Tayto Crisps: And, while we’re on the topic of potatoes, let’s not forget about Tayto crisps (a brand of potato chips). The traditional flavor is cheese and onion, although many varieties are available. These chips are so popular that one of the largest amusement parks in the country, Tayto Park, is named after them.

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Cottage Pie: This is also known as shepherd’s pie (although cottage pie is typically made with beef  and shepherd’s pie uses lamb). Meat, veg, and gravy topped with–you guessed it–potatoes. It’s easy to make, delicious, and one of my favorite ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Win, win, win.

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Lamb: I can not get my 3-year old to eat any meat, with one exception: Irish lamb. My son will quite literally eat a whole leg of Irish lamb if it is offered to him. It’s both interesting and completely disturbing. I don’t blame him, though. The lamb here is fresh and succulent (probably because the sheep here are so dang happy. They spend their days contentedly roaming the lush green rolling hills out in the countryside without a care in the world. Except perhaps the butcher. But I doubt they even notice he’s coming for their intent efforts at grazing all day. When one of their sheep friends go missing they probably just assume he’s wandered off to some other lusher greener pasture on the other side of the hill).

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Offal: Pig’s hooves. Yep. Pig feet. I see them every week in the butcher but I can not, will not bring myself to eat them. Offal actually refers to any bits of the animal that you would not find in your typical Michelin-Star restaurant: ears, eyes, internal organs and such. Scrumptious. Much of traditional Irish food originated in peasant cooking where it was not only practical, but absolutely necessary to eat “everything but the snout” (which, I understand, can be quite rubbery).

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Clonakilty Black Pudding: Don’t let the name deceive you. This “pudding” is not referring to a smooth and creamy dark chocolate dessert. No, this is blood sausage, generally made from pork blood and oatmeal (yummmmm….). It is a key component to the Full Irish Breakfast (see next entry):

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The Full Irish Breakfast: Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. The Irish have taken this sentiment to heart, and the traditional Irish breakfast is enough food to put you in a coma (or gear you up for a day of hard labor on your farm). The “Full Irish” consists of black pudding, sausage, rashers (bacon), eggs, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, potatoes, baked beans, toast, and tea. You can go to any restaurant in the country and order a “Full Irish”–just bring your appetite!

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Fresh Seafood: Ireland is an island. Which means the country is literally surrounded by oceans teeming with seafood. There is not a single day that goes by and I don’t see a truck or a stand on the side of the road selling fresh Atlantic fish that was caught that morning. I’m a bit of a seafood-phobic so I don’t take advantage of the abundant offerings. But if I were a lover rather than a hater, I’d be spoiled for choice. Pollock, Cod, Hake, Plaice, Monkfish, Prawns, Mussels–all just sitting there in the water waiting for some hungry person to come eat them.

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Scotch Eggs: A hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage or black pudding, breaded, and fried. What’s not to love?

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Pies and Pasties: When someone refers to “pie” in Ireland, they are usually talking about a savory meat or vegetable pie rather than granny’s caramel apple pie. And when they refer to “pasties”, they are usually talking about hand-pies (think of a gourmet Hot Pocket), not the–ahem–little patches that women might wear in place of a brassiere.

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Rocket: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…ROCKET! This leafy salad green (called Arugula back home) is the hip health food of the moment in Ireland. Restaurants and grocery stores advertise rocket as if it’s actually a rock star, not a piece of glorified lettuce. There’s even a guy at my farmer’s market called “The Rocket Man” who makes gourmet salads and juices with rocket. But The Rocket Man may actually be a rock star (I mean, check out that ‘stache!):

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Fresh Dairy Products: You do not have to go far in Ireland to find a farm. In fact, the majority of the land in Ireland is farm land. As a result, you do not have to go far to find good, fresh dairy. Big chain grocery stores stock dairy products from the local dairies, which is pretty awesome. Fresh-from-the-cow milk, country butter, natural yogurt, cream cheese, panna cotta, clotted cream–enough lactose to fuel a nation.

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Gubbeen Cheese: Made on a family farm in West Cork, this cheese is a local delicacy. It has a smooth, rich, savory taste, similar to white cheddar, and it is buttery soft. Gubbeen cheese is made from milk that comes from the family’s cows that graze in their seaside pastures on the farm. And it makes a darn good grilled cheese sandwich.

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Banoffee Pie: A dessert made from bananas, toffee (banana-toffee = banoffee) and cream piled high in a pastry crust. You can find this pie in any coffee shop, tea cafe, restaurant, or supermarket in Ireland. They even have banoffee-flavored yogurt and pudding.

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Scones: Perhaps the single most-consumed food in Ireland (after potatoes, of course), scones are an integral part of daily Irish cuisine. Every time you visit a friend or go to a cafe for a “cuppa” (tea, that is) it is expected that you will be offered freshly-baked scones. Some are plain, some are “fruited” (with raisins or sultanas), all are delicious. They are typically round, about 3 inches across, and about 2 inches high. Scones are typically served with butter, homemade jam (which you can buy in the supermarkets here) and, if you’re lucky, cream (whipped cream or clotted cream…yummmmmm):

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Barry’s Tea: Tea is the lifeblood of Irish culture. If you took tea away from the Irish, the Irish would simply cease to exist. True story. But not just any tea will do. No, you must drink “Gold Tea”, a black tea blend and, more specifically, you must drink Barry’s Gold Tea. None of that hoity-toity herbal stuff. I mean, sure, between cups of Barry’s you might try some Jasmine tea or some orange-spice Chai just to say you’ve done it once in your life, but the purists stick with the real tea. Barry’s tea.

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Elderflower: I think I had heard of Elderflower before we moved to Ireland, but I certainly had never heard of eating it. Turns out, Elderflower is downright delicious. In Ireland you can find Elderflower cordial (concentrate that you add to water to make juice), Elderflower syrup, Elderflower liqueur, and Elderflower tea. Elderflower is made from the flower of the elderberry (which grows plentifully in Ireland) and it has a sweet, aromatic flavor similar to lychee. It is the perfect refreshing summer drink.

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So, there you have it. Now you all know why my pants fit a bit more snugly now that I’ve been living here for a year–Ireland really is a food-lover’s dream come true. The whole idea of “eat local” was born here and, really, it’s the only way people have ever eaten here. With an abundance of fresh ingredients and regional treats, Irish food offers the perfect mix between comfort food and gourmet offerings. All I have to say is, if you’re coming to Ireland, come hungry!

10 Tips For Bringing Meals To Families In Need

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When I came home from the hospital after having my first baby I was a bit overwhelmed. Two days earlier I had left my home with my husband and now we were returning with our souvenir: a person. A person who I had to feed and keep clean and allow to sleep while I was awake and tend to when I’d rather be sleeping. For those first few weeks I felt like all I did was breastfeed my baby and try not to think about how much every inch of my body hurt in new and unusual ways. Doing anything productive–cooking, cleaning, walking by myself to the bathroom–was out of the question.

I was beyond grateful, then, when several friends offered to bring us meals during those first few weeks home. Not only did I not have to cook dinner each night, but I didn’t even have to think about it. Nor did my husband. The food just magically appeared, we woke up from our delirium long enough to eat it, and then we fell back into our new-parents trance.

Fast forward four years, and now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Any time we know someone who is in need–whether they’ve just had a baby, are coming home from a surgery, or are suffering from a loss–we try to return the favor. Bringing someone food during their time of need is a simple, yet impactful way of showing them that you care. I’ve prepared dozens of meals for families in need (and have received dozens of meals from our gracious friends) over the years. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way for bringing meals that will bless others. Here are my top 10:

1. Eat one/ Share one
Why make extra work for yourself? Rather than making a special meal to bring to someone, just make a double batch of whatever you’re planning for your own family. Then bring the second serving to the person in need.

2. Make It Freezable
Make a dish that can be easily frozen and reheated if they don’t want to eat it right now. The person you are cooking for may want to save your meal for another time–maybe they aren’t very hungry tonight, or they actually have the energy to cook right now, or their fridge is already full of leftovers from the other people who have been bringing them food. If you give them the option to freeze your meal, then it’s a gift that can be given (er…eaten…) whenever the time is right for them. Check out these 24 freezable meals if you need some inspiration.
*If you do make something that can be frozen, be sure inform the recipient of this fact. Also include instructions on how to cook or reheat the meal from frozen.

3. Stick To The Basics
This is not the time to try some fancy new recipe or see what happens if you dump the entire jar of Cayenne Pepper into the soup. Cook something tried-and-true so you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute if it doesn’t work out. Make something that people with “average” palates could appreciate, especially if there are children in the family who will be sharing the meal. Also, be sure to ask the recipient in advance if they have any allergies, intolerances, or food preferences.

4. Include Your Recipe
On the off-chance that your friend really likes the food your bringing her, she may want to make it again. I always include a copy of the recipe I have prepared–if nothing else, maybe she can add it to her baby’s memory book so they can look back and remember what Mom and Dad ate while they were recovering from newborn-itis. Along with this, I always write down directions for heating/reheating the meal I’ve prepared–especially how long it will take for the food to cook.

5. NO DISHES!!!
My least favorite part of cooking is certainly not the cooking. No, it’s the dishes. Those dang dishes that pile up after every meal. So, when I’m trying to help out a friend in need, I make sure they don’t have to wash a single dish. I buy foil baking dishes, Tupperware containers, Ziploc bags and paper plates when they’re on sale so I have them on hand whenever I want to bring someone a meal. When I drop off a meal I tell the recipient that I don’t want any of it back–they can clean ’em and keep ’em or just throw them away. Done deal.

6. Don’t Forget The Extras
If I’m going to all the effort of making someone a nice meal, I want it to be…nice. That means a bottle of wine or sparkling cider. Extra sauce. Some flowers for their table. DESSERT. It’s the little things that make a difference.

7. Let Others Do The Cooking
Restaurant takeout, pizza delivery, ready-made meals from the grocery store, take-and-bake pizzas, even grocery delivery are all great options. Plus, the best part about letting somebody else do the cooking is that you can use this option remotely and still have food delivered on your behalf. Even though we live thousands of miles away, we’ve been able to send food to several friends in Seattle this year by ordering them pizzas or having Safeway drop off some groceries at their home.

8. Coordinate Meal Delivery
There are several websites out there that make coordinating meal deliveries easy. You can include all of the pertinent information–the recipient’s name, address, directions to their house, phone number, dietary restrictions, best times for food delivery–all in one place. This makes it easy for people to sign up for a day or time to bring a meal and share what they’re bringing to help eliminate confusion. A few of my favorite meal-coordination sites are Take Them A Meal, Meal Train, and Care Calendar.

9. Don’t Expect To Stay And Chat
When you deliver a meal to someone in need, don’t plan on making a day of it. The recipient may or may not be up for visitors right now, but don’t assume this is your chance to get some quality one-on-one time. New parents especially have their hands full, and they may just want you to quietly leave your food and move right along (so they can, you know, scarf down the only meal they’re going to eat today before the baby wakes up). Soon enough they will be ready for visitors–in fact, they’ll probably be begging for someone to come pass the time with them in a few months–but right now your mission is to bring food and leave them in peace.

10. Consider Other Meals
If you are bringing someone dinner, consider bringing along a little something extra for breakfast the next day. These meals that friends are bringing may be the only real meals this person is eating–and Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

With a little preparation and a few thoughtful touches, you can brighten someone’s day when they need it the most–and fill their tummies while you’re at it! Now, go forth and pay it forward.