A Story of Friendship

30330_654094382710_310571_n

The original small group couples (plus the first couple of babies) in 2009

This story began eight years ago.

In 2008 Jon and I embarked on our first Grand Adventure as 20-something newlyweds. We decided to pack up our house, our cars, my classroom, and our dog and move 1,000 miles away so Jon could attend a top-ranked grad school. It was a huge decision that would impact every area of our lives (and our pocketbooks), so we were nervous.

There were a lot of “what if’s”: What if school didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t find a job to support us during those years? What would it be like living in a place so different and so far away from the only place we’d ever lived? What if we missed our family too much? What if we didn’t meet any friends?

Through all of the what if’s, however, we had confidence because we knew that this was where God wanted us to be. So, we moved forward in faith, trusting that it would all work out.

Shortly after arriving at our new home in Palo Alto, California we got connected to a great local church that some of our friends were attending. We decided to join a small group Bible study that met once a week in a couple’s home. After all, we still didn’t know many people, and maybe this would be a good chance to meet some new friends.

Little did we know then, but that one decision to join a small group would impact our lives forever.

On the first night of our small group I tried on about 15 different outfits. I wanted to look cool without looking like I’d tried too hard so I could make a good first impression. I was incredibly nervous–as I always am when meeting new people for the first time (I try to play it off in public, but I am 100% an introvert and social gatherings often set me in a panic)–but I was also excited to hopefully meet some people our age.

When we walked in the front door of the Barley’s tiny top-floor apartment on that first night we were greeted with hugs and huge smiles, and I knew we were in the right place.  These people were genuine, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more.

Over the next two years the couples in that group would become like family to us. We found commonality in our faith, our careers, our joys, and support when all of our husbands worked too hard. We went through a lot together in those two years, and the years that have followed. Three of us became pregnant with our first child at the same time. More than one of us miscarried. One of us adopted. One of us nearly died. And, eventually, most of us moved away.

Over the years we kept in touch and followed one another’s adventures. When our family embarked on our next Grand Adventure to Ireland, our small group friends journeyed along with us in prayer (and in faithful reading of my blog!). And when our third Grand Adventure moved us back to California, some of them were still there to greet us and welcome us “home”.

Our lives are so very different now than they were when we first met eight years ago, but this is the kind of friendship that spans time and distance and life change. In the two years since we’ve been back in California I have met up every couple of months with the ladies from that original small group (I refer to these gals as my “comfy friends” because I can wear my comfy sweats and messy hair around them, and they’ll do the same for me). It has been such a source of contentment and  joy to have my comfy friends back in my life again!

A few weeks ago we managed to hold a reunion with the 4 families from that original small group that are still living in the Bay Area. It was absolutely incredible to see the husbands and wives and children and careers and homes that we had prayed for all those years ago–here, in the flesh.

And, while it was amazing to have all of us together under one roof again, it was short lived. Because next week? Next week we send another family off on another Grand Adventure. But that’s not the end of this story.

You see, this family of dear friends is not just moving anywhere. They’re moving to Ireland, the same far-away country that we recently moved from. Actually, they’re moving to Cork–the same city where we lived two years ago. More specifically, their house is in Rochestown–the same neighborohood where we once lived. In fact, they will be living just a few doors down from our former home, and walking the same streets where we once walked.

The irony of us moving back to California to such wonderful friends, only to have them move halfway around the world to the same neighborhood that we recently moved away from, is fascinating. I am so excited for them and the adventure that is unfolding for their family. Excited for what awaits them, but also excited because our story will continue through them.

I love it when God surprises me like that. He wrote this whole story before time began, and when the pieces come together He must smile knowingly because He planned it that way from the very beginning. It’s not luck or coincidence that I have these friends in my life or that our paths have crossed over time and space. It’s providence. It’s God’s provision for our present and His protection for our future. I can trust God’s providence because He already wrote the ending of our story. And it’s GOOD.

So, as new plot twists and characters enter this story, I will be ready. Ready to embrace the journey and the story as it continues to be written in our lives. Ready to trust and follow the Author. And, most of all, I will be ready to be amazed.

Because amazing is what He does best.

13734989_10101770435884350_1879005076983275259_o

Our small group reunion, July 2016

Filling My Love Jar

Last week we returned from our Last Hurrah of Summer, a half-month-long road trip where we reconnected with the people and places we love in Washington State. The very next day we loaded up the first batch of boxes into our not-yet-unpacked car from our not-yet-fully-packed house and started moving into our new house. August has been a whirlwind of activity. Busy, crazy, hectic, stressful, exhausting, magnificent activity. And you know what? Everything is just as it should be.

While we were in Washington, we celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday. She was pretty much the cutest birthday girl ever.

IMG_5622 (1)

I wanted to do something meaningful for her on this monumental milestone, something that might make her cry in front of all of her friends. Awhile back I’d seen an idea for a “love jar” (very few of my great ideas are actually my ideas at all), and I decided to give it a whirl. I sent out requests to all of Mom’s family and friends-who-are-like-family for stories and encouragement they would like to share with her. I wrote out each response and rolled it up like a scroll, then I placed them all in a jar. The result was a vessel overflowing with love.

IMG_5602 (1)

After this summer I feel like I am the love jar, and I am bursting. Despite the craziness of these last few weeks–perhaps because of the craziness of these last few weeks–my jar is full. Full of joy, full of awe, full of love.

This summer, my jar was filled each time we embarked on a new adventure or saw a loved one who has been separated from us by too much time and distance.

My jar was filled as we spent time with beautiful people in beautiful places.

IMG_5772

My jar was filled as my sons, who had only met my maternal grandmother as tiny infants, spent quality time snuggling and playing with their GG (we’re already planning our trip to Phoenix so we can get a repeat on this one!).IMG_5583 (1)

My jar was filled when the boys visited Jon’s beloved Granny Doreen and her health seemed to improve with each hug and little boy squeal that filled her home and her heart. IMG_5525 (1)

My jar was filled when we stopped by my paternal grandmother’s house on our drive back home and were able to gather four generations of Schroeders from three states into one photo.

IMG_5860 (1)

My jar was filled every day that we spent having fun and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.IMG_5617 (1)

My jar was filled when we managed to collect this many tiny children into one house (catching up with their beautiful mommies between moments of intervention was also bliss).IMG_5638 (1)

My jar was filled when my children met my friends’ children and became instant best friends themselves.IMG_5599 (1)

My jar was filled when my boy challenged me and surprised me with his strength and determination.IMG_5750

My jar was filled this week when we moved into this new house that is the answer to our every prayer (with the selfish exceptions of a lack of cell service and acceptable internet speeds).IMG_5878 (1)

My jar is being filled as this new house becomes our home.IMG_5881 (1)

My jar will continue to be filled each time we explore together and continue on this crazy adventure called life. IMG_5916 (1)

And as this summer comes to a close for all of us, that is my wish for you. That your jar will be filled anew each day and in each season where you find yourself. May your love jar be overflowing: today, tomorrow, and always.

XxX

Supporting a Mother Through Her Miscarriage: A Guide for Friends and Family

Hope-2-570x379 A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s Day and I was filled with emotion: love, contentment, delight, fulfillment. Being Mom to my two boys is one of my greatest joys in life, and I adore having a whole day each year when this blessing is called to mind.

Mixed in with those beautiful feelings, however, there was a twinge of heartache this year. This sorrow is because, unlike in years past, this year on Mother’s Day I was reminded of a recent loss. Nearly four months ago I had a miscarriage and we lost what would have been our third child. Although time has passed, the wound that experience left on my heart is still very fresh.

Difficult as this whole experience has been, it could have been worse. Thinking back on my own miscarriage, I realize that people around me said and did much to aid in my ability to heal and move forward. The topic of miscarriage is admittedly a very tricky subject to navigate–especially if you’ve never experienced one personally. The sad truth, however, is that most of you reading this right now will experience a miscarriage at some point-whether it is yourself or someone you know. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can help a mother through this difficult time.

Here are some practical tips that I have found particularly useful as I find hope and healing after my own miscarriage:

Let her grieve
I used the word mother in the title of this post, as opposed to woman, because when you have a miscarriage you are losing your real-as-anything child. With my miscarriage, it was not just some cells that gathered in my womb before disappearing, it was my baby. The loss a mother feels from a miscarriage is very real, and it deserves a good amount of mourning. Don’t diminish this. The grieving will be strong at first, then eventually it will subside. At some point you will think that the time of grieving has passed, but then–maybe even months or years down the road–something will remind her of her loss and she will grieve all over again. When this happens, just tell her that it’s alright to be upset, give her a shoulder to cry on, and tell her that you love her.

Share your story
For some reason that I don’t completely understand, the topic of miscarriages is still widely seen as taboo in our culture, and many people are simply unwilling to talk about it. This is much to the detriment of the nearly one million mothers who face a miscarriage each year.

For some mothers, talking about their miscarriage will be the most difficult part of the whole ordeal–but it is necessary. Encourage the mother to talk about her experience and share her story with others. Even if she only confides in her husband and a few close friends, she needs to talk about this. Holding the devastation of a miscarriage inside is like dragging around a thousand pounds of dead weight–it will eventually break you.

On the flip side, if you have already gone through a miscarriage, be bold and share about your experience with another mother who is going through her own miscarriage–this simple act of letting her know that she’s not alone will alleviate so much pain. There is great healing in sharing your story with others, allowing them to help you, and learn from them. When you share your story you will be surprised to learn how many other people have also been through this, and they will help lift you up.

Acknowledge that the baby she lost “counts”
The most heartbreaking thing somebody said to me when I was going through my miscarriage was, “I’m sorry you weren’t pregnant”–as if I’d made up the morning sickness, the surge of maternal joy that came when I saw the positive pregnancy test, and the doctors confirming this joy at my first ultrasound. The reality is that I was pregnant, but I will never get to meet that child.

Through sharing the story of my miscarriage, I met a woman who had experienced a miscarriage over 30 years ago. She told me that after years of struggling to cope with her miscarriage she decided to name her lost baby, and that was what finally allowed her to move on.

We decided to follow suit, and we have named our lost baby Lily. Since the boys were with me at every one of those early ultrasound appointments, I don’t want to diminish the loss of our baby or act like all of this never happened. We will continue to talk about Lily, and the boys know that they have a sister waiting for them up in Heaven. In some small way, by keeping the memory of our baby girl alive we will help our family move forward more completely.

Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault
The first thought I had when my doctor told me that my pregnancy would end in a miscarriage was “What did I do wrong?”. My doctor assured me that I had done nothing to cause the miscarriage, and that there was nothing I could have possibly done differently to have a more favorable outcome. The truth is, 15-20% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo and other non-preventable medical issues. Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault, and that she is not to blame.

Do something kind 
Going through a miscarriage can make you feel pretty crummy, so do something that will help lift her up. Go above and beyond, and do something thoughtful for her.  Send her flowers. Get her a gift certificate for a pedicure or a massage. Buy her something pretty to wear. Make sure the house is well-stocked with her favorite chocolates. All of these little acts of kindness will let her know that she matters to you and that you love her.

Offer practical help
One of the hardest things for me while I was going through my miscarriage was taking care of others–some days it was hard enough to just take care of myself. Going through a miscarriage is exhausting and physically painful, and she’ll relish the idea of some help. She may not ask for help, so step out and offer it anyway. Babysit her kids so she can take a bubble bath or a nap in peace. Order takeout or pizza (or better yet, cook her favorite meal for her) so she doesn’t have to worry about dinner. Clean her house or do her laundry. Offer to take her somewhere fun so she can get out of the house for a bit. Anything you can do to help her day go smoothly will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

Hold on to hope
Help her to realize that a miscarriage is the end of something, but it is not the end of everything. I have found great comfort during this time by counting my blessings and holding onto the hope of what is yet to come. My faith has been a huge factor in my perspective, as have the encouraging words of others. Just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes getting through the dark days so much more bearable.

And, if all else fails, just be there for her. Because, really, with love all things are possible.

XxX

The White Flag

SurrenderThis weekend we finally said goodbye to January. Goodbye, and good riddance. Never in my life have I been so glad to see a month end. January 2015 was, hands-down, the most challenging 31 days I’ve ever been dealt. The entire month was just an endless string of one let down after another, one loss after another, one upheaval after another, one tearing apart of my perfect little organized, well-planned, predictable life.

The month started with us saying goodbye (again) to our loved ones as we left our Christmas holidays in Washington and returned to our “normal” life in California. Saying goodbye was rough.

A few days after arriving home we visited the doctor to confirm our recently-discovered pregnancy. What was supposed to be an exciting time of preparing for our new baby quickly turned into unsettling discussions followed by even more disturbing test results as we learned that our baby would never be born. My miscarriage (discussed further here) was, and continues to be, a physical and emotional roller coaster that I was in no way prepared for. The whole thing is R-O-U-G-H, ROUGH. I would have been fine with the life-change stopping right there for the moment, but as they say: when it rains, it pours.

A few days after we found out that we’d lost the baby, we went for a family hike to try and clear our minds a bit. David had brought along Mimi, his stuffed monkey lovey, on the hike. In the moment we didn’t think too much of this because, as David’s lovey, Mimi has gone with our family everywhere we’ve gone for the last 4.5 years (which, by the way, is the same total time that David has gone with us everywhere we’ve gone).

Mimi was at the hospital the day David was born. Mimi snuggled David to sleep when he was a baby. Mimi played endless hours of basketball with David when he was 2 years old. Mimi moved to Ireland with us when David was 3. Mimi traveled the world with us: she went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, rode in the London Tube, and sunbathed on beaches in Spain. Mimi comforted David when he was moved to a new home, new school and new community for the 4th time in his short life. David loved Mimi more than anything, she was his WORLD.

So, here we were, out on our hike with the whole family +Mimi and life was grand. I even got a picture of David and Mimi at the top of our hike so we could remember what good little hikers they were. But, somehow between the top of our hike and bed time, Mimi went missing. She was not in the house. She was not in the car. Mimi. Was. Gone. David was inconsolable at bedtime, so I did what any rational parent would do. I called the restaurant that we stopped at for lunch after the hike–and all of the other restaurants and businesses within a 2-block radius of there. No Mimi. I left voicemails for the security that I knew checked the area where we were hiking. No Mimi. I enlisted my running friends to retrace our steps on the trail (a huge thank you, by the way, to the dozen or so of you who did that!). No Mimi. I put ads on the lost and found section of Craigslist. No Mimi. NO. MIMI.

I don’t know if it was because we were already experiencing another type of loss or just because I really loved Mimi (because, really, she has loved my boy very well), but losing that silly monkey just wrecked me. I lost sleep over it. I’m crying right now just thinking about it.  Losing Mimi was rough. For all of us.

Two days after the Mimi fiasco, I lost something else. The Bible study that I’ve been involved with for the past 10 years, the Bible study that I love and look forward to every week, the Bible study that has been my constant through all of the moves and changes and upheavals, decided they were done with my family. They asked us not to come back…for awhile…but I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea any more. I was shocked and I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing–and I still really do love the group and what they stand for–so we’ll just leave it at that. Another loss, another change, another rough patch.

And then, just to add a little madness to the mayhem, we got word that our landlord here in California had died a week before Christmas. Well, not so much died, as he was murdered in his new home a few miles away from where we now live. Nobody really had a plan for this, so now our agent and the landlord’s brother and some attorneys are scrambling to figure out what to do. I don’t know if we’re going to be kicked out of our house (worst case scenario) or if they’ll decide to *sell us* the house for dirt cheap just to get it off their hands (best case scenario), but it’s just another thing. Another change, another challenge, another confusing and rough experience.

In summary, my January SUCKED. There were moments when I just wanted to push stop or rewind or erase so I could make it all go away. But if I’d done that, I would have missed a lot. Because, despite the pouring down of rough sucky-ness, there were lots of bright spots in my days.

There were bright spots like eating late-night brownie sundaes with my “comfy” friends (you know, the dear friends who you are so comfy around that you make a pact to wear sweats and messy hair when you hang out). Bright spots like handwritten notes. Bright spots like the neighbor that brought us dinner and a box of doughnuts. Bright spots like David’s teacher telling me how proud she was of his effort in school. Bright spots like the gift of a day out and some pampering (shout out to Val because, seriously, I have the best friends.). Bright spots like Jacob holding my face in his tiny hands and saying in his most earnest toddler voice, “Mommy, I LOVE you. You’re pretty.” Bright spots like Jon doing all the dishes WITHOUT ME EVEN SAYING A WORD ABOUT HELPING WITH THE DISHES.

Through all this, I’ve come to realize that no matter how ridiculous life might get, there are always bright spots. In order to find the bright spots, though, sometimes you have to do more than just look for them. Sometimes, you have to surrender first in order to find them. When you’re at that place of raw vulnerability, that place that I’m at now, you have to acknowledge that you simply can not depend on your plans, your dreams, your expectations. In the now-infamous words of Elsa of Arendelle, you have to “Let It Go” (OK, I may have watched Frozen with my kids a few (dozen) times this month when I couldn’t find the will to move off the couch).

But, seriously, sometimes you just have to throw in the towel and say I can’t do this. Because, really, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t. And we’re not supposed to. We were not created to handle, on our own, all that life throws at us–because, if we were, then there would be no need for God or a Savior. We were not created to carry the burdens of the world on our shoulders, because nobody’s shoulders are sturdy enough to carry that burden. No, we were created to surrender. We were created to need the God who created us, to surrender to the Savior He sent us, and to move confidently forward knowing that He has freed us. You have to acknowledge that there are times when life is tricky and confusing and maddening and rough. And you have to lay it all down at the foot of the cross and LEAVE IT THERE. You have to give it all up and let God take the reigns on your life. It’s not easy to do, but it’s worth it.

I’m at the breaking point, and I have a choice: I can rely on my own strength–and ultimately crumble–or I can surrender to God who will strengthen me. Hiding behind my own comforts and well-thought out plans isn’t going to work right now, because all of that has already been stripped away. I am left with one option: surrender.

Surrendering to God’s will is the only way to truly move forward, so that’s what I’m choosing. I’m surrendering January (praise the Lord!) and letting it all go. I’m surrendering the trauma of the miscarriage and the loss of our beloved Mimi and the questions that remain about my future. Because it’s not worth holding on to all that rough-stuff alone, and I know that I can’t live in the “now”, let alone move forward, if I’m carrying that burden alone. It’s too much. And, since I know the solution to this particular set of problems, I’m going to take it. I’m waving the proverbial white flag like a madwoman. I’m surrendering my life, my circumstances, my very heart to God–and sitting back to watch Him work.

Proverbs 23:26: “Give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.”

Done and done.

Goodbye January, and hello, February. Out with the old, in with the new. It’s time for a fresh start. Moving forward, now!

Castledaly Manor Retreat

10534172_486787304785695_365487138275564495_o

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.

IMG_6644

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.

IMG_6660

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:

IMG_6691

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.

IMG_6729

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

IMG_6743

…and the swings in the gardens
IMG_6763

…and the fields to play frisbee inIMG_6777

…and the secret gardens to discoverIMG_6804

…and the pitches for playing soccerIMG_6805

…and the ponds for throwing rocks.IMG_6858

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

IMG_6734

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.).

IMG_6808

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:

IMG_6806

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?”.

IMG_6811

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.

IMG_6848
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).

IMG_6834

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!):

IMG_6864

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.

IMG_6868

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.

St. Patrick’s Day In Ireland

IMG_2564

On March 17th each year the whole world dresses in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Never in my life did I think I would actually be in Ireland on this most-Irish of all holidays. Yet, here we find ourselves, and I couldn’t have been more excited. This being our first St. Patrick’s Day in the Emerald Isle, we wanted to make it memorable. And, now that I’m starting to recover from the festivities, I can honestly say that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland did not disappoint. We had a whole weekend of celebrations, and this will definitely be a St. Patrick’s Day that none of us will ever forget!

Our St. Patrick’s weekend festivities began on Friday. The boys received a care package in the mail from their Gammy and Grandpa Pete in Washington. It was full of goodies–including “leprechaun candy” that they feasted on all weekend:

IMG_2442

On Friday afternoon we had a St. Paddy’s playdate with some of David’s friends. We all went out to lunch at our “local” (the pub in our neighborhood) that was all bedecked in Irish decor. Two of the moms  have recently gone back to work so we don’t see as much of each other as we used to–we had a grand time catching up while the kids ran around the pub like wild banshees. Here’s David with his two buddies: Alannah and Jack Kelly (David calls him Jack Kelly–not just Jack–Jack KELLY. I kind of love it because it sounds so very Irish):

IMG_2417

Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day so we went out to Blarney Castle for a romp in the gardens. The castle grounds were beautiful with the Spring flowers blooming and the (rare) sun shining to warm us:

IMG_2496

On Sunday we had our day of rest to prepare for the busy day on Monday: St. Patrick’s Day! Since St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland,  Jon had the day off work (woot!). We started our day with a hearty St. Patrick’s-themed breakfast: “shamrock pancakes” (green pancakes) and “leprechaun juice” (green milk).

IMG_2590

After breakfast we noticed that there were little green “clues” hidden all over the place. Apparently, a sneaky little leprechaun had snuck into our house while we were sleeping and hidden his treasure for us to find. The boys ran around (and up and down and all about) following the clues until they found the leprechaun’s treasure:

IMG_2593

After our scavenger hunt we dressed up in our green get-ups and got ready to drive into the city for the Cork City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Even Bota dressed up for the occasion (even if she didn’t get to come with us to the parade):

IMG_2597

We arrived about 2 hours before the start of the parade which was kind of perfect–all of the Catholics (a.k.a all of the Irish people) were still in mass so we got a great parking spot and staked out a seat along the parade route. While we were waiting for the parade to begin we wandered around and got lunch at the food booths, visited the face painters in the park, and generally took it all in. We were here, in Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day!

IMG_2614

The parade was a grand affair. Michael Flatley of “Riverdance” fame was the master of ceremonies, although I didn’t even recognize him when he drove by (you can hardly blame me–he wasn’t wearing tights). The parade had bands, acrobats, dancing groups, an eclectic collection of international groups, fire trucks, and floats. The boys loved watching the parade–David’s favorite group was “the army guys” and Jacob’s favorite was the Chinese dragon (I know because he cried when it went around the corner and he couldn’t see it anymore). It was all really, really wonderful.

IMG_2690

The parade must have wiped the boys out because shortly after we returned home I  found them resting on the floor with blankets they’d pulled off their beds. Ah, even leprechauns need their sleep.

IMG_2697

I probably should have joined them for their little afternoon snooze, because my day was far from over at this point. After the boys were tucked in for the night we had a babysitter come over so Jon and I could go out and enjoy the St. Paddy’s nightlife. We went back into the city and met up with our friend (and Jon’s co-worker), Cole, who had just arrived in town for a week of work in the Ireland office.

IMG_2725

We visited some pubs, and I learned three important truths on our little late-night escapade:

1. There is nothing like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub. Especially if that Irish pub is actually in Ireland. The atmosphere was…how do I put this…electric. Everything was buzzing and alive and, well, crazy. It was tons of fun.

2. Even the rowdiest pub in Ireland will still serve you tea and scones at midnight. No joke.

3. I am getting old. One of the pubs had a great band playing cover songs and we spent most of the night signing and dancing along with (what seemed to be) half of Ireland. I left the pub feeling old. Very, very old. Nevermind the fact that I still can’t hear out of my left ear (the one that was facing the speaker while the band played) or the fact that I left the pub clutching my sore back (too much dancing). The thing that makes me feel REALLY old is the fact that me, Jon, and Cole were the only ones singing along to songs from our high school days. Which makes sense when you consider that most of the other revelers in the pub were probably in Kindergarten when those songs were popular. Dang.

In short, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was everything I’d hoped that it would be…and more. Every St. Patrick’s Day for the rest of my life I will remember this week: that time that I was actually in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.

And it was–wait for it–legendary.

Weekend in Kilkenny

For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip with some friends of ours, Audrey and Dave and their three children: Zoe, Jack and Benjamin. Audrey and Dave are from a place called Kilkenny, and they were generous enough to offer themselves as our hosts and guides for our weekend out in the country. We were all very excited for our little 2-family getaway. That is, until this happened:

unnamed

On the eve of our most-exciting trip, David came down with a nasty viral infection. His fever spiked to 105 degrees in the middle of the night, and we decided to take him to the hospital for a little check-up just to be safe. So, with a sick child and no previous Irish-hospital experience, Jon braved a night in the ER. I could devote an entire blog post just to this ridiculous hospital visit, but for now I’ll just say that it involved Jon kicking down a door in the hospital, sitting in a waiting room with people who had been waiting for TWELVE HOURS, and getting sent home with a “prescription” for Tylenol. Needless to say, Jon and David were pretty wiped out from the whole hospital experience and neither of them were up for a trip to the country–no matter how glorious it was going to be.  We decided that it would be best for Jon and David to stay home and rest up while Jacob and I went on to meet our friends in Kilkenny.

Jacob and I got up before the crack of dawn (his idea, not mine), packed up the car, and drove 2 hours north into the Irish countryside. The drive itself was gorgeous–pastures, farms, animals, and ancient ruins everywhere you looked:

IMG_2176

We arrived in Kilkenny just after 10:00 on Saturday morning so we had the whole day to explore. Audrey’s parents run a grain farm, and they were kind enough to put us all up in the bungalow on their property. The “bungalow” was actually a huge house with 5 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and 2 sitting rooms. The bungalow is on the farm, so we could look out the window and see tractors going by and even hear animals baa-ing and moo-ing in the distance.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to stay on our little Irish holiday.

The first thing we did after getting unpacked was to go for a little walk around the farm:

IMG_2197

All of the kids had a great time checking out the big tractors and massive farm machinery. Every little boy’s dream come true!

IMG_2254

We walked through the ginormous grain sheds (seriously, I think you could fit Safeco Field inside one of these guys!) and got to learn about all of the different grains that are on the farm:

IMG_2193

Audrey’s dad, Farmer Harper (alright, I don’t know if anyone calls him that, but his last name is Harper!), came down for a bit to show us around his farm and take the kids for rides on the tractor:

IMG_2269

And then it was insisted upon that I drive the tractor:

IMG_2260

I tried to warn them that I didn’t have an insurance policy to cover tractor collisions, but they still gave me the go-ahead (don’t worry, I drove at about 0.5 Miles Per Hour and couldn’t have hit a turtle if I’d been gunning for it):

IMG_2263

After a fun morning playing at Farmer Harper’s grain farm we headed out for our next farm-venture. Audrey’s cousin runs an open farm (a farm open for visitors with animals and kids’ activities) called Nore Valley Park, just up the road from her parents’ farm. There were lots of baby animals for us to see and pet and cuddle at Nore Valley: ducklings, chicks, and bunnies.

IMG_2202

My favorite babies, though, were definitely these twin lambs (you can only see one because her sister is lying behind Mama Sheep). They were born just a few hours before we arrived–they were so new that they still had their umbilical cords hanging on them!

IMG_2210

There were lots of fun activities for the kids including Jacob’s favorite, the sand pit:

IMG_2218

There were so many gorgeous animals for us to visit out on the farm. It doesn’t get much more Irish than this: a flock of fuzzy sheep and their new baby lambs grazing in a lush green field:

IMG_2224

We made one last stop after Nore Valley at a pottery studio called Nicholas Mosse. Kilkenny is well-known for the Irish arts and crafts that are produced in this region, so I had to see at least one design center while we were there.

IMG_2243

The Nicholas Mosse studio was very cool. The building itself is a 250-year old former grain mill on the banks of the River Nore. Inside, you can see demos of artists throwing the pottery and hand-painting each piece. Unfortunately, there were no demos for us to view while we were visiting, but there were several displays and videos showing us the whole pottery-making process.

IMG_2236

We spent a bit of time perusing the pottery that was for sale in the store. But, since I didn’t have $80 to spare for a tea cup, we decided to move along.

IMG_2242

There was a lovely cafe upstairs with a view of the river below. We all got tea and snacks to eat in the cafe. And, just to prove how Irish he’s becoming, Jacob drank nearly my whole pot of tea before I could get a sip in.

IMG_2239

We took the scenic road home from Nicholas Mosse and, my, was it gorgeous. Beautiful roads winding along rivers and past pristine country farms. A gorgeous end to our first day in Kilkenny.

IMG_2249

We spent our second day exploring the sights in Kilkenny. We started at Kilkenny Castle, a majestic building that is very unlike the rest of the typically rustic castles I’ve seen in Ireland. We posed for a quick group photo in front of the castle and then explored a bit of the grounds. There is a beautiful park surrounding the castle, complete with rose gardens and an awesome playground for the kids.

IMG_2278

At this point, the babies were already asleep in their strollers so we decided to leave Dave outside with all of the kids at the playground while Audrey and I went inside to tour the castle (you win Man of The Year for that one, Dave!).

IMG_2280

The castle itself was incredible. It was built in 1195 on the banks of the River Nore and was occupied by many different people throughout its history. The last family to inhabit these walls was the prosperous Butler family, and they went all out in the opulence department. There is hand-painted silk wallpaper in the drawing room and gold-plated ceilings in the library. Most of the furnishings, decorations, and details of the castle have been restored to their former glory. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside–but just take my word for it, it was amazing!

IMG_2334

After touring the castle we walked through town to do a bit of exploring:

IMG_2331

As we were walking through town we came upon all of these lovely anti-witch posters. You see, Kilkenny was the home of Alice Kyteler, the first woman accused and condemned as a witch in Ireland.

IMG_2297

After her fourth husband “mysteriously” died, Alice Kyteler was accused of being a witch and sentenced to death. She got wind of this unfortunate turn of events and hastily found her way right out of Ireland. She must have forgotten to tell her maidservant, Petronella de Meath, about all of this, though–she was burned at the stake in Kyteler’s place in 1324. Today you can still visit Kyteler’s former house in Kilkenny. It is a pub, as it has been since 1324 when the residents abandoned the house.

IMG_2299

Continuing our walk through Kilkenny we came to a spot on the sidewalk where you can see the remains of the 13th century city wall. This wall was (obviously) built as a fortress to protect the residents inside the city and (not so obviously) as a means to separate the wealthy English residents and the poor Irish residents. Consequently, the two sides of the wall were called English town and Irish town, respectively.

IMG_2327

Our final two stops on our walk through Kilkenny were two ancient churches. The first church we visited, Black Abbey, was built in 1225. It was deliberately built outside the town walls so that they could serve residents of both English town and Irish town and claim their independence from either side.

IMG_2318

The second church we visited was St. Canice’s Cathedral. The cathedral was closed to the public when we visited, but I hear that the inside is gorgeous. What we could see on the outside was also quite fascinating.  For instance, the round tower that stands to the side of the cathedral was a sort of hideout that the monks could go to if the cathedral was ever attacked (which, by merely imagining the effort that must have gone into building that tower, I would have to assume happened quite often). The door to the round tower is about 10 feet off the ground and would be accessed with a ladder–once the monks were safely inside, they’d pull up the ladder and climb to the top of the tower where they would be safe.

IMG_2320

I loved Kilkenny–the beautiful countryside, the quaint town, the rich history. I’m already planning our next trip here–hopefully minus the fevers and late-night hospital visits!