Castledaly Manor Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and the tire swings hanging from centuries-old trees

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

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…and the pitches for playing soccerIMG_6805

…and the ponds for throwing rocks.IMG_6858

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter in Ireland

Easter was a bit different for us this year, and not just because we are living thousands of miles away from “home” (I’m using that term loosely now because I am discovering more and more each day that “home” is not a single place). No, this year Easter was different for many reasons: we are living in a different country with different holiday traditions and customs, for the first time we have two children who are old enough to participate in all of the festivities, we are attending a different church, our family who we usually celebrate the day with all live  thousands of miles away. Perhaps the most noticeable difference this year, though, was our disruptive travel schedule–I got home from Phoenix the night before Easter, jet-lagged and delirious, and then Jon hopped on a plane at 7:00 the morning after Easter for a business trip to Seattle. Needless to say, Easter was a bit more hectic than we would have liked it to be, but we all still had a great holiday together.

Since Easter is my favorite holiday I couldn’t help myself from doing all of my usual Easter activities–all done a week early since I was traveling the whole week leading up to Easter. We started by dyeing Easter eggs, an American activity that I was determined to bring to Ireland. Despite having to dye brown eggs instead of white ones (because all eggs in Ireland are brown), the eggs turned out pretty. I called them my hippie eggs because they were all so earthy-colored and organic-looking.

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We also got crafty and made fingerprint Easter bunny cards before I left for my trip. Then we delivered the cards to David’s teachers at school, some neighbors, and our state-side family members:

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On Easter morning the boys gifted us with sleep (we weren’t awoken until 7:30…truly an Easter miracle!).Then we went downstairs for breakfast and Easter gifts. I explained to the boys that the gifts they were receiving were a symbol of the perfect gift that Jesus gave us on Easter–dying on the cross for our sins so that when we love and believe in him we can have new life forever with Him! They were both overjoyed to see a basket brimming with exciting little gifts: Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys (which I had ordered off Amazon, had shipped to my parents’ house in Seattle, which they then brought to me in Phoenix, which I carried back on the plane with me to Ireland), golf balls (from the golf course near my grandparents’ house in Phoenix), Toy Story fruit snacks, Dora the Explorer action figures and little race cars (thanks, Nana!), bubbles, and an assortment of recently-imported American candy. To be honest, I don’t know who was more excited about all of the goodies, the boys or their parents!

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After rifling through the gift basket it was time for breakfast. I was quite proud of myself for being such a good planner on this particular occasion–I actually baked homemade cinnamon rolls in Febuary and froze a batch for us to eat on Easter morning. All I had to do was pop the cinnamon rolls out to thaw overnight and heat them up in the morning. Atta girl, Allison.

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After breakfast I got the boys dressed while Daddy hid eggs for our Easter egg hunt (another American tradition, but one that I can’t live without!). Since we had already made and eaten our hard-boiled eggs the week before I left for Phoenix, we just hid plastic eggs in our back yard. David was a pro at finding all of the eggs, even though Daddy tried to fool him by camouflaging the “ball” eggs in their appropriate stations (the soccer balls were in the goal, the basketballs were in the hoop, the baseballs were on the t-ball).

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Jacob had fun finding the eggs, but as soon as he would find one he stopped everything, opened the egg, and shoved the entire contents into his mouth. As a result, he spent most of the egg hunt waddling around like a chipmunk on his way to the nut nest on the last day before winter.

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After all (or, at least, most) of the eggs had been found we went inside so the boys could admire their bounty:

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After all of the morning’s excitement it was time to clean up and go to church. As we were driving to church we were struck by the streams of people pouring into every church and cathedral we passed. In America we were used to seeing more people than usual in church on Easter, but nothing like this! It was almost like a parade of people walking to church on Easter morning. We had a lovely service at our church, Calvary Cork, and snapped a quick family photo before the boys dove into the cake table after the service:

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It was a beautiful morning, so on our way out from church we decided to walk along the River Lee before returning home:

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Jacob had a great time running up and down the sidewalks chasing his big brother:

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We spent the afternoon napping, unpacking (my things), doing laundry, re-packing (Jon’s things), and playing outside in the sunshine. Here’s Jacob, our caddy-in-training, posing with his golf club:

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We ended our day with a perfect Easter dinner: roast lamb, mashed potatoes, asparagus, crescent rolls, and Irish mead for Mommy and Daddy to drink (again, quite proud of myself for pulling this off. Before I left for Phoenix I ordered groceries to be delivered the day before Easter so we would have all of the fixin’s ready upon my arrival):

 

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Despite the craziness of this year, we managed to have a fun and memorable Easter together as a family. And, I have to say, it was so good to be home–home with my family, home with my loves, home in the home that isn’t even a place. From my family to yours, happy Easter!

God’s Faithfulness in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God is faithful.

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Medieval Festival In An Ancient Walled City

This has been one of those wonderfully rare weekends that had just the right balance of fun, rest, and rejuvenation. On Saturday morning I basically got a mommy-vacation: I went grocery shopping by myself for two glorious hours (because it still takes me that long to figure out where to find things and what packaging to look for and convert prices from dollars/pound to kilograms/Euro so I know if the item is actually worth purchasing).

After my little “shopping spree” I went to our church for a women’s mini conference. It was a beautiful event with a talented speaker, heartfelt worship, and delicious food–including my favorite: scones (oh my, the scones here are to die for. Seriously, one of my favorite things about Ireland.  The fact that scones with jam and cream are a part of daily life makes living here 100% worthwhile).

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While I was at the conference noshing on scones, Jon took the boys to our local castle in Blackrock for a tour of the dungeons. Turns out, this was not nearly as cool as it sounds. The dungeons were not actually dungeons–it was just the basement, and had never been used as a dungeon at all. Very misleading. The boys enjoyed themselves as much as they could walking around an empty castle basement for half an hour, and at the end of the tour they got to go up to the top of the castle to check out the view (upon which David stated that he was going to throw his baby brother off the roof. We may need to work on the whole “brotherly love” thing).

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On Saturday night, Jon and I got to go out on our first date night since moving here to Ireland. A sweet girl from our church came over to our house and looked after our (sleeping) children so we could go out to a movie. It wasn’t the most unique date, but it sure felt nice to get away from our house and enjoy some time together.

The big event of our weekend, though, was the Youghal Medieval Festival. The event was in Youghal (pronounced “yawl”), an ancient walled city in County Cork where people actually lived during medieval times–how cool is that?!  There were lots of fun events going on at the festival: food, music, crafts and medieval demos. And lots of people dressed up in awesome medieval costumes. We forgot our costumes, but we tried to fit in as best as we could.

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We all enjoyed listening to the Youghal Pipers:

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And we got a great view of the town:

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When asked what his favorite part of the day was, David said it was “watching Mommy get scratched.” This is what he was referring to:

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They had a tent set up with all sorts of medieval torture apparatus and drawings showing how they used to be implemented. Gross. A little girl was manning this tent and she convinced me to help her demonstrate some of the apparatus. She literally tied me up to this torture board and started hacking at me with a foam axe. I was putting on a great show for the kids, cringing and writhing in pain each time her axe came down on me. It was all fun and games until my tormenter went over to her table of torture devices and picked up a real metal anvil. I quickly slipped out of my restraints before she could finish her demonstration.

I have suspected for quite some time now that our son is crazy. My suspicions were confirmed today. There was an arena set up for toy sword fighting. All of the kids were invited in to use foam swords to attack some guys in medieval garb. While all of the other kids rushed to attack their targets, David ran in the opposite direction and started “stabbing” an unsuspecting spectator (David is in the green shirt in the left side of this photo). Thankfully David’s victim wasn’t caught too off guard by David’s advances and he managed to fight off the wild little beast.

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After all of the excitement of the festival we had to get some nourishment. We ate grilled kangaroo (yes, the jumpy things from Australia–not totally medieval, but definitely different), sausages, pizza and ice cream. Yummmm…

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A very sweet weekend, indeed.

 

 

 

Experiencing Cork City

Jon has become quite the coffee connoisseur over the last couple of years, and item one on his agenda has been to find a quality espresso machine that he can use over here. He’s done months of research on the types of machines that are available so he was just itching to get out to a store and buy one. We decided that this weekend would be “find Jon’s dream machine weekend”. We set out early Saturday morning to downtown Cork where we had a number of recommendations for specialty coffee and kitchen shops to look in.

It soon became quite obvious, however, that this quest was not going to end well. Most stores had no espresso machines whatsoever, and the ones that did carry espresso machines were very high end and out of our comfort zone, budget-wise (we really don’t need to spend over $2,000 on an espresso machine that he can use for two years, do we?). We abandoned our goal of bringing home Jon’s espresso-baby and turned our attention to something more positive.

Since we were already downtown, we decided to make a day of it and do a little sight-seeing. We bought delicious snacks and drinks from a chocolate shop and ate them in this little park:

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Then we crossed the River Lee that runs right through the middle of Cork City:

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We walked up a large hill to Shandon where the famous “Four-Faced Liar” clock stands at the top of St. Anne’s Cathedral:

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When we got back to downtown Cork they had set up a huge street festival for the Street Performance World Championship. They had some really neat street performers for us to watch:

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The boys enjoyed watching the live performances:

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There were also lots of fun activities for the kids to do. David’s favorite? The soccer game where he won a bag of candy every time he scored a goal!

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After we’d had our fill of street fair fun (and maybe a bit too much sun) we went to pick up our NEW CAR!

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I’m super-excited about this new car because it’s an automatic–no more trying to figure out a manual while driving on the opposite side of the (narrow) roads. It was quite the journey to actually get this car. After many days of calling car companies we came to the conclusion that there was really only one way we could get a car here. We are doing a long-term rental on the car because they don’t do leases here in Ireland and we don’t qualify for insurance to buy a car. We had hoped to get two cars, but long-term rental is VERY expensive (our car rental costs almost as much as our house each month!). So, for the time being, we will share the one car. One benefit to having a rental is that we can technically change out the car we have every 28 days if we need to. If this car doesn’t end up working well for us, we only have to keep it for 28 days and then we can try something different. We are also going to buy Jon a bike so he can can commute by bike whenever he’s able. Just one more change that we’ll have to adapt to!

One more change that we’ve been thinking and praying a lot about for…well…as long as we’ve know that we’d be moving to Ireland…is the church community we would join here. Getting plugged in to a Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching church is our first priority, but–as with many things with this move–we discovered that would be easier said than done. There are very few evangelical Christian churches in Ireland. In fact, our city (the 2nd largest city in the Republic of Ireland) only has about a dozen. A few months back we heard about a church here called Calvary Cork from a friend of mine who knows the pastor. We decided to check it out today.

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From the moment we walked in the doors we were blown-away blessed. It’s a small church (50-75 people were there today), but one of the most welcoming I’ve ever been to. Everyone was very friendly and they made us feel right at home. David was able to play in the creche (childcare) during the service (Jacob could have gone, too, if he wasn’t such a cry-baby). David had tons of fun coloring, eating snacks, hearing a short Bible story and playing with lots of sweet little Irish girls (his first response when we picked him up was, “I’m girl crazy!”).

The sermon was great (at least the parts of it I could hear from the baby cry room!). One of the best parts if the whole service, however, was the music. One of the first songs they played was “Grace Alone”, a song written by Dustin Kensrue from our church in Seattle, Mars Hill. We sang this song all the time “back home”–it was so neat to hear this song halfway around the world and worship with these new brothers and sisters who I’ve just met. Really, really cool.

We also had two of our other more petty prayers answered at church this morning. Jon got a great recommendation for a new coffee place that sounds a lot like Philz (his favorite coffee place EVER). And for me: I got invited to a mommy playgroup that meets every Wednesday not too far from our house. I’m really excited to meet some new friends and get to know the people I’ll be living with for the next 2 years!

All in all, it was a great weekend experiencing our new home city. And it really is starting to feel a bit like home.

 

Visa Update

We just got word last week that our visas should be ready by the middle of June. Our visas are the last “official” piece of business that needs to be taken care of before we can actually move. In fact, since we have already applied for visas it is actually illegal for us to be in Ireland until we have them.

After we get our visas we will book Jon’s final house-hunting trip (this one will actually be a lease-signing trip!). We want to make sure at least one of us gets to see in person the place that we will be living to make sure it will accommodate our family. Jon will probably travel to Ireland about 3 weeks after we get our visas and we’ll start packing up during those 3 weeks. Once he returns from the lease-signing trip we should be ready to move within a week or 2…so, looks like we should be in Ireland by the end of July or early August!

This is perfect timing because we’ll get to spend time with family who will be visiting in early July and possibly even celebrate Jacob’s first birthday here with the people who already know and love him 🙂 It’s also great because we have been given one trip home per year that we live in Ireland, as long as there are at least 6 months left on Jon’s contract when we travel. Since we’ll be in Ireland until July 2015, that means we will be able to travel home for Christmas each year that we live over there (because if we travel at the end of December we will still have at least 6 months until we move back home in July 2015).

Two other exciting developments have taken place recently. First, we have found wonderful renters for our home here–they are good friends of ours with two children the same ages as our boys. We know they will take good care of our home–and they’re even going to let us use our garage as a storage unit! Secondly, we have found a church in Ireland. A friend and former co-worker of mine has a good friend who moved to Cork 7 years ago to plant a Christian church. His church is one of only a handful of evangelical Christian churches in the city, so it is amazing that we already have a connection there.

Hopefully I’ll have more news to share again soon!

Lessons From A Garbage Can

This is a garbage can.

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It looks like an ordinary, run-of-the-mill garbage can, and it is…and it isn’t. You see, this garbage can has become a bit of an extension of our family. We spend time with it, we care for it and it has taught us many things. This all sounds a bit strange, so let me explain.

Several months ago at church we heard a sermon that challenged us to fix the problems that we found. The message was basically that if you see a problem and it is bothering you, then maybe you should be the one to help find a solution. After all, if it’s bothering you that much then it’s probably something that’s already near and dear to your heart.

The first problem that came to mind when I was listening to the sermon was our park. We have a wonderful neighborhood park across the street from our house that is well-loved and much-used by kids from the surrounding area. There is a playground and a basketball court in the park, so we spend many, many hours there–rain or shine. I know all of the kids who play there and they all know us. I spend so much time there that I feel like it’s “my” park.

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You can imagine my annoyance, then, when I would get to the park each morning to find piles of trash lining the basketball court and littering the fields. How dare these kids come to my park and leave such a mess? Who was going to clean this up? And that’s when it hit me: I was annoyed by this problem because I needed to be the one to fix it.

We had an extra-large garbage can from when we were doing some home improvement projects and I got permission from our homeowner’s association to chain it to one of the hoops in the park. Then we went to work.

I started by gathering together all of the kids who frequent the park and showing them the garbage can and how to use it (I didn’t want to leave it up to chance that they’d actually know how to put their trash in the can). Then I had them all help me tidy up the park. I told them we were going to have a race to see who could get the most pieces of trash in the garbage can in 5 minutes–they all won! (wink, wink).

It’s been about 6 months now since we first put the garbage can in our park. David and I still go to the park almost every day, but now the first thing we do when we get there is collect litter to put in the garbage can. David has taken ownership of the park that he uses so frequently and he enjoys lending a helping hand.

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I explain to David that when we pick up litter we are helping the environment and helping to keep our park safe and clean for everyone. More importantly, though, David is learning that he can solve problems. He can do his own little part to be Jesus’ hands and feet in a world that is full of problems. And, some day, he will find his own problems–and instead of running away from them he will fix them.