Some of my best memories with friends are the unplanned ones.
The times when the group of kids that get off the school bus together beg the moms for an impromptu play date. Secretly, us moms like it because the kids are entertained and we can sit and chat for a few minutes an hour.
Or the times back in Oregon when we’d say, “we feel like BBQing, who wants to come over tomorrow?” Our friends would bring some food…especially the important things like dessert and booze. I could put my youngest to bed at his normal bedtime and then I’d be able to stay up way past my bedtime, which isn’t all that hard to do since I go to bed before 10 p.m.
There was nothing Pinterest-worthy about any of these gatherings. I couldn’t even find a photo – at least one I was willing to share. But, many a night was spent laughing away on this deck, looking out at this view.
This author reminds us that it’s more fun if we approach getting together in a more casual way. There’s not a lot of planning or cleaning. It’s way less stressful and a lot more fun. I will say, you do have to have the right friends for this. The ones that aren’t judging you because your laundry isn’t done. Again.
CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS EXPLAINED
Why do we have Christmas trees?
Why does everyone in Ireland eat mince pies during the holidays? So many mince pies.
Who is the magical person that delivers presents to kids? It’s different based on your country!
This article helps answer all of your Christmas tradition questions.
MASON JAR LID TREE
This looks like a Junk Whisperer project. Am I right? She has some pretty terrific mason jar lids.
I feel like the tree needs a stem, but I love the clever use of materials.
Last weekend we pulled the Christmas boxes down from the attic.
All three of them and a wreath box.
Even after culling out over half of my Christmas decorations in preparation for our overseas move, it still feels like Christmas vomited all over my house.
Why is it that decorating a tree and putting up a few festive touches means that the entire house is destroyed in the process?
After I took the kids to school on Monday, I returned and tidied up one area. The foyer. Don’t foyers look so much better without the stuff that actually goes in a foyer? Backpacks, jackets, shoes…so many shoes.
I even dusted the Christmas glitter off the bench.
That was more of a practicality than anything. I don’t need to bedazzle my bum when I sit down to tie my shoes.
Or do I?
I left my existing decor up because I still like it, but I added a few Christmas touches to the wall like the ornaments I’ve had since I was a kid.
They are a little dinged, dented and discolored after so many years, but that gives them character, right?
Please know that I purposefully placed the snowman on the “Good Luck” horseshoe.
I have a twisted sense of humor like that.
Does my family notice these things? Of course not. Decorate for your own amusement, people. That’s my advice to you.
My round mirror received a little handmade wreath treatment.
I don’t have any fir-type trees in my yard, but I made do with other clippings.
I used a Command hook to attach the wreath to the mirror.
My poinsettia plant did not come in a cute container (the horror!), so I wrapped it in a burlap bag that I purchased during an apple-picking excursion last year.
I now feel justified by my decision to hoard save it!
To dress up the burlap sack, I made the little pom-pom tie for it. The devil’s in the details, right?
I get teased for using fabric glue and hem tape on a lot of my “sewing” projects and I’m cool with that. However, for the record, I used a real needle and thread for this two-minute DIY project.
The “joy” word is an ornament that I stuck to the wall with a Command strip.
It’s also one of the reasons why I had to dust the bench for Christmas glitter.
So much joy was sprinkled everywhere. Now that the foyer is ready for Christmas, all that remains is the rest of the house! I hope I’m not the only one who is still tinkering with Christmas decor. Happy decorating, folks!
For my friends and family living in the United States, I thought it would be fun to show you how Irish retailers are getting into the Christmas spirit this season.
These are photos I’ve snapped with my phone while I’m out and about – sometimes in the store, sometimes just window shopping. Please excuse the glare, the awkward angles and the occasional appearance of my reflection.
Meadows and Byrne is an Irish company with 12 stores around the country.
This is a store window in a men’s suit shop that I walk past quite regularly, but I have not ventured inside.
Here’s a random gift shop I ran across recently. It’s amazing what you can find when you turn right instead of your usual left out of the train station.
I cropped out the green apron on the left because it had a naughty word and this is a family blog, dang it! The Irish do like to swear. A lot. They know they like to swear though, so sometimes they change the vowels on 4-letter words to make it seem nicer.
I thought this dress display was quite clever. It definitely caught my eye.
This is, obviously, a children’s clothing store. It’s located in a shopping mall, of sorts, where I go when I want to shop at a full-sized grocery store. It’s also where we bought the kids a change of clothes on our first night in Ireland when the airline lost our bags.
Right next to the children’s clothing store was this window display for a men’s clothing shop.
It made me laugh.
You can see my “big” grocery store reflected in the background.
This is the store window for a Danish retailer called Sostrene Grene, which I believe means the Sisters Green.
I’ve heard about this place since we moved here, but I always thought people were saying Pariscourt instead of Powerscourt. My ear for the Irish accent has improved greatly, but it still fails me sometimes.
Powerscourt House and Gardens is very old. The 68-room mansion was completed in 1741.
For you Downton Abbey fans, it was mentioned in an episode – or the family who originally owned it was mentioned.
The above and below photos are from the Garden Center on the property grounds. There’s also a golf course, hotel, gardens, waterfall and more.
A friend and I stopped for a scone with clotted cream at the cafe at Powerscourt House and Gardens and this beautiful scene greeted us on the way in. My kids would love this.
With a strong Catholic heritage and little religious diversity in Ireland, my impression is that retailers are not shy about promoting a “Merry Christmas” message over a “Happy Holidays” message. December has only just begun and it’s been fun to see the festive messages going up and the towns and stores transforming themselves for the season. We are happily soaking it all in.
How are you? It’s December! Or, as my kids put it, time to start the chocolate advent calendar! They’ve been counting down the days until they can start counting down the days until Christmas, so this has been an exciting week.
From their site: “We celebrate intelligence and grit in our girls because their worth is based on so much more than just their cuteness. We celebrate kindness in our boys because they’re more than just troublemakers and athletes…At Free to Be Kids, we believe passionately that both boys and girls deserve to see, hear, and wear better messages.”
This article on ScaryMommy.com about not doing all the things this holiday season is kind of my mantra all the time, but it is a good reminder especially during the holidays. The things I think we “have to do” to make Christmas festive and memorable is rarely what my kids remember. For instance, do they remember baking sugar cookies for Santa? No. They only remember frosting the cookies. I don’t need to kill myself with the baking when plain, store bought cookies will serve the purpose and take needless stress off my plate.
THIS SONG REDUCES STRESS UP TO 65%
To that end of reducing stress this holiday season, I read an article on Inc.com that says according to a study done by neuroscientists in the U.K., listening to the below song resulted in a “65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.”
Then there was me. I couldn’t even listen to the entire song it irritated me so much. I had no patience for it. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Perhaps it would have had a different effect if I was trying to solve a difficult puzzle while listening to the song as in the actual study.
SWIMMING POOL ON THE EDGE
Would this swimming pool freak you out or would you dive right in? It’s definitely a bold design choice.
The pool is located at the Hotel Hubertus in South Tyrol, Italy. I would swim in it. I would also like to visit Italy. Who wants to join me?
The show paid around $500 in 1987 to the owners of the home for pictures and footage of the house. Fans annoyed those owners and all subsequent owners of the home so much that they all refused to allow the show to take any new photos or video of the home. (image source)
The first thing the show’s creator, Jeff Franklin, did after purchasing the home was paint the front door back to its iconic red color. The home, built in the late 1800s, is going to be undergoing some major structural renovations. When they are complete, it sounds like Franklin is open to the idea of renting the home out to fans. AirBnB perhaps???
Also, I need a gigantic cork board with a fancy frame. STAT!
This weekend we will start decorating for Christmas! I’m kind of excited to open the Christmas boxes because I can’t remember what I decided to bring to Ireland. I hope you have a happy, stress free weekend!
This is a story about Target…which I just found out ships to Ireland.
And my world is complete.
Do you hear angels singing? I’m pretty sure the angels are singing.
Anyway, this isn’t a story about Target.
It is a story about a basket I purchased at Target though.
A basket that the movers CRUSHED in a box along with my hopes and dreams.
Kidding. Hopes and dreams were intact. I just needed to add that for dramatic effect.
I stalked this basket for a good long while at Target. When your daughter’s room is decorated in lavender, gray and navy, you need this basket. However, I’m too cheap to pay $12 for a basket, but when it went on clearance for $8, I was in. I even bought two.
And yes, the movers crushed both of them. Along with my hopes and dreams. Again.
I’m not exactly sure how to describe this basket other than it is woven and plastic. However, it’s not a rigid plastic…it’s flexible. Hence the crushing.
I tried to fix it by ramming a ridiculous number of stuffed animals in the basket. I thought perhaps if I could make it full enough, then the basket might reshape itself – kind of like my stomach after Thanksgiving dinner.
Despite the countless number of stuffed animals that I shoved in the basket – it was like the magician’s hat of baskets – that method did not work.
I tried swearing at it. I gave it the evil eye. I ignored it…for five long months. Nothing was working. I don’t know why.
Finally, I decided to Google the problem. That didn’t help, but now I know what a Bolga basket is.
I texted a friend – way better than Google – and we discussed the merits of applying heat to the basket. What could go wrong? And the fact that my son was wearing 6 pairs of underwear. What could go wrong?
With my iron set to the highest heat setting (hotter is better, right?) and a washcloth for protection, I started ironing the basket – both the inside and the outside.
Hanging the basket over the narrow end of the ironing board helped to get down to the very base of the basket, which was badly crumpled.
It also helps you see how gross my ironing board cover is looking. Someone should wash that thing.
Stop looking at it!
Please heed my advice. You definitely need some sort of cloth between the basket and the ironing board. Otherwise, you will have a crushed and melted basket.
I’m guessing that’s not the look you are going for…unless it is?
After about 30 minutes of steadily ironing the two baskets, I’m fairly certain I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and a thumb injury.
But look at my newly reshaped basket!
It’s not perfect, but it is 1,000 times better!
Also, no sooner did I set the basket down to find my camera did I turn around to see one of my children wearing the basket on his or her head. Of course.
And there was no way I was going to iron the basket again. Carpal tunnel thumbitis is a real thing.
If you are feeling not-so-happy because a flexible, plastic basket you bought on clearance is now misshapen, then please feel free to use this technique to breathe new life into it. You’ll be glad you did. I was!
P.S. My thumb is feeling much better. Thanks for asking.
Seriously. What’s not to love about this scenario?
Besides. We’re in the holiday season…I think we can all use a little comfort food right now.
These bread knots are like having a sandwich all wrapped up in a nice, convenient, easy-to-devour bundle.
If you wanted to be really healthy you could serve these bread knots with a salad. You know, to make it a well-rounded meal or something crazy like that.
That’s actually what I did, but my judgment is a little questionable.
I recently asked my hair stylist to cut my hair in such a way that when it was whipped by the wind, pelted by rain and smashed by my jacket hood I wouldn’t look like a crazy lady picking her kids up from school. That should be no problem, right?
He replied to me completely deadpan in his Irish accent, “the hair isn’t going to help that, love.”
I’ve made the original bread knots recipe countless times and wrote about it here. The rolls are always tender, flavorful and a hit whenever I serve them. I enjoy these rolls so much more than a regular dinner roll.
Plus, they are super easy to make. If my 9-year-old can twist bread dough into a knot, surely you can. Surely.
Just grab a plum-sized hunk of dough and roll it with your fingers until it is approximately a 10-inch long strip.
I’ve found it works better to use a lightly floured surface for this so that the dough doesn’t stick to itself when you twist it into the knot like so:
(my fingers this time, not my 9-year-olds)
I can tie bread into a knot, but my youngest still can’t tie his shoes.
When the rolls come out of the oven, I brush them with a mixture of olive oil and minced garlic.
I rarely mince my own garlic anymore. Real chefs would be horrified, I’m sure, but I like the convenience of garlic already minced and in a nice, ready-to-use tube from the grocery store.
The irony is not lost on me that I will take the time to make rolls from scratch, but not to mince garlic.
If there are any rolls leftover (ha!), they store well in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
I store all of my bread in the refrigerator or freezer though…
Whether you make the original Sweet Potato Bread Knots recipe or this heartier version, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Your belly will be happy you made them! I can’t speak for your thighs though.
1 envelope (7g Envelope) active dry yeast (approx 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to oil the bowl
½ cups sweet potato puree (fresh or canned)
3-½ cups while flour (you can also use unbleached bread flour)
1-½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup cooked Italian sausage
1 cup grated Edam cheese (or any Swiss-type cheese)
Minced garlic, olive oil, and kosher salt to brush on baked knots (optional)
Note: If you are making fresh sweet potato puree, you can do this two ways. I usually bake the sweet potatoes. When the potatoes finish baking, discard the skin and mash the potatoes with a fork. A few lumps are not going to matter in this recipe. You can also peel the potatoes, dice them into 1-inch chunks and then boil them until soft. Drain the potatoes and mash.
Cook Italian sausage over medium heat. Set aside. While sausage is cooking, grate cheese.
While all of that is happening, start your dough. Add warm water and honey to a medium bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit, covered in a warm spot for 10 minutes or so until the yeast is nice and frothy. Then add olive oil and mashed sweet potato. Whisk until thoroughly combined.
In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt. Slowly stir in dry ingredients to your bowl of wet ingredients. When the ingredients are about halfway incorporated, stir in sausage and cheese. Continue to stir until it becomes impossible to stir more. Then use your hands to continue mixing and slowly start kneading your dough, adding more flour to your hands to keep it from sticking. You don’t need to knead this bread a lot. Just make sure it is well incorporated and not too sticky.
Once you’ve created your dough ball, add olive oil to the bottom of your bowl and roll the dough ball in it until it is coated. Cover with Saran wrap or a damp towel and store in a warm, dry place (I use my microwave) for two hours.
Around the last 15-minute mark, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Divide your dough into plum-sized pieces you can easily hold in your fist (you should be able to get 12 rolls out of this recipe). Roll the pieces on a lightly-floured surface into long strips around 9 or 10-inches long. Don’t worry if they’re skinny, they’ll still get fat when they bake. Tie each into a knot, tuck the edges under each side, then place each on a pizza stone or baking sheet.
Bake until golden, around 10-15 minutes. (Mine took about 12 minutes, so keep an eye on them and check the bottoms of the rolls so they don’t get too dark.) Brush with a mixture of minced garlic and olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Allow to cool 3-5 minutes. Enjoy!
How are you? TGIF! For all my American friends, how was your Thanksgiving? Are you joining the throngs of Black Friday shoppers today?
I admit I thought Black Friday was an American thing. Imagine my surprise when I saw Black Friday advertisements here in Ireland. Hello, globalization.
I’m not a journalist, but I did a quick Wikipedia search…so thorough over here. I learned that while the shopping form of Black Friday does seem to have its roots in the U.S., Black Friday is indeed more widespread than I thought.
Canadian retailers have adopted Black Friday in response to Canadians driving across the U.S./Canada border in search of holiday deals.
Romania, India, France and Australia, among other countries, have also started Black Friday selling events. This appears to be largely driven by the increase in e-commerce – in particular with retailers that operate multinationally.
The U.K. has had it’s own Black Friday for years, but it originally referred to the Friday before Christmas when emergency services saw increased demand due to so many people out drinking adult beverages. Not good.
In 2013, a Walmart subsidiary brought Black Friday shopping deals to the U.K. Not to be outdone, the following year some U.K.-based retailers followed suit. Critics blasted this marketing technique as the further creep of American influence in the U.K. Unfortunately, in addition to crowd control and traffic issues, the Black Friday of 2014 also brought with it criminal activity. Since then, some retailers still participate in the shopping event, but others have downplayed their participation. I’m guessing retail Black Friday will grow in the U.K. in the long run.
Ireland, while not legally or politically a part of the U.K., for retail purposes often gets lumped in with the U.K. and Black Friday shopping is no exception.
The psuedo-educational part of this post is over. PHEW! Let’s move on to this week’s Happy List.
STOCKING STUFFER IDEA
I’m thinking about getting these running socks for the hubby for his stocking. We had so hoped to have direct Irish relatives – as it would help with getting dual citizenship – but alas, nope. We do love Ireland and the Irish people, we’re just not related.
BARNS COURTNEY – GOODBYE JOHN SMITH
I just discovered Barns Courtney’s music and in particular, the song “Goodbye John Smith.” It was playing in the background of a show I was watching and captured my attention because the piano is the dominant instrument in the song.
(By the way, the company that is storing my piano in Georgia emailed me the other day to tell me my baby piano is nice and safe and warm in storage. AWWW! They are so kind to us neurotic piano owners.)
Anyway, the song was used in a very hopeful scene in this show. One of those slow motion scenarios where the characters are going to do something impossible to save the day. Then I listened to the entire song on YouTube and realized the song, in its entirety, is kind of sad.
But, the singer’s voice is so captivating and I love a ballad I can sing along to – regardless of whether or not the song’s meaning is hopeful or sad or just confusing! Basically, it’s on constant repeat here. How’s that for the long way of telling you I like a song?
STICK ON PHONE POUCH
I just bought my second Sinjimoru phone pouch (it sticks on the back of your phone or phone case) for 8 bucks on Amazon and I can’t say enough good things about it. The only reason I got a new one is I got a new phone and case. My husband has my old case (with the pouch) and he tells me, “this pouch is really handy!” DUH! I’ve been telling you that!
I had my first one for about 18 months and it never showed any signs of coming unstuck. Also, the fabric of the pouch never stretched out. While maybe not the smartest, I’ve used it to hold cash and/or cards. Currently, I use it to hold my public transportation cards (3 of them – for me and the kids) because I need quick access to tag on and off the train. Heaven forbid I hold the line up! When I travel I use the pouch for my hotel key card.
I was looking for beginner knitting patterns the other day and somehow stumbled upon the Knitted Knockers site. This organization uses volunteers to knit breast protheses for breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy. I had no idea. No idea this was a thing. An amazing thing. Watch the video – it will all make sense.
If you know how to knit and feel compelled, please visit this organization’s website and see how you can help. They have groups set up all over the world to make and distribute the knitted knockers.
DIY SNOWMAN WREATH
If you’re looking for a fun, easy wreath to make, this one from Craftaholics Anonymous fits the bill. It’s super cute too. I daresay, grapevine wreaths have never looked so good. The blogger used chipboard to make the snowman’s hat, nose and scarf. However, depending on where you are hanging the wreath and how durable you want it to be, I think you could use other materials.
This is the year that I need to make baked brie. Talk about happiness on a plate. Handy Husband would think I worked so hard on this…and I would never dissuade him of that notion. Easy recipe and tips (like bake it in a pie pan to contain the goo) can be found at The Kitchn.
A holiday ubiquitous with turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
While Americans in the U.S. are on pumpkin-everything overload, Americans in Ireland are googling “where to buy canned pumpkin.”
I’ll give you a hint. One store carries it.
And it’s sold out.
Fresh pumpkins left the store shelves October 31, so that’s out as an option too.
It’s a good thing pumpkin pie isn’t really my thing.
I’ve been told Thanksgiving is the loneliest day of the year for expats living in Ireland.
Way to sugarcoat it, people.
Why is it the loneliest day of the year?
I suppose it’s because you’re separated from extended family and friends on a day, for Americans, that’s traditionally all about gathering together. Since tomorrow is just a regular day if you live outside of the U.S., it’s a day you watch from the outside looking in while it all plays out on social media.
With that said, this post is not a blatant, woe-is-me plea.
I have much more finesse than that.
In all seriousness, it is not woe-is-me because I am acutely aware of two things: I have so much I AM thankful for today and WILL BE thankful for tomorrow too.
I am blessed to have family and friends to miss and that quite possibly miss me from time to time. Not everyone can say that.
I am blessed to have food, shelter, clothing, safety and good health in my life. Not everyone can say that.
I am blessed to be sharing life’s grandest adventures with the man I love and our children. Not everyone can say that.
It doesn’t mean my life is without hiccups, but viewed through the lens of gratefulness and a lot of humor, I am very blessed. So bring on those Thanksgiving pictures because I want to share in your joy too. Thank you for reading and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
Have you ever muttered under your breath “you can do this, you’ve got this, you can figure it out, let’s get this done” before a big interview, or the first day at a new job, or when you have to take your kids for shots, or when you have to roll out of bed and you know there’s no coffee in the house?
It’s a mini pep talk!
Saying it out loud somehow makes it real and helps us commit to the endeavor. At the very least is helps us kick our behinds into gear.
Have you seen those videos floating around the Internet with the dads doing morning affirmations with their kids?
The videos are not only uplifting, but they made me think. Really think.
I loved seeing these dads teaching their kids strong moral values. I loved seeing the verbal commitment to these beliefs and values – by the dads and the kids.
There’s this one too.
(If the videos don’t open in this window, they should open directly on YouTube’s site.)
When my daughter started going to school, I’d say things like “Have a good day. Mommy loves you.” Sometimes I’d thrown in, “be the best YOU today.”
When my son started preschool at age 3, I would definitely add, “be good.” I wasn’t worried about him being a bad kid, but I was worried about him doing something crazy inappropriate like peeing outside during recess.
We lived in the country…it was a legitimate concern.
And we’ve continued with these generic send-offs ever since.
Inspired by what I saw on the above YouTube videos, I’ve been doing morning affirmations before school with my kids for the past month or so.
What we say is not written in stone. It changes a bit from day to day, but revolves around themes of working hard, being respectful, showing kindness and empathy and building a positive self-image.
It always starts with “I am awesome!”
Then I say and they repeat phrases like:
I am smart.
I am kind.
I am respectful.
I am helpful.
I will be a good friend.
I really like the two sentences in that first video that say “No one is better than me. I am not better than anyone else.”
We always end with, “I am going to ROCK this day!”
When I first started doing this with the kids, they did look at me like I had 3 heads. Then there were a few days where they’d only whisper back to me. But now, if I forget to start it, they are the ones that remind me. “Mom! We didn’t do “I am awesome!'”
I don’t know what that means or if doing this really helps them in their day. I’d like to think it does. They have faced some adversity this year. They have had to be brave. They have had to be adaptable. And like every human being, they face self doubt.
I do believe making the world a better place starts at home. I want to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted human beings who contribute to the greater good. Every little bit counts. Right now, this is part of our every little bit.
Here’s what been swirling around in my brain this week.
The Crown on Netflix
People. I devoured this show. As in give my children cereal for dinner and let them skip baths so I could eek out a few more minutes to watch this show.
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth was mesmerizing. By her facial expressions alone you were sucked into her world and I could feel how conflicting and burdensome it must have been for her to assume the duty of Queen. Then don’t even get me started on John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. They both should be winning awards for this series.
The only thing I didn’t like was that there were only 10 episodes for season 1. How could they? Get season 2 here now!
Christmas Tree Baskets
I’m obsessed with baskets under Christmas trees. I even tried to make one last year. It was an epic fail, so I didn’t bother sharing it. And I do mean an epic fail.
I keep thinking that with a large enough basket or maybe a lamp shade, I could make my own. Just keep thinking, just keep thinking…
This is not my style, but I still love it. Does that happen to you guys too? I love Cassie’s use of color. She combines prints and colors in ways my brain would never process. This seems like a very happy space.
First, hello light-filled space! Second, that chandelier. Third, I’m all about that fireplace with its multiple wreaths. While I could live here, apparently this is all set up at the One Kings Lane studio and not an actual house. I could still probably live here though…
Short and sweet this week, friends! Enjoy your weekend. Happy Friday!