Ballymaloe House and the Ballycotton Cliff Walk

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
-Mark Twain

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I have an amazing husband. He is kind and dedicated and handsome and talented. He makes me laugh (a lot). He pushes me to stretch my limits and try new things. He is the source of much of my joy, and he is who I choose to divide my joy with. In a couple of weeks we will be celebrating our ninth (what?!) wedding anniversary. I love him. And, even after all this time, I like him (a lot). It was our joy, then, to sneak away for a special date this weekend to remember just how much we really do like each other. After we dropped the boys off at our favorite babysitter’s house for a day of jumping on trampolines and splashing in the kiddie pool (THANK YOU, KELSEY!!!) we drove 30 minutes out to the Irish countryside in East Cork. Our destination: Ballymaloe House. IMG_5291 Ballymaloe House (pronounced Bally-ma-loo) is the site of  a world-famous cooking school, a boutique hotel, a crafts and cooking shop, a cafe, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, farms and gardens. The property stretches over 400 acres so, as you can imagine, there is plenty to see and do there. Parts of the estate have been around since the original Norman castle rested on this site in 1450, although the “modern” house was completed in 1820. The grounds are gorgeous. As you come up the drive toward the house you pass a self-maintained golf course, towering rhododendrons and arching trees forming arboreal tunnels. You know when the driveway is that good that you’re in for a real treat.

We were at Ballymaloe to take advantage of their posh lunch in the restaurant. And when I say posh, I mean uber-fancy. Fancy enough that the restaurant’s website provides geo-coordinates for you to use if you want to, you know, land your private helicopter on the property. Even though we arrived in our humble car instead of a helicopter, we were still treated royally.

When we arrived we were first led to a large sitting room where our drink order was taken. While we awaited libation we could recline on plush sofas or sun-bathed window-seats to contemplate our idyllic surroundings:

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With wine in hand we were then led to the formal dining room. There were more pieces of cutlery at each place setting than I had fingers to count them. It was at this point that I sighed a heavy sigh of relief that we had *correctly* chosen to leave our rambunctious boys at home. Although I know they would have had fun playing swords with the pickle forks and picking their noses with the mustard spoons, I’m not so sure the other patrons at the restaurant would have enjoyed the entertainment.

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The food was absolutely heavenly. Ballymaloe revolutionized the farm-to-table movement in the 1960’s, and they are known the world over for their fresh take on modern Irish cuisine. To this day all of the ingredients on their menu are sourced right here on their own property. In fact, the day’s menu is not finalized until after the garden has been cultivated and the fishermen dock with the day’s catch. This means that the menu is unique from day to day and meal to meal, and every morsel you eat is the definition of “fresh”. The meat, eggs, vegetables, milk, and herbs come from the farms on Ballymaloe’s 400-acre property. The fish are reeled in from the Atlantic Ocean–the same Atlantic that provides the gentle sea breeze you feel as you wander the gardens of Ballymaloe. The baker starts her ovens at 6:30 each morning to bake the day’s bread. All of the foodie-things that I wish I could do at home but know that I would never in a million years actually do.

For lunch I had “Roast free range chicken with fresh herb stuffing, roast butternut squash, summer cabbage & redcurrant sauce” and Jon had the “Glazed loin of bacon (what we Americans would call ham) with crushed swede turnip, summer cabbage & Irish whiskey sauce” (see, even the names of the food are beautiful!). The food was gorgeous and we unabashedly took photo after photo of our dishes. Perhaps the best part of the meal was that after we finished eating, we were offered more meat and veg. Now, I’ve been to places where they refill the bread basket, but never anywhere that will give you more of whatever you like.  We also split a serving of “Goujons of plaice” which were basically posh fish fingers that I actually enjoyed. And if you know me, then you know what an achievement that is. I usually hide in another room if there is seafood being served, but I happily ate not just one, not two, but three fish goujons. I was quite proud of myself.

Then, the crowning glory: dessert. They rolled out a dessert trolly laden with cakes and pies and berries and a giant ice bowl full of freshly-churned ice cream for me to oggle. When it came time to make a selection I could hardly bear it. What to choose? I wanted it ALL. We finally settled on two plates of desserts to share: rhubarb tartlets with caramel ice cream and French chocolate cake with Irish strawberries. We ate ourselves silly, but wouldn’t you, too?

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When we got the bill at the end of our meal we both vowed to not eat for the next month so our stomachs and our bank account could recover. Perhaps we’ll return some day in our private helicopter but, until then, we will fondly remember this once in a lifetime meal.

After Jon rolled me out of the dining room we browsed the Ballymaloe shop, a cross between country store and gourmet cooking shop. We bought the Ballymaloe bread-baking cookbook (which, by the way, has a whole chapter on scones!!!) and a small measuring cup (because this week Jacob wanted to see what would happen if he threw my glass measuring cup onto our tiled kitchen floor. Spoiler alert: the glass shattered). IMG_5299
Then we wandered around the Ballymaloe House gardens where we found a plant with the world’s largest leaves:

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We could have spent all day at Ballymaloe (or, more likely, several days), but we had one more destination on our whirlwind date. We got back in our car and drove 10 minutes down the road to Ballycotton, a historic seaside fishing village. We parked our car at the far end of town at the entrance to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, perhaps the most beautiful seaside walk in Ireland (at least, according to us): IMG_5341
The trail winds along the edge of the cliffs that drop off straight into the Atlantic. It was a well-maintained trail that, had we chosen, we could have followed all the way to Roches Point (about a 5-hour walk in one direction). The views were stunning (made all the more sensational with the addition of the bright summer sun) and we felt peace wash over us with each step we took. At one point, the walk actually caused Jon to remark, “I think this is the most fun we’ve had in Ireland.” IMG_5316
After walking about 3 miles down the trail we decided to end our walk at a rocky beach before doubling back to our car. We stayed at the beach for a few minutes watching the waves crash over the rocks jutting out into the ocean and collecting smooth skipping stones to bring home to the boys as souvenirs. IMG_5338
Our day in Ballymaloe was more than just a date, it was magical. It was a day full of joy, divided between me and my love. Well, and  maybe I had a little joy left over to divide with the French chocolate cake. I’m all for equality here.

Weekend “Staycation”

Lately we’ve been spending most of our weekends out exploring Ireland, so we decided that this weekend  it was time for us to regroup and spend a few days here in our own home. Even though we were staying home, we still wanted to plan something fun. So the idea of the “staycation” was born. Jon cooked up a plan for a little father-son back yard camp-out, and I planned a little getaway to the spa. It was the best weekend ever.

On Saturday morning Jon and the boys prepared the campground (i.e. our back yard) for the boys’ camp-out. We’d brought our little 2-man backpacking tent with us from America and we haven’t used it once. There is no way I’m going to bring something half-way around the world to not use it, even once. This being Memorial Day Weekend–one of the busiest camping weekend of the year in America–we thought it would be the perfect excuse to dust of the little tent and let it breathe the fresh Irish air. The boys had fun scouting out our yard for the perfect location to pitch their tent (I believe the criteria consisted of flat ground, soft grass, not too mushy, and not on top of dog poop). David and Jacob watched on as Daddy expertly raised the tent and, most importantly, covered the whole thing with a rain shield. Then they piled blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and Buzz Lightyear action figures inside. The tent was complete.

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After the tent set-up was finished I sneaked out of the house (er…campground…) for a little mommy TLC time. My Mother’s Day gift this year was a massage at a local spa, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since I opened the gift certificate. Now it was finally time for my dream to materialize.

The Maryborough Spa was–how do I put this?–heaven on earth. Seriously, the most luxurious pampering I’ve ever experienced. Upon my arrival I was greeted and then given a brief tour of the spa. I had an hour until my scheduled massage so I was able to take advantage of the Thermal Suite. This was an area that included saunas, steam rooms, heated lounge chairs, a multi-jet shower and the most incredible hot tub I’ve ever seen. The hot tub was huge–big enough to swim laps in–and it had all of these water fountains and jets you could turn on and loungers to sit on and lighting that made it look as if you were swimming under the stars. It was incredible, and I would have been happy if the whole spa day just ended right there. But I’m so glad it didn’t, because there was much more incredible-ness to come.

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After I was nice and serene from my hour in the Thermal Suite I was guided to my treatment room where I received a relaxing massage. I have had many massages over the years, but this was the single most relaxing massage I’ve ever had. I got to choose my own mix of calming body oils, the mood lighting for the room, and the precise adjustment of my contouring massage table so that everything was perfectly suited to me (and isn’t this all about me anyway?). During the massage I drifted off to sleep and I’m pretty sure I drooled, but they must expect that when they go to all the trouble of making everything so darn perfect.

When my massage was over I was led to the “relaxation suite”–a peaceful window-lined room overlooking a waterfall in a courtyard. After I was settled in my plush lounge chair and covered with a warm blanket they brought me a refreshment tray with juice, smoothies, and a bowl of fresh fruit to munch on while I read a magazine or finished my nap. Note: at this point it had been nearly 3 hours since I’d changed a diaper or winced at a whining child. It was truly surreal.

But, wait! There’s more! After I was good and relaxed I was led to my next room-of-paradise: the tea lounge. Here I was served afternoon tea, which is just another way of saying “towers of cakes”. This exquisite stack of scrumptiousness spoke to my very soul.

I took my time nibbling each little delicacy set before me: warm ham and cheese pastry, almond cake, chocolate chip cookies, scones, raspberry napoleons, fruit tarts, scones with jam and cream. I didn’t really intend to eat the whole tower of food, but it happened. And I relished every single calorie I consumed.

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After my tea/gorge-fest I returned to the relaxation room to sleep off a bit of the tryptophan from my dainty turkey and brie sandwich. When one of the spa staff members came to check on me I told her I was moving in to the spa forever. She must have thought I was joking, because she laughed and walked away. While I was scouting out the relaxation room for the best after-hours hiding spot I was awakened by a sense of duty to my family. I decided to go back home after all. Besides, I really didn’t want to miss out on the camp-out dinner (sheesh, I’m starting to sound really gluttonous here…).

When I got back home Jon had already started the “camp fire”, a disposable charcoal BBQ set that he found at the grocery store. Despite having to use it in the rain, our little BBQ worked perfectly for roasting sausages:

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And marshmallows for s’mores:

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We had to improvise a bit with the s’mores based on the availability of ingredients in Ireland–you can really only find pink marshmallows here and we had to use tea biscuits in place of graham crackers. In the end, though, they were every bit as good as the s’mores you eat in the dirt at any American campground.

After dinner we had a family movie night (the feature presentation was “Toy Story”) and then it was off to bed. Since the tent is only big enough for two (and *maybe* because I didn’t want to sleep outside in the rain) I sacrificed my place in the tent so that Jon could sleep out there with David. Jacob slept in his crib inside the house because nobody wants a toddler who wakes up at 5 AM sleeping right outside their bedroom window when 5 AM rolls around.

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David was so excited for his camp-out (and so confused by the daylight that lingered until nearly 10:00) that he didn’t fall asleep for a good long while after he and Daddy went out to the tent. Jon told him stories and they snuggled and eventually the sky darkened and they slept until 7:00 the next morning. Jacob woke up at his usual 5:00 but, since I was the only other person in the house, I decided to let him whine in his bed for a good long while before I dragged myself out of bed to get him. I decided to bring him back to bed with me and as soon as we were lying down he fell back asleep until 8:00. I’m not gonna lie, I kind of loved it.

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If I could change anything about this weekend, I would make it longer. Longer to have my family together, longer to roast marshmallows in the rain, longer to watch my son and my husband bond in a tent, longer to relish in pampering at the spa. But I know that all good things must come to an end, and so did our weekend. I’ll tell you one thing, though. If I’m having a rough time this week I’m just going to close my eyes and go to my happy place–that magical place where the only thing interrupting my sleep is a tower of cakes.

Dingle

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When we first moved to Ireland almost a year ago we made a bucket list of sorts with all of the places that we wanted to visit while we were living here. We’ve made a pretty good dent in the list so far and have already crossed off most of our “must see” locations: The Cliffs of Moher, Dublin, Newgrange, Belfast, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, Kilkenny, the Rock of Cashel. However, there was still one Big One–maybe THE Big One left on our list. It seems like every person we’ve ever talked to who has visited Ireland or who lives here says the same thing: You must, must, must go to Dingle.

It’s supposed to be spectacular–in fact, National Geographic once cited the area as “the most beautiful place on earth”. That’s quite a statement from anyone, let alone National Geographic (because, you know, they’ve actually seen a lot of the earth). We were saving our Dingle trip for nicer weather and a special occasion, both of which lined up perfectly this weekend. We decided to continue our celebration American Mother’s Day this weekend with our special trip out to Dingle (I say continued the celebration because I actually thought Mother’s Day was this weekend when I booked the trip–that’s what I get for celebrating a holiday in a country where nobody else is celebrating said holiday).

We knew that Dingle was going to be incredible when the drive into town was a treat in itself. When we were a few miles out of town we crossed over Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland–which, coming from the Cascade-rimmed Pacific Northwest, is a bit of a deceiving term. By “highest mountain” pass, they actually mean that it’s just the tallest hill on the island. Regardless, the views from the top of Conor Pass weren’t too shabby:

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We arrived in Dingle at about noon on Friday and checked into our AirBnB apartment in town. The apartment was over a shop, both of which were run by Kathleen McAuliffe, a relatively well-known Irish designer and milliner (her shop had lots of cute hats, jewelry, dresses, and artwork made by herself and my favorite Irish designer, Orla Kiely. I exercised great restraint in not sneaking down each day to buy up her stock).  That’s our apartment on the top floor of the blue building:

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After we got our car unloaded we walked into town for lunch. There was a small farmer’s market set up in the middle of town so we booked it over there for some local fare. Jon and I ate lamb burgers (the lamb came from a farm up the hill, the bun was made in a bakery in town, and all of the veggies came from farms in the area). The boys, however, went with a less-conventional approach to lunch. They both passed up crepes and sausages and bread and cheese. Why, you ask? Because they wanted to eat the world’s largest carrots. David literally ate his carrot all weekend–we just carried it with us wherever we went and he kept nibbling away at it. Here’s Bugs Bunny in action:

IMG_4551 After lunch we walked through the little town to get our bearings. The blue shop on the left is called Murphy’s Ice Cream and we stopped by there for a treat. It was some of the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever eaten (on the same par with Mallard’s and Molly Moo’s for you Seattleites who might be reading). I had the Dingle Sea Salt ice cream (kind of like a rich salted caramel flavor)–the cream came from the local Kerry breed of cows (they are more rare than Giant Pandas!) and the sea salt came from Dingle Harbour. Yes, they actually go out to the harbour, collect sea water, and produce their own sea salt for the ice cream. If you ever find yourself in Dingle, stop by and give it a try–you won’t be sorry!

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After our walk we drove a few miles out of town to Ventry Harbour where we could play on a nice sandy beach. We spent a couple of hours building sand castles, climbing sand dunes and dipping our toes in the Atlantic:

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When we’d had enough of the beach we decided to get back in the car and continue driving out of town along Slea Head Drive, a scenic road that makes a 40-Kilometer loop around the Dingle Peninsula. A few miles into the drive we came to a tourist stop at some famine cottages (cottages that were abandoned in the 1850’s during the Great Irish Famine). While walking up to the cottages we visited several animals: horses, sheep, rabbits, and a very friendly donkey:

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The cottages themselves were very interesting. There were three cottages set up so you could see how people might have lived in them (let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t born in 19th century rural Ireland…). There were displays with information about the famine and how it affected people in the region–about 2 million people died or immigrated during a time period of about 10 years as a result of diseased potatoes and the starvation that ensued. Learning about the famine is terribly saddening, yet strangely intriguing.  IMG_4632 From the cottages, we continued along Slea Head Drive. We made a quick pit stop at a little roadside cafe so we could use the toilets and eat some pie. I don’t know if it was the stunning view or the home-baked goodness, but that was some of the best darn pie I’ve ever had:IMG_4657 We took hundreds of photos and videos along Slea Head Drive, but none of them do it any justice. We were there on a rare day of perfect weather with sunshine and blue skies that reflected off the ocean water. It was almost magical. Every turn we went around was more stunning than the one before and I literally had my breath taken away several times.

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Besides the incredible views, the drive was also uniquely Irish. We were stopped several times to allow livestock and cars to pass on the single-lane, cliff-lined road:
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When we got back home from our drive around Slea Head it was dinner time. We made pizza back at our apartment and enjoyed a relaxing evening lounging around. At 8:00 we heard the church bells ringing at the church across the street from our apartment and we told the boys that was their “bedtime bell”. So, off to bed we went.

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We decided to do a little experiment this weekend having the boys sleep together in the same room (they’ve always slept in separate bedrooms due to their strange sleeping patterns and my unwillingness to deal with cranky sleepers). The sleeping part actually went remarkably well. They enjoyed sharing a room. In fact, they enjoyed it so much that one night they were playing together after bedtime, but it was so cute and harmless that we decided to let them play until they fell asleep. Harmless. Right? Wrong.

Jon went to do the nightly check-in on the boys before we went to bed only to discover that the door to their room was locked. LOCKED. With two sleeping children inside. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it wasn’t our house and we weren’t worried about actually having to break down the door to get them out. Or if we could have woken David up to coerce him to try to unlock the door. Or if we thought the boys wouldn’t completely FREAK OUT when they woke up in the morning and realized they were locked in their bedroom-dungeon. Or if we could have found a key to unlock the door. Or if we could have made anything–a clothes hanger, a paperclip, my earring, the inside of a pen–that would budge that dang lock. So, after about half an hour of trying everything we could think of to open the door we were ready to give up and call a locksmith. I said a little prayer and decided to send a quick text to Kathleen, the lady who rented us the apartment, to see if she had any ideas. Just as I was about to hit “send” I heard Jon yell, “Hey, it’s open!”. For no apparent reason, he tried to open the door one more time and it just opened. The only explanation I have is that my prayer was answered…and the kids slept through the whole thing:

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The boys woke up bright and early the next morning (per usual) so we decided to walk around the corner to the bakery for some breakfast treats. Colleen’s bakery had the best doughnuts I’ve had in Ireland, hands down. They were on par with Laffeen’s, for those of you in the know. The apple turnover was also delicious. So was the coffee cream puff. So was, I’m sure, every other edible thing in that bakery:IMG_4696

After our doughnut gorge-a-thon we walked over to the town park for some wiggle time (see our “bedtime bell” church in the background?):IMG_4710

Then it was off to the marina for a special excursion. We managed to (by luck and by prayer) score another perfect-weather day in Dingle (seriously, if you’ve ever been to Ireland, you know how very, very rare this is). I’d heard about these boat tours that take you out to the Great Blasket Island and I reallllllllyyyyyy wanted to go. The remote Blasket Island is the westernmost point of land in Europe. The island had been inhabited since prehistoric times by up to 200 people (and many more sheep) at a time. When the Great Famine hit, however, almost all of the inhabitants perished or immigrated. By the early 1900’s only about 20 people remained on the island. In 1953 the government deemed the islands unsuitable for human habitation and they moved the last residents off the island. Today you can visit the island to see what remains of the village and the abundance of wildlife that have made the island their home.

The thing about visiting the island, though, is that the boats that get you out there only sail on perfect-weather days. Which are oh-s0-very-rare. In fact, right up until 20 minutes before the day’s scheduled sailing we were unsure if the boats would be running due to high-wind warnings. But, we lucked out and they decided to go ahead with the sailing. Hooray!

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Our boat was run by a small company called Great Blasket Experience, and it was wonderful. There was room for 12 people on the boat, so it was our family, another family with two boys from Houston, two men from London, and a couple from I-don’t-know-where (they didn’t talk much). Once we all clamored aboard our little vessel we fitted the boys out with life vests, and then we were off!

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On the way out of the harbor we stopped for a few minutes to visit Dingle’s resident dolphin, Fungie. By choice, this dolphin has lived in Dingle Harbour for over 20 years. He’s very friendly and came up to our boat several times. He’s a fast little bugger, though, so I only managed to snap a photo of Jacob pointing at the water where Fungie had just surfaced:

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After our boat left the sheltered harbor and entered the open ocean I began to see why they only sail out to the Blasket Islands on perfect-weather days. The high-wind warnings they had been concerned with that morning had died down, but the water was still choppy. And by choppy, I mean that it felt like we were on a roller coaster. A wet and wild roller coaster on a tiny orange dinghy. I was white-knuckled the whole 45-minute ride out to the islands. The boys, however, thought that this ocean roller coaster ride was some sort of lullaby and they both (yes, even David-who-never-naps) fell asleep on our laps, life vests and all:

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When we (finally) pulled up to the island our captain set anchor and we took turns piling into a little motorized raft so we could shore up on the island:IMG_4739Then we got to climb up this treacherous cliff that was covered in slippery algae. While carrying a squirmy toddler and an independent preschooler. We made it, though, and our time on the island was worth every terrifying experience that it took to get there.


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We spent two and a half hours walking around the island. We went up in the lush green hills around the village:

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Into 2,000 year-old stone “beehive huts”:

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And we ate our picnic lunch inside an abandoned 19th-century farmhouse:

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Although no people live on the island any more, many animals have made the rolling hills and beaches their home. There were herds of sheep grazing freely (leftover from the people-populated days, I’m guessing), sea birds dive-bombing into the ocean for fish, snails (lots and lots of snails. David and Jacob spent a good 15 minutes just sitting in one spot picking snails off a wall), and hundreds of seals basking on the sandy beaches:
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We thought the seals had the right idea, so we did a little basking of our own:

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As we were walking back to the boat launch (if you could really call it that) I snapped this photo of our waiting boat (ours is the small orange one on the left, the boat on the right was the other passenger boat that made it out to the island that day):

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The ride back to the mainland was much less roller coaster-y and much more smooth sailing-y. We said hello to Fungie the dolphin one more time before pulling in to the marina. After our busy day on the island we were all pretty wiped out. We went back to our apartment to take naps. When we woke up at dinner time, none of us wanted to go out or make anything so we ordered Chinese take-out from the restaurant 2 doors down.  It was a truly memorable day.

On Sunday we woke up (or, more accurately, Jacob woke us all up) before the church even rang it’s first “good morning bell” at 6 AM. Since it was Sunday in Dingle, a small town in Ireland, this meant that nothing opened until at least 10:00. Not a cafe, not a coffee shop, not a park…nothing. So, we spent a good 4 hours on Sunday morning just hanging out in our apartment eating cereal, watching movies, and packing up our things.

When it was a reasonable hour to venture out into the world we drove over to the marina to watch the big boats unloading their cargo:
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Our last stop in Dingle was to the Oceanworld Aquarium. It was a small but well-stocked aquarium with sharks, tropical fish, touchable tide pools, genial manta rays and penguins. The penguins were my favorite. They were Gentoo Penguins, a breed found in Antarctica. There was a display near the penguins about Tom Crean, a locally-born County Kerry man who was one of the sailor/explorers on the Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic exploration ship, Endurance. A few weeks ago I read the book about the 1912 exploration, appropriately titled Endurance. Spoiler alert, but Endurance shipwrecks and all of the passengers spend several months floating around on the Antarctic ice floes. The book talks extensively about the seals and Gentoo Penguins that the men encountered and survived off of, so it was fascinating to watch these creatures up close:

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After our morning at the aquarium we walked down the street to a chipper for some fish and chips (or, in my case, chicken and chips!). Then it was time to hit the road and find our way back to Cork. We took a different route on the way home–not so much by choice, but because our SatNav likes to take us on new adventures every day. Instead of driving through the mountain pass we winded our way along the coast on the Wild Atlantic Way. It was a beautiful drive and the two-and-a-half hour journey passed quickly with the boys napping and playing in the back seat.

We had an incredible weekend in Dingle exploring all that the area had to offer.  I count myself blessed that I got to experience such a remarkable piece of God’s creation. And, by the way, I think National Geographic was spot-on: Dingle is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

My Serendipity Friend

Life is surprising. When you least expect it you might discover something new or meet someone who changes your life forever. Some may call this luck or chance or coincidence. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. All I know is that when these pleasant little surprises come along they always make me stop and take notice. Such was the case this week when I met Leah: my serendipity friend.

On Tuesday we had to go to our local Garda (police) station to renew our registration for living in Ireland (it’s hard to believe that we’ve already been here for almost a year!).IMG_4472

The registration process is a thrilling experience. So thrilling, in fact, that they only allow you to go through it once a year (just kidding, it’s annoying and tedious and I hate it). Part of the Thrilling Registration Process involves sitting inside a large concrete room with dozens of other people waiting to register with the government. There is one line and one police officer assigned to help all of the people in the queue. Each person in line takes at least 10 minutes to register. The immigration office is open for about two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and when they are closed they just shut the window and if you’re still in line, tough luck– you can come back tomorrow. They don’t care if you have squirrely children or a job to get to in the morning. You just have to get there, find your place in the queue, and hope they move quick enough that you don’t have to come back and do it all over again because you missed your narrow window of opportunity.

Since we already went through this whole registration process last year when we entered the country I knew a bit of what to expect. I planned accordingly (meaning I brought movies on my iPhone, snacks and books to occupy our young immigrants during the Thrilling Waiting Time). Turns out, I was a hero. Within minutes of sitting down with our movie and popcorn (okay, they were just rice cakes) I had a crowd of about 6 kids who had wandered over from the queue to join in our fun. I spent the morning acting as playgroup host to the children of the Thrilling Registration Process–we watched movies, played Angry Birds, read books, and ran laps around the plant in the middle of the room. Time flew by and within 2 hours we were registered and on our way.

After I dropped Jon off at work I decided to take the boys to a new-to-me park in the city center. When we got to the playground there were lots of children running around. One little boy caught my eye, though–it was the same little boy that I’d just read shark books to all morning at the Garda station. What a coincidence!  He recognized us right away and ran up to say hi to David.

I saw his mom across the park and I decided to go over and introduce myself to her (“Hi! You don’t know me but I read shark books to your son this morning. No, I’m not a creepy stalker. See, he knows me!”). Her name was Leah and she was at the park with her two children and another expat friend with her two children. We spent the better part of an hour talking–about our kids, about living in Ireland, about where we came from, about how our husbands have these really cool jobs here and yet we are legally barred from working in this country, about travel. Meanwhile, our boys were having so much fun playing together that I was sure I’d never be able to convince David that we had to leave the park at some point. It was really cool.

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When it was time for us to leave I had meant to go back and say goodbye to Leah, but then The Great Poop Debacle happened and I literally had to run out of the park without saying anything to anyone. Oh well, I thought, I’m sure they didn’t even notice that we left. We’d only just met them, after all–and a very pleasant meeting it was.

On Wednesday I brought the boys to the zoo. We’d been at the zoo for about an hour and were playing on the playground when I looked up and saw none other than our friends from the day before. I went up to Leah and told her, again, that I was not stalking her. She smiled and said that this time they must have been stalking us since we were there first this time. David and her son, Yousef, went back to playing together just like they had the day before. David was having so much fun playing that he chose to pee on a tree instead of walk 5 extra feet to the toilet that was next to the playground–which wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that he was having so much fun playing that he didn’t stop running while he was peeing and the end result was…messy. I’d left his spare change of clothes up in my car, but Leah had some extra pants for Yousef that she said we could borrow until we got back to the parking lot.

So, as it turns out, we spent the whole rest of the day wandering the zoo with Leah and Yousef, our serendipity friends. Our friends who we met by chance not once, not twice, but three times this week. This time we exchanged phone numbers, so our next meeting might be planned rather than left up to fate. Whatever happens, though, we had a wonderful week with our new friends. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was luck, maybe it was chance. Whatever it was, we found something good–and that’s enough explanation for me.

 

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!

 

Home Alone

 

 

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Today marks the end of the longest two weeks. Ever. Jon has been in Seattle on a business trip (ironic, I know, since we moved half-way around the world from Seattle only to have him make regular trips back there). So, that meant that I was home alone. Well, not exactly alone alone–I mean, I had my kids here with me. But it was…different. The day after I got back from my own trip to Phoenix, Jon left for Seattle. I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed (this is the longest business trip Jon’s taken since we’ve had kids), but I was determined to make the best of our situation. Without family nearby to offer a helping hand, or even a babysitter to call on for relief (they were all away on their own vacations, lucky ducks!), it was all up to me. So, I set about planning little day-ventures for us close to home (because, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t muster up the courage to take two young children trekking across the country by myself for a full-on adventure). We managed to squeeze in quite a bit of fun to help pass the time while Daddy was away. Here’s a photo journal of what we’ve been up to these past couple of weeks:

We started our week at the grocery store. The boys helped me pick up some fuel for all of our upcoming adventures:

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While we were at the grocery store (which is inside a shopping mall) we took a little break to ride a train around the mall:

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We had a hot cocoa date at Costa Coffee:

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We went to the zoo where we saw magnificent animals, played on the playgrounds, pet baby kangaroos, and ate ice cream:

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We visited Rumley’s Open Farm to spend an afternoon playing…

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…greeting animal friends…

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…and even dining with a rogue mama pig and her six little piglets who wandered in from the farm:

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We had brother snuggle time in David’s huge bed:IMG_4083

And went to the indoor playground with our friends:IMG_4097

We ate popcorn for breakfast. Twice:IMG_4120

We visited a new town. Monkstown is just up the road from us, about 10 minutes from our house, and I’d never been there before. It’s an adorable little seaside town with a marina, beautiful old churches, and a fantastic playground for the kiddies:IMG_4183

We went for a run by the sea and enjoyed a castle tea:IMG_4209

We visited Charles Fort, a 400-year old army fort that helped carry Ireland through the Spanish War and the war of Irish Independence:IMG_4233

After exploring the fort, we had a picnic overlooking the harbor:IMG_4260

Then we went into the town of Kinsale for ice cream and a stroll:IMG_4272

After I tucked the boys into bed each night, I worked on projects (I made 3 photo books, Mother’s Day gifts, and finished a couple of sewing projects). I may have also watched Downton Abbey. All three seasons of it:
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We walked up the road to the farm that we can see from our back yard. I asked the (very tiny) woman who answered the door if we could meet her cows because we watch them every day and we’d like to get to know them. She told me (in a very thick Irish country accent) that ‘Sure ye can meet the calves, alright.’ When we asked her if the cows (‘No, they’s calves, those ‘uns’) had names she just shook her head and replied ‘They haven’t names, these calves. They’re being fattened now, alright.’:IMG_4282

After a disappointing encounter with cows (er…calves) who will never live to see their next birthday, we walked back down the road to our favorite walking trail so we could go throw rocks in the river:IMG_4298

On Thursday we went to the Farmer’s Market for Mommy’s weekly multi-sensory indulgence:

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On May Day we went to a park to pick flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see May 1st arrive. Ireland as a country shuts down during the “winter” which just so happens to be half of the year (November-April). May 1st signaled the beginning of the official tourist season and shops, museums, restaurants–heck, whole towns–that had been closed all winter reopened their dusty doors for business. No more driving for hours trying to find an open restaurant or going to the mall on every rainy day to pass the time. Ireland is back open, and I am thrilled. Flowers seemed like a fitting celebration:
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I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time with David. He sat on the couch next to me with his Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys and we watched the little boy in the movie, Andy, grow up and move out for college. I bawled my eyes out. I have now confirmed David’s suspicions that his mother truly is crazy:IMG_4328

We had a balloon sword fight at McDonalds:IMG_4335

And we baked the most delicious carrot cake sandwich cookies to share with our friends at church:

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And, finally, we decorated a welcome home sign for Daddy. We all missed you like crazy, Jon!

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Well, there you have it: two weeks come and gone. Even though it wasn’t easy having Daddy gone, we all survived and we even managed to have fun making memories together. It was a special time that I got to spend with just my handsome boys–boys who will grow up some day and leave me for college just like Andy in Toy Story. So in the end, if I’m going to be home “alone”, there’s nobody else I’d rather be here with.

Authentic Irish Scone Recipe

We’ve lived in Ireland for the better part of a year now, and in these past few months I have come to some conclusions about Irish culture:

1.  “Type-B” personalities run the roost.

2. You must, MUST, support your local hurling/rugby/football team with the undying love of a mother for her only child.

3. Tea and scones are synonymous with life itself.

It is this final conclusion that has brought me to the point I am at now–that is, the point at which I have become obsessed with tea and scones (trust me, my waistline bears the proof). Of course, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to eat fresh-baked bread smothered in cream and jam. And I doubt it will for you, either. So the next time you want a homemade treat or a tasty tea or a light breakfast, just whip up a batch of Irish scones. I have to warn you, though–you just might get hooked!

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Irish Scones
Makes 4-6 delectable treats

Ingredients:

2 cups/225 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons/55 g butter
2 tsp/1 oz fine sugar (optional)
1 cup/150 ml milk
1 handful raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 8
  • Grease and flour a baking sheet
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar (if using) and stir.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
  • Add the raisins (if using) and mix them into the dough.
  • Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth, then roll out to about 3/4″ (2 cm) thick.
  • Cut rounds with a 3″ cutter or an overturned glass, or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
  • Place scones on the prepared baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture.
  • Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack
  • Serve with butter and lashings of jam and cream. Drink a cup of tea. Feel very Irish.

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