Back To America

Right now I am sitting in my parents’ house in Washington state–the very same house that we spent our last night in before we left for Ireland just over one year ago. It’s strange and surreal and altogether wonderful to be back. Back to the familiar, back to our loved ones, back “home” (whatever that means…I’m still trying to figure it out). The journey back to America had its ups and downs but, if I have learned anything this year, it’s that the best adventures rarely go according to (my) plan.

We left Cork on Friday night, July 25th. This also happened to be Jon’s last day of work in Ireland, so he basically got home and we loaded up the taxi with our 12 bags, double stroller, travel crib, and two car seats for our ride out to the airport. It was a crazy feeling to be leaving one adventure for another, to say our final goodbyes to this wonderful place that we had come to know as home:
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The plan for Friday night was to fly on the last flight of the night out of Cork, spend the night in London, then wake up early to catch the first flight of the morning into Seattle. After we got checked in, however, we realized that our flight to London had been delayed an hour. Oh well, we thought, that will give us time to eat some dinner before we board. As we were eating our dinner, an announcement came over the speakers to notify us that our flight was delayed again. And again. And finally, at the time we were supposed to be drifting off to sleep in our hotel in London, our plane arrived:
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The hour-long flight to London was uneventful, and we even landed at the brand-spanking-new Terminal 2 at London-Heathrow. It is a beautiful terminal that had only been open for about two weeks:

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Unfortunately, if you land at 11 PM at a brand new terminal that has only been open for two weeks, there are no signs or people to direct you on where to go once you land. It’s nothing more than a brightly-lit, stainless steel-encased ghost town. Which wouldn’t be a problem if you knew where you were going. We did not know where we were going.

Well, we knew where we were going, we just had no clue as to how to actually get there. We knew that our hotel was at Terminal 4, which we thought would be easy enough to find since it’s IN THE AIRPORT. Silly us. Turns out, London-Heathrow has a circumference of 25 miles. Nothing is easy to find. Nothing. Especially a hotel that is in a totally different terminal from where you are and it’s now 11:30 and the shuttles have stopped running for the night and the only person you can ask for directions is a cleaning lady who’s texting while she pushes her mop aimlessly down the corridors. So, what do you do in this situation? You ask the cleaning lady for directions. And she tells you to go through the underground tunnel. So you do. For 45 minutes:

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Just when you think you’ve entered the tunnel that someone finally dug all the way to China, you pop out at Terminal ? where there is an exit to a street. You spy a “Hotel Hoppa” bus and run frantically for it with your two small children and arms full of luggage. The driver says he’s on his last round for the night so you push your way on and find the only available space in the middle of a crowded aisle. It’s at this point that the bus driver tells you he does not go to your hotel, but he’ll take all of your cash and drop you off there at the end of his round anyway. So you empty your wallet into a fanny pack he has hanging off a bar at the front of the bus and hope he can actually manage find the elusive hotel at Terminal 4.

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So you ride the Hotel Hoppa bus to every other hotel in this city-within-a-city-airport and curse your decision to choose a “convenient” hotel. Eventually, just after midnight, you arrive at the hotel. Thankfully the children have already fallen asleep in the stroller so you just wheel them up to the room and dump them into bed. No screaming, thrashing, arguing bedtime tonight, thankyouverymuch.

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You hardly sleep because the hotel room is too small to set up a crib, so your squirmy toddler has to share a bed with you. He likes to lay across you and pull your hair in his sleep. Oh well, at least somebody’s sleeping. You’re actually thankful when the alarm goes off at 6:00 because you know you can get up and take a hot shower, and hopefully that will wake you up enough to make it through the next 12 hours of travel.

So, you see, the first part of our journey was the “downs” of the “ups and downs”. But every down must have an up…right? From here on out it was up, up, up–all the way up to the magical world of Business Class travel.

Now, we are normal people. Coach-Class people. People who have only ever wondered and dreamed about what it would be like to be Business-Class people. And, for the first and probably last time in our lives, we found out. Our Business-Class experience began with a visit to the exclusive British Airways lounge where we feasted on freshly-baked pastries and fruit and lattes and whatever else we fancied:

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After our tummies were full we got some wiggles out in the play room before it was time to jet out (no pun intended).

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This day was also Jacob’s 2nd birthday. We told him he was a very lucky boy to travel around the world on his birthday because he would have the longest birthday ever (32 hours, to be exact). Jacob posed for a quick birthday photo before we boarded our plane:

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Jacob loves Things That Go, so his big birthday gift this year was a trip on the Big Plane. He was pretty stoked:

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When we found our fancy-pants Business Class seats they greeted us adults with champagne and our tiny travelers with orange juice. They were already speaking my Love Langauge:

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After I got the boys situated in their seats I reviewed the 4-page guide that explained all of the wonderful things about flying in Business Class. Wonderful things like a gourmet menu (I chose the Caprese salad, steak, and chocolate mousse) and a fine wine list. Wonderful things like a gift bag full of spa essentials to keep you refreshed and fuzzy socks to keep your toesies warm. Wonderful things like outlets at your seat so your iPhone battery stays fully charged throughout the flight. First among the Wonderful Things, however, is the fact that the seats lie down completely flat to make full-length beds. And there are dividers you can raise so you don’t even see your children. And you can put on a movie for your kids while they’re lying in their comfy beds eating the free jelly beans and candy bars and whatever else they fancy and they’ll fall asleep. For 5 hours. Ahhhhhhh….

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So, yeah, Business Class is amazing. And I’m glad that I got to do it at least once in my life so that now every time I pass those seats on my way back to Coach I’ll know exactly what I’m missing.

Before we knew it, the flight was over and we were touching down in Seattle. After we got through passport control and customs (an hour-long ordeal) we finally made it to baggage claim where we were greeted by our much-missed family. Many hugs and kisses and high-fives were exchanged.

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We managed to collect all but one of our bags–the missing one, David’s suitcase, was mistakenly claimed by some unsuspecting passenger. I’m sure she was quite surprised to get home, open up the bag, and find nothing but 3-year old boy clothes and a wet towel that I had shoved in at the last minute when we were rushing out the door. When she realized her swap, she returned the bag to the airport and they promptly drove it down to us. David didn’t really mind, though, because he was too busy playing with squirt guns in his undies to notice some missing clothes:

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We all slept well that first night and our jet lag was nearly non-existent (thanks to our super-comfy flight over).  The next day, Sunday, we had a family celebration at my parents’ house for Jacob’s birthday. And, this being our first full day back in America, we ‘merica’d it up with burgers and corn on the cob and watermelon and Goldfish crackers and Funfetti cupcakes and all kinds of wonderful American goodies.

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Jacob (and by Jacob, I mean David) had fun opening his birthday presents:

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It was an all-around wonderful day with friends and family and food and fun.

 

The next day, Monday, we drove up to Everett to take care of some business at our house. While we were there we met with the U.S. moving company that will be moving our THIRD shipment of STUFF to California (how do we have so much stuff?!?!). In addition to our business, we also had some time for a bit of fun. And, as you can tell by our faces, it was a LOT of fun:IMG_7954Yep, that’s right: Costco. Oh, how I’ve missed the gallon-sized jars of peanut butter and the adorable children’s pajamas and the num-num-nummy jalapeno-artichoke dip. Seriously, I missed Costco more than just about any other U.S. location. And now that we have visited Costco, it’s official: we’re back. Back in the land of the big and the plentiful and the unusual. Back in America.

It will take some time to get settled in again (especially since we still have months to go before we can finally settle into a house in California), but I can say one thing for certain: it is so very good to be back.

 

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Farewell, Ireland

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May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!
-Irish Blessing

Today marks the end of a passing season in my life–a season that, short as it was, has affected me profoundly. Today is our last day in Ireland. I have known that this day would come, yet it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. I get teary-eyed every time I think about leaving this place–this home–so you’re going to have to bear with me here. This year in Ireland has been one of the most incredible years of my life, and I am sad to see it come to an end. I am excited for our future, don’t get me wrong, but this past year has touched me in so many ways. Today is the last page of an incredible chapter in our lives, and I am going to miss it–all of it–deeply.

I will miss this place–the endless rolling green countryside and the cliff-rimmed beaches. The timeworn stone walls, thick and overgrown, that line every street and farm and field. The maze of sheep paddocks that wind through the hills. The wide rivers that carve paths through the land. The unique landscape and rugged beauty that is Ireland.

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I will miss the culture. The people who don’t even know you but will still greet you with a smile and invite you in for a cuppa tea. The peoples’ fierce pride in place–that their city, their rugby team, their way of doing things is the best–no, the only–way to do things. The rich history and traditions. The ancient tombs and cathedrals and medieval cities and castles. I will really miss the castles.

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I will miss the pace of life. The lazy afternoons driving through the countryside and stopping in the middle of the road for sheep or cows or tractors to cross. The people who actually encourage us to take time off work so we can take more vacations. The laid back attitude toward everything and everyone (although, I am definitely looking forward to reuniting with my long-lost friend, punctuality). IMG_4688 I will miss the food. And by food, I mean scones. And milk straight from the cow. And beef and Guinness stew on a rainy afternoon. And a Full Irish that’s so full you can’t even think about eating again for another week.

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I will even miss the manic weather. The storms that sneak up on you, pour out their fury, then move on again before you can even open an umbrella. The light-as-a-feather mist that rolls in off the ocean in the morning. The days of endless rainbows. The sun that surprises you with its sweet presence.

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But most of all, I am going to miss our friends.

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Our friends who welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home in a place we had never even been to before. I am going to miss these friends, who have really been more like family. Living so far away from the people and the places and the way of life that you know is difficult. But having our new friends by our side to walk through life with us has made all the difference. They have helped us, taught us, loved us. They have shared in our joys and our sorrows this year–both of which we’ve had many. They have been the physical presence of people we love when all of the people we love live so far away. To all of our friends in Ireland who have been a part of our family this year, thank you! Your friendship really has meant the world to us, and we will miss you so, so much.

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When we leave Ireland tonight we will be leaving more than a place. We will be leaving a home and a family, and that’s a lot to leave behind. A piece of my heart will always remain in Ireland, so I know that I will be back again some day to find it. This is not goodbye, then. No, goodbye is too final, too permanent. So, instead I will just say farewell.

Farewell, Ireland.

Until we meet again, may love and laughter light all of your days.

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Packing For A Desert Island

 

Most-Beautiful-Place-in-the-world-300x225Well, folks, it’s happening. I’m officially losing my mind. We are currently moving full speed ahead for The Big Move next week–that is, our second international move in 12 months…with two young children…and a dog…and more stuff than a family of four should legally be allowed to own. It’s no wonder, then, that packing all that STUFF has been at the forefront of my mind.

546289_364188803628554_1444868041_nLast week I was contacted by Man Crates, an awesome new company that creates unique gift crates for men (I actually can’t stop drooling over their bacon crate–do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had proper bacon?). Man Crates had a challenge for me: If I could pack my own desert island survival kit, what would I bring? So, with all of my packing know-how and current expertise in stuff I decided to take them on. Here are the 5 items I would chose to save if (God forbid) the cargo ship carrying all of our worldly belongings sinks in the Atlantic and I happen to end up on an island with my lone surviving things:

1. Sunglasses
Let’s get one thing straight here. If I’m going to be stranded on an island, it’s going to be a sun-drenched tropical island. You know, one of those lush beauties with pristine white sand and crystal clear water straight out of The Beach. And for this, I must have my sunglasses.

2. Cake
Cake is the one essential food group that I can not, will not live without. The world is a better place because of cake. Yummmmmm….cake.

3. iPhone
How did we ever live before iPhones? I mean, really. This little device that costs a small fortune, fits in my pocket, and allows me to wast countless hours of my life. I would bring my iPhone to the desert island so I could post photos to Instagram of the  beautiful sunsets on our beach and update Facebook with the details of our new island life. I would play Candy Crush with the waves lapping at my feet and maybe even download an app to help me find fresh drinking water on the island. If I got desperate enough I could text someone to come rescue us…but not until the cake runs out.

4. My Favorite Babysitter
HoohoI know that this is a bit unorthodox as a “thing”, but every parent knows that a good babysitter is indispensable. I debated whether or not I should leave the kids at home for this little escape to the desert island, but the truth is I kinda like them and I think this would be a great hands-on learning experience for them. You know, something they’ll look back on when they’re teenagers and say, “Wow, thanks for exposing me to the wonders of the world, Mom.” So, the kids are coming–but I’m bringing help. The babysitter will play with the kids while I nap under a palm tree, and then she’ll forage for fresh fruit and berries while our family goes on a nature hike. The best of both worlds, folks.

5. Running Shoes
I love to run. No, really, I do. Running allows me to explore new places, gain some energy, and de-stress. It also helps me burn off all the cake-calories. I’ll just make sure I install a reliable GPS app on my desert island iPhone before I leave for a run–wouldn’t want to get stranded or anything.

So, there you have it: five items that are essential to my existence. And, to be honest, this whole “stranded on a desert island” thing actually sounds pretty nice right now. I think I’m going to call the movers and just tell them Nah, I’ve got this. My iPhone and running shoes fit in my purse, so forget all the dishes and duvets and boxes of winter clothing. I’m moving to a desert island where I can lay in the sun all day eating cake.

Now I turn the question to you: What would be in your desert island survival kit?

Moving Update: 10 Days and Counting

The countdown to moving day has officially begun: 10 days until we say farewell to Ireland.  That’s it. Ten more days to sort and organize and pack and plan and play. We’ve been living in the middle of a whirlwind here, but I thought I’d take a moment to come up for air and fill you in on our latest updates.

Last night we (finally) booked our flight back to the States. We’ll be flying into Seattle before heading down to California so we can spend a few weeks visiting friends and family. We’ll also spend some time in Washington meeting with the movers who will handle our U.S. shipment and organizing our belongings there (the majority of our household goods and furniture are still packed into our garage in Everett).

Since we want to maximize our time in Seattle before Jon starts his new job, we decided to book a flight for the evening of Jon’s last day of work here in Ireland (June 25th). We’ll actually have to spend the night in London that night so we can catch a morning flight to Seattle the next day (which also happens to be Jacob’s 2nd birthday, lucky little duck!). I can already tell that our travel home will be an adventure in and of itself–but who would we be if we didn’t keep things a bit interesting?

Today was another momentous date in our moving timeline. Our dog, Bota, blazed the trail home for us and left for her flight to Seattle. The boys were great helpers getting Bota’s travel kennel clean and testing it out for comfort and durability.

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We are so thankful to Apple who is not only moving us and our stuff all over the world, but also moving our precious dog. A handler came to our house this morning to pick up Bota and drive her to Dublin for her first flight. We said our goodbyes (tearful as they were) and off they went.

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Bota will spend the night in Frankfurt tonight, and then catch another flight to Seattle tomorrow morning. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll be running around in my parents’ backyard by dinner time tomorrow.

After the boys go to bed each night Jon and I have been spending time returning phone calls to our moving coordinators in the U.S., filling out customs paperwork, reviewing rental agreements for our short-term corporate housing, completing tax documents, scheduling flights and submitting expense reports. It’s a lot to sort through, but Apple has been amazing and we are so grateful to have their help every step along the way!

In the midst of all of our crazy, we’ve also squeezed in some last-minute fun this week.

After countless visits this year, we went for our final trip to Fota Wildlife Park:IMG_6895

And, even though we’ve been to Fota dozens of times, the animals just seem to get cuter and cuter every time we go:
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I attended a baby shower for my dear friend, Rachel:IMG_6987

We went for a family walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon:IMG_7012

I am happy to report that I have now completed my Ireland” Bucket List”. I crossed the last must-do-in-Ireland item this week when we visited our friend’s Irish dairy farm and got to drink fresh milk straight from the cows:IMG_7092

We even took the little cross-river ferry to Cobh where we helped send off an Australian cruise ship from the same port where Titanic last docked:IMG_7187

 

I still can’t believe that we only have 10 days left in Ireland, but we’re going to make the most of the time we still have. Here’s to the best (last) 10 days ever!

The Best Of Ireland Awards

Yesterday marked one year since we arrived in Ireland. ONE YEAR! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone…and yet, at the same time, it feels like we have lived here forever. We have been to more places, seen more things, met more people, tried more food and experienced more in this year than at any other time in our lives.

People often ask me what the best part of Ireland is and, the answer is, there are many “bests”. There is no way I could possibly limit my favorites down to one thing. So I won’t even try. What I will do, however, is offer you a compilation of the best things we’ve actually experienced here in Ireland. I now present to you:

The Best of Ireland Awards (According to me, of course!)

Best Natural Site: The Cliffs of Moher
IMG_2049I can’t think of anything more spectacular than moss-covered cliffs that plunge 400 feet into the ocean. They’re seriously amazing.

Best Museum: Titanic Belfast
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OK, so for starters, the museum is in the actual shipping yard where Titanic was built and the front of the building is a scale replica of the size of the great ship’s hull. The exhibits are fascinating, there is an amusement park-style ride that takes you through the ship building process, and the cafe serves scones on White Star Line china. What’s not to love?

Best Monument/Historical Site: Newgrange
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Probably the oldest building you’ll ever see (it’s 5,000 years old, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids). Just don’t take your kids with you or you might get kicked out for unruly behavior.

Best Holiday Celebrate In Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day

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If you thought the St.Patrick’s Day parade in your town was fun, then wait until you see how Ireland celebrates! St. Patrick’s Day is definitely the most festive holiday we’ve been a part of here.

Best Time To Visit Ireland: Easter Week
IMG_2496The flowers are blooming, the sun is starting to find its way out of winter hibernation, and the towns are starting to come back to life. Easter falls right at the beginning of the official Irish tourist season, so shops and museums that have been closed for the winter will again welcome you in–plus the crowds won’t arrive for another month or two. There are lots of special activities and festivals throughout the country during Holy Week, making this the perfect time to visit.

Best Castle to Explore: King John’s Castle, Limerick

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I’m a self-professed castle-holic, as you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time. We have seen a LOT of castles here in Ireland. It’s hard to chose just one favorite castle, but I’m going to have to give this award out to King John’s for their fabulous renovations and hands-on exhibits. I mean, where else will you get to dress up like a knight in shining armor…in a REAL medieval castle?!

Best Irish Food: Scones
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I’m obsessed with scones, so this is no surprise. They’re just the best thing ever. Period.

Best Irish Drink: Barry’s Tea
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Barry’s Tea will forever be that taste that reminds me of Ireland. On my last trip to the grocery store I bought a giant box of Barry’s Tea with enough tea to last me through the apocalypse (or at least until the next time I make it back to Ireland).

Best Place Off The Beaten Path: Ballycotton Cliff Walk
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This cliffside walk is one of the most beautiful, most peaceful places I’ve ever been. The views are incredible, and every corner you turn takes a bit more of  your breath away. Truly spectacular. Also, for the first time in nearly 180 years, this year they are allowing the public to tour Ballycotton Island and lighthouse (via a guided boat ride and tour). I can only imagine how stunning the views must be looking back at the cliffs from the picturesque island.

Best Chipper: K.C. & Son & Sons, Douglas (Cork)
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There’s a reason why hundreds of people queue up outside K.C.’s each night: it’s dang good food. K.C.’s has the right mix of juicy, greasy, succulent-ness that you expect from a good burger or pile of fish and chips.

Best Farmer’s Market: Mahon Point (Cork)
IMG_1486This weekly farmer’s market is one of the best-run public markets I’ve ever been to. All of the food is fresh and local, sold by the farmers who produce it–and everything is incredible. Fresh cheese, home-baked bread, crisp veggies, straight-from-the-farm meats and fresh-from-the-sea fish–anything you could ever want for your weekly shopping. Plus they have woodfired pizzas and what I lovingly refer to as “crack curry” because it’s just so addictive.  Nom nom nom…

Best Scenic Drive: The Ring of Kerry
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Seeing as The Ring of Kerry is on every tourist’s agenda,  this choice is a bit cliché. But it really is incredible, and every tourist to Ireland should see it at least once. Driving The Ring takes you through mountains and valleys, past lakes and waterfalls, and along sweeping ocean cliffs. There are countless hikes that you can take just off the main road if you want to explore a bit more of the beauty, or you can just stay in your car and take it all in.

Most Unique Irish Experience: Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

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This was one of our family’s favorite experiences–my kids still talk about our dinner in the castle and ask when we can go back ther. Picture this: you arrive at a medieval castle and are greeted by people dressed in medieval costumes. These people then serve you bottomless wine, feed you a meal fit for a king, and serenade you with music. Did I mention you’re in a REAL castle?! Did I mention there was wine?!

Best Bike and Foot Trail System: Cork Bay Railway Walk

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This is a rails-to-trails system that follows the bay from Cork city out to a town called Passage West. There is an entrance to the trail right down the hill from our house, so we have spent many, many hours exploring these waterfront miles. The trail even goes directly to Jon’s office, allowing him to walk home from work on a peaceful trail when he wants a break from the usual commute. One section of the trail also leads to Blackrock Castle and cafe, the perfect place to stop in for some lunch or tea while you’re out exploring

Best Stone to Kiss: The Blarney Stone

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Some say that the Blarney Stone will give you the “gift of gab”. I think it may just give you canker sores and a strained neck, but it’s still worth giving a little smooch.

Best Big City to Explore: Dublin
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Everyone from Cork has just stopped reading this blog as I have pronounced heresy. Sorry, Rebels, but Dublin IS bigger and it’s my pick for city explorations. Take your pick of museums, cathedrals, pubs and parks–as well as trendy restaurants and upscale shopping. If you’re looking for a big city in Ireland, this is it!

Best Festival: Youghal Medieval Festival
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A medieval festival in an actual walled medieval city. Need I say more?

Best Island: The Great Blasket Islands
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This was one of my favorite day trips that we took in Ireland. A somewhat crazy boat ride takes you out to an ancient island that was finally abandoned half a century ago. We spent our day on the island exploring ruins, climbing grassy hills, and frolicking on sandy beaches with hundreds of basking seals. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

I could go on and on about all of my favorite things in Ireland, but I’ll show a wee bit of restraint and stop myself there. Ireland is an amazing place–an amazing place that I have been fortunate enough to experience for one whole year.  You will always be near and dear to my heart, Ireland!

 

 

 

 

Castledaly Manor Retreat

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Now that the clock is officially ticking down our last days in Ireland, I’m starting to feel the pressure: the pressure to organize and pack and make appointments and settle accounts and say goodbyes. It’s crunch time, yet I’m still in a bit of denial about the whole “I only have 3 weeks left in Ireland” thing. It was wonderful, then, to escape last weekend for some much-needed respite. Our church was taking a retreat in Castledaly, a “town” (there are only a couple of houses and a shop, so I don’t know exactly what to call it) near Athlone right in the middle of Ireland. Since Jon is still in Korea I was a bit nervous to go alone with the boys–but then I heard that there would be babysitters available. That was all the convincing I needed, so we loaded up the car for our last Irish weekend getaway.

We left Cork early Friday morning so we could spend the day in Dublin before meeting up with our friends in Castledaly. Friday happened to be the 4th of July, American Independence Day. Not surprisingly, in Ireland there are no community parades or firework shows on July 4th. And, even though we were the only ones celebrating here, we still dressed in our red, white and blue with pride.

I decided that we needed to do something special to celebrate the 4th of July. Something American.  And there is nothing more American (nay, anything more Seattle) than good ‘ol Starbucks. So, on our way out of town we stopped by the only Starbucks in southern Ireland for some hot chocolates.
IMG_6634With our tummies happy, we were ready for the road. We arrived in Dublin at about lunch time, so we stopped by Avoca on our way into town. Avoca is a foodie paradise, a bit like a gourmet cookery shop meets country farm shop. The store downstairs sells everything from kitchen gadgets to specialty foods to handmade charcuterie from their on-site butcher. Upstairs there are two cafes that offer all sorts of mouthwatering nummy-ness. We all enjoyed a tasty lunch–that is, after tripping people with my stroller on three separate occasions, having David nearly lock himself in a bathroom, spilling a tray of food and breaking a glass bottle of lemonade, and calming Jacob down from a minor meltdown over a dropped M&M. I’m pretty sure they won’t be inviting us back to Avoca any time soon, so I’m glad I got to enjoy at least one meal there.

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The whole drive up to Dublin I’d been holding out hope that the incessant rain would let up a bit so we could spend the afternoon at the Dublin Zoo. Unfortunately the weather had other plans, so I had to change mine. I have made a pact with myself that, whenever I have the kids with me, I must choose the easier option. Not the thing I want to do, but the easier thing. In this particular case, dragging two already-tried boys through the zoo in a rain storm was not the easy option. Thankfully, I had a Plan B: the Dublin Imaginosity Children’s Museum.

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Thankfully, the children’s museum was wonderful and the boys loved every minute of it. We spent several hours playing in the an post (post office), the supermarket, the restaurant, the bakery, the doctor’s office, the construction zone, the T.V. station, and the costume stage. We also played with toy trains and climbed a 3-story tall rocket ship jungle gym. The rain even stopped for a good 15 minutes so we could check out the rooftop garden:

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After our fun afternoon at the children’s museum it was time to continue our drive out to Castledaly, about an hour west of Dublin. Our final destination was Castledaly Manor, a gorgeous 18th century manor house.

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Up until a few years ago, the house was being used as a posh hotel. Now the house is owned by Bible Centered Ministries, an international Christian ministry that focuses on reaching out to children and developing churches. They also host camps and church groups at Castledaly Manor, which is how we came to stay there.

Now, I’ve been to my fair share of church camps and retreats–and most of them involve sleeping on a worn out mattress in your sleeping bag  and eating reheated food from a can. Castledaly Manor could not be further from that church camp stereotype. The “house” (what do you call a mansion with 25 bedrooms?) is set in an idyllic country setting. The absolute peacefulness of the area is what struck me first. The kids, on the other hand, were taken with the slides that were built into the hills…IMG_6712

…and the tire swings hanging from centuries-old trees

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…and the swings in the gardens
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…and the fields to play frisbee inIMG_6777

…and the secret gardens to discoverIMG_6804

…and the pitches for playing soccerIMG_6805

…and the ponds for throwing rocks.IMG_6858

The house itself was incredible. It was built in 1780, which makes it the same age as the United States of America (ironic, since we arrived here on the 4th of July!). The interior was luxurious with marble fireplaces, grand staircases and picturesque window seats. They were even kind enough to include four-poster beds for the children to jump on.

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There was a huge industrial kitchen where we prepared our meals (and by we, I mean the few brave souls who are, in my mind, miracle workers). Keeping with the “living like kings” theme of the weekend, we dined like royalty. Every meal was incredible and everything was homemade (including the best salsa I’ve had in Ireland. Hands down.).

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Our food was served in the grand dining room (Jacob is the only one in this photo because we were the only ones up at 6 AM eating our breakfast. Sigh…).IMG_6744

There were also beautiful sitting rooms where we could relax and hang out together:

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Perhaps my favorite part of the house, however, was this huge window at the landing of the grand staircase. All I could think about every time I saw it was, “how much would it cost to replace this thing if my kids throw a ball through it?”.

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Every morning and evening we gathered for prayer, worship and teaching. This weekend our theme was “Jesus is greater” and we went through Matthew 12 where Jesus declares himself to be greater than three things (the temple, Jonah, and King Solomon, if you want the Cliff’s Notes version of the teaching). It was a rich time of teaching, learning and reflecting.

While we grown ups were busy doing our grown-uppy things, the kids went off to “kids camp” in another part of the house.  An amazing group from a church in Dublin came over just to watch our kids and help us out for the weekend. The kids had a wonderful time playing games, reading Bible stories and making crafts with their new friends from Dublin. They even took our kids outside to play in the afternoon so we parents could have a little time to ourselves. It was pretty much the best thing a parent could ever wish for.

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At night time we put the kids to bed and then had a little more fun (shhh, don’t tell the kids that we actually have fun after they go to bed or they may never go to bed again). On Saturday we had a table quiz night. Each round had trivia questions or activities we had to complete in a set amount of time–and it all ended with some rousing renditions of popular songs being performed with–ahem–gusto. We were having so much fun that I didn’t even mind being up past midnight (well, at least I didn’t mind until 6:00 the next morning when Jacob decided it was a good time to start our day).

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After three days of playing, resting, learning, eating, visiting, exploring and enjoying it was time to say goodbye to Castledaly Manor. I would have been happy staying there for a few more weeks, but it was time to head back to reality.

Since the manor is out in the middle of nearly-nowhere, there was no cell phone or internet connection available outside of one room in the house that had a wifi hot spot. So, I went into the wifi room and set my GPS for “home”, and we started driving. I got about half an hour away from the manor when my GPS decided it was tired of trying to think without direct access to a satellite, and the screen went blank. I had no idea where I was, and all I could see were cows and grass and bushes and the empty little one-lane road I was driving on.

I had paper maps in my car that had never been opened because I rely on technology too much and don’t really know how to properly read a map. So, I opened the map and realized that “middle of nearly-nowhere” was not on it. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to find my way all the way back to the manor through the windy country roads, so I just decided to keep driving. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew it was somewhere (or, at least, would eventually be somewhere). I finally got to an intersection that had a road sign (Good! There are places somewhere!). One of the towns listed on the sign was not on my map, but the other one was. I decided to drive toward “place on my map”–and it worked!

As soon as I got to the “place” my GPS made contact with her satellite again and we were back in business. I would have loved to stay and explore the town we were in, called Birr, as there was a HUGE castle and a quaint town center. I couldn’t convince the boys to get out of the car, though, so we kept driving (with my SatNav happily refreshed!):

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The next town we came to was called Roscrea and, again, there was a huge castle and all sorts of fascinating ruins to explore. The boys still wanted to sit and smash Cheerio’s into their car seats, so I just parked the car outside an old church and snapped a few quick photos. I love the juxtaposition of this scene: a 1,000 year old round tower and church facade with a Tesco grocery store in the background. It’s just so…Ireland.

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Shortly after leaving Roscrea we connected with the motorway and we made it back home in time for dinner.We had a great time at our little retreat, and I’m so glad we decided to go. This weekend was just what I needed right now–a last reminder of the people and places that make Ireland so special.

We’re Moving To California!?!

Yep, that’s right, we’re moving to California–and we’re just as shocked and surprised as you are. What was supposed to be a two-year stint in Ireland will be cut off right after the one-year mark. So, how did all of this come about? I’m glad you asked.

A few months ago Jon was contacted by a recruiter from Apple Computer. He wasn’t actually looking for a new job at the time, but he was willing to talk to the guy and hear him out. He had some interesting job opportunities available in Jon’s field, so the conversations continued. In fact, the conversations continued for several months and they finally convinced Jon to fly out for a face-to-face interview (which, by the way, is not easy to coordinate when you live half-way around the world and your current employer doesn’t know you’re interviewing for another job so you can’t ask for time off work so you have to fly all the way to California on a Friday, but your connecting flight out of London happens to be cancelled, then they have to re-route you to Boston, you spend the night in an airport, you arrive in San Francisco after your interview is scheduled to begin, you make it to the interview and spend 12 hours being grilled on technical questions even though you haven’t slept in 3 days, then you fly back to Ireland the next day and have be at work again on Monday morning).

After all this, Apple issued a hiring freeze for the team Jon had interviewed with…and nothing happened. No job offer, no more interviews, no more anything. So, we decided to move on.

At this point we had kind of set our hearts on moving back to the States, so we started working with Jon’s current company to coordinate our move back to Seattle. They were very understanding and helped get the ball rolling for the Big Move. We even had movers scheduled to come out to our house in Ireland a couple of weeks ago (June 26th) so we could have our first official moving assessment completed. Then, three days before the movers were supposed to show up, we got a phone call.

Apple was back, and this time they had a job offer. The hiring freeze was over, and Jon was the first person they called. They wanted to hire him. The job would be an incredible opportunity–both for Jon in his career and for our family–so we decided to go for it.  And that is how–literally overnight–we went from living in Ireland and potentially moving back to Seattle to being ready to move to California.

Our move will be happening the last week of July, so we still have a few more weeks to enjoy the Irish summer. This has been an unexpected week in what I’m sure will turn in to a very unexpected year for us. There are so many details of this turn of events that are evidence of God’s hand in our lives. Many, many prayers have been answered and we are truly grateful and humbled by the whole thing.

And even though we are thrilled, we are also a bit nervous and a bit sad. Nervous for having to uproot our family and start over in a new place yet again. Sad to be leaving Ireland after one short year. Even though our time here has been brief, we have cultivated new friendships and have started to grow our roots–shallow as they may be– in the community. Leaving now feels premature, and I know that I will be leaving a piece of my heart here in Ireland. There are so many things and so many people that we will miss dearly when we move. And yet, it is time.

On the other hand, we are also looking forward to continuing another adventure that we had left behind. It has been almost exactly 4 years to the day since we left our tiny apartment in Palo Alto and moved back up to Washington. Even though it hasn’t been that long, that season of our life seems like it was a whole lifetime ago. Since then we’ve had two babies, Jon and I have both had career changes (he went from grad student to worker, and I went from worker to Mommy), and we’ve moved to Ireland. It will be so fun to return to the Bay Area, reconnect with old friends…and soak in the California sunshine (I’m thinking we may just campout in someone’s back yard for the first few months so I never have to go inside!).

I will post moving updates here on the blog, so check back if you want to see our progress.  Thanks for all of your support, friends, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for us in this next adventure!