We are gathered under His light :: at home in Ireland

31 October 2013

Yesterday we took that wee trip to Lough Key, rain lashing down on us half the time; the other half scattered with sun. We listened to a Harry Potter book on tape, there and back, laughing at Stephen Fry's voice inflections, cheering for Ireland in the Quidditch World Cup.

The wee lad napped twice and the girl bought a pumpkin and the eldest decided hiking was a fun adventure after all. We also had a near-death experience on an old metal elevator, leaving me breathless and weak-kneed for the better part of an hour. We ate greasy food at an Irish fast-food joint and we raided a tidy little organic cafe in search of the loo. We ordered tea for two and mined stories from the kids: if they remembered our last visit, how Asher was only 8 months old, how Matt held the other two in the crook of a tree. Dusk comes fast this time of year and by the time we reached home at 6pm, the pitch blackness was overshadowed by a warm kitchen welcoming us back. Home. Back home.

And now as I write, a child is in the bath and one cleans his room and another one makes art projects she learned from a friend. It rains sideways, again, and the writing nook frames the oranges and reds and greens waving beyond our windows. The afternoon is mostly calm, gearing up for the Halloween rush and I'm just now able to sit back and watch... listen... as our life finds its rhythm.

Several weeks ago we read Jesus Calling to the kids. Life is an adventure with God, she hears Him say, and while anxiety and frustration and impatience lie in wait, we need only look for Him, listen for Him, to know that He is in it and with us all the while. There are no coincidences, only His orchestrations, or - as Andy Crouch calls it - full catastrophes, this beautiful dissonance of human existence.

For the children, and for us, it often goes unsaid and forgotten, misplaced in the chaos, hidden under school lunches and behind toy boxes. But in this month and the days of writing these words of home and life and power showers and tears in the McDonalds drive-thru, I see Him in it.

Familiar mums hold my place. A child curls up against the radiator. Matt off to work, dedicated to restoration. We revisit the places of our past, make memories for the future and open our doors for people to sit and eat and rest awhile. We place a pendant over the kitchen table and gather under it's light for dinner.

Today is the last day of our writing class and a man reads a poem they all know well. At the end of each stanza they recite the lines together, heads nodding in unison, laughing,

A pint of plain is your only man.

Can't you see Him in everything? 


Thank you for joining me in these 31 days at home in Ireland
Maybe you should come visit... I'll put the kettle on for you. Just in case.
But before I go, tell me: where do you see Him, in anything?

Day trips from our doorstep :: at home in Ireland

30 October 2013

This week is mid-term break for all students in Ireland. Like Spring Break for our North American friends, we enjoy a week off in Autumn with nothing to do but kill time until school starts up again. I'm only half joking, but it's true. I'm that mom who loves when school is in session. When it's out and we're all home and under the same room all week/christmas/summer, I go a little stir crazy and the kids go a little wild. There are many wii games, toy fights and time outs. And that's not even counting all the shenanigans the kids get up to. :)

So in honour of mid-term break, and to find something not-screen-based to do, Matt and I are planning a wee day trip for this week. When we remember how small Ireland is (just over two hours drive from Dublin to Galway; a little over 5 hours from Cork to Derry), we're amazed when comparing it to the days long road trips we enjoy (endure) in the US. Some of the most amazing natural wonders are within a half day's drive from our doorstep. That's pretty impressive, and overwhelming. How do we even decide where to go?

Our highly specific criteria?

  • Must not require getting up and/or leaving early.
  • Must involve playground or other such free-kid-friendly activity.
  • Must be home within an hour of proper bedtime.
  • Must enjoy only one meal out; bring food and snacks for any other meals.
  • Must make memories.

Apart from that, anything goes. We load up on water, books, rain coats and wellies (you never know) and hit the road. And here's just a peek into some of the destinations we've already discovered:

1) Cliffs of Moher. This is kinda the proto-typical tourist destination of Ireland. We hit the Cliffs during our first go-round here, and though the weather was manic and the kids were more interested in the cows than the landscape, the clouds parted and a rainbow appeared just as we arrived. Though we could make this a day trip, there are fantastic B&Bs and other gorgeous sights to see. Including...


2) The Burren. Not far from the cliffs is this amazing moon-like landscape where the rock replaces soil and wild flowers grow from deep beneath the stoney cracks. For a family of rock scramblers, this region is the best. Wild and strange and beautiful. There are also several old ring forts and ancient tomb-like things to explore.


3) Avoca. The village of Avoca is found just within the Wicklow Mountains to the south of Dublin and is where the original workshop of the Avoca Handweavers is found. It is absolutely breathtaking in the autumn, with trees turning and the meeting of the waters and a great little village to go exploring in. Plus, any time you can enjoy tea and scones at an Avoca Cafe, you simply have to take advantage of it.


4) Belfast. When we first lived here, we were just an hour and a half from Belfast City. We would venture up north for outlet shopping, seaside arcade towns, and the aforementioned Chili's in Victoria Square. The city centre is easily walkable and I've heard it currently boasts a fantastic Titanic exhibit.

belfast 6

5) Lough Key. Tree bridges, lake and castle facade thingy. This was our last day trip before moving back to the US and it is where we're headed today. Can't wait!


Hope this inspires you to explore the natural wonders that may be just beyond your doorstep!

The imaginary life at home in Ireland

29 October 2013

When it is midterm break, I write in the mornings. The children have creeped downstairs to watch a documentary on birds of the African air and the coffee is perfection. They feed, clothe and entertain themselves so I can sneak away to my pinterest-inspired nook and write a few words in the autumn sunrise. The burning bush out front is half-bare, undressing slowly each day, leaving its tiny red leaves like a tease from our front door.

Our house is a sanctuary, a tidy one. The only thing out of place is a creamy throw welcoming visitors as they sit on our sofa, which is not broken under the back left corner, nor is it pink velour covered with a fading blue-flowered brocade. It is deep and cushiony and I slipcovered it myself. The house smells of vanilla and cinnamon. The children eat fresh fruit under the pendant lamp. The bathrooms are clean and my bed no longer squeaks.

After a calm morning of writing (me) and reading (them), we walk in the tall shadows, collecting leaves and skipping ahead. No one cries over fear of bike-riding, no one fights over the Harry Potter DS game that has been bought and sold no less than three times between two siblings. No one has to go to the bathroom. No, no, we walk and walk under the always blue sky of Ireland. We find four leaf clovers without looking. And when we return home, we cuddle up under that same ivory throw and instagram our extreme Irish cuteness for far away friends to see. We all fit in the same frame at the same time and our smiles display the contendness we feel on our imaginary couch in our imaginary living room in the big house we own in a breathtakingly perfect country.


That's me, waking up from the reverie. There has been some sort of lightsaber play up and down the stairs, and cheap plastic has hit delicate fingers and her squeal brings me back to life. This life. The one right here. Our burning bush is as it was above, but there is a bra on the floor by my unused sewing machine-turned-desk and a child standing next to me, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy." I can't understand half the words he says and I worry for his speech development.

My coffee went cold 20 minutes ago and I'm too lazy to get some more (the coffee's cold downstairs, too, a hidden clue of the recent time change). The girl is in her room pouting. Laundry and rubbish await my arrival downstairs. The eldest appears to be missing.

We finished painting our bedroom and bathroom - an 8-month process - before the landlord comes to have a look at our power shower that's been out of service for five days. There is paint on the woodwork, on the floor and the baseboards, and I'm fearful he'll take out his white glove and chastise me. I told Matt last night, "I don't want to lose our deposit!" forgetting once again I want to "live here forever." How quickly we forget and fade back into our old ways of unpacking, living, packing and moving within a year's cycle. How temporary everything feels, as the leaves fall down and I'm so afraid to miss each one's descent, I cry at the thought of it. Autumn will be over so soon and even now darkness envelopes our house by the dinner-bell hour.

It's a mess and I'm still a mess, even though we are finally at home here. It is not perfect, and I'm frustrated more - by the kitchen counter, tapping my foot and making mental lists - than I'm content in the window seat, drinking from this same cup and reading in the sun. I've still not balanced the peace with the crazy. Don't think I ever will.

And yet, the four-year-old has made himself at home in our bed. Curled up in sheets that now match the duvet that now matches the walls, which now match the vision in our head. In the morning autumn light he laughs at me. And if nothing else in the house but the bed is a refuge for a wild child on this week off from school... if nothing else gets made and tidied but those sheets... if the house is a giant nest of chaos, reeds of toys and papers webbing in and through each nook and cranny, it still contains these five souls at its center. 

And we are not going anywhere.

Joining Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary for Just Write. Join us.

One last, sweet first

28 October 2013

At a time I thought we were finished with firsts, one more first for our wee lad: his first leaf pile. Ever.

How sweet it is.

(yes, he's wearing pajamas and yes, it's a very small and haphazard pile. He interrupted his sister mid-rake for a wee romp. Bless.)

Sundays with the poets :: At home in Ireland

27 October 2013

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because it never was, never once, but then
how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying
as if I didn't love you,as if I wouldn't have died for you.

from The Room in Which My First Child Slept by Eavan Boland
Source: Poetry (October 2006).


I have fallen in love with this poem. Go immediately to Poetry and read it in its entirety.

Torn in two (a guest post) :: at home in Ireland

25 October 2013

Today I'm sharing a story offered up by a new friend. Allison and I met through our husbands and immediately I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. Watching her blend her identity as a Canadian prairie girl with life as an Irish mum and wife has inspired me. She makes a brilliant writing co-conspirator... and a mean cappucino, too.

We got married in 1999, despite the cultural differences and the ocean between our backgrounds and families. There was no question of us living in Canada; his job is here and secure, and I had no practical ties to my homeland (just emotional ones). The first few years were good but hard; I struggled to make connections and "fit in." Now, we have roots: a home, two children, a dog. I have good friends. I have Irish citizenship. I can drive here (that took a while), I know where I like to shop, and I am involved in local stuff - the girls' school, my dance class, a church. I play tour guide to our visitors. Life is here, and it is rich.

But I will always be torn in two. I might have Irish citizenship, but I still think of myself as Canadian. I will never quite "fit in." I still have my Canadian accent. I have learned to say "tom-ah-to" instead of "tom-ay-to," but I still say "mall" the Canadian way ("mahl," not "mall" with a short "a"). I am a prairie girl; I miss the huge skies and the Rocky Mountains and the snowy winters (sometimes). I love my husband's family, but I miss mine. My daughters think of Canada as a holiday destination, not as home. I missed my Grandad's funeral, and I will not be there for my parents' 65th birthdays. Ireland has changed a lot over the past 14 years, and it is a fantastic place in many ways: so green, so cosmopolitan, so creative. So old. And I love my life. But I remain an ex-pat Canadian longing for the places of my childhood.

And I'm OK with that. It has taken a while, but that's where I'm at. I have grown to understand that this tension between past and present, between here and there, is just part of life; I am the better for it. And besides, regardless of where we live and where we're from, we are all "aliens and strangers" on this planet; we are all longing for our true *someday* home. For now, I am content to be a mixed-up ex-pat, a mum of Irish kids, a child of the God of heaven and earth.

The first time :: at home in Ireland

24 October 2013

"Matt and I are so grateful for our new home, though we do give in to occasional bouts of wistfulness thinking about all the times we have moved house, started over... But as we drive through the hills, take our children to the ocean, worship with Irish believers, and meet new friends, we are reminded of God's goodness in inviting us to share this all with Him." | May 2008

In five years, everything can change and look remarkably the same. We moved to Ireland, the first time, on this day. I can hardly remember it, and yet it doesn't seem like it should be this way, like it should feel so long ago.

Ella had just learnt to walk. Jack hadn't even begun primary school. And Asher was just a dream.


We sat around the dining room table remembering, visiting the home of our old neighbours. Hans poured wine and Matt looked up, "Five years ago this week was when we first met." We toasted and laughed, thinking of the babies and the warm spring day we picnicked on a farm. It was a lifetime ago (Asher's lifetime and then some, actually).

I'm pausing, remembering. We have come back different people. 


I'm tempted to grieve it, though I'm not sure what we've lost. Continuity, idealism, adventure? These all went home and came back with us, but still we are different. Ireland is different.

Still beautiful, still green, still filled with songs, still calling our hearts, still making us home. The point is, it's our anniversary, nonetheless. Five years ago was the start and today we celebrate it, here.


Where were you five years ago today? Did you think you'd be here, wherever you are?

[a repost from May]

wordless wednesday :: at home in Ireland

Foodie for thought :: at home in Ireland

22 October 2013

So now you know all about my love affair with the chipper. Matt used to tease me in college that I was a cheap date (you know, in a good, clean way), and this is still the truth. Spend three euro on a bag of garlic mayo chips and I'm your girl for life.

But there is more to food life in Ireland than the spud. 

I've said before we feel extremely blessed to live here and in such close proximity to Dublin. On the rare chance we get a night (or a morning or an afternoon) out on the town alone, our first stop will be Lemon.

Lemon Crepe & Coffee Co. makes the most delicious savory and sweet crepes and I could probably eat there every day and never be bored. I would also have to buy all new clothes and run 6 miles a day. For our girls' day in the city, I took Ella to Lemon and - like I knew she would be - she was absolutely in love with her strawberry and nutella crepe with fresh creme. I devoured my apple cinnamon crepe, while still somewhat wishing I had gone for the savory mexican crepe with a spicy cheese glaze and quacamole on the side. You just can't go wrong with Lemon.

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Other favourite Dublin eats? Acapulco. Also Mexican food, slightly more dear (expensive) than what we'd prefer, so this is our special occasion place. Matt and some friends took me here for my 30th birthday and it was so tasty! At the time, there weren't a lot of Mexican restaurants to choose from. I think there may have been three in the whole of the country, not including the Chili's in Belfast, which was both short-lived and a tasty reminder of home, including FREE REFILLS (unheard of here). Now we have more Mexi-places to choose from, but I still defer to my old favourite. Did I mention the fried ice cream?

Ooh, and there's Third Space, a somewhat newish place on the block. It's owned and run by some acquaintances of ours and it's fresh food with a neighbourhood vibe. Seating is based round community tables and it's not uncommon to strike up conversation with the people sitting next to you. Every day Third Space posts pictures and descriptions of their fare - shepherd's pie, margherita pizza, every soup imaginable - and my mouth waters just at the thought of them!

IMG_0031Locally, we've enjoyed take away from Mango Tree. They serve delicious thai food and my sweet family treated me to their fantastic pad thai for my most recent birthday.

You can also find McDonalds, Subway, KFC and - believe it or not - TGI Fridays in the greater Dublin area, but apart from the monthly happy meal treat, we stay away from the old fast food staples. If we're going to splurge on eating out, we're going to do it the right way.

The downside to all this good food? Eating out - especially as a family with kids - comes with a high price tag. But when you take into account that we live on an island nation, most of the food is local, and all meat is traceable and ethically sourced, the standards match the cost. It's by no means a frequent occurence for us, which in my opinion, makes dining out that much more of a treat (since we've returned to Ireland, Acapulco hasn't made the budget cut).

So a side trip to the McD's drive-thru may end up being a little more reasonable. What can I say? It just tastes better here. But skip the happy meal. The toy is never worth it.

In October I'm sharing about the life we've made at home in Ireland, including the food. I'd still give anything for a Giordano's deep dish, Jimmy John's sub or some Panera soup. Do you have an old stomping ground your mouth still waters for?

The chipper :: at home in Ireland

21 October 2013


My love affair with Irish food can be encapsulated in two words: the chipper.

The chipper, or the chippie or the chips shop (or any other such nickname) is short for the local fish and chips place. This is common to the UK, as well, though I'm not sure where else in the world (New England, maybe?) the chipper exists.

Chips here are what we yanks might commonly refer to as "french fries," but this in itself is misleading, as chips here are thick and hearty and taste great sprinkled with vinegar. I'm serious. Vinegar.

Now here's when you may say to yourself "Chips I can get behind, but I hate fish." To which I reply, "Good on you!" for I, too, hate fish. But the chipper is so much more than fish. There's goujons (chicken strips), chicken baskets (like what you'd get at KFC in a "family bucket"), battered sausage, burgers, pizza, kebobs, chips with curry, chips with garlic mayo, chips with cheese and garlic mayo... the magical equations of fried goodness are endless.

Due to my own personal weight restrictions, we don't patronize the chipper too much. We've got a great one here in our village (several, actually), but I love being out in Dublin or visiting other towns throughout Ireland and just popping in to whatever chipper we come across. The Irish are connoisseurs of "the spud" (potato) and I heartily believe the chip to be their best delicacy.

Tomorrow I'll share more about my foodie preferences in Ireland. This will not include black pudding, of which Ella once exclaimed to me was "chocolate pudding made from pig's blood!" 

This may or may not be true. I refuse to test that theory.

Sundays with the poets :: at home in Ireland

20 October 2013

Everything in me
Wanted to bow down, to offer up,
To go barefoot, foetal and penitential
And pray at the water's edge.

from Triptych III At the Water's Edge, Field Work
by Seamus Heaney

This October I'm writing every day on being at home in Ireland. But on Sundays I'll be sharing the words of others... with pictures that, of course, will never do their words justice.

A primer on laundry, in five :: At home in Ireland

18 October 2013

If there's one thing that causes the most consternation when moving to another country, it's laundry. Sure bathing and washing dishes and driving and the exchange rate and any number of things can confuse and frustrate and make life a bit lot more interesting to maneuver. But it is the laundry - how you do it, when you do it, and how long it takes to do it - that can really bring an expat to his or her knees. Scrubbing. Scrubbing and folding and/or crying.

When we first moved to this house, we had washer/dryer combo. The combo washing machine is quite small, so we could only really fit in a day's worth of dirty clothes. And because it both washes and dries your clothes, it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to complete the entire cycle. This type of washing machine is the bane of my existence, and of most expats I know. It's also prone to breaking down, not washing and/or drying sufficiently, and uses an enormous amount of electricity. We usually ended up doing a "short cycle" on the wash and then hanging it out to dry.

A word on hanging your laundry: on the rare sunny/warm day in Ireland, I simply LOVE to hang out my laundry. It dries faster than in the combo machine, the sun naturally gets spots out, and - you know - it looks all nice and homey. But even when the sun isn't out, the wind here can get your laundry dryish, too. You then bring your dryish laundry in and hang it on the radiators to finish up. This is not as fun and causes laundry chaos throughout your house, but it gets the job done.

This is mostly a moot point for us now, though, because our old combo machine broke down a few months ago and we now have BOTH a washer and dryer. And they are awesome. The dryer is a rock-star of a machine, the drum is quite large and it dries our clothes in less than an hour. AMAZING! I love it so much, I actually enjoy doing the laundry now. Yes, it still takes up to 3 hours to wash it, but I love that I'm not a slave to my laundry anymore. I can forget about it for a few hours, pop it in the dryer and then be done with it. And because the wash takes so long, this ensures I never have to do more than 3 loads (tops!) a day.


Still, there are days when I'm feeling whimsy and I hang out my laundry just for fun. Not really fun, but you know...

So yes, all you ever wanted to know about our laundry situation. I blame Lisa Jo and her "laundry" prompt for Five Minute Friday. And yes, I went over my alloted time. Come join us and write. About laundry. It's therapeutic, ya'll. What does laundering entail in your part of the world?

Of kids' clubs and extracurricular activities

17 October 2013

Every other week, we trek to Dun Laoghaire for kids' club. During rush hour. Usually in the rain. At dusk. 

Yes, it can be an ordeal. Kids' club nights mean we're eating dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon and driving 40 minutes with three sometimes cranky kiddos. Homework has got to get done, and everyone must eat and go to the bathroom and take a car activity. And when we get home it's nearly bedtime, and everyone is still wired and ready for second dinner.

But it's worth it.

You see, we don't do a lot of extracurriculars. My kids aren't exactly, um, athletic (picture me whispering athletic, because this is usually how I say it to a new friend when I feel bad my kids aren't more, well, athletic). In truth, Ella is or will be, but her sport of choice will probably end up being track or cross country or wrestling and that's a few years down the road yet. Hopefully. But Jack just isn't interested. And that's OK. As much as I want him to explore new things and occasionally get out of his comfort zone (and his nose out of a book), I'm learning not to force things on him that he is not gifted towards. So finding low-cost, low-risk things they can get involved with after school can be difficult.

And our lifestyle isn't exactly routine day-in and day-out. Matt's work schedule is different every day and the car is not always at my disposal. Committing to a once or twice weekly activity isn't realistic for us now. Just getting homework done is afternoon-long activity in itself!

In lieu of committing to things I'm not sure my children will enjoy or benefit from, we drive 40 minutes to kids' club in rush hour traffic every other week. They play games with and get to know other kids, spend time with our friend who youth pastors there and whom they've known nearly their whole lives, and Asher and I get a change of scenery.

This is just one small thing that works for us, right now. One tiny bit of routine we can all look forward to. One more way we've settled into home here. It probably won't last forever and I'm hoping we can integrate swimming or a library activity from time to time. But you do what you can, right?

One more bonus: on a rare day, we get to see a sight like the one above. Like I said, totally worth it.

Irish movies :: at home in Ireland

16 October 2013

There are two kinds of Irish movies. The kind Americans love and the somewhat realistic kind. Leap Year falls into the former category. Once in the latter. It's like any movie filmed in a city/state/country you know well. Location discrepancies or flubbed accents can detract from an otherwise well-told story. And while I'm no expert, Gerard Butler's accent in P.S. I Love You is a prime example (or Julia Roberts in Michael Collins or Tom Cruise in Far and Away... you get the idea).

I hesitate to even list my favourite Irish films - pronounced fil-ims - as I'm sure there are some unrealistic aspects to them, but for the benefit of my massive world-wide audience (amiright?!), here's my top five:

1) Once. Obviously. The intimacy of music mixed with love.
2) The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Brutal, epic, disturbing, beautiful.
3) In America. Heartbreaking, yet redemptive and hopeful.
4) Veronica Guerin. The acting is equal parts stunning and scary.
5) The Secret of Kells. Gorgeously animated.
Honorable mentions: Michael Collins and Waking Ned Divine.

Of course, there's a bucket-load of Irish movies I need to see but somehow haven't:

1) The Guard
2) My Left Foot
3) The Commitments (there is no excuse for me not having seen this yet)
4) Ondine
5) In the Name of the Father

Irish films are just, well, I think they're just brilliant. Maybe I'm biased, but there's something so nuanced and haunting about the stories they tell. I finish nearly every film with an ache in my chest that's hard to describe.

For these 31 days I'm writing about making our home in Ireland. At times, this involves a lot of movie watching. I tell myself it's good cultural research. Do you have a favourite Irish film? Or one that was made in your own city or region? 

An outsider's observations on justice :: At home in Ireland

15 October 2013


In the mornings, the children and I listen to the news over our cereal and coffee. Today is a big day. It is budget day in Ireland and it is release day for John Gilligan.

We didn't live here when he was sent to prison, but we had read the stories and seen the footage. We had heard of a woman, a journalist named Veronica Guerin, who had been shot and killed after reporting who it was she believed was behind massive drug smuggling and dealing in Dublin in the 1990s. He was never convicted of her murder, though widely thought to have been behind it as it was his thug who pulled the trigger, it was his livelihood she had exposed, and it was himself who had severely beaten her when she approached him at his home for an interview.

Instead he was convicted of drug trafficking charges and sent to prison initially for 28 years, reduced to 20 years, then 20 years became 17 years and, today, he is released.

As I sat with Jack, all innocent hunger refilling his bowl of cheerios, I told him the story - at least, all that I know - of Veronica Guerin. How she probably didn't set out to die for her cause, but how she recognized evil, she loved her city and her country, and she never gave up fighting for what she knew was right and just and true. In the face of violence and threats, she fought for the lives of others.

It's a shame Gilligan is being released today having never paid for his role in her death. But it was a honour to share her story all the same.

If you'd like to know more about Veronica Guerin and her "one-woman-war" against drugs:
17 years on: Veronica Guerin remembered for courage and determination
Guerin's death was a pivotal moment

Fun fact: Ella gets her middle name from Cate Blanchett... we thought the characters she plays - from Veronica Guerin to Queen Elizabeth I to Galadriel - were the best kind of role models for our girl. Oh, and Kate in Bandits. She was awesome, too. 

In the garden where we mine our hearts :: At home in Ireland

14 October 2013

I wrote this six months ago, but it's probably my favourite post from this year. So yes, it's kind of cheating. I hope you'll forgive me, anyway, as I'm still learning and relearning the lesson here over and over and over again...

Nine months pregnant with Asher and I'd sit in a bed of weeds. 

Matt would grab hold of my arms and lower me down as I could neither bend nor reach over my belly to the ground. He would check on the veg, plucking and pulling what was ripe. I would weed anything within 12 inches and 360 degrees of my extreme roundness, turning on the garden pad (a soft yellow sunflower, reminding me of Kansas summers). Ella was usually nibbling on an herb of some sort - fennel, mostly - or elbow deep in mud. Jack manned the watering hose.

We would talk things over there: how we were doing, what our hopes were, where we had run short, what middle name we should give the baby. He'd be named Asher years before, and we needed a suitable follow-up. There was a long list of Irish names I couldn't settle on. Cian, Eoin, Niall, Liam, Rhys (this one was Welsh, but a favourite of mine).

In the end we gave him his grandfather's name. Jared. But those conversations in the garden weren't all for naught.

I never pictured myself here. Blooming with child on Irish soil. Matt was the gardener, the outdoorsman, the lumberjack. I was the city girl, happy with a book and a lamp and air conditioning. But in the garden, everything was up for discussion, and in turning the soil ("I'm working the land," I'd tell my mother-in-law, who laughed at the thought of it) we plucked our brains and mined our hearts for where the truth lay, where our spirits settled, where tears and contentedness met under cloudy skies and ocassional sprinkles. It was Ireland, after all, and no trip to the garden left us untouched by rain.

When the harvest was done, and the baby born, and the peas and green beans and lettuce and parsley eaten and used, we had nothing left but beet root. The beets just kept coming. Time was getting on and we were soon returning to America. The garden we'd have to let go of, but we were trying to outlast the beets.

I don't care for beet root. Don't like the texture or the colour or the taste, but it was a big hit among our friends (and children) here. We had beets for dinner, beets for company, beets in baby food, beets for dinner parties. We'd show up to a new house with a steaming plate of roasted beets, solidifying our post as favourite American guests among our crowd (at least, I like to think so).

We never saw the end of the beets. Had to give up the land before the last of them found their way to our plates.

It had been months since I'd been to the garden. Those days I did my pruning and weeding in a rocking chair with a baby at my breast, mining my heart for him who could only reply in full sighs and fragrant burps. We were leaving and the garden was no longer ours and this surprisingly beautiful moment had passed. Matt wanted to drive by it one last time, parking the car in front of the allotment, the beets now gone and the land tilled, lying in wait for the next gardener to dig deep.

I hate to admit it, but the truth is we cried there on that farmland, silently, so as not to alarm the children.  And then we drove away.


Yesterday we spent hours in the back garden. It was overgrown and messy, in need of a sharp handsaw. The seeds - sprouting in egg cartons and toilet paper rolls - were in need of a new home outdoors. Asher ran round in his pyjamas and wellies, Ella working a tiny hatchet on the remains of a pine tree. A rosebush had rerooted and webbed itself around several times. A mystery tropical plant (like a palm tree, but not) overshadowed a humble hydrangea, ready for spring.

Matt handed me the garden shears, "Do you want to prune back the dead blooms of the hydrangea? It'll make way for new growth."

The weight was heavy, but the burden was light.

"Yes, yes I do."

Sundays with the poets :: At home in Ireland

13 October 2013


I never saw a man who looked
      With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
      Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
      With sails of silver by.

From The Ballad of Reading Gaol
by Oscar Wilde

This October I'm writing every day on being at home in Ireland. But on Sundays I'll be sharing the words of others... with pictures that, of course, will never do their words justice.

The flip side :: At home in Ireland

12 October 2013

And then...

And then there are the days you're all alone. The house is devoid of food. You have taken stock and made the list and prepared the children and remembered the shopping bags.

Of course, you forget the list and the children forget you or any word of virtue you've ever spoken. The grocery store is full and they trail behind you leap-frogging and crashing into the cheese aisle. One physically removes himself from the trolley (cart) at the till (register), getting stuck and crying to anyone who will listen. You bag your own bags and give your brood the curtest, loudest (because you just don't care anymore how quiet your American voice is) direction to Go. Now. 

Everyone does the perp walk down to the car, sitting fretfully in a row in the backseat waiting for the promise of crisps. You pop open each bag and steer the car into the McDonalds drive-thru for your own small consolation of diet coke with ice.

And then you cry. Because you just miss your parents and your siblings and your home so much your heart feels forever misplaced.

Yes, sometimes, those days happen, too.

For these #31days I'm writing on what it's like to be at home in Ireland. No matter the continent, I will occasionally find myself in tears after grocery shopping. Ever happen to you?

Five Friday Favourites :: At home in Ireland

11 October 2013

1) The Free Preschool Year :: In Ireland, every child is entitled to a free preschool year. Daycares and creches (a playschool or nursery) are plentiful as many families have both parents working full-time, and nearly all of these offer a preschool option. We've found a great one near us where Ash goes every day for three hours (except for today, because he's a sickie with a bad cold and yellow snot problem). I love the idea that every child in Ireland can go to preschool absolutely free, encouraging friendships, group-play and creative learning.

2) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins :: We used this recipe from Money Saving Mom for Ella's "birthday cake" this year, but we turned them into cupcakes by topping them with store bought (gasp!) cream cheese frosting. People, this is the very best our world has to offer. The recipe makes loads, kids and adults alike left full and happy, and we still have one loaf of bread in the freezer to enjoy.

breaking my own rule to not take pictures of food b/c i take really bad pictures of food

3) Pumpkins! We've been lucky enough to find the rumoured, mythical pumpkin. They're not as ubiquitous here as they are in the States and for a few weeks our life mirrors Linus' hunt for the Great Pumpkin. Today our front stoop boasts three beautiful globes of orange and I'm sure our neighbours think we're mad (crazy), but I don't care. They'll thank me when I come round with some roasted seeds.

4) Girl Day in Dublin :: For Ella's birthday, she gave me the very best present of all. We spent a picture perfect Autumn day in Dublin City and had a blast. An exhausting, sugary blast. There was coffee and crepes and bookshop and playground and holding hands and, of course, skipping. Ella doesn't walk, people; she skips, runs and/or jumps hopscotch on crowded sidewalks. She is equal parts carefree and treacherous. And there may or may not have been lip gloss.

5) Date night! It hasn't technically happened (6 hours and counting!) but tonight Matt and I are getting out of the house for a little one-on-one time. I've been inspired by all the date night posts lately, and as Matt's taken on more work responsibilities and I've taken on more Irish homework responsibilities (sigh) we need a couple of hours with nothing but books and coffees between us. Honorable mention goes to the honorary uncle who loves power rangers as much as our kids do and doesn't mind an evening of mind-numbing "ninja" action.


On Fridays I try to write about my favourite things, even and especially on the long, tough weeks. Now back to the sick little guy on the sofa. What's been your favourite thing this week?