How To Halloween In 2019

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Halloween.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a day that I looked forward to every year. I mean, what other day could be more catered to children than a day you get to imagine you’re anything you want to be and every house you visit gives you free candy? One day of absolute kid heaven.

Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s Halloween was exactly that: one day of kid heaven. We would decorate our house and carve pumpkins some time leading up to the big day, and we’d go through our dress-up box to pick out our costumes, but that was about it. There was not a lot of prep work or parental stress involved in the day (Other than, perhaps, the fact that my mom had to pick up a bag of Tootsie Pops when she was at the store buying herself Tab.). These were simpler times before Pinterest and Instagram and the mass-commercialization of just about everything.

Not so now. No, today in 2019 Halloween is a different beast altogether. If you have a child in 2019, your Halloween timeline probably looks something like this:

July 5, 2019
Begin your Halloween costume shopping at Costco. If you aren’t ready to make a costume commitment by the day after the 4th of July, you risk having your kid’s favorite character and/or size completely sold out by the time school starts in the fall.

August 2019
Begin the prep work for your Halloween decorations. You should pin ideas from Pinterest boards that will really make your house stand out on the block. You’ll need a couple of months to gather the supplies and craft your beach ball googly eyes (to hang in your trees) and life-size spiders made out of styrofoam and weather-resistant papier-mâché (to cover every facade of your house).

September 2019
Return the superhero costume you bought at Costco two months ago. Now that school has started your kid’s friends have introduced him to some new video game and he wants to be an obscure character from the Nether world. After a quick search on Amazon you find the newly-desired costume (for three times the price of the Costco one, thankyouverymuch). Thanks to Amazon Prime, the costume can be delivered tomorrow by a somewhat sketchy guy who will show up in your driveway in an unmarked car when you’re home alone.

October 2019
Visit at least one pumpkin patch each weekend during the month of October. These farms are only open for a short window of time, and you must get the requisite fun out of them while they’re available. Dig deep to smile when it costs over $100 to take your family to look at gourds in the mud. It will all be worth it, though, when you get photos of your children in a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins (#mylilpunkins) and eat your body weight in apple cider donuts.

October 5, 2019
Your daughter has decided to be a VSCO Girl for Halloween. You  have no idea what this is so you Google the term. Every search result is just a photo of you and your friends in middle school. Thank goodness Amazon Prime also delivers hair scrunchies and Fjallraven-Kanken backpacks.

October 12, 2019
Go shopping for trick-or-treat supplies before the stores replace all of the Halloween candy with candy canes and gingerbread houses. Buy enough candy to fill the entire trunk of your car–you don’t want to be that house that runs out of candy halfway through the big night. Make sure your chocolates are fair trade and your gummies are organic and dye-free. Also buy allergy-free trinkets for your teal pumpkin and teen-appropriate gifts for the teens who may or may not come to your house because they still want to enjoy a bit more of their childhood (aka free candy).

October 19, 2019 
Pumpkin carving! Spend a few hours researching pumpkin designs online. Print off your desired templates and affix to your pumpkin. Break out your specialized carving kit containing intricate tools of the trade. Also make sure your Dremel Tool is available for additional artistic edge. Sharpies and steak knives are so 1993.

October 26, 2019
Attend the Fall Family Festival at your husband’s work. Marvel at how quickly your children can consume an entire plastic pumpkin’s worth of candy on the car ride home.

October 27, 2019
Attend your community trunk-or-treat Halloween pre-funk. Your children now have approximately 50 pounds of candy each, and we’re still half a week away from the main event.

October 28, 2019
Open up your NextDoor app so you can plot the best trick or treating route. Luckily there is a special Halloween feature where your neighbors have already indicated with icons whether they will be offering trick-or-treat incentives such as full size candy bars, a haunted house, or booze for the parents.

October 30, 2019
Your son rips his costume in half because he’s been wearing it non-stop since he got it over a month ago. Stay up until 2 am sewing the pieces back together.

October 31, 2019
Halloween Day!
Wake up at 5:30AM so you can make your traditional pumpkin pancakes and hot chocolate breakfast.
Get your kids dressed in their costumes so you can take pictures before school and post them to your social media accounts.
Arrive at school 30 minutes early so you can help decorate the classroom for the Halloween party.
Rush home after school starts so you can change into your costume (no weapons or masks) and get back to school in time for the party.
Drop off your toddler with your neighbor’s mother because all of your friends who usually help watch your kids are also at school for the Halloween party.
Get to school just in time for the first party. Enjoy watching first graders decorate “cookies” covered in an entire jar of frosting and bajillions of sprinkles.
As soon as the first class party is done, rush across the hall to your other kid’s party. Marvel at how many video game characters from the Nether world exist in the third grade.
After the party, rush home and pick up your toddler from the sitter so you can rush back to school to pick up the older kids after school.
Get home from school and try to force feed your children something with nutritional content before the next deluge of sugar.
Double check that your flashlights have working batteries. Realize that none of your flashlights have working batteries, so call your husband and have him pick up some extra batteries on his way home from work (which is taking approximately 4 hours anyway, because every other parent is also rushing home from work right now).
Attempt to bundle up your children for trick-or-treating because you live in Washington which means the weather on Halloween will either be A) cold, dark and rainy or B) freaking freezing cold (This was also the case in Washington during the late-80’s. Some things just never change.). Your children will have none of this bundling up business because the coats you’re asking them to wear cover up important details of their costumes. They say things like, “Dragons don’t wear rain coats.” and “Elsa doesn’t get cold because of her magical powers.” and “Kung Fu masters don’t wear shoes.” 100% of your children reject 100% of the weather protection you offer. May the odds be ever in their favor.
Spend the next 1-2 hours wandering your neighborhood in the dark while your children complain that their candy bags are too heavy and they are too cold.
Get home from trick-or-treating and allow your children to empty their candy loot and indulge in their every gluttonous tendency.
Finally wrangle the over-tired, over-sugared children to bed an hour past bedtime.
Print off a certificate of achievement for yourself because you have survived Halloween 2019.

Happy Halloween, friends! May it be a day you’ll always remember.

Ireland Adventure

I’ve always been a carpe diem-type person, and if an opportunity presents itself I’m likely to seize it before it has a chance to slip away. It makes perfect sense, then, that when Jon found out this summer that he’d need to travel to Ireland for work in a few weeks’ time that I would see this as an opportunity to seize.

Ever since we left Ireland three years ago I’ve been trying to find a way to get back there. Ireland will always be a second home in my heart, and I’ve been homesick. The timing of Jon’s business trip seemed ideal–I could bring Hannah (who is not quite 2 years old yet, and therefore still able to travel on a plane without having to buy her a ticket)–as our only child who has never been to Ireland I felt like she has been missing out on a big part of our family history. In addition, we could take advantage of the September sweet spot between the busy tourist season and the wet and windy days of…well…the rest of the year in Ireland. So, really, I just had to go.

I begged and pleaded my case with Jon and as soon as he gave me the affirmative “Well, we could look into this and see if it makes sense…” speech, I scheduled an appointment at the passport office so we could make Hannah a legit traveller and I started researching flights. Since Jon was traveling for work, he had to be in Europe a week before me and we had to book our tickets at the last minute after he received his final work schedule. In the end, though, we found a way to get me there at the end of his trip, and he was even able to take a few days of vacation during the time I would be there. I was actually going to carpe my diem after all!

Arranging to leave on a cross-continental journey alone with a toddler, while also preparing everything at home for your two school-aged children who would be staying behind, was a bit of a puzzle. It was a whirlwind of preparations, but finally travel day arrived and I braced myself for the journey ahead.

I don’t know if any of you have ever traveled with young children, but if you have then I’m sure you’ll agree with what I’m about to say: toddlers are the WORST. The worst travel companions, that is. I love my children, but I despise traveling with them when they are toddlers (even if they are really stinkin’ cute).

Babies: no problem. They nurse and sleep and snuggle and they’re easy-peasy. Big kids–even preschoolers–fine. They can entertain themselves with coloring books or movies or snack time. Some of them can even reason or understand the reward that awaits them on the other end of the travel. No problem.

But toddlers? Toddlers are a nightmare to travel with. They are set on their schedule and routine and their own cozy bed, and when they don’t have those things they scream. They are tired all the time but they refuse to sleep, so instead they scream. They can’t communicate their needs, and when they try to do so but you don’t understand, they scream. They are always hungry but if you feed them the wrong food or food in the wrong way or, God forbid, request that they not dump the entire juice box down the front of their shirt, they scream. They don’t have the attention span to watch a tv show or play with an app or read a book or color a picture, and when you suggest that they do any of these things they scream. They want to walk and explore, and when you make them sit they scream. Basically, they do a lot of screaming and the parents do a lot of hair-pulling.

You can see, then, why I was not-so-excited to be traveling alone on a 10-hour flight with a toddler.

Our travel day to Ireland went something like this:

6:00 Wake up, make breakfast, get the kids ready for school
8:00 Drop David off at school
8:45  Go to the grocery store and stock up on food that my kids might actually eat so their grandparents have a reasonable chance of success in feeding them for the next week.
9:30  Go to the gas station and fill the car up with gas so the grandparents can cart the children around all week
10:00 Get the last load of laundry out of the dryer and finish packing
11:00 Make lunch for the two children who are still home with me
12:00 Grandparent helpers arrive! Review with them the 38-page Childcare Manual that I compiled to ensure they know the who/what/where/when/why of the offspring I’m leaving in their care.
12:30 Drop off Jacob at preschool
1:00  Drive grandparent chauffeurs around to the kids’ schools and activity locations and explain the overly-complicated drop-off and pick-up procedures
2:00 Meet my brother in law (who is driving us to the airport) at home. Load my bags, car seat, stroller, baby carrier, backpack, and baby into his car. Drive to the airport
3:00 Schlep my 5,000 essential travel items through the airport to the baggage check-in area. Get shuffled to 3 different locations before an actual human is willing to help me check in (the computers don’t like checking in babies, by the way).
4:00 Finally get through airport security! Buy a burrito for linner (lunch-dinner) because who knows if/when I will get another chance to use my own two hands to eat again.
4:30 Settle at the airport playground to eat my linner burrito while Hannah runs around screaming in a place where it is socially acceptable for a toddler to scream.
5:00 Call the boys to FaceTime with them before we board the plane. David is sick. He has a headache and is throwing up (As it would turn out, David would be sick the entire duration of our travel and wouldn’t go back to school until after our return. His grandparents who stayed home and cared for him now have infinity crowns in Heaven.).
6:00 Board the plane an hour before take-off because that is how much time is required for 200 people to find their seats, argue over who gets which overhead storage bin, and browse the SkyMall magazine.
7:00 Takeoff!

So, you see, by the time our plane even left the runway I was exhausted. I’d already had a full day of running around and chasing children, and yet there were miles to go before I’d sleep.

Hannah actually did great on the flight. She was in a good mood and I was able to get her to fall asleep in my Ergo baby carrier after just a few hours of flight time. Unfortunately, my joy over the well-traveled toddler was about to end.

I was standing in a hallway in the middle of the plane bouncing Hannah to keep her happy and asleep when we hit turbulence. The flight attendants asked me to return to my seat and buckle my seatbelt for the time being. Normally this would not be an outlandish request, after all, the seatbelt is there for my safety, but I knew the real consequences of this request. A sleeping toddler who is in an upright position sleeping in a carrier will almost certainly awake once they are squished into a narrow airplane seat and restrained with a seatbelt. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter, though, so I went back to my seat.

As soon as I sat down Hannah woke up. And she was angry. She wanted to keep standing and bouncing, and she was going to let me–and everyone else on the plane–know how she felt about this situation. So she did what toddlers do best: she screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I tried to comfort her but until I could stand up and resume the mommy rock-bounce, there was nothing I could do.

As if the stress of having a tired, angry toddler screaming in my arms wasn’t enough, some gentleman sitting a few rows behind me thought it would be prudent to also let me know how he felt about the situation. I’m sure my crying baby was quite the personal insult on him because he started yelling across the plane, “Won’t someone shut that thing up!” and other helpful, encouraging words. He was so helpful, in fact, that the flight attendants requested him to stop lest he be escorted right off the plane.

After 10 minutes that felt like 10 years, we were past the turbulence and allowed to get out of our seats again. The flight attendants were super helpful after the whole guy yelling incident and they moved me to another seat that had more room…and that was as far away from the yelling guy as I could get. Hannah fell back asleep right away (as I knew she would), but I was so angry and stressed out that I just sat in my seat brooding for the rest of the flight.

Our first flight ended in Amsterdam, and I had an 8 hour layover before our final flight into Ireland. I had found out that it’s very convenient to take the train from the Amsterdam airport into the city center and, since I had time to kill, I decided to give it a try. When we disembarked from the train in Amsterdam, however, I realized that I was grossly unprepared for the weather. The city was in the midst of a tempest and the only thing we had to keep us warm and dry was our airplane travel clothes (pajamas), plus a blanket I stole off the plane. I was already there, though, so I decided to walk around the city for a  bit before heading back to the airport.

We managed to find some yummy pancakes to eat, but I didn’t have the energy or the rain gear to do much else.

We returned to the airport, changed into the clean set of clothes that I thankfully had in my backpack, and spent the rest of the day exploring inside where it was warm and dry. The day is mostly a blur because I’d already pulled an all-nighter with a toddler. I was in survival mode. As a consolation, at least they had these giant tea cups to sit in.

Finally it was time to board our last flight, we made the short journey from Amsterdam to Cork, we arrived, a taxi took us to our hotel, Jon met us at the door, he carried us into bed, and then I didn’t wake up for 14 hours.

And that, my friends, was the longest day of my life.

The next afternoon I woke up totally refreshed and ready to go. We looked out our window and we’re greeted with the most spectacular view of Cork city.

Jon was finishing up his last day of work in Cork, so I met up with some friends at a park down the road.


Joanne had been my neighbor when we lived in Cork, and her two children were two of our boys’ best friends. Joanne had a friend from growing up, Leah, who lived the next neighborhood over. Leah’s son was in David’s preschool class, and so us 3 moms had spent many days together with our children. When we lived in Ireland our kids had played together on “the green” in the middle of our neighborhood nearly every day and us moms had spent endless hours getting to know each other over cups of tea. Reconnecting with Joanne and Leah (and their new children who had not yet been born when we left Ireland) was the perfect start to my little Irish adventure.

Over the next few days we did exactly what I had set out to do in Ireland: we visited the people and the places that we missed.

We went to our old church and caught up with our “family” there.


We went to museums and the zoo and parks.


We visited historic churches and rang the bells in their bell towers.


We attended playdates and birthday parties.


We had afternoon tea and dinners with our friends.


We visited dear friends of ours from California who had recently moved to Cork.


We walked on the sea cliffs and breathed in the fresh, salty air.


We went to a castle.


We listened to trad in a pub.


We drank tea and had a pint in our local.


We ate the local delicacies.

(No, not that.)

We walked the streets that we used to call home.

We spent a whole week living out all of our favorite things with all of our favorite people, and it was perfect.

But, as with all good things, eventually it came to an end. At the end of our week I was sad-happy–sad, because I knew that I wouldn’t be back again for a long time, but happy for the experiences this week that would never leave me.

Thank you, Ireland, for a lifetime of memories squeezed into a single week. I love you so much that it was even worth traveling to you with a toddler–and that’s saying a lot!

Until next time, Ireland–I miss you already!

Why Jesus Is The Better Santa

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Childhood is such a magical stage of life, and Christmas has to be the most magical time in childhood. For a few short weeks every year the whole world transforms in anticipation for the most magical of all days: Christmas. Of course I loved Christmas when I was growing up, but nothing compares to seeing Christmas anew through my childrens’ eyes. The wonder, the excitement, the joy– everything is magnified with young children, and I can’t get enough of it.

I have to confess: when I think of the “magic of Christmas”, though, one of the first images that pops into my mind is of a jolly old man in a red suit with eight flying reindeer. I mean, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa.

Or would it?

Five years ago when we celebrated our first Christmas with our first baby, Jon and I had several discussions about what to do about Santa. We wanted to keep the Christmas-focus on Jesus–and all of the hype around Santa kind of gets in the way of that.

After much thought and prayer, we ultimately decided to put Santa on the back-burner (this article does a great job expressing our thoughts on this subject). We still have fun with Santa– we tell our kids about the real St. Nicholas who loved Jesus and served the poor in His name, we read books and sing songs featuring Santa, and we get our annual photo with the big guy–but we just don’t make him the center of our celebrations. Santa doesn’t visit our house on Christmas Eve, and there’s no man at the North Pole putting our kids on the nice or naughty list.  We acknowledge Santa without prioritizing him.

What it all boiled down to is that we didn’t want Santa to compete with Jesus for a place in our boys’ hearts or minds. And why should he? Everything that Santa “can” do, Jesus CAN do better.

In fact, if you think about it, Jesus really is the better “Santa”.

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts once a year, but Jesus gives us the free gift of eternal salvation.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings fleeting happiness, but Jesus brings forever-joy.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa condemns those who are naughty, but Jesus redeems our sin.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa comes just for kids, but Jesus came for all people.
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa wears a tacky red suit, but Jesus is clothed in righteousness.
“He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.” Isaiah 59:17

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings coal for those who are naughty, but Christ brings forgiveness for all who sin.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa only comes once a year, but Jesus never leaves us.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa tries to complete our wish list once a year, but Jesus answers every request we bring to Him.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa lives in the North Pole, but Jesus lives in Heaven.
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Luke 22:69

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa keeps a list of “naughty or nice”, but Jesus composes the Book of Life.
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Revelation 13:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts that offer temporary pleasure, but Jesus brings the timeless gift of grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Jesus is the better Santa because your belief in Santa ends in disappointment, but your faith in Jesus ends in fulfillment.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

I am so grateful that God didn’t just send us any old gift at Christmas, he sent us the best gift–the perfect gift. The only gift that is guaranteed to never disappoint or break or fade with time. God became man to show his great love for all people–naughty or nice; today, tomorrow and forever.

This Christmas, may you experience the great joy that comes from this love! Merry Christmas!

 

 

The Best Of Ireland Awards

Yesterday marked one year since we arrived in Ireland. ONE YEAR! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone…and yet, at the same time, it feels like we have lived here forever. We have been to more places, seen more things, met more people, tried more food and experienced more in this year than at any other time in our lives.

People often ask me what the best part of Ireland is and, the answer is, there are many “bests”. There is no way I could possibly limit my favorites down to one thing. So I won’t even try. What I will do, however, is offer you a compilation of the best things we’ve actually experienced here in Ireland. I now present to you:

The Best of Ireland Awards (According to me, of course!)

Best Natural Site: The Cliffs of Moher
IMG_2049I can’t think of anything more spectacular than moss-covered cliffs that plunge 400 feet into the ocean. They’re seriously amazing.

Best Museum: Titanic Belfast
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OK, so for starters, the museum is in the actual shipping yard where Titanic was built and the front of the building is a scale replica of the size of the great ship’s hull. The exhibits are fascinating, there is an amusement park-style ride that takes you through the ship building process, and the cafe serves scones on White Star Line china. What’s not to love?

Best Monument/Historical Site: Newgrange
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Probably the oldest building you’ll ever see (it’s 5,000 years old, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids). Just don’t take your kids with you or you might get kicked out for unruly behavior.

Best Holiday Celebrate In Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day

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If you thought the St.Patrick’s Day parade in your town was fun, then wait until you see how Ireland celebrates! St. Patrick’s Day is definitely the most festive holiday we’ve been a part of here.

Best Time To Visit Ireland: Easter Week
IMG_2496The flowers are blooming, the sun is starting to find its way out of winter hibernation, and the towns are starting to come back to life. Easter falls right at the beginning of the official Irish tourist season, so shops and museums that have been closed for the winter will again welcome you in–plus the crowds won’t arrive for another month or two. There are lots of special activities and festivals throughout the country during Holy Week, making this the perfect time to visit.

Best Castle to Explore: King John’s Castle, Limerick

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I’m a self-professed castle-holic, as you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time. We have seen a LOT of castles here in Ireland. It’s hard to chose just one favorite castle, but I’m going to have to give this award out to King John’s for their fabulous renovations and hands-on exhibits. I mean, where else will you get to dress up like a knight in shining armor…in a REAL medieval castle?!

Best Irish Food: Scones
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I’m obsessed with scones, so this is no surprise. They’re just the best thing ever. Period.

Best Irish Drink: Barry’s Tea
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Barry’s Tea will forever be that taste that reminds me of Ireland. On my last trip to the grocery store I bought a giant box of Barry’s Tea with enough tea to last me through the apocalypse (or at least until the next time I make it back to Ireland).

Best Place Off The Beaten Path: Ballycotton Cliff Walk
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This cliffside walk is one of the most beautiful, most peaceful places I’ve ever been. The views are incredible, and every corner you turn takes a bit more of  your breath away. Truly spectacular. Also, for the first time in nearly 180 years, this year they are allowing the public to tour Ballycotton Island and lighthouse (via a guided boat ride and tour). I can only imagine how stunning the views must be looking back at the cliffs from the picturesque island.

Best Chipper: K.C. & Son & Sons, Douglas (Cork)
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There’s a reason why hundreds of people queue up outside K.C.’s each night: it’s dang good food. K.C.’s has the right mix of juicy, greasy, succulent-ness that you expect from a good burger or pile of fish and chips.

Best Farmer’s Market: Mahon Point (Cork)
IMG_1486This weekly farmer’s market is one of the best-run public markets I’ve ever been to. All of the food is fresh and local, sold by the farmers who produce it–and everything is incredible. Fresh cheese, home-baked bread, crisp veggies, straight-from-the-farm meats and fresh-from-the-sea fish–anything you could ever want for your weekly shopping. Plus they have woodfired pizzas and what I lovingly refer to as “crack curry” because it’s just so addictive.  Nom nom nom…

Best Scenic Drive: The Ring of Kerry
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Seeing as The Ring of Kerry is on every tourist’s agenda,  this choice is a bit cliché. But it really is incredible, and every tourist to Ireland should see it at least once. Driving The Ring takes you through mountains and valleys, past lakes and waterfalls, and along sweeping ocean cliffs. There are countless hikes that you can take just off the main road if you want to explore a bit more of the beauty, or you can just stay in your car and take it all in.

Most Unique Irish Experience: Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

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This was one of our family’s favorite experiences–my kids still talk about our dinner in the castle and ask when we can go back ther. Picture this: you arrive at a medieval castle and are greeted by people dressed in medieval costumes. These people then serve you bottomless wine, feed you a meal fit for a king, and serenade you with music. Did I mention you’re in a REAL castle?! Did I mention there was wine?!

Best Bike and Foot Trail System: Cork Bay Railway Walk

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This is a rails-to-trails system that follows the bay from Cork city out to a town called Passage West. There is an entrance to the trail right down the hill from our house, so we have spent many, many hours exploring these waterfront miles. The trail even goes directly to Jon’s office, allowing him to walk home from work on a peaceful trail when he wants a break from the usual commute. One section of the trail also leads to Blackrock Castle and cafe, the perfect place to stop in for some lunch or tea while you’re out exploring

Best Stone to Kiss: The Blarney Stone

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Some say that the Blarney Stone will give you the “gift of gab”. I think it may just give you canker sores and a strained neck, but it’s still worth giving a little smooch.

Best Big City to Explore: Dublin
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Everyone from Cork has just stopped reading this blog as I have pronounced heresy. Sorry, Rebels, but Dublin IS bigger and it’s my pick for city explorations. Take your pick of museums, cathedrals, pubs and parks–as well as trendy restaurants and upscale shopping. If you’re looking for a big city in Ireland, this is it!

Best Festival: Youghal Medieval Festival
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A medieval festival in an actual walled medieval city. Need I say more?

Best Island: The Great Blasket Islands
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This was one of my favorite day trips that we took in Ireland. A somewhat crazy boat ride takes you out to an ancient island that was finally abandoned half a century ago. We spent our day on the island exploring ruins, climbing grassy hills, and frolicking on sandy beaches with hundreds of basking seals. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

I could go on and on about all of my favorite things in Ireland, but I’ll show a wee bit of restraint and stop myself there. Ireland is an amazing place–an amazing place that I have been fortunate enough to experience for one whole year.  You will always be near and dear to my heart, Ireland!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Easter in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Christmas in Cork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…and even take a trip to the zoo:

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

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There were go-karts to drive:

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

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We rode on a tractor pull:

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…and got to pet some cute cuddly creatures:

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

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

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

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