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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My American Mother’s Day in Ireland

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As an American living in Ireland, I often find myself stuck in the middle of two cultures: do I continue to act American or try to assimilate with the Irish? This conflict has become most apparent during holidays where I have my own cultural traditions that I want to keep alive even though I’m living abroad. It came up at Thanksgiving (which, obviously, is not even celebrated in Ireland) and Christmas and Easter. I did not, however, expect my “cultural expectations” to come into play for holidays like Mother’s Day. I have never even have given Mother’s Day much thought until we moved here–that is, until I realized how important it really was to me.

You see, Mother’s Day is celebrated in Ireland–just on a totally different day than American Mother’s Day. In Ireland, Mothering Sunday occurs on the 4th Sunday of lent, which happened to be March 30th this year. It was 6 weeks before the day that I, the American, expected Mother’s Day to fall on. My mom wasn’t celebrating it yet and it  just didn’t feel right. Also, March 30th happens to also be Jon’s birthday, and I didn’t want to steal his thunder. So, we kind of just let Irish Mother’s Day quietly pass us by (even though David made me a cute card at school and we got beautiful flowers at church) and decided to wait until May to celebrate our “official” Mother’s Day.

Yesterday was American Mother’s Day, and we decided it was finally time to celebrate me. Well, more accurately, I decided it was time to celebrate me and I told Jon and the boys my expectations. They did not disappoint.

My Mother’s Day weekend started with a fun date with my big boy David on Thursday afternoon. We went to Peppa’s Big Splash, a play based on the popular British cartoon Peppa Pig (one of David’s favorites). The play was at the Cork Opera House, making this David’s first official viewing of live theater. It was a great experience–there was lots of noise, jumping around, glow sticks, ice cream and even squirt guns involved in the show. All of the characters were these huge puppets that the puppeteers danced and sang with all over the stage. I’m fairly certain that the average age of the audience was 3 years, and they did a great job catering to their patrons.

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On Saturday we spent the whole day together as a family–this was kind of a big deal, because it’s been about a month since we’ve all been together for a whole day with all of the travel we’ve been doing lately. David has been begging us to take him swimming lately, so we started the morning at a wonderful pool across the city in Churchfield. It had a lap pool and a kids pool that had a playhouse in the middle of it with a slide. David was in heaven.

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Jacob was actually a bit terrified of the water for the first half of our swimming session (I guess it’s been too long since we’ve been in a pool!), but once we got him sitting in a baby flotation device he calmed right down. There was also a really cool tunnel slide that wrapped all the way around the building that Jon and I (ahem…the kids…) thoroughly enjoyed. The best part of swimming in Ireland, however, has to be the swim caps. All swimmers are required to wear swimming caps at all times. Yes, even babies.

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After swimming we were famished, so we drove into the city center for lunch. We went to our favorite go-to “restaurant”: Mc.’y D’s. Before you judge, though, you should know that the McDonalds’ in Ireland are a bit classier than in The States. They will do things like seat you at a table and take your order from the table (you know, like you’re really at a restaurant) and make your kids balloon animals while they’re waiting for their cheeseburgers to come out of the microwave. It’s an experience. After lunch we walked around town for awhile and did a bit of shopping. We also stopped for some delicious gelato before heading back home for afternoon naps.

On Sunday (Mother’s Day) I got the best gifts ever: sleep and kisses from my boys. I told Jon that my only request for Mother’s Day was that he let me stay in bed for as long as I darn well pleased. It was almost 10:00 by the time I peeled myself away from my pillow to get ready for church. When I got downstairs Jon made me breakfast while I read the cards that the boys had made for me. It was then that I discovered I would be getting another Best Gift Ever: a massage and relaxation day at a spa. I’m already feeling more relaxed just thinking about it!

The rest of our day was spent going to church, calling our moms in America, and lounging around at home. Jon made us a feast for dinner: gourmet burgers, bacon-roasted asparagus, balsamic potato wedges and cheesecake. I didn’t even take a photo of the food because we devoured it all so quickly. It was all delicious and lovingly prepared–the perfect end to a memorable weekend.

Thank you for parenting with me and loving me so well, Jon. And thank you for letting me be your mommy, David and Jacob. I have the best job in the world, and I even get a whole day every year to remember that. Well, unless you’re living in Ireland. Then you get TWO whole days!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there–the world would not be the same without you!

 

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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Our Trip Home: From A to Z

Yesterday we returned from an incredible three-week holiday at “home” with our loved ones in Washington state. This was our first time returning home since our move to Ireland six months ago and we savored every moment of it. As with any trip of that magnitude, there were ups and downs during our stay. Here are the alphabetical highlights of our trip:

The ABC’s Of Our Christmas Vacation

IMG_0169A is for Annual Christmas date: I have gone on a Christmas date with my mom every year since I was 4 years old. It’s something I look forward to every year…no matter how old I get! We’ve done lots of different things for our dates over the years, but my favorite is always going to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. And, since I was feeling nostalgic this year, that’s exactly what we did. After our matinee performance (which was beautiful, as always) we walked around Seattle Center to look at the fountain and the Space Needle all decked out with lights. Then we walked up the street to the Melting Pot for some delicious cheese and chocolate fondues. It was a perfect evening, and I couldn’t ask for a better date!

IMG_0551B is for “Besties”: We’ve been missing our friends, so it was great just spending time with them and catching up. It’s amazing how time and distance can’t even change the bond you have with your best pals! From evening runs to dinners out and gatherings in peoples’ homes, every moment we had with our friends was precious. In addition to seeing our friends, I also loved meeting all of the sweet new babies that have been born since we were last here–the future best friends of our children, I’m sure!

C is for Christmas:

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We had a very low-key Christmas this year. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Jon’s side of the family and spent Christmas day at my parents’ house. The boys had a blast opening all of their Christmas gifts (David’s favorite gift is a tie between his blue basketball and all of his new Angry Birds gear; Jacob just liked rolling around in all of the wrapping paper). After brunch we went for a walk around the neighborhood and played with all of our new toys. We ended the day with a yummy Christmas dinner (ham) and a noteworthy Christmas film (Curious George’s Christmas Special). Then it was off to bed where visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

IMG_0040D is for Dentist: We love our dentist so much that we made time to visit him during our little stay in Washington. We all got cleanings, and Jacob even got his first turn in the big chair. Both boys did great job letting the dentist clean and count their teeth!

E is for Everett: During most of our visit we were staying with my parents in Federal Way, but we made a few trips up north to our former hometown of Everett. While we were in Everett we got to visit friends, check in on our house, and visit some of our favorite local places. We wish we could have spent a bit more time up there visiting more people but, alas, time was of precious short order on this trip.

unnamedF is for Family: Our family is the main reason we decided to pack up and head home for Christmas–and thankfully we got to see a lot of them! Besides our local family in Washington, we also had family members come up from California and down from Alaska to visit while we were there. To all of our parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who we got to see: thank you for making the time for us. It really meant the world to each of us to spend time with you!

IMG_0802G is for Grandpa: Unfortunately, four days after we arrived in Washington my grandfather passed away (you can read my tribute to him here). Grandpa was an incredible man, I loved him dearly, and it’s difficult to say goodbye. Still, though, I am so grateful that I got to spend some last moments with him before he passed–I will never forget that last day that I spent with him. Living so far away from home now I realize that this was God’s grace to me that I got to say goodbye in person and spend time mourning with my family. I love you and I miss you, Grandpa!

IMG_0177H is for Holiday With Lights: For the second year in a row now we decided to brave the elements and venture out to Holiday With Lights at Wild Waves, a local theme park. The whole park is decorated for Christmas with beautiful lights. Most of the rides were open–we enjoyed going on the carousel and the roller coasters (which are a bit scarier in the dark!). We even got to visit Santa just in time for our annual photo-op.

I is for iPhone: A few days before we left Ireland for our trip to Washington my iPhone died. I was a bit panicked for those 3 days that I didn’t have a phone. How would I call people? How would I check the weather before I went outside? How would I get people’s status updates on Facebook in real time? It was terrible. So, as soon as our plane landed we made an appointment for me at the Apple store to see if they could revive my poor little phone. In the end, though, the phone was bricked–as in, it was as useless as a brick. I sucked it up and traded in my “brick” for a new phone–and life went on again.

IMG_0814J is for Jetlag: Traveling with kids is difficult. Traveling halfway around the world and dealing with jetlagged kids is horrible. I’ve discovered that, for kids at least, it takes about 1 day of adjustment per hour of time difference that you travel. So, if you travel through one time zone, you’ll be back on track in one day. If you travel through 8 time zones like us, though, it takes 8 days before the kids figure out again how to sleep at night and not be terrors during the day. Moral of the story: jetlag SUCKS.

IMG_0533K is for Kid’s Museum: On Christmas Eve my mom and I took the boys to the Tacoma Children’s Museum for a fun morning of play and exploration. It was a beautiful museum with lots of fun activities that were perfect for the boys (and, best part of all, it’s totally free–donations accepted, of course!). Both boys loved the water play area, the drums, the soft “snowballs” that they could throw down tunnels and tubes, and climbing on the giant DaVinci-esque flying machine.

IMG_0418L is for Leavenworth: Jon’s parents live over the mountains (and through the woods…) in a little tourist town called Leavenworth. The town is in the middle of the Cascade Mountains and is set up to look like you’re in a Bavarian village. It’s all very cute and unique. We spent 3 days over in Leavenworth visiting Grammy and Grandpa Pete. During our stay we played in the snow, fed the deer that frequent their yard, walked through town, played pool, and relaxed by the fire. We had a great time on our mini-vacation!

IMG_0452M is for Mars Hill: Mars Hill is our former church that we attended for several years before moving to Ireland. The church has several campuses and both our church in Everett and my parents’ church in Federal Way got new “homes” while we were away. We got to visit both of those new buildings for services and catch up with our friends there. All I can say is “Wow!”. God is so good!

IMG_0561N is for New Year’s Eve: We rang in 2014 with some of our closest friends. New Year’s Eve was spent at our friends’ house where we played games, visited, and caught up with each other. We also started what will have to be a new tradition: a Christmas tree bonfire. The Christmas tree was quite impressive going up in flames…and it made for a nice warm fire on a cold evening.

unnamed (2)O is for Oregon: On January 3rd our family from near and far gathered in Longview, WA for my grandfather’s memorial service. It was a lovely Military funeral complete with Marine color guards and a gun-salute. It was a wonderful time for our family to spend time together, share memories of Grandpa, and honor his life. After the funeral we drove down to Oregon where we were going to spread Grandpa’s ashes the next day. Eleven of us stayed in a huge beach house called Arch Cape Lodge right on the Oregon coast. The next morning we drove out to one of Grandpa’s favorite places: Cannon Beach. When I was growing up we would visit Cannon Beach frequently and I have many fond memories of playing in the sand and walking out to Haystack Rock with Grandpa there. It was Grandpa’s wish to rejoin his fallen comrades in the Pacific after his passing, so Cannon Beach seemed like the perfect place. Incredibly, the day that we were at Cannon Beach to spread Grandpa’s ashes was one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear sunny days that I’ve ever seen at that beach–especially in the middle of winter! Yet again, God’s grace shone through.

IMG_0677P is for Pike Place Market: You can’t visit Seattle without a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market. So, of course, we went. We walked  through the market admiring all of the fresh fruits and veggies, the wide-eyed seafood, the lush bouquets of flowers, the samplers of homemade jams. And, since we were already there, we stopped by the new Storyville Coffee for a little pick-me-up before heading over to the Seattle Art Museum (it was First Thursday so admission was free–definitely an added bonus!). Then the icing on the cake: we walked down to the Seattle Waterfront and went for a spin on the Great Wheel. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as my last giant Ferris wheel ride in London, the views were definitely worth the price of admission!

Q is for Quiet Time: I took several naps on this vacation. That’s a rare enough occurrence that I thought it warranted it’s own little shout-out here. So, to the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles who played with my kids so I could sleep: from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

IMG_0458R is for Russian Spa: Jon and I met up with a friend in Seattle for a new and unique adventure: our first experience at a Russian spa. The spa, Banya 5, consists of a tea room/relaxation area and a large room with several pools and saunas that you circulate through. At one point you go from a 240 degree sauna right into a 45 degree icy plunge. It literally takes your breath away. Crazy as it sounds, it was all pretty fun…and even a bit relaxing.

S is for Stomach Flu: It all started with one person having an upset stomach–and, before we knew it, every person in our family was sick with the stomach flu. For one solid week (Christmas inclusive) we took turns being sick and passing our sickness on to each other. By the end of the week, 11 of us had our turn with the sick bug. It was miserable. The one saving grace is that I wasn’t sick alone, which meant I had people to help care for my children and let me sleep when I felt like death. Moving on…

IMG_0809T is for Travelers: The boys did so well traveling on this trip. During all of the plane rides and car rides and airport layovers I just kept waiting for one of them to explode in an uncontrollable fit. But it never happened (Thank you, Jesus). In fact, both boys actually slept for the majority of our long flight home. It definitely helped that we had good seats on our flights and fun new toys from Christmas to keep everyone entertained. Still, though, I am so proud of them. What great little travelers we have!

IMG_0521U is for Ummelina: Instead of giving each other gifts for Christmas this year, Jon and I decided to go out on a special date. We started our date at Ummelina day spa where we each got glorious 90-minute massages and plenty of pampering. After our massages we walked down the street to Purple Wine Bar for a delicious dinner of bacon poutine, braised short ribs, lamb meatballs and pasta. Not exactly spa food, but it was incredible. We rounded out the evening at the cinema watching “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (by the way, we both give the movie two thumbs up). It was a wonderful evening with an even more wonderful date!

IMG_0640V is for Volcano: On New Year’s Day we drove out to Mount Rainier National Park (the mountain, by the way, is technically a volcano). My sister, her husband, and my nephew Noah were up visiting from California and they REALLY wanted to see snow. Washington has had very little snow so far this winter, so we had to drive deep into the mountains to find some good playing snow. It was a lot of driving, but the mountain rewarded us with an amazing day. We ended up having clear blue skies and sunshine, a bit of a rarity this time of year. All of the kids (and kids at heart) had a great time sledding and sliding and frolicking in the snow. Quite the start to 2014!

IMG_0666W is for Washington: Washington is where we came from, and it will always be home to us. Being back home reminded me of what a beautiful and unique place Washington is. After being away in Ireland for several months we were able to see things with new eyes and appreciate things in a different way. I heart you, Washington!

IMG_0376X is for Xbox One: Jon ordered himself a new XBox while we were in Ireland and it was waiting at my parents’ house when we arrived. Ah, boys and their toys…

Y is for Yummy Food: There are so many foods that I’ve been craving since we’ve moved to Ireland. And, me being me, I decided to try to eat ALL of them while we were home: Macaroni and Cheese, Pho, Reeses, Goldfish crackers, graham crackers, Mexican food…you get the picture. I guess the diet starts next week?

IMG_0683Z is for FeliZ Cumpleanos (Spanish for Happy Birthday): I know that it’s a bit of a stretch, but there is a “z” in feliz. Plus, this is really important. On January 2 we celebrated Jon’s grandma Doreen’s 91st birthday. NINETY-ONE! If I live 91 years I hope that someone will dedicate at least a few sentences to me on their blog. Grandma Doreen is an incredible woman: kind, confident, joyful, strong, and sharp as a tack. She is a big part of our lives, and we were blessed to spend this special day with her. We celebrated with a small family dinner at her house (decor provided by fresh flowers from Pike Place Market) and red velvet cake for the birthday girl. We love you, Great-Granny Doreen!

Our trip home had a little bit of everything: adventure and relaxation, excitement and heartbreak, health and sickness. What it had the most of, though, was love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love this place that we come from. I think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right: There’s no place like home.

A Very Happy Expat Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a holiday that I look forward to every year. Sadly for me, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Ireland. I wasn’t going to let that stop me, though. I was determined to have ourselves a good ‘ol American Thanksgiving, even if we were the only family in our city roasting a turkey on the third Thursday of November.

The day before Thanksgiving we had a baking day. My two ‘lil pumpkins “helped” in the kitchen and we managed to bake two pumpkin pies and a casserole to prep for the big day. I am so, so, SO happy that we got to have pumpkin pie–it’s my absolute favorite treat and pumpkin-anything is very hard to come by here. Thank you to all of our American visitors who brought me canned pumpkin in the last few weeks!

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I got up early on Thanksgiving morning because Jacob was ready to get the party started. Since we were up at 5:30 (ugh.) I decided to make some festive pumpkin pancakes for breakfast (again, the PUMPKIN!!!). They were awesome.

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And then the former-Kindergarten teacher in me came out and I crafted not one but TWO fruit turkeys. Cute, cute, cute.

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We saved one of the fruiturkeys for Thanksgiving dinner and we brought the other one to David’s preschool. David’s preschool teachers are so sweet and thoughtful–they did a whole day of Thanksgiving-themed activities at school just to celebrate David’s culture (I never even thought of us having a “culture” per se but, yes, that is our culture). We brought the fuiturkey and some pumpkin muffins for the kidd-o’s snack time and we printed off a few pictures from our family Thanksgiving celebrations so David could show his classmates what this day is all about. When I picked David up from school I even heard a little girl telling her mom that “Today we learned about being thankful and turkeys”. Yep, nailed it.

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While David was at preschool I went on my own little “turkey trot” down on the Rochestown trail. It was just me and Jacob, so I guess that makes Jacob the turkey.

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When we got home that afternoon I managed to find the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on live streaming. I was giddy. Like, jumping up and down squealing out-of-control-happy. David thought that I’d gone completely nuts (as if he needed any more convincing).

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For Thanksgiving dinner we invited several of our American “expat friends” over to our house for turkey. It made me so happy to have a full house and good friends to share our holiday with. We are so amazingly blessed to have found such amazing people to share life with here in Ireland!

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And, then, the dinner. Oh, the dinner! It was incredible! We had turkey (which, just for the record, is not quite the same as the Butterballs that I’m used to roasting. Our bird had gnarly long legs and feather stubble. Gah! After a bit of work, though, it cooked beautifully and tasted delicious). We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, vegetable casserole, green bean casserole, rolls, homemade cranberry sauce,  mulled wine, pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting and–of course–pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It was oh-so-good and oh-so-Thanksgiving-y.

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Everyone enjoyed their dinner, and I was grateful to all of our friends who helped prepare it. Seriously, thank  you, guys. It was Ammmmmmmazing!

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While we were waiting for our stomachs to make room for pie we watched What Does The Fox Say? (not sure that this will become a tradition…) and we played a rousing game of “What are you thankful for?”. David was thankful for balls and beer. I’m a bit concerned.

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So, there you have it. We managed to pull off an American Thanksgiving in Ireland. It was everything that Thanksgiving should be: good times, good food, and good people to share it all with. And, most importantly, praising God for the blessings in our lives. I have so much to be thankful for this year: the awesome opportunity to live in Ireland, our friends far and near, and an incredible family.

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From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

May your life be as full as my tummy.

Things I Miss (Or How I Am A Junk Food Addicted American)

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This morning we dropped Jon off at the airport for his first international business trip since we’ve moved to Ireland. He’s going to…California! We figured that it’s actually going to take him longer to fly to California from here than it would have taken him to drive there from Seattle. Go figure.

Before he left for his trip he asked if there was anything I needed him to pick up for me while he was back in the states. And, since we’ve been here for all of 3 months now, I already had a list of things that I can’t find here that I miss from “home”. As I looked the list over, however, I came to a disturbing realization: I am a junk food addicted American. I mean, really, why was I eating this crap in the first place and, more importantly, why do I miss it all so much? I swear I didn’t eat these things THAT often, but somehow now that I know I can’t have them I’m just craving them like crazy. The list went something like this:

  • 12 boxes Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (the blue box, not cheap store brand)
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Fruit snacks (10% real fruit juice or less, please)
  • Puffs (for baby)
  • GoGo Squeez pouches
  • Chocolate chips (the 10 lb. bag from Costco should do just fine)
  • Dr. Pepper
  • Root Beer
  • Graham Crackers
  • Grape jelly
  • Pho with extra hoisin sauce
  • Funfetti Frosting
  • Toffee
  • Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
  • Peanut Butter M&M’s
  • Jif Peanut Butter
  • Peanut Butter Twix
  • JUST ANYTHING WITH PEANUT BUTTER!!!
  • Individually packaged frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup (NOT real maple)
  • Baked beans
  • Black beans
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Chai Tea mix
  • Pumpkin puree
  • Pumpkin puree (I actually did–unknowingly–write it 2 times on the list…I guess it’s really just that important to me)
  • A shop/cafe/restaurant/coffee stand with a drive-thru. Preferably a 24-hour drive-thru. I’d even settle for anything that’s open before 10 AM and/or past 7 PM.
  • Starbucks

So, there you have it, I am a glutton. Have fun shopping, Sweetie, and I hope they let you back through customs. Anything you are not able to procure on this trip will be added to my “binge list” for our trip home at Christmas time. You’ve been warned.

One Week In: Some “Getting Used To’s”

Today marks the 1-week anniversary of our move to Ireland. To be honest, it all still seems like a blur to me–we’ve been so busy moving and getting settled in to our new house that the days all just blend together (jet lag helps with that, too). There are a lot of things here that are a lot like home–the weather, the landscape, the types of food that are available. In fact, a lot of the time  since we’ve been here I have kind of forgotten that we’re in a new country–but then something will snap me back to reality and remind me that I am, in fact, living in a very different place. There are several things that will take some getting used to here. For starters:

This is oppositesville to me. They drive on the left side of the road.

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I have to really pay attention to know which lane we should be in, which lane we turn in to, and how close to the edge of the road I am. I’ve actually only driven once this week because we have a manual transmission car and it kinda freaks me out. Jon’s giving me driving lessons in empty parking lots, though, so I feel like I’m 15 again sitting in the driver’s seat for the first time. Good times!

Another difference? There are castles. Everywhere. This is Blackrock Castle and it’s about a 2-minute drive from the business park where Jon works (it’s currently used as an observatory and a restaurant).

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I’ve had a couple of “oops” parenting moments, too. When you go out to eat here, they have these little bottles of juice that they’ll give kids with their meals. David sure loves them! And now I know why–they are cordials that you’re supposed to mix with a full glass of water–I was just having him drink them straight. Way to go, Mom–at least highly concentrated fruit syrup never killed anyone, right?

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There are also some really neat products here that we don’t have readily available back in the states. My favorite is the washer/dryer. You just put your dirty clothes in, push start, and the machine washes and dries your laundry in one go. I’ve kinda always dreamed of a machine like this, and here it is.

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Some products just confuse me. None is more confusing than the humble shower. You see, every time I want to take a shower I have to turn on the hot water downstairs, then go upstairs to turn on the hot water for my shower. See the pull cord hanging from the ceiling? That turns on the hot water. On top of the confusing hot water situation, it’s an electric shower so you have to actually turn on the shower as well (that’s the big box hanging on the wall inside the shower). Energy efficient? Yes. Convenient? Not so much.

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Another energy-saving device they have is the wall outlet. Every single wall outlet has a switch that you have to turn on when you want the device that’s plugged in to receive power. When you are done using your electric toothbrush/cell phone charger/toaster/hair dryer you flip off the switch so energy isn’t wasted going to devices that aren’t being used.

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When I went into our backyard for the first time I saw this large black bin. Since I’ve been discovering all of these energy-saving devices all over the house, I got really excited to see that we had our very own compost bin!

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Unfortunately, when I opened my compost bin for the first time, I was gravely disappointed. Turns out, our “compost bin” is actually our coal bin. I didn’t even know people still used coal! Hmmm…not quite sure what to do with that…

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The grocery store is actually a lot like the grocery stores I’m used to shopping at back “home”. There are a few key differences, though. Groceries cost about 30% more than I’m used to spending–plus I still haven’t figured out how to use coupons (called “vouchers” here).  Another interesting part of shopping here is the whole cart situation–you have to insert a coin every time you want a cart (it is returned to you when you return the cart). You also have to bring your own bags. They have no free bags available. So, if you forget your bag (or if your reusable shopping bags happen to be on a cargo ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean) then you have to buy reusable bags on the spot for about $2 a pop. Guess who has a collection of 10 new reusable shopping bags?

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Other shopping experiences are quite different from what I’m used to. I haven’t found an equivalent to Target or WalMart yet, but this place came about the closest as far as the products available. How you shop there, however, is pretty unique. You walk into a showroom that has a bunch of computer stations and catalogs set up. You browse the catalogs and find the items you’d like to buy. Then you write down the item numbers on little slips of paper and take your “ticket” to the cash register. After you pay for your items, you have a seat in the waiting area while they collect your purchases. Then they bring them out to you and you’re set to go. I actually kind of like this method of shopping because in the future I’ll be able to enter my purchases online and then just pick them up in the store–no winding through shopping aisles with 2 screaming children, thank you.

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Then there are the beds. The beds come in many sizes: twin, full, queen, california queen, king and california king. The sheets, however, only come in 3 sizes. We’ve looked in half a dozen stores and can still only find sheets that are in the sizes “single”, “double”, or “king”. None of those sizes fits any of the beds in our house. So, we just bought a bunch of flat sheets (since none of the fitted ones fit on our mattresses). We put one flat sheet on top of the mattress and do our best to tuck it in–then we re-tuck it in every morning. I think someone could make a killing here selling sheets that actually fit mattresses. Just saying.

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Yes, there are many things that we’re getting used to. It will probably take awhile but, slowly and surely, we’re starting to get the hang of it all.