An Ode To Summer

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Well, hello there! It’s been awhile, and I’ve missed you.

I didn’t plan on taking a mostly season-long hiatus from writing, but this thing happened. This thing called summer. Well, not just Summer, but Summer With Children…which is a whole different thing. Summer is sitting at the beach with a good book and working on your tan like it’s a full-time job (or, at the very least, a paid internship). Summer With Children is spending three hours packing for the beach, 1 hour wrangling your children into too-tight swim suits and chemical attack spray (sunscreen), 45 minutes searching for a parking spot at the family-friendly beach that is big enough to host your minivan/SUV/church bus, 1 hour waiting in line at the potty, and 20 minutes being paranoid that one of your children will drown before packing it all up and heading home for nap time.

Day in and day out. For approximately 70 straight days.

There is another reason that I haven’t written in so long, and it’s mostly my own fault. It’s also partly Google’s fault.

This may surprise you, but I’m a big fan of lists, notes, and words in general. I’m also a big fan of keeping my words forever. It was quite a shock, then, when I logged in to my Google account a few weeks ago and noticed a red bar at the top of the screen proclaiming that my Google-Stuff was at 99.9999999% capacity and that I could not write another single word without deleting something.

Now, this was a problem because ALL of my computery stuff is Google-Stuff: Gmail for email, Google Docs for word processing, Google notes for my notes, etc. Besides oggling my friends’ cute photos of babies on Facebook and pinning recipes that I’ll never cook on Pinterest, I basically do everything on the Google platform.

And since I am an everything-or-nothing girl, I deleted everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Old documents from my teaching days: Gone. Grocery lists from pre-babies: Gone. Email folders: Gone. I literally had every email I’d ever sent or received since 2004 (it was quite enlightening, by the way, to re-read classic gems like “RE: How To Reset Your AIM Login” and “Engagement Photo Proofs”). I didn’t actually mean to delete EVERYTHING, but somehow it was just easier than weeding through 80,000+ files to determine what would make the cut. So, somewhat inadvertently, nobody made the cut and we’re starting a new team from scratch.

Unfortunately, among the players getting “cut” was my Google note for blog posts I wanted to write. I actually didn’t mean to delete it, but somehow it was tied to those 80,000+ emails that I didn’t want to weed through. I had kept a running tally of writing ideas ever since I started this blog 5 years ago…but I  managed to delete it during my manic delete-a-thon. Whoops. And, so, now I have to come up with new ideas which is not such a bad thing, but it does require, you know, thinking. Something of which I couldn’t be burdened much with this summer.

You see, I’ve been busy summer-ing lately. I could have written more, but I simply chose not to. Before I even deleted all of my clever ideas from Google Notes, I had made a conscious decision to just step back for a few weeks and let life happen. Cancel the plans and the commitments (and the internal blog deadlines) and just be.

I didn’t make any real plans for this summer: we didn’t go on any big trips, we didn’t sign up for any camps (except for that week-long camp that I signed up my kids up for, and only went to one day of because I’m just that lazy of a summer-mom). In a rather anti-me fashion, we just did each day and each week as it came. As a result we had the space to be spontaneous or lazy or, in most cases, a little bit of both.

Some days we spent time with friends. Some days we didn’t leave the house: we just stayed in our pajamas and played outside and ate Popsicles and Cheetos for lunch. Some days we did chores and errands until my kids and myself held a mutually irate opinion toward one other. Some days we counted a dip in the pool as “bath time”. Some days were cooperative siblings and empty roads and sunshine. Some days were squabbles and traffic jams…and STILL sunshine (Oh my goodness, this Seattle summer was ALL sunshine ThankYouJesus!).

It was exactly the summer I needed. Because after a year of total upheaval and Big Change and unsettling I just needed some time to…be. To experience this new place and who I am here. I needed to open my (new) doors to (new and old) friends. I needed to be neither on nor off a schedule, but be ascheduled–completely without a schedule. I needed to reconnect with my kids before one goes off to first grade (Somebody please explain to me how that happened?) and the other goes off to his last year of preschool (SOB!). I needed some time to see where God would lead me, who He would have me connect with, and do the God-ordained work of keeping three children and one mother alive and mostly sane, 24/7 under one roof.

And the good news, friends, is that it worked! I can say with confidence that this summer has been everything that a summer should be: unburdened, carefree, and invigorating. I am renewed, refreshed, and relishing these last few weeks of the season. I feel settled in who I am and where I am, and I’m ready to roll with the punches that are sure to come when Fall steals the show. I’m ready to embrace the year ahead and resume life as normal, schedules and all. I am going to make it my mission, though, to retain a bit of summer all year long. To hold on to the spontaneity and the ability to step back from my schedule, and just be. To live each day as if it is a long, carefree day of sunshine (I may need to invest in one of those sunshine lights, by the way).

Summer, you beautiful thing, you’ve been good to me…but as with all good things, even you must come to an end. Change is coming once again, but I’m ready. So here’s to new beginnings, and to holding on to the light of summer all year long.

Until next time, Summer!

 

A Week In The Life of An Irish Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canary Islands Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach Day in Youghal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The view wasn’t too shabby, either:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inchydoney Beach

Ireland is currently experiencing the hottest summer they’ve had in 15 years. It’s been near 80 degrees since we got here–definitely warm by Seattle standards, and unheard of by Irish standards. We decided to take advantage of the sunshine today and skip out on our responsibilities (i.e. setting up utilities and looking for a car) so we could go to the beach. Seems reasonable to me.

The lady who owns the house we’re staying in recommended place called Inchydoney Beach. It’s about an hour outside if Cork in the west side of the county on the Atlantic Ocean. Driving up to the beach was breathtaking!

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Seeing as every Irish person went to the beach today, it was quite busy at the beach. We snagged the last empty parking space and walked down to the sand.

After we dropped off our stuff, it was time to play! This was the first time 75% of our family had been in the Atlantic Ocean.

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David had fun playing in the waves.

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Beautiful place, beautiful day, beautiful boys.

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On our way back to Cork we drove through some cute little towns…

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…and almost got run off the road by this tractor:

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Until later, friends!

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My California Adventure

Last week I had an incredible adventure: my first solo-trip with both boys. We flew down to California for a week to visit family and some dear friends. It was both challenging (Just try spending a week sharing a tiny bedroom with a teething 8-month old and a rambunctious 2 year old. I dare you.) and incredibly touching. I got to see two friends with whom I’ve shared some of the biggest milestones in my life (even though we now live in 3 separate states), and I got to spend a whole week with my lovely sister and her family. In the middle of our trip we got word that we will officially be moving half-way around the world to Ireland in the next month or two. It was a beautiful, crazy week. Here are some of the highlights:

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We got to fly on an airplane. Both boys have been on planes before, but this was their first time flying together (and my first time flying alone with both of them). God must have heard my prayers because I was able to get a whole row to myself on both of our flights–even though the plane was supposed to be completely full. It was great to have an extra seat for Jacob so I could bring on his carseat and allow him to snooze a bit. David had fun eating sugary snacks that he doesn’t usually get to have (including a giant ring pop that took him almost an hour to consume), watching videos on my iPhone, throwing stickers at other passengers, and smiling at the cute flight attendant who brought him apple juice. Overall, the flights went really well and I think I could totally do it again.

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We went directly from the airport in Burbank to Ventura so we could meet up with my friends, Tammy and Krista, and their families. We all met a few years ago at our church and coincidentally all had our first sons within a few weeks of each other. Then, two years later, we all had our second sons within a couple of months of each other. Tammy now lives in Fargo, Krista now lives in Central California, and I live in Seattle. This was the first time that we all got to see each other with our youngest babies–it really was a dream come true for me!

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We spent the afternoon in Ventura picnicking, playing on the beach, and catching up.

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Even the babies had fun playing in the sun!

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After our beach time in Ventrua we headed back to my sister Erin’s house to unpack and get settled. That night we got a really special treat: my nephew Noah was having an art show at his preschool and we were invited! Here’s Noah showing us snail art in his classroom–the teacher put drops of food coloring on paper, then put snails on top of the paper. As they slid around the paper, they dragged the food coloring around to make a beautiful picture. I can see practical applications for this technique in Washington using slugs from my garden.

The next day we met up with Tammy and Krista again, this time in Santa Barbara. We went to the Santa Barbara Mission and spent the morning exploring their beautiful gardens.

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David learned not to hug a cactus.

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He also learned that good friends can help you feel better.

After we exhausted the boys’ patience looking at beautiful gardens and fascinating old relics at the mission, we went into town for some lunch and exploring. We ate lunch at Taqueria Super Rica (be sure to check it out if you’re ever in Santa Barbara) and walked around State Street looking at the shops. We also visited the courthouse (the rooftop has a wonderful observation deck) and found a fun park for the kids to burn off some energy in.

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Jacob and Calvin got to play in the swings. They both loved it! David spent about an hour (really) putting wood chips into a life-size plastic shark’s mouth. Then we snapped one last photo of us with our “6-pack” of boys:

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It was a magical two days with dear friends, a time I will treasure forever!

The rest of our week was spent with my sister, Erin, her husband, Toph (OK, his name is really Christopher, but we all call him Toph because my other sister–Erin’s twin–married another Christopher and it just all gets too confusing), and her 3 1/2 year old son Noah.

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David and Noah are buddies, and they got along great all week (despite a few spats over balls that David was, unexpectedly, quite possessive over). Here they are walking to “Bucky Park”, a neighborhood park down the street from Noah’s house.

On Saturday we went to Leo Carillo Beach. It’s a quiet little beach near Malibu with private coves that you can set up your “camp” in, tide pools for exploring, and gentle surf for playing. It’s the same beach where Erin and Toph got married 4 years ago, so it was fun for me to go back there and re-live that beautiful day.

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Jacob had fun playing in the sand and watching the “big boys” run around like wild banshees.

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David and Noah (with a little help from Uncle Toph) built a “big hole”. This hole kept David occupied for two hours. He jumped in the hole, sat in the hole, put balls in the hole, buried his feet in the hole–he really would have stayed there for the rest of his life if I would have let him.

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Unfortunately, Erin had to work on Saturday so she didn’t get to come to the beach with us. But that afternoon she got some snuggle time with her youngest nephew, and I think that helped make up for it a bit.

On Sunday we went to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I’d never been there before but, man, that place is HUGE! We started the morning at the Griffith Park Observatory. If you look very closely at the hill behind me you can see the white “Hollywood” sign in the distance.

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We thought it would be fun to take the boys to the planetarium show at the observatory.

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Don’t let this photo fool you. The planetarium show was NOT fun. The show was great. I would have loved it. But the experience was….well, just look at who we brought with us. Not the crowd who enjoys sitting through long scientific talks in the dark. It was stressful, aggravating and, at times, physically painful. We’ll just leave it at that. Lesson learned: don’t bring 3 kids under the age of 4 to a planetarium show.

After the planetarium experience we decided we needed to go somewhere a bit more low key. We ate a picnic lunch then drove around to the other side of Griffith Park to a place called Transportation Town. It’s set up like a big train yard, complete with train tracks and lots of old trains for the kids to climb around in.

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David and Noah got to “drive” a train (although, David’s favorite part was throwing pebbles into the coal chute: “Goal!”).

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And I just love this picture because it looks like our children are about to get run over by trains. (Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, none of the trains can actually move).

The next day, Monday, was Erin’s day off work. We decided to take the boys to one of my favorite places, the Santa Barbara Zoo. This zoo is great for young kids: it’s easily walk-able, you get really close to the animals, and they have a great play area for the little ones. Plus, the giraffes have a view of the Pacific Ocean. I would love to be a giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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Here we are by the elephants (you can barely see one to the left of David).

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And here are David and Noah “sledding” down an astro-turf hill on sheets of cardboard. It’s  actually a LOT of fun!

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We saw some interesting creatures at the zoo, including this tiny hatchling.

On Tuesday we went to one of my other favorite California attractions, Noah’s farm (really, it’s called Underwood Farms and it’s just about the most amazing place ever. I would perhaps move to California just so I could live next to this farm).

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We got to feed the animals. These are chickens and ROOSTERS!!! (David’s favorite), but they also had pigs, goats, Emu, cows, and horses that you could feed.

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We took a wagon ride out to the fields where we had…

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SNACK TIME! We helped ourselves to the farm’s bounty (I mean, we were U-picking produce to purchase when we exited the farm). There were so many wonderful fruits and veggies ready for the picking: strawberries, oranges, sugar snap peas, carrots, heads of lettuce bigger than David. After we all had our fill, we headed back to the animals for a little while.

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David and Noah got to ride ponies. You may be able to tell by his expression: David was in heaven.

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After a busy day at the farm we drove into town for some nourishment. And, when you’re in California, that means In-N-Out. When we lived in Palo Alto I used to go to In-N-Out about once a week (terrible, I know, but if you’ve ever had it then you know why). David actually ate a whole cheeseburger–I think all that rooster-feeding and pony-riding worked up quite the appetite.

And, just like that, our trip was over. We had an uneventful flight back home and then we all crashed for a 4-hour nap as soon as we got back to our house. Thank you to Erin and Toph for putting up with my crazy lot for a whole week, and thank you, California, for never disappointing.