Diary From Ground Zero: A Day In The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Apocalypse

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So, you may have heard of this little thing called the Coronavirus. Like an Instagram darling, Coronavirus is this little-known “virus next door” that made a big stage debut a couple of months ago and now, overnight, it’s famous. And like any good Influencer, Coronavirus is changing the way the world acts and thinks and eats and shops and dresses.

Unfortunately for me, I happen to be living right smack dab in the center of the USA Coronavirus Special. In the past week, our community became the host of not only the first confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, but also the first fatalities. Not exactly the kind of bragging rights you want for your hometown (Who’s doing the PR for this thing, anyway?!).

It’s been a wild ride so far, and I have a feeling things are going to get even crazier before this whole thing packs up and moves on (It will pack up and move on eventually, won’t it?). And just in case you’re so lucky as to not be living in Coronavirus Ground Zero, here’s a little glimpse into what a day in the epicenter is actually like:

2:00 AM 
Startle awake because you hear your child coughing. Lie in bed intently listening to her coughs and try to decipher if they sound “wheezy” or “wet”. Determine that the coughs are most certainly wet, and thank the stars for the first time that something is moist.

5:00 AM 
Wake up early so you can get a head start on the day before your kids are up. Open a fresh tube of Lysol wipes and wipe down every hard surface in your home. And, since she’s constantly touched by your children, wipe down the dog for good measure.

7:00 AM
Your children wake up and come downstairs. After you feed them a hearty breakfast, draw up their morning baths. Just to be safe, replace the water with Purell hand sanitizer. Hey, good clean fun!

8:30 AM
Get shoes and backpacks for school. Wrap the children in Saran Wrap and cover the exposed skin on their faces with N95 masks.

9:00 AM
After dropping off the children at school, drive to the grocery store to stock up for…something. Everyone else is doing it, so this definitely seems like the next right choice.

9:10 AM
Get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into the grocery store parking lot. Listen to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It while your car idles.

9:40 AM
Finally find a parking space after driving in circles, arcs, and even rhombuses through the parking lot. Congratulate yourself because you haven’t practiced this much Geometry since 8th grade math!

9:45 AM
Enter the grocery store and get to work shopping. Well, at least you would get to work shopping if there was anything left to shop for. Go down the bread aisle: empty. Go down the bottled water aisle: empty. Go down the hand sanitizer/disinfectant/soap aisle: empty. Go down the toilet paper aisle: empty (WHY?!?! What is this virus doing to our bowels that I don’t know about?! I blame #fakenews. Or maybe we need all the toilet paper so we can collect toilet paper rolls to do crafts when we’re all locked down in quarantine? Or maybe if I wrap myself up in toilet paper like a mummy the virus will take one look at me and take a hike? Whatever the non-reason, decide that you definitely need more TP in your life.).

10:45 AM
Leave the grocery store empty-handed and defeated…well, mostly defeated (they still had wine).

11:00 AM
Contemplate your options for the afternoon. Do you A) Risk going out into public again and possibly catching/carrying/transferring a disease of mass destruction, or B) Go home and start digging your safety bunker in the backyard. Decide it’s not worth the risk and head home to open that first bottle of wine.

12:30 PM
Get a robo-call from your kids’ school informing you that all day tomorrow the entire school district is shutting down for a staff training on how to “conduct learning outside the four walls of the school building”. Translation: For an extended period of time and with an unknown end-date, I’m going to have my constantly bickering kids darling children home with me wreaking havoc learning under the abundant patience of my love.

1:00 PM
Scan your only reliable news resource (Facebook) for the latest updates on the spread of Coronavirus in your community. Based on the plethora of information, decide that you are most certainly going to die and/or be totally fine.

2:00 PM
Wash your hands for the 2,378th time today. Notice that your skin is red and dry and about to fall off your body in a burning pile of over-scrubbed detritus. Scrub them harder.

3:00 PM
Go to the school to pick up your children. Avoid these moms in the school pick-up area: The Prepper (and her flippant “I told you so!” comments), The Hypochodirac (you’ll know her because she’ll be wearing microporous coveralls and a gas mask), The Hippie (she’ll smell like patchouli and be slinging essential oils and elderberry syrup out of the back of her Subaru), and The Politician (at least she’ll know which political party is responsible for this whole mess).

4:00 PM
Get the kids home from school and unpack their backpacks. Find a pile of used tissue, two half-eaten sandwiches, and a wad of already-chewed gum. Marvel at how no children under the age of 15 have contracted Coronavirus yet.

5:00 PM
Cook dinner. Choose between frozen foods and non-perishables from the pantry since the grocery store was out of literally everything. Decide on freshly breaded chicken cutlets hand-shaped into whimsical shapes (frozen dino nuggets) and organic pasta with a rich, creamy cheese sauce (mac ‘n cheese). Arrange a plate of crudité (carrot sticks) to round out your gourmet Apocalyptic meal.

6:30 PM
For your post-dinner entertainment, have a friendly family competition with “minute to win it” games. Include classics like Who Can Wash Their Hands The Longest and How Do We Unlock Mommy’s Cellphone To Call 911 If You Find Her Unresponsive. The prize is a nice, big squirt of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: everyone wins!!!).

7:30 PM
Put the kids to bed early so you can collect yourself and plan for a previously unscheduled day off of school. Do the calculations and realize that–between holidays and snow days and flood days and teacher grading days and school conferences–your children have actually only gone to school 3.2 days thus far in the school year.

8:00 PM
Pour yourself a glass of wine. After all, alcohol is a disinfectant.

9:00 PM
Update your will on lastminutelawyers.com. Make sure to equally distribute your treasure trove of toilet paper and hand sanitizer among your children.

10:00 PM
Congratulate yourself, because YOU MADE IT! You have survived another day in the Coronavirus Hot Zone without so much as a sniffle. Reward yourself by going to Amazon and ordering yourself a trophy (manufactured in a virus-free factory in China). Scroll past the $200 bottles of hand sanitizer and $500 disposable paper masks before you checkout. Upon checkout, note that your order is estimated to arrive on March 5…2022. Give yourself a mental trophy instead.

10:30 PM
Call it a night…and don’t let the Coronavirus bugs bite!

Whether you live here in Ground Zero or you have your day coming… may the odds be ever in our favor!

 

 

Moving Forward

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Yesterday morning I woke up to the results of one of the most divisive elections this country has every labored through (and, having gone through a combined total of over 80 hours of childbirth labor myself, I can attest that labor is the most accurate term for what we have all just gone through here). Now that the results are in, a winner has been called: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. There are a million and one reasons why I could not vote for him. However, despite my own feelings or convictions or efforts to make my voice heard, the truth remains: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America. And so, we have a choice to make. Are we for him, or are we against him?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 24 hours, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be for him. I must be pro-Trump and move forward with acceptance. Because for me, for us, for them it is the right decision.

I will move forward with acceptance because he will be president.
Living in a democratic nation means that sometimes who or what you choose wins…and sometimes it doesn’t. That is the beauty (and the beast) of the democracy that our nation has fought so hard for. No matter how I feel about any of this, nothing will change the outcome of the election at this point. On January 20th, Donald Trump will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and he will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Trump will be the leader of our nation and the free world. With leadership comes a huge responsibility. Leaders need support and guidance if they are to do their leading well. So, for that reason, I will offer my support.

I will move forward with acceptance because unity is better than division.
There have been a lot of Big Feelings across our country and around the world this week. This election has shown me that people are feeling broken and scared and rejected. And right now? Right now we all need love. And kindness. And hope. We need to come together, not break apart. We need to support one another and hold each other up. We need to walk forward as friends and neighbors and families and fellow citizens.

I will move forward with acceptance because my reaction is teaching my children.
My children are watching my every move and word and attitude. They are learning from me how grown-ups handle the real world, how adults handle tough times. My reaction today will teach my children how to be a good loser. My reaction today will teach my children how to respect authority, even when I disagree. My reaction today will teach my children to put their hope and trust in Jesus, not on the fleeting decisions of this earth. My reaction today will teach my children how to be the kinds of grown-ups I hope they will be some day.

I will move forward with acceptance because I reject bitterness.
When we don’t get what we want, sometimes bitterness can seep into our hearts. We dwell on the past, on what could have been, on what we wish we could have had. But bitterness is like poison. It can utterly ruin a person. Instead, I will choose hope. Because in every situation, there is good to be found. Find the good, and cling to hope. That, my friends, is life-giving.

I will move forward with acceptance because Trump was made in God’s image.
God created Donald Trump. He did! God loves Donald Trump. He does! Jesus commands us to love our neighbor, and that includes our neighbors in the White House. There are no contingencies of “Well, love thy neighbor unless you disagree with them or don’t particularly like them or if you’re just too jealous of their incredible hair…”. No. We are called to love all people, because God loves all people.

I will move forward with acceptance because Trump is not my ultimate authority.
Here’s a shocker: there was not a single candidate on my ballot that held true to every conviction that I hold dear in my heart. There was not a single candidate that met my impossibly high standards for perfection as a leader, because no person could meet those standards. Jesus is my benchmark and, sorry fellas, but y’all fall short.

Regardless of who is running our nation or our local government or my own household, my ultimate authority is God and His Word. The world is a very broken place, filled with and led by very broken people. But God is perfect. He is just. He is all-loving. He is all-powerful. He is sacrificial. He is generous. He redeems that which is broken. He is never-changing. He is everything I could ever want or need from a leader, and He is my ultimate authority. God can use any situation to His glory–He sees the whole story, not just the messy parts in the middle. So no matter what happens in the world, there is hope in the steadfast love and leadership of God.

In the end, I get to make a choice. This choice is bigger than an election, bigger than the outcome of a presidential race. Because this choice is for me. I get to choose how I will live my life, how I will lead my children, how I will move forward with the Truth of Jesus. And that choice? That choice is mine. No swing state or electoral college can take the power out of my choice for how I live my own life. So I will choose to move forward. To move forward in love, unity, humility, and grace.

Because choice is a beautiful thing.

 

A Day Living In Corporate Housing

This whole move has been full of new adventures and “firsts” for our family: our first international flight in business class (ammmmazing…), Jon’s first weeks at his new job, and our first taste of corporate housing.

Now, if you’re like I was a few short weeks ago, you have no idea what corporate housing even is. In short, corporate housing is home purgatory. It’s where newly-hired employees (at least, the ones with excellent relocation packages) go to wait out their time until all of their STUFF transports to the same place they are so they can actually live in their own house.

We lucked out and got placed in a pretty amazing apartment for our corporate housing stint. Most of the people living in our complex are just regular apartment-dwellers, but a few of the units are rented out to people like us. Before we arrived, our “relocation team” (how fancy is that?!) went in and stocked our apartment with furniture and dishes and hotel-esque artwork so it would be ready for us to move in, plop ourselves down, and carry on with life as soon as we deplaned in California.

Buckle your seat belts, friends, because I’m going to take you on a journey that many people never get to experience. Welcome to A Day Living In Corporate Housing:

6:45
 Wake up and make your bed. You feel obligated to make your bed properly every morning because it’s so much prettier than the mussed up pile of blankets you’re used to. There are pillow shams. There’s a decorative throw. There is even a duvet-less down comforter –and it’s still WHITE (well, it was white until your kids smeared Cheeto dust all over it).
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7:00
Sneak out of the apartment before the kids wake up so you can take the dog down three flights of stairs and outside for her morning relief. If you wait until the kids are up, this chore will take at least an hour.

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7:30

Walk into your closet to get dressed. Snarl your nose at the 3 dresses and 2 pairs of shorts that you’ve been wearing ALL SUMMER because your entire wardrobe consists of what you could carry on an airplane.IMG_8782 7:45
Start what is sure to be the first of many loads of laundry today. When your entire family is living out of suitcases, you have to wash the same things many times.IMG_87808:00
Take a breakfast and coffee break. Thank goodness the baristas are cute.

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Build with blocks. You’re getting really good at building blocks, mostly because this is the only toy that fit in your suitcase when you moved.IMG_8828

Take advantage of this quiet-ish moment to call on the house listings you found on Craigslist last night and preschools that you are researching for your 3 year old and banks that need your new address and relocation specialists that need to coordinate the packing and shipping of your worldly possessions that are spread across two continents.

10:00
Pool time! This is the best part about living in an apartment–daily access to FIVE swimming pools! Marvel at how your children are beginning to resemble actual fish.
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Catch a free class at the on-site yoga studio.

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12:00
Come home from your morning adventures. Dry off and get dressed. Throw a major tantrum. Real life still happens, even when you’re living in the corporate housing resort.IMG_8803 12:05
Ponder your options for lunch. Settle on some scrumptious options that were not available in your year living abroad (God bless America?!).IMG_882212:30
After lunch, take a walk around the apartment complex. This will take approximately the rest of the day because the apartment complex is actually the size of a small city. No joke.IMG_8808 1:00
Stop for awhile to watch people working out in one of the exercise facilities. Sometimes it’s more fun to spectate than participate.IMG_88071:30
Rest in the outdoor lounge areas and cozy up to the outdoor fireplace (even though it’s sunny and 75 degrees here. Every day. Yes, it’s OK to be jealous.).IMG_88112:00
Visit the “apartment community” playground. Blow some bubbles for good measure.

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3:00
Catch a free movie at the on-site community theater. Help yourself to popcorn, candy and drinks in the free concessions room.
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Return to your apartment to find your daily doorstop delivery. You now order everything online because you still can’t figure out how to move a carload of groceries from the underground parking garage up to your 3rd floor apartment with two small children in tow.
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5:15
Put all of those delivery boxes to good use: 3-2-1-BLASTOFF!!!IMG_9073

…and if the empty boxes fail to excite, flatten out the packing paper and create the world’s longest mural.
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Make dinner. Since you only have 2 pans and 1 large spoon, opt for a preparation-free dinner. Thankfully your relocation team stocked your fridge and freezer before you arrived with gourmet offerings like frozen lasagna and broccoli that steams in its own bag in the microwave.IMG_8790

5:40
Watch cartoons in the living room while Mom “cooks” dinner.IMG_87796:30
Go for a family walk on the trail near your apartment to work off that scrumptious dinner.IMG_88206:45
Stop in the park at the center of your apartment city and throw some balls for your dog. You never have to bring your own dog toys to the park because there are about a thousand rogue balls hiding in the bushes that line the park.IMG_8931 7:00
Go for a quick spin in Daddy’s sweet rental car. Pick up some ice cream for dessert.IMG_9156 7:30
End the day with a nighttime dip in the hot tub.
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Tuck in your friends and say goodnight. You’ll all sleep really well because you basically sleep in a cave (props to Dad for covering all of the bedroom windows with tinfoil to block out that strange light we aren’t used to…the sun.)

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Our new living arrangement has had its ups and downs, its challenges and its benefits–but, mostly, its been fun. And, like never before we are experiencing the truth in this statement: Home is where your heart is. Home is not a house, or even a place. No, home is where there is love.

And, no matter where life takes us, our family is always home.

In the Middle

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It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything will be just fine, everything will be alright.
-Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

Last month we left our home in Ireland for our next great adventure. This is not, of course, the first time we have left our home. Just over a year ago we left our home in Washington when we moved to Ireland–and now we had to do it again. With both moves we left our friends, our home, our church, our kids’ schools and playgrounds and favorite places. We left it all. And now, three weeks after moving from Ireland, we find ourselves in the middle. In the middle of this wild ride called life.

We decided to spend some time at “home” in Seattle this month before heading down to California. We wanted to spend some time catching up with our friends and family before moving yet again, another great distance away. It’s been a much-needed time of refreshment and joy for our family. We have laughed with our friends and celebrated with our family and it’s been altogether wonderful. As lovely as this time in Washington has been, though, it’s still just the middle. Jon left a week ago to start his new job in California (which he LOVES, by the way!), and I’ll be joining him there next week with the boys. This place is just a stopping-off point, not the end destination. We are living in the middle.

And then there’s the cultural “middle”: the reverse culture shock. In some ways living in Ireland was very similar to life in America, but in other ways the two could not be more different. I was away for a full year, fully immersed in another culture, and coming back “home” has had its confusing moments.

The pace of life is slower in Ireland. There aren’t as many people there. You drive on the other side of the road. When you go for a drive you see farms instead of endless traffic jams. Different types of foods are readily available–and other types of food are not available at all. There are not 5 bajillion Starbucks and Taco Bells and Best Buys and Home Depots and…well, there just are not 5 bajillions of anything in Ireland. The weather is different. The topics of conversation and the words you use are different. Different. So many things that seemed so different when we first moved to Ireland became my new norm…and now that’s all been turned upside down again. To be honest, I feel a bit lost–which is a very strange thing to feel when you are in the place where you should finally be found. I am an ex-expat. I am living in the middle.

But it’s all good. Crazy and confusing as it’s been, I enjoy this ride and I really don’t think I’d have it any other way. Yes, we’re living in the middle–but isn’t the middle just the beginning of the next part? I am excited to see what the next part of this adventure has in store for us. I know that it will have challenges and changes and all of those other things that come with new life experiences–and that’s great. I’m ready for it.

It just takes some time.

Everything will be just fine.

Everything will be alright.

Even better–this is something I learned in Ireland–everything will be grand.

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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.

 

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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Arizona

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My grandfather, “Popop”, passed away on March 22.  Last week I was able to travel out to Phoenix for his memorial service. While the reason for my travel was not the happiest, I was still excited to make the trek–I got to travel alone (reading! movies! sleeping!) and spend a whole week with my extended family recounting our memories of Popop and creating new memories together. This was also an important week of travel because it was the first time I had ever left my family (gasp!). Jon stayed in Ireland with the boys, making this his first time alone with both children for more than a couple of hours. While Jon was at work each day some incredibly amazing friends of ours took care of our kids and helped them have so much fun that they cried each day when they had to leave (true story!). It was, in short, a momentous week for all of us.

After a long day of travel, I arrived in Phoenix on Monday night. I had Thai food for dinner at my Uncle Brad’s house and then fell fast asleep for 12 glorious hours. On Tuesday we drove up to my grandma Sandy’s house in Cave Creek (about 45 minutes north of Phoenix) to help clean her house and set up tables for a BBQ we were having that night when all of the family arrived.

The BBQ was great, just a casual evening where we could all hang out, eat, and have fun together. Here I am with my cousins Natalie and Chrissy, my sister Erin (who had just driven over from L.A.), my nephew Noah (he’s getting SO BIG!), and my cousin Chrissy’s new (at least to me) baby Maverick:

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We all sat around tables outside (oh, how I’ve missed the sun!) and ate our nummy BBQ:

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We had family members travel from all over the country for the memorial. We had representatives from Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, and Louisiana all together to celebrate the life of our beloved Popop. I know that he would have loved seeing all of us together and that he would be proud to know what a special family he was a part of.

One of my favorite family moments came early on Wednesday morning when we were all getting ready to leave for Popop’s memorial service.  Shortly before we moved to Ireland I bought a puzzle necklace for me, my mom and my sisters. We each got a piece of the puzzle–something to remember each other by since we all live so far apart now. It’s been nearly a year since we got our puzzle necklaces and we still hadn’t been able to put all of  the pieces together yet. Finally, we were all in the same place at the same time with our necklaces! At about 6 AM my nephew Noah was running around the house shouting, “The puzzle! The puzzle! You have to put together the puzzle!” And, so, we did:

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We actually had two memorial services on Wednesday morning, one at the national cemetery for our family and then another at my grandparents’ church for family and friends. We started the morning at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek where Popop’s ashes will be buried among other veterans. Popop served in the military when he and grandma Sandy were newlyweds. In fact, my mom was even born on the army base in the territory of Alaska (it wasn’t even a state back in those days!). The service at the National Cemetery was short and sweet. Our family gathered together:

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And Grandma Sandy passed out family heirloom hankies for us to dry our eyes on:

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The service was conducted with full military honors including the folding of a flag:

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And a gun salute:

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After the military service at the National Cemetery, we moved on to Sandy and Popop’s church for a larger memorial service. There was a table set up near the entrance with some “Popop Memorabilia”–shirts from his favorite sports teams, M&M’s (a favorite treat), flowers, and photos:

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The service itself was beautiful. The pastor gave a thoughtful eulogy and then family and friends took turns sharing memories of Popop. My mom and dad both shared so I felt brave enough to get up and say a few words myself. I spoke about the love that Popop had for us, how he led our family in love, and how he left that legacy to each of us. Everyone who meets our family always says that they can tell how much we love each other, and it’s true. We love well because we have been loved well. Popop loved us and it showed, and will continue to show.

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After the memorial service we had a grand lunch buffet at the church that was put on by grandma Sandy’s “Lunch Bunch” friends. Then we all went back to Grandma Sandy’s house to spend the rest of the day together (and eat all of the food–oh my, the food! So much food!). Popop was always fond of Mountain Dew (the soda)–which always struck me as funny because I never knew an adult, let alone a grandpa, who loved Mountain Dew so much. When we got back to Sandy’s house we had a toast to Popop–with Mountain Dew, of course!

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Then it was time for family photos. After all, who knows when the next time will be that we’ll get this whole crazy crowd together! Here is the large group photo including all of Popop’s direct relatives: his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The group was so big that I barely made it into the photo (you can see half of me in the bottom right hand corner of the photo):

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After spending a whole week with my family I have concluded three things:
1. We are loud
2. We are fun
3. We are awesome

Seriously, I have the best family! It had been a long time since I’d seen most of the extended family (and this was the first time that I’d met a few of the more-distant cousins) but after this week I sure hope I get to see a whole lot more of them. Our family is full of wild west cowboys, cattle ranchers, and Physical Therapists–all kinds of crazy under one roof. I love it.

After the memorials we had a few days to spend time together and enjoy the Arizona sunshine. We went for a family hike in the desert:

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Went swimming at Uncle Brad’s pool:

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Went shopping at COSTCO!!!! (O.K., probably only a person who has been deprived of Costco for a whole year would be this excited about Costco but let me tell you…it was every bit as good as I remember it in my daydreams):

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We even had a fun night out at a bull riding show. I, the city slicker, had a great time watching the show. The real cowboys in my family, however, were not as impressed. At least, I don’t think they were impressed…I kept having to ask my cousin to interpret for me so I could understand their lingo:

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On my last day in Arizona we even had a “Feaster” egg hunt (Feaster being fake-Easter–a holiday we celebrated every year when I was growing up during our spring break in Arizona). Noah had no competition this year so he came out a champ!

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And then, just like that, my week in Arizona was over. Back to the airport, back on the plane, back to Ireland I flew. As we flew into Ireland I reflected on the incredible week I’d just had–the memories, the laughter, the tears, the love, the joy of family.

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Before I knew it I was back home again, snuggling my sweet little boys. Yes, the joy of family, indeed.

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Valentine’s Day in Ireland

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This weekend was our second Valentine’s Day in Ireland. Last year we were here over Valentine’s Day while Jon attended a local conference and we did some brief house-hunting for our then-upcoming move. Although last year’s Valentine’s Day with all of Jon’s co-workers at a company dinner was a unique experience, this year’s V-day was much more up my alley–the former-Kindergarten teacher in me came out in full force and we had a full day of crafts, scavenger hunts and baking. And I got a special date alone with my valentine, no third-wheel co-workers there to share the evening. But before I get into the details of our festivities, I have to share a bit about the weather this week.

You see, this week has been the most manic week of weather I’ve ever experienced. Ever. And, since the favorite topic of conversation among Irish people is the weather, I thought it would be appropriate to diverge for a moment here. We’ve had a bit of everything this week. One day, it snowed. Big, huge, beautiful flakes blowing in from every direction all at once. It was magical. Then, two minutes later (literally, two minutes) the snow was gone, the sun burst out and the sky turned blue:
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Another day this week brought ridiculous flooding to the Cork city center. Storm surges converged with high tide and the River Lee overflowed its banks right into the middle of the city. The flooding was so bad that people were kayaking down the main street. And inside the shops. It was madness, really.

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And, yet another day, the wind was so strong that trees were being uprooted and trucks were being blown over on the highway:

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We were at an indoor play area on Wind Day and the front door to the building actually blew right off. It was like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz.

Alrighty, then. Enough of the weather, and on to Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is not nearly the holiday here that it is in America. There are no conversation hearts and no Valentine exchanges at school (in fact, they don’t even sell boxed sets of Valentines at the stores here. Or heart-shaped candies. Really, the only thing Valenine-y I could find was red roses and fur-rimmed handcuffs….hmmm…). The holiday is reserved for lovebirds, but I really prefer the American all-inclusive nature of the holiday. I love celebrating Valentine’s Day with friends and, especially, with my kids.

I decided that I was going to just go ahead and do Valentine’s Day my way, even if I was the only one in the whole country making heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast:

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And, by the way, the heart-shaped pancakes were a roaring success! Perhaps the fact that I smothered the ‘cakes with berries and whipped cream had something to do with the rate at which they were ravenously consumed. But, hey, it’s a holiday, gotta go all-out.

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After breakfast it was on to the scavenger hunt. Before the boys woke up I hid clues all around the house so they would have to find their Valentine treats. David thought this was a brilliant game, and he loved “reading” the clues to his attentive little brother:

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At the end of the scavenger hunt each boy found a little treat bag. And, since I couldn’t find conversation hearts or cupid-shaped chocolates, they got plastic army men and soccer ball lollipops.

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We also opened our Valentines that arrived from overseas. Thanks for all of the cute cards, grandparents and cousins!

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Our next activity on the agenda was a bake-a-thon. I didn’t really mean for it to be a bake-a-thon, it just turns out that having a 3 year old “helping” you in the kitchen turns into an all day affair. No bother, though, we didn’t have anywhere else to be (as evidenced by my son still wearing his pajamas in these photos…at 1 in the afternoon.).

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We made a big batch of chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies–heart-shaped, of course! David was my sous chef extraordinaire and, I have to say, the cookies turned out quite delectable.

While the cookies were baking in the oven I made lunch: soup and heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches (are we starting to see a theme yet?).

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By the time lunch and our bake-a-thon were over I was ready to get OUT of the kitchen. We decided to take a little walk to deliver Valentines to our neighbors and get some wiggles out. These are the Valentines we made for David’s friends in the neighborhood–I think they turned out pretty cute:

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David loved playing post man and putting the cards inside his friends’ mail slots.

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After we delivered our Valentines it was time to go back home and make dinner (back to the kitchen again…). We had a nice steak dinner–the boys, however, decided to go vegan and just eat their broccoli. Oh well, more steak for ME!

And, speaking of dinner, we had one more special treat planned for our Valentine’s weekend. For Christmas Jon and I received a gift certificate to a restaurant in a castle near our house. Valentine’s Day seemed as good an excuse as any to dress up and go out on a special date–in a castle. Oh, how I love the castles…

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So, the day after Valentine’s Day we got a babysitter and went out, just me and my valentine.

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We had a romantic dinner at Blackrock Castle–there was candlelight, red wine, and not a single screaming child. It was sublime.

After dinner we headed over to Carroll’s Bar, a pub that is owned by our friend Olivia and her family. Every weekend they have trad  (traditional Irish music) at the pub and I’ve been wanting to check it out for months now. We were not disappointed. The music was lively and they even had a nice, cold IPA for Jon to try (he’s been missing all non-stout beer since we’ve moved here). It was the perfect ending to a magical (Irish) Valentine’s Day.

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To all of our friends and family, near and far: Happy Valentine’s Day! XxX

10 Things That Are Better In Ireland

One of the first things you notice when you visit a new place is what is different. When we first moved to Ireland, there were a lot of things that took some getting used to and a lot of things that I missed from home. Today, however, marks one year since I first set foot on Irish soil (when we visited for our house-hunting trip)–and I can tell you with certainty that some things are actually better here. As it turns out, there are several areas where Ireland trumps America.  In no particular order:

1. Never-Ending Rainbows
Rarely does a day go by that I do not see beautiful Irish rainbows. Of course, that means that it rains a lot here, but that also means that the sun is sure to follow. I will never get tired of looking out my window to see beautiful colors painted across the sky.

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2. Tea Culture
Tea is to Irish as…I don’t know…life is to Americans? Seriously, these people love their tea!  And for good reason. The tea is good, but even better is the lifestyle that comes with a culture built around tea consumption. You have to slow down to drink tea. You have to take breaks in your day. You have to invite others over to drink tea with you, and you have to accept invitations to drink tea with others. Sometimes you even have to eat cake with your tea. You see, tea is a very, very good thing.

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3. Castles
Ireland: 2,000 (castles, still standing). United States: 0 (castles, ever). Castles are just really cool.

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4. Family Parking
I’m sure that only parents of young children can really appreciate the significance of this, but family parking is incredible. Most shopping centers here have special extra-wide parking spaces located near the store’s entrance that are reserved just for families. They’re really VIP parking spots. And, let’s be honest. I’m a mom. I like to feel special. I like to feel appreciated. Thank you, Irish shopping centers, for giving me that little boost every time I go to park my car.

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5. Occupied Indicators On Bathroom Stalls
I’ve always wondered why this isn’t more common in America. Instead of entering a public restroom and peeking under the door of every stall to see if anyone is inside, you can just look at the indicator on the door. Red? Move along. Green? Step right in.

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6. Eco-Conscious
Europeans are, in general, more eco-conscious than most Americans. In Ireland I have seen people hang their clothes on clotheslines in the middle of winter to avoid wasting energy on dryers. Everyone drives manual diesel cars because they use less gas. They are sticklers for recycling. Alarms start going off if my fridge door is left open for more than 30 seconds.  There is no such thing as a plastic bag in this country–anywhere. Bring your own reusable bag or buy one at the store, those are your only options. And the best part about all of this is that living this way is just, well, how people live–you don’t have to think about it or go out of your way to make these eco-conscious choices because they’ve already been made for you.

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7. Holidays
All working people in Ireland–whether they are the CEO of a major corporation or flipping burgers at McDonalds for minimum wage–are entitled to at least three weeks of vacation time per year. And everyone takes their vacation time. All of it. Conversations revolve around where you will be going for your holidays this year, not if  you will get any time off. Holidays here are not a privilege, they are a right. And for someone like me who is always dreaming of the next vacation, I think this is a pretty good way to look at things.  

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8. Milk. Cheese. Butter. Cream. Dairy, dairy, dairy!
I have never tasted anything quite so delicious as fresh Irish dairy products. The milk is creamier, the cheese is richer, the ice cream is smoother. The butter is so amazing that David literally eats in by the spoonful straight out of the container (at least, until I catch him and remind him that butter is not one of the basic food groups). And I know why. There is a farm behind our house and from my kitchen window I can see the dairy cows that live there. There are only about a dozen cows and all they do all day is wander up and down lush green hills munching on grass and frolicking beneath rainbows. Irish cows are happy, happy cows. That makes for some durn good milk.

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9. Maternal and Baby Benefits
Having a baby in Ireland is a pretty sweet deal. There are no medical costs to the parents for prenatal care, labor, delivery, or recovery. None. Zip. Zilch. After the baby is born, mothers in Ireland are entitled to about 6 months of maternity leave–and the government pays them a stipend each month that they are away from work. There are also government stipends available to new parents to buy essential baby items, a stipend that the government gives you for each child every month (just because), and a stipend to send your child to preschool for FREE. It’s madness, really.

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10. Craic
Craic is the Irish term for having a jolly-good time–and the Irish are experts at it. They know how to relax and just enjoy life. Schedules, deadlines, and duties often take a backseat to friends, beer and good music. I can appreciate that.

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Now, excuse me for a bit. All of this talk about Ireland and I think I need a pint of Guinness. Perhaps with a chaser of butter.

Christmas in Cork

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…CHRISTMAS!!! And, for the first time ever, I get to experience this magical season in another part of the world. In many ways, Christmas in Ireland is very similar to Christmas in America–there are trees and lights and carols and Santa. Some things are a bit different, though.

For starters, the beginning of the actual Christmas season is a bit more ambiguous here. Without Thanksgiving and BLACK FRIDAY (ugh.) to mark the official beginning of all things Christmasey, you start seeing decorations and marketing for the holiday amp up right after Halloween.  Another difference in Ireland is the big guy in the red suit. Santa is everywhere here–even more prevalent than America, which I didn’t expect. But he’s cooler here, too. Instead of just getting a photo and a 2-inch candy cane when you sit on Santa’s lap, he gives all the kids actual presents. Proper presents. Like MagnaDoodles and marble mazes and books and farm sets complete with tractors and all the animals. Man, Santa is already so busy with the Irish kids that I’m not sure he’ll have enough loot for the rest of the world come December 25th.

Differences aside, Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are in the world. It is a special time of year full of tradition and festivities. Here are a few highlights from our Christmas season in Cork:

We walked through downtown Cork to see the big wheel and the “German” Christmas market. We ate bratwurst and felt like we were in Leavenworth. It was grand.

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The city was all decked out with lights and wreaths and Christmas trees. David liked the Christmas trees the best because, obviously, they were covered in balls. Lots and lots of little red balls that he tried to rip off every tree we passed. Luckily for us, the city planners anticipated his ornament-swiping attempts and they actually zip-tied all of the decorations to the trees. Cork:1, David:0.

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We  did some holiday baking so Mommy could eat some sweets. I found a kit at the grocery store to bake polar bear cupcakes. They turned out super cute and tasted as good as they looked.

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December has been really pleasant weather-wise with mild, dry days. We’ve had fun getting outside to play with our friends:

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…and even take a trip to the zoo:

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After a failed mid-week attempt to go to a local “Christmas farm” I begged Jon to take us back on the weekend. He’s a good husband, and he obliged. Rumley’s is an “open farm” (a real working farm that they deck out so the public can visit it) and they had lots of animals and fun activities for the kids. They had quite a range of animals for a farm–it was really more like a zoo. They had water buffalo, alpaca, sheep, cows, donkeys, pigs, birds, lemurs, monkeys, mongoose, ostriches and even camels.

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There were go-karts to drive:

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…and golf balls to drive (David’s favorite):

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We rode on a tractor pull:

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…and got to pet some cute cuddly creatures:

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And to wrap up our Christmas in Cork we celebrated with David’s first-ever preschool Christmas pageant. David was the cutest little shepherd I ever have seen (I wonder if real shepherd’s wear dish towels on their heads?). Here’s our little shepherd David with his friend Jack the donkey:

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And here’s the whole class getting ready to perform (there were about 30 preschoolers and about 5,000 parents in the audience):

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And, finally, here’s David with his sweet teacher Miss Aisling:

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We have had such a wonderful time here in Cork celebrating the first part of this Christmas season. Tomorrow, though, we leave Ireland for our big trip home to Seattle for Christmas. We will be spending three (3!) glorious weeks with our loved ones. I can’t wait to go home and see everyone and everything that I’ve been missing but, truth be told, I will also be missing Ireland.  Merry Christmas, Ireland–we’ll see you again soon!