Category Archives: Family

Board Games Even I Enjoy

I’m not sure what you guys lie in bed at night watching.

Game of Thrones? Friends reruns? Stranger Things? The 10 O’Clock News? This Is Us?

Do you want to know what I fall asleep listening to Handy Husband watches?

YouTube videos of people playing board games.

Try not to be jealous of my life.

This is akin to my kids watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft instead of just playing Minecraft themselves.

I’m giving you this window into my very glamorous life to illustrate an important point. When Handy Husband takes on a hobby, you can be guaranteed that he will take that hobby on 110%. There’s no half-way. All the research is done. I kid you not there’s probably a spreadsheet somewhere detailing spreadsheet-y board game things. He will read game reviews and participate in online discussion forums. Yes, they have those for board games. All of this activity is before he’s even ordered the game.

Handy Husband is fighting an uphill battle because while the kids LOVE playing board games with daddy, I’m not so much into board games. Finding a game that kids, adults and non-game players enjoy, well, that’s the kind of challenge he likes to tackle.

For this Cyber Monday, I’m sharing 5 board games that kids of all ages, from 7 to 70, have enjoyed playing at our house lately. Even me. Chances are you’ll enjoy them too!


Tsuro: The Game of the Path

Tsuro is a tile laying path game for 2 – 8 players. Lay a tile ‘path’ for your game piece to follow and if you are the last one on the board – you win.

This game is a nice balance between luck and strategy. Luck with what tiles you draw and strategy for the order in which you lay the tiles down.

board games Tsuro

I have videos of my 7-year-old son and my 71-year-old father playing this game together that make my heart ache with happiness to see those two matching wits.

board games Tsuro play shot

The other thing I really appreciate about this game – parents, I know you’ll get me – is it doesn’t take long to play!

Handy Husband wants to get Tsuro of the Seas next because it adds a dice element to the game. I’ll keep you posted on that one!


Onitama Board Game

This 2-player game has won an award for best abstract game, which might make it sound hard to play, but it’s not. If my 7-year-old can do it and teach his buddies how to play, so can you!

board games onitama box

Onitama has a bit of a chess feel to it in it’s simplicity and timeless feel. You can move your pawns around the game board, but your moves are restricted to the instructions on the cards you hold.

As an added twist, the card (or move) you play will go to your opponent next. So you not only have to strategize how the card will impact your pawns, but also your opponent’s pawns.

board games onitama play shot


Sheriff of Nottingham

Here’s the manufacturer’s description of this game: “You have come to Nottingham with your goods on market day, and the only thing standing between you and your hard-earned profits is the Sheriff. All you need to do is bluff or bribe your way past him…or maybe, tell the truth!”

board games sheriff of nottingham box

I’m not sure which is funnier – when Handy Husband plays the role of sheriff in this game or when my kids do!

Either way, to see my kids try and bluff their way through this game is equal parts funny and scary!

Sheriff of Nottingham does require some set-up, so it isn’t the quickest game to play straight out of the box. If you’re giving it for Christmas, you might want to read the directions before you wrap it up.

board games sheriff of nottingham play shot


Love Letter

Next up on the list is Love Letter!

Here’s the game set-up from the manufacturer: “In the wake of the queen’s arrest, all the eligible young men of Tempest (and many not so young) seek to woo Princess Annette. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and everyone must rely on those within the palace to bring their romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck, for 2–4 players. Get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while keeping other players’ letters away. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long and your letter may be tossed in the fire!”

 

board games love letter shot

In full disclosure, it took 4 of us adults one and a half rounds of playing this game before we understood the rules. Basically, we were WAY over-thinking it. (I think know my kids caught on faster.) After that, it clicked and it was a breeze.

The entire game fits in a small pouch, so this is a game that travels well. It also doesn’t take long to play a round because there are only 16 cards.

2 players can play, but it is much more fun with 3 or 4.

board games love letter play shot


Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games

Last, but certainly not least on my list is Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games.

In this game, each player is an undersea explorer with dreams of striking it rich by finding treasure. Unfortunately, each of the explorers is still poor and their budgets (or lack thereof) mean they have decided to share a submarine and a single tank of air on their next deep sea dive.

They have to collect treasure and get back to the submarine before they run out of air.

board games deep sea adventure box

This “push your luck” game is interesting because there can be a bit of cooperation at the beginning, but then everyone develops their own strategy of how much treasure they want to collect at the expense of their companions.

The other pro to this game is it is compact, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space on the shelf and it travels well. The game is played in multiple rounds, but each round doesn’t take long to play.

board games deep sea adventure play shot


Let me wrap this post up by saying I still don’t consider myself a board gamer. After all, I’m the girl that collects decks of cards, but rarely plays a card game.

But!

When Handy Husband goes to the trouble to find board games we ALL will enjoy playing together, I will happily give them a chance. With busy lives and electronics vying for our attention, encouraging quality family time with shared experiences seems more urgent to me lately.

Handy Husband has picked board games that make us think, laugh and don’t drive me absolutely nuts. If you’ve ever played seemingly endless games of Candy Land with a preschooler, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This week we are learning a new game called Mysterium. If it makes the cut, I’ll tell you all about it later.

 

P.S. The YouTube series that plays through all these games is called TableTop with Will Wheaton.

*affiliate links to Amazon used in this post*

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What I’m Thankful For Ain’t On No List

First of all, apologies to my Grandma Olsson for using the word ain’t in the title of this post.

I’m fairly certain if she could reprimand me from heaven she would! That was NOT a word we were allowed to use as grandchildren of a teacher. I think it was right up there with naughty words or ‘barnyard talk’ as she called it. Maybe worse!

Since she was the sweetest grandma to walk the planet (I’m not biased or anything), I think she would forgive me just this once because I’m merely quoting a song written by Trisha Yearwood.

Yes, I’m trying to get off on a technicality.

The first stanza of the song, What I’m Thankful For, is how I’m feeling this week of Thanksgiving.

What I’m thankful for ain’t on no list
For it only in my heart exists
For time has helped me understand
The things I can’t hold in my hand

My heart is full right now because our dear friends from Atlanta are spending Thanksgiving Week with our family.

These are the friends that made Georgia feel like home and the friends that really made it hard to leave and come to Ireland.

Plus, they adopted our cat. If that doesn’t say sucker friendship, I don’t know what does.

We have no plans for the week other than their kids are going to school with our kids today!

I don’t even know if we’ll have a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Mainly because I don’t want to carry a turkey home in my backpack turkeys are trickier to find until Christmas time here in Ireland.

What I do know is we will have endless amounts of fun catching up and showing them around the island. Every moment will be one I’ll tuck away in my heart and I know saying “see you later” at the end of the week will be hard.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the U.S. Thank you for being one of THE BEST PARTS of my world.

I will see you back here next Monday.


P.S. If you want to print off that Thanksgiving card, here’s the link.

P.P.S. If you haven’t heard What I’m Thankful For, here’s an all-star lineup singing it.

If you like a classic country voice, this cover of the song is top notch.

 

 

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Books My Kids Are Reading Part 6

Books, books and more books!

Welcome back to what has become an on-going series sharing the children’s books my kids and I are reading.

Before I get to the list of books we’ve enjoyed recently, I want to show you a neat booklet our local Irish library system publishes. It is a reading guide for different age groups from toddlers up to young adults. It includes both fiction and non-fiction recommendations.

The library must have a fairly robust budget to produce this booklet and I have no complaints about that!

The reading guide is compiled by a group of ‘book doctors’ who are all children’s book specialists. They have backgrounds in writing, editing, library science, bookselling or literature. Some of the book doctors have masters or doctorate degrees.

One of the book doctors is the reader-in-residence for Dublin City Libraries. How do I get that job?!?!

The book doctors don’t operate in a vacuum. They hold clinics throughout the year to meet with young people to get their feedback on what they enjoy reading.

As far as literacy and community engagement goes, I think this is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Now on with the show!

Here are the recently read books my kids, ages 7 and 10, would give two thumbs up!


Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

This book was such an unexpected surprise.

It started out with a pretty horrific scene. You know how you tell your kids NEVER to chase a ball into the street? Yeah. Well, something like that happened. I was thinking, “Oh no! This book is going to be so dark and terrible. What have I done?”

Yet, it wasn’t. It was such a strange, creative tale. It was filled with creatures who only spoke in verse, so it made reading it a lot of fun. My kids kept guessing what would happen next. It was a great adventure story with a strong bit of moral and emotional closure in the last chapter.

Thankfully, the book had a completely happy ending, which is how I like books to end!


The Curse of Herobrine: The Ultimate Minecraft Comic Book Volume 1 by Zack Zombie Comics

If you order this book and know nothing about Minecraft, this book will make no sense to you. You’ll be a hero, but you’ll have no idea why. You’ll be asking yourself, “What in the world is going on with this crazy Minecraft thing? These creatures look evil and why are there so many blocks?”

Just go with it. I know a little about Minecraft because my kids play and I still ask myself these things.

We’ve had The Curse of Herobrine for awhile (It was my daughter’s book. Minecraft is equally loved by girls and boys.), but just recently my son picked it up and this happened one morning…

I seriously had to check and see if the sky was falling.

He still reads out loud, so I heard the entire book for the umpteenth time. Then he asked me for the next two books in the series and he never asks me for books.

You can bet I jumped on that opportunity! A few days later these arrived:

Steve and the Swamp Witch of Endor: The Ultimate Minecraft Comic Book Volume 2 (An Unofficial Minecraft Comic Book)

and

Minecraft: The Wither Attacks! – The Ultimate Minecraft Comic Book Volume 3 (A Graphic Novel)

Even though I don’t “get” the story line of these books, I have found something to enjoy! These particular graphic novels have a lot of characters, so we each picked a different character to read out loud. I encourage my kids to read in the character’s voice. So if the character is an old man, use an old man voice. If the character is a big tough guy, use that kind of voice.

It takes a different level of reading comprehension to not only read the words, but to read them in character and to know when it is your turn to read. While my kids think it’s just a fun thing we do (and it is), there’s also some skill building going on too.


The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer

The kids’ grandma introduced me to this story and it is the most darling Christmas book.

Fair warning – it may make you want to cry, it is so sweet.

It is about a puppy who wants a boy for Christmas. He tries so hard to find one, but it does not go well. It seems all the boys are taken by other dogs. The puppy is exhausted and ready to give up and then an amazing thing happens!

I don’t want to spoil the ending…that’s the tearjerker part!

This book doesn’t appear to be in print any longer, but you can buy used copies online. Ours was used, but in great shape. If you do buy it, it will be one you’ll want to keep. The story is as good now as the day it was written in 1958! If you see it at the library, definitely check it out!


Incredible Incas (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary

This is the second Horrible Histories book we’ve read. I’m STILL surprised the kids enjoy them so much because they are fairly wordy and full of hard names and dates.

Perhaps I’m underestimating my kids!

The author does a really good job of writing in a way that grabs their attention though. The Incas did some pretty terrible, disgusting things with urine and, of course, my kids thought that was fascinating.

This book also introduced them to how diabolical the Spaniards were in taking over the Incan empire. This is important because history is often presented in a very one-sided way and in this case, both the Incas and the Spaniards did terrible things to each other.

I don’t know that a kid would be super excited to get this book for Christmas, but if you want to introduce them to a version of history that isn’t dry and boring, this series fits that bill. We are currently reading our third Horrible Histories book about the Greeks.


Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan (Book 2) by Jeffrey Brown

If you have a kid who is interested in Star Wars, this book will be right up their alley.

It follows Roan, a kid who starts middle school at a Jedi Academy. The book is told from his perspective and is an interesting mix of part diary, part comic book, part newspaper, part letters from home.

Some of the pages are pretty text heavy for my 7-year-old, but this wouldn’t bother older kids at all. As far as the middle school setting goes – there are a few references to liking a girl, but nothing that, so far, has seemed inappropriate for either of my kids. 

While it’s not completely mandatory to start with book one in this series, it will make a lot more sense to read Star Wars: Jedi Academy first. I think there are at least 4 books, so far, in the series.

If your kiddo loves Star Wars, but is still a beginning or reluctant reader, this set of Star Wars Phonics Books was INCREDIBLE and would be a good alternative to the Jedi Academy books.


Tassie and the Black Baron by Katie Roy

I’ve always wanted to describe a book as a ‘wild romp’ and I think I’ve finally found a book where I can bust out that phrase!

Time travel. A historical setting. A clever heroine. All of these things can be found in this book.

If you’ve ever gone on a boring tour of a castle or a historic home, you’ve probably looked at those old portraits on the wall and wondered what life might have been like hundreds of years ago. Well, now imagine that you got sucked back into that time period and were needed to save the day! That’s this book!

My kids were always surprised by the main character’s creative problem solving skills and I love a book that keeps them (and me) guessing and laughing.


Matilda by Roald Dahl

I’m a wee bit embarrassed to admit that this Matilda book came from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. However, this is one Happy Meal “toy” I am glad to keep.

Any Roald Dahl book is good and this one should be on your reading list. Don’t just let your kids watch the movie!


The Invisible Man’s Socks by Alex Shearer

The premise for this book is wild. A class goes on a field trip to a museum of horrors. Think of things like the poison pen, the hair from Bigfoot, vampire teeth, etc. All the things we like to pretend are real, but aren’t. Or are they?

The kids are told NOT TO TOUCH, but of course, everyone, including the teachers touch the museum relics.

That’s when the weird things start happening. Figuring out what is happening, why and how to reverse the damage is the journey the characters will embark on.

We had great fun trying to guess what was happening to each character and who they might be turning into. I could have done without the character who put on the strangler’s gloves though.

The one drag I found about this book is that there were a lot of characters, so the author kept repeating some basic information about each one. This made the book a bit more tedious to read out loud. My kids didn’t seem to notice though.


That’s it for this round!

As always, I’m happy to learn about other books my kids might enjoy! Do share!

Here are past posts on children’s books we LOVE

  1. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 5
  2. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 4
  3. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 3
  4. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2
  5. Books My Kids Are Reading Now (Part 1)
  6. Two Children’s Books That Made My Eyes Leak – Cried my eyes out. Still my favorite books.
  7. Star Wars Phonics Books – These worked miracles at encouraging my son to read.

Affiliate links to Amazon used in this post. Thanks for your support. You guys rock! 

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Kid Wisdom: Everyday Superpowers

Picture it.

The kids and I are on a packed commuter train at 8:27 a.m.

We’re standing, of course, because it’s a Monday morning and everyone has to get to work on time on a Monday. By Friday they won’t care as much and the train will be less crowded.

I’m wearing my son’s backpack because 2nd grade homework is HEAVY and holding my own backpack with my left hand. With my right hand I’m holding onto one of the vertical bars to keep my balance as the train stops and starts.

The kids are clustered next to me attempting whatever movement they can get away with in a packed train car without getting the death glare from yours truly.

You might not know this, but packed trains get hot. Hot trains mean people start sweating. Sweaty people mean the train car is going to smell. Smelly train cars mean one of my children is going to loudly mention the train car STINKS while demonstrating its stinkiness by plugging their nose and gesturing wildly.

Despite all the people, the train is pretty quiet. No one talks to the strangers they see every day. Earbuds are in. Newspapers are read. Social media is given its likes, loves and shares. There’s a middle-aged man playing Pokémon Go on his phone. The young guy in a suit is eating his second apple. I know it’s his second because I saw him put the core of the first one in his pocket.

Without an inkling of warning, my 7-year-old stops poking his sister on the sleeve, looks up at me and says, “Mom, I think every person has a superpower. They just might not know it yet because it’s way deep down inside them.” He points to his belly as he says this. Then he continues,“They need to believe in themselves so it can come out, you know?”

Kids always pick the best moments for a deep conversation, don’t they?

My son, with the innocence of youth, was initially talking about comic book superhero-type powers. I didn’t want to crush his dreams because I too think it would solve a lot of problems if we could teleport and this world needs people who dream big.

However, he had voiced a truth so profound that I wanted to connect his insight to something tangible in the here and now.

So we talked about what everyday superpowers might look like: generosity, kindness, perseverance, listening, teaching, empathy, standing up to bullies.

We talked about his best friend in Georgia who can run really fast. That’s a pretty cool superpower, but it’s what he does with his superpower that makes it special. He encourages others on his track team to run fast too. To not give up. To finish the race even when they are tired. This friend is using his superpower for good when he could just as easily use it for evil with arrogance and conceit.

Then just like that it was 8:32 a.m. and the train pulled up to our station. Happy to have arrived at our destination, we fought our way out against the tide of people rushing in.

Then my 7-year-old, gesturing in general to the outdoors, said the second most profound thing of the morning.

“It sure smells better out here.”


P.S. If there is someone out there that doesn’t believe they have a superpower – that they can shine in some way in their lives – I’d be happy to introduce them to my 7-year-old. He’ll remind them that way down deep they certainly do.

 

 

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We’re Not Catholic, but I Sent My Kids to Mass

My kids went to Catholic Mass today.

We’re not Catholic.

We’re American expats living in Ireland where the public school system is run by the Catholic Church with public tax dollars. Even many private schools are Catholic-influenced.

Our kids (now 7 and 10) attend a private school that is not Catholic run. As a percentage, there aren’t a lot of these schools in Ireland, but they are growing in number and popularity.

Twice a year our school offers the children an opportunity to attend a community-wide Mass during school hours. All the various primary schools in the parish attend.

Of course, as parents, we have the right to opt our kids out of this event.

I chose not to.

not catholic but sent kids to mass - St Anne's

Here’s why.

While Catholicism is not our religion, it is the religion of almost 80% of the people in the country in which we reside. As of 2014, there were over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world. Billion with a B.

That’s a lot of people.

When any religion is tightly woven into a society it impacts moral codes. It affects why people do what they do, believe what they believe, marry who they marry, vote the way they vote. Understanding not only what people believe, but why they believe it – even if you don’t – is important to building mutual respect.

While my kids are American citizens by birth, I hope when they grow up they will consider themselves to be citizens of the world. I want them to be curious about other cultures. I want them to dive into history, so they can understand how the past affects the present. I want them to be respectful of varying customs and beliefs, willing to try new foods and languages, empathetic to the struggles of others, open to listening to various viewpoints.

I’m not naive enough to think that them attending Mass twice a year is going to magically do all of these things. Of course not.

not catholic - church door

But in this instance, given our current cultural and historic surroundings, it is a start.

It is them (or them with my gentle nudge) taking the first step – making an effort toward approaching life with an open mind, thoughtful consideration and respect for others.

That’s all I ask.

Make the effort.

This is but one small example. There will be countless other ways they can make the effort to see the world from someone else’s perspective in their lifetimes.

We talked openly about this learning experience and the reasons for attending before the kids went and after. I listened to their feedback and answered their questions. Before I give you the mistaken impression that this was some sort of transcendental experience for my kids, let me keep it real. My 7-year-old thought the whole thing, which in his mind lasted 27 hours, was boring.

I’ve felt that way about many a church service, so I can’t really fault him for that.

not catholic - cathedral inside

Boring or not, my kids are learning things about the world that I didn’t have the chance to learn and embrace until I was an adult. In fact, I’m still learning.

Just imagine what could happen if instead of feeling threatened, insecure and instantly disagreeable to an idea or viewpoint that is different from ours we stopped and listened and learned. Through the course of listening and learning it is possible to remain true to your core values and find areas of common ground or at a minimum, mutual respect.

It’s not easy, but imagine how different our world might be then. Imagine how much kinder it might be. I have no doubt it is something worth striving for one human interaction at a time.

My hope is that my children will walk through life with integrity and an open mind. That they will place the well-being of humanity over the bottom line. That they will be adaptable, intellectually curious and empathetic. That their lives will be filled with purpose, meaning and happiness.

My husband and I don’t have all of the parenting answers. What works for our family might not work for another family. We’re learning as we go, figuring it out together, making changes when necessary and listening to our gut. Basically, we’re like parents everywhere trying to raise decent human beings.

Let’s hope we succeed.

 

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Books My Kids Are Reading Part 5

First week of September and I am up to my eyeballs in lunch boxes and homework!

Before I completely forget everything that happened this summer, I want to give you the rundown of some books we enjoyed while school was out.

It’s not the entirety of what we or they read, but the ones worth sharing. These are the books my (kids age 7 and 10) enjoyed and said, “just one more chapter! Please!”


AniMalcolm by David Baddiel

We stumbled into the world of David Baddiel when I picked up this book at the airport back in June. AniMalcom is a book about a kid who doesn’t like animals and then gets turned into an animal himself. Finding his way back home taught the boy some important life lessons.

My kids adored this book and had so much fun trying to guess which character the boy would turn into next.


The Parent Agency by David Baddiel

Honestly, I wasn’t too sure about the premise of this book. I didn’t want to give my kids the idea that they could interview and pick out their parents. You’re stuck with me, kiddos!

It turns out this was a light-hearted way of showing kids the grass isn’t always greener with another family.

My kids enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t their favorite David Baddiel book.


The Person Controller by David Baddiel

The kids’ favorite David Baddiel book, so far, is The Person Controller.

A Mystery Man gives a brother and sister a game controller that controls people. The kids use it to rescue a pet, teach the school bullies a lesson and win a school soccer game. Ultimately, they learn they don’t really need the controller. They just need to believe in themselves.

I could see my kids’ imaginations running wild with the possibilities presented in this book. What’s not to love about being able to do flips in the air like a computer game character? In the end though, they were the ones who “got” the point about believing in yourself. As a parent, I appreciate books that are fun, engaging and have a strong moral at the end.


Skellig by David Almond

Skellig (The Owl Man) was a book way out of the realm of what we normally read. It’s about a boy who moves to a new home and while his parents are distracted with an extremely ill baby, he discovers a strange being in his crumbling garage. This discovery changes his life forever.

This award-winning book is definitely geared for older kids and not necessarily my 7-year-old. This is mainly because of some complicated relationships and the very real, raw feelings that can come out in those situations. It’s not a fast-paced, action-filled, heavy plot points book, but it’s insight does keep you turning the pages. It’s hard to explain! You’ll just have to read it!

This was book was made into a movie a few years back. We watched the movie after we read the book. Here’s the trailer:


Dinkin Dings and the Frightening Things

This Dinkin Dings book (there’s an entire series) is definitely geared for the humor of young boys. I appreciate this because I have a young boy and while he doesn’t mind reading, he hasn’t reached the point where he’s picking up a book on his own yet. He’s capable, but resistant. This type of book is right up his alley.

Dinkin Dings is scared of most everything – except the monsters who live under his bed. Dinkin suspects his new neighbors are zombies in disguise, so he concocts a plan to reveal their true identities. Quite an adventure unfolds from there.

I’m definitely going to look for more books in this series for my son to read.


The Owls of Blossom Wood (Books 1-3) by Catherine Coe

My daughter loves all the animals of the world.

She saw The Owls of Blossom Wood series in one of those Scholastic magazines that comes home from school in the United States. I never got the book order turned in on time. Oops! Fast forward 2 years and imagine my surprise when I saw these books at a TJ MAXX in Ireland.

I snatched them up and my daughter plowed through them – even though she’s probably out-grown them. If your kid likes the Magic Pony/Kitten/Puppy series, these will be a hit.


Horrible Histories Gruesome Guides: Dublin by Terry Deary

Horrible Histories is a series about, well, history around the world. We happened to read most of the one about Dublin.

History can be written in a very dry way. This book was jam-packed with information, but it was definitely not dry. There are pictures, cartoons and an emphasis on the gross factor. If anything, this series probably portrays history in a more accurate way instead of the sanitized version we usually read about in textbooks.

How I know the information (or some of it) stuck in my children’s minds is when we visited a museum and they said, “Look, Mom! We read about the Battle of Clontarf!” So, thank you Horrible Histories!

If learning about Dublin history isn’t your thing, there are a bunch of books in the Horrible Histories series as you can see from this 20 book set: Horrible Histories Collection 20 Books Set Pack.


Wheelnuts! Complete Collection (5 books) – by Knife and Packer

I have to give grandma credit for buying my son 3 of the Wheelnuts! Craziest Race on Earth books from one of those online book parties. By the way, grandma, we need the rest of them now!

HE LOVED THEM.

One of the race cars was named the Flying Diaper. The driver of the Flying Diaper was named Burp. When you’re a 7-year-old boy, it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

The books are all about the antics of a crazy race where there are no rules.

This was a book my son could read (he reads a page, I read a page), but because the story was entertaining, the font was big enough and there were pictures on every page, he didn’t complain about reading. That makes this book – even if I had to read about a river of drool – a win!


If you love reading, you’ll appreciate this slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled 15 Things Book-Lovers Do Better Than Anyone Else. I can certainly relate to some of them!

Happy Reading!

And as always, let me know what we should read next!


Here are past posts on children’s books we LOVE

  1. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 4
  2. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 3
  3. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2
  4. Books My Kids Are Reading Now (Part 1)
  5. Two Children’s Books That Made My Eyes Leak – Cried my eyes out. Still my favorite books.
  6. Star Wars Phonics Books – These worked miracles at encouraging my son to read

Affiliate links to Amazon used in this post. Thanks for your support. You guys rock! 

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Two Easy Ways to Corral Hair Bands

I can open a drawer a million times and the mess doesn’t bother me.

At least not enough for me to do anything about it.

And then…

I can’t explain it. Something snaps.

I find myself saying to no one in particular, “what kind of animals live in this house? Why is this drawer such a gross disaster?”


I have a silverware tray in a bathroom drawer to organize my daughter’s hair stuff.

As you can see, it’s working super well.

*sigh*

Handy Husband’s idea for organizing this drawer was short hair. That idea was met by an epic level of eye rolling by our 10-year-old daughter.

*sigh*

Thank goodness HGTV had a better idea! It was to use a binder ring to store hair bands. Clever, but, of course, that was one random office supply I did not have on hand.

I did have a carabiner though!

This simple solution has been working great for my 10-year-old to use to hold her hair bands.

If you don’t have a carabiner, then one of these cheap shower rings also works well, I discovered.


Not all of my organization ideas stick, but simple and easy-to-use solutions seem to work best.

I’m happy this idea is holding strong after several weeks, but ask me again in a year!

If you have a simple way to organize hair accessories, let me know!

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Visiting Ireland: The Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands (with kids)

I can’t believe we waited over a year to see Ireland’s #2 tourist spot, the Cliffs of Moher.

The #1 tourist spot in Ireland, by the numbers, is the Guinness Storehouse. Tourists have their priorities!

As much as we enjoyed the Guinness Storehouse, the Cliffs of Moher just might be my favorite spot in all of Ireland. So far.

When visiting the Cliffs of Moher, most people will home base out of the city of Galway.

I wrote about visiting Galway here. It’s not a big city, so you can hit all of the high points in a day, maybe a day and a half. That leaves plenty of time for excursions like the one we took to the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands.

Since we do not have a car, we booked a one-day guided tour with Galway Tour Company.

We selected them based on careful research luck of the draw, in all reality. They had availability for the sites we wanted to visit on the day when we could visit and a coupon code. I do love a good coupon code! They have absolutely no clue who I am, but we had a great experience.

If you’re curious, we booked this specific tour for the Aran Islands and the Cliffs Cruise.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS:


Riding The Ferry to the Island of Inisheer (Inis Oirr)

(ferry image courtesy Doolin Ferry)

After leaving Galway, our first stop of the day was in the small town of Doolin where we took the Doolin Ferry over to the island of Inisheer.

While the boat does has stabilizers, whatever that means, you are traveling over open ocean. It was a bit rollercoaster-ish, which added to the excitement. It should be noted we were traveling on a relatively calm day!

The good news, if you are prone to seasickness, the ride is only 15 minutes on the express ferry. Otherwise, it takes about 30 minutes.


Inisheer (Inis Oirr)

In terms of land mass, Inisheer is the smallest of the Aran Islands. In terms of people, it is the second smallest. The permanent population on the island is approximately 260 people.

Our ferry had 190 passengers, which means in the course of a normal day, tourists will definitely end up out-numbering the locals.

I couldn’t help thinking about how much I complain about Amazon deliveries to Ireland. I can’t even IMAGINE living on an island where everything they consume has to be ferried over. I saw restaurants, but I did not see a grocery store, so I don’t know how that works.

As soon as you get off the ferry, you will be asked by many different locals if you want to rent a bike (they have kid bikes and helmets too) or take a horse and carriage ride. Either of these activities are 10 euro per person. Make sure you have cash!

I wish we would have rented the bikes because the island is only 3 km wide. It would have been easy to cycle around and see the sights in our allotted time of about 2 hours on the island.

However, we were starving. Okay, it might have just been me, but it was either eat at noon on the island or wait until 3 p.m. for a late lunch. 3 p.m. is like my snack time, people. Not lunch. There was no way me and my stomach the kids were going to survive in good spirits until 3 p.m. for lunch.

So we headed to the pub. Yes, kids can go into pubs in Ireland.

After that, we did some exploring around the island.

Inisheer has a really lovely swimming beach.

I managed to snag a picture without any humans in it, but yes, people were actually swimming on this grey day.

In addition to a beach, the island also has a cemetery, an abandoned church, a small castle, a fort, a lighthouse and a shipwreck you can check out.

The shipwreck is also visible from the ferry just before you dock in Inisheer.

You can see a glimpse of the castle and fort on top of the hill in the below picture.

If jumping on rocks and playing on the beach is not your kids’ thing, there is also a nice playground right behind the beach.


Cruising Along the Base of the Cliffs of Moher

After a couple of hours on the island, we boarded the Doolin Ferry, but instead of heading straight back, we cruised along the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

We had quite a few Princess Bride fans onboard our boat and they were VERY excited to see the Cliffs of Insanity!

I was too! I knew it was going to be cool to stand on top of the cliffs, but seeing them from the Atlantic Ocean just completed the entire experience.

The captain will get you as close as is safe to the cliffs. Parts of the cliff break away periodically, so in the interest of safety, they don’t get too close.

Unfortunately, my youngest kiddo did start to feel a little seasick during this cruise, which lasted about an hour. Thankfully, he returned to normal just minutes after we reached dry land.


Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

After a quick stop for a late lunch for the rest of the tour group (we went to the chocolate shop instead – who are the smart ones now?!?!), we headed for the Cliffs of Moher.

The nice thing about going on a guided tour is that your admission to the various attractions are all included in your tour price.

I think we had about 90 minutes to explore the top of the cliffs.

We felt safe enough taking the kids along the northern cliff route toward the round tower.

It was well fenced, with a (mainly) paved path and steps. It’s about a 5 – 10 minute walk to the tower.

You can pay an extra 2 euro to climb the 25-foot tower. I felt 700-feet above sea level was plenty high, thank you very much.

The views were – I don’t have adequate words – spectacular.

This below photo is looking back at the south side of the cliffs. Those black specks on top of the cliffs are people.

As you can see, it was a relatively calm day and the water was exceptionally clear. I felt incredibly lucky that we had some blue sky during our visit. That doesn’t always happen here!

Our tour guide told us the south side of the cliff walk was more dangerous and without railings, which is why we started our hike on the north side.

Since our kids did a good job of not going completely crazy hiking responsibly, we told them we would hike up a little way on the ‘dangerous’ part if they held mom or dad’s hand THE ENTIRE TIME.

Well, the first part of the cliff walk on the north side is completely fenced in with rock slabs, so that was safe enough.

There was a point when people jumped the fence and were hiking on the wrong side of the path though. The unprotected side. The side that occasionally breaks off and drops 700-feet into the Atlantic Ocean.

I probably would not have done that even if we didn’t have our kids with us.

It was a good lesson in, if your friends jump off a cliff hike on the edge of a cliff, would you do it too?

NO! Because your mama will find out and ground you until you are 107!

We did get a lovely family picture while at the top of the cliffs.

Yes, I was sporting the always glamorous wind-whipped look.

And my precious son. He was sporting the ‘tongue sticking out of his mouth at the camera’ look.

I did not notice this until much later.

So no, we will not be sending out Christmas cards this year! At least not normal ones where everyone is smiling at the camera.

There is a neat visitor center at the cliffs. It’s built into the earth just like something out of Lord of the Rings. That in and of itself is cool!

There’s also a cafe, gift shop and restrooms.


Coast Road and The Burren

After we finished hiking around the Cliffs of Moher, we boarded the coach for the 2-hour ride back to Galway. We took the coast road back to the city and I had my eyes glued to the landscape the entire time.

You will travel through a region called The Burren. Burren means great rock and I’ve never seen anything like it! I’d like to go back and explore The Burren National Park.

In total, our trip lasted 10.5 hours. We left Galway at 9 a.m. and returned at 7:30 p.m. It was a long, but amazing day. If you were taking a Cliffs of Moher tour from Dublin, you would probably leave around 6:30 a.m.


GUIDED TOUR TIPS:

We’ve been on a couple of guided trips while in Ireland. Both times our kids (ages 7 and 10) have been the only children on the trip, but no one seems to mind and the tour groups almost always offer a child discount. If your trip says kids go free, you still need to book them a spot. Otherwise, they might not have a seat on the bus and you won’t be able to go on the tour. If you have any questions about this, call or email the tour company to confirm your reservation.

The great thing about a guided tour is that your day is completely planned out for you. You don’t have to think about where you are going or how to get there. Just sit back and enjoy. The flip side of this is that you and the kids have to go with the flow and your schedule is not your own. That’s why I always pack water, lots of snacks and plenty of things for the kids to do while on the bus. On a day like this one, you’re going to be on the bus for over 4 hours, so make sure that is something your kids can handle.

A guided tour means the tour guide is going to be talking while you’re on the bus. When the guide is talking, the passengers need to be quiet so everyone can hear the information. If your kids aren’t at a stage where they can do that, you might want to wait before taking one of these tours.

Don’t be late! You’re sharing a bus with 50 other people. Don’t be the person that returns to the bus 5 minutes late. Not only is it rude, but it throws the schedule off for everyone.

These large coaches usually (not always) have a small restroom on board, so keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Don’t switch seats on the bus when you get back on after a stop. People get really irritated by this. Also, your driver will let you know if you can leave items on the bus and if it will be locked.

If you are booking back-to-back tours with the same tour company, they usually offer a discount, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Last, but not least, take layers! Irish weather – I don’t care what the weather forecast says – is unpredictable. Be prepared for wind, rain, sun…did I say rain? All of those.


Our day spent exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands was even better than I imagined it would be. Partly because we were going to an amazing place and lucked out with the weather, but also because we had a great tour guide who was funny and informative.

All in all, I’m so happy we finally visited this iconic spot in Ireland. Without a doubt it is a true treasure not just for the people of Ireland, but for the world. Be sure and put it on your bucket list!

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Visiting Ireland: Galway (with kids)

Over the past year we have spent long weekends here and there visiting different parts of Ireland.

Every place we visit is new and exciting for our family – it’s a perk of moving to a new country!

Our kids are 7 and 10 and they are definitely becoming seasoned travelers.

Last weekend we finally made our way from Dublin over to the beautiful city of Galway.

Galway has a population of approximately 80,000 people. It is also the home of National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). Approximately 17,000 students attend university at NUI Galway each year.

LOCATION

Galway is located on the west coast of Ireland. The River Shannon is located to the city’s east. To the west is Galway Bay, which opens into the Atlantic Ocean.

Galway is a 2.5 hour train ride from Dublin’s Heuston Station. It is a great hub for tourists who want to visit the Cliffs of Moher (to the south) and Connemara (to the north).

(map)

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Galway is not a big city. In a long day (or a day and a half), you can see all of the major tourist attractions in the city itself. After that, you’re going to need a car or a tour bus to see the sights outside of the city.

For a PDF of a Galway city map with attractions, click here.

Here are some places we visited:


Galway Cathedral

Galway Cathedral is not an old church, but it is impressive.

The church is located along the River Corrib and is free to visit. They do ask for a 2 Euro donation.

This was a good place for my kids to:
1) Practice their inside voice.
2) Not drink the holy water.
3) Not play with fire from the why were there so many?? hundreds of lit candles.

The cathedral also offers a unique opportunity to teach kids about sound and acoustics. In particular, what happens when you make fart noises in an echo-y building. The wrath of God mom. That’s what happens.

The part my kids most enjoyed was the beautiful mosaics on the walls. We had an interesting whispered discussion about how mosaics are made. At least, that’s what I think we were talking whispering about.

By the time our 20-minute visit was over, I was wondering why the tour hadn’t included any communion wine.


Eyre Square

Eyre Square is a park smack in the middle of Galway and half a block from the train station.

There’s a playground, green space, benches and statues/sculptures.

There was also a water fountain around the base of one of the sculptures that would have been  a TON of fun to play in if I had brought a second pair of shoes for each kid, towel, change of clothes, sunny weather, etc. I really dropped the ball on that one.

Eyre Square gave me one of those “thank God there’s a playground” moments though. We can offer kids all sorts of fancy experiences, but simple is usually best.

Look! There’s a swing and something dangerous to climb on! Go have fun while mom and dad figure out where the heck we are and how we are getting to the next place (in peace).

Everyone wins.

The copper sculpture at Eyre Square (above) represents the red sails of the iconic Galway Hooker boats, which are unique to the area.

So, now my kids know what a hooker is!

My work here is done.


Fishery Watchtower Museum and River Corrib Path

Galway has a beautiful path/sidewalk system along the River Corrib. You can walk from the NUI Galway campus down to Galway Bay on these paths. It’s fantastic! Truly.

Plus, if it rains (it will) there are plenty of trees to duck under for a little protection.

Along the way, you’ll be able to see evidence of the fishery system – past and present.

Random fact: the city can let 1 million gallons of water through that dam (below) in 4 seconds!

Be sure and visit the teeny, tiny Fishery Watchtower Museum. Your dining room might be bigger than this museum, but it’s probably not as tall. The watchtower was an actual place from where officials kept track of the salmon count in the river and of any illegal fishing activity.

The museum is free to enter no matter how many questions you ask the staff. I asked a lot! They were so helpful.

Also along the River Corrib Trail you will see poetry plaques such as this one…

The poetry plaques were erected by the Galway Civic Trust and the poems all refer to Galway and its waterways.


City Museum

The free museums in Ireland are really top-notch and Galway City Museum is no exception.

The museum does a fantastic job of explaining the history of the Galway area – including the significance of the Galway Hooker. Much to Handy Husband’s disappointment, we raced through all of those parts and made our way to the hands-on Sea Science section.

Science for the win! But in all reality, our museum visits go much better when I don’t have to say “DON’T TOUCH” 50 gazillion times.

Also, there are decent bathrooms in the museum that don’t cost 20 cents to use. Knowing where free bathrooms are in a new city is super important! I don’t want anyone to have a situation!

(image)


Spanish Arch

The Spanish Arch, one of 4 built in 1584, is right outside of the Galway City Museum.

All you’re going to do is walk through it, maybe do a little parkour if your parents aren’t watching.

It takes 4 seconds.

There is history and significance to the arch though and you can read more about it here.


Latin Quarter and City Centre

I’m not exactly sure where the Latin Quarter ends and the rest of the City Centre begins in Galway. I’m not even sure why it is called the Latin Quarter. Clearly, my knowledge base has limits.

Regardless, there is plenty for the eye to take in while visiting Galway.

There are a ton of shops (department stores and speciality shops) and restaurants (pretty much any type of cuisine you can imagine) in this area, which is mainly a car-free zone.

And tourists too. So. Many. Tourists. In. August.

When it rains, they will scatter…usually into a pub.

Our favorite restaurant was the Pie Maker.

We ordered our savory pies for takeaway since the restaurant has approximately 2.5 tables. Be sure and check out the copper ceiling…it took 60 hours to install.

If your kids don’t like savory pies, I can pretty much guarantee they will enjoy the apple pies!

There are also all sorts of fun alleys and side streets to walk down in Galway’s City Centre.

I usually tell the kids we are taking a shortcut when I spy an interesting looking side street/alley/crack between the buildings.

Sometimes that ends up being true…


Walking and the Salthill Promenade

Galway is a walking city. Be prepared to lace up your shoes and hit the sidewalks and promenades.

Try to wait until the weather is ‘nice’ though. Walking some of these stretches on a oh no we are going to blow away blustery day isn’t quite as enjoyable.

If you walk down the Salthill Promenade, there is a small amusement park and an aquarium. We did not visit this aquarium because while it received great reviews, we’ve visited a lot of amazing aquariums in the past couple of years. We were on the hunt for something different.

At the very end of the Salthill Promenade there is a diving board. Even on a “cold for everyone else, but warm for Ireland day” there will be people diving off the board into the bay.

I think my kids would have done this. Me? No. Way. No way. Brrr.

(image via Irish Times by Andy Newman)


River Cruise

If you need some time to CHILL and would like to see some scenery too, then I’d highly recommend the Princess Corrib cruise up the River Corrib.

You can sit inside or outside on this boat, so weather should not be an excuse for skipping this excursion.

The peaceful cruise is narrated by the captain (who was driving the boat in his stocking feet), so you can’t help but learn a few things along the way. About the river, not the captain’s feet.

One of the things you will see on the cruise is Menlo Castle.

It has quite the story behind it involving a fire and a missing body.

I was just blown away by how beautiful ivy looks on an abandoned castle.


OTHER HANDY TIPS

Luggage Storage: If you need a place to store suitcases, there are lockers at the train station. However, we used the ‘Left Luggage Facility‘ at Big-O Taxis. It’s right around the corner from the train station and across the street from Eyre Square.

Hop On, Hop Off Bus: We hopped on this bus tour when we first arrived. It was a spontaneous decision and it was SO helpful in getting our bearings on where everything was in Galway.

Train Tickets: If you are traveling with kids, make sure you buy (or at least price out) a family ticket on the Irish Rail site. Sometimes that option takes a little more searching, but it does exist

Food on the Train: These longer train rides do serve sandwiches and snacks from a food trolley. They aren’t the greatest or the most affordable. Dublin’s Heuston Station has great options for buying sandwiches, salads, sushi, etc. to take on the train. The train station in Galway does not, but there is a Starbucks. I’d recommend buying food from Marks and Spencer, Tesco or Dunnes before boarding the train in Galway for the return trip to Dublin.

We definitely enjoyed our visit to Galway! I’m going to follow up this post with another one about our excursion to the Cliffs of Moher, which might be my new happy place.

If you have any questions about Galway, please don’t hesitate to ask. I can’t promise the answers you are looking for, but I’ll do my best!

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Oh, The Stories We Will Tell

We have family visiting us in Ireland.

Visiting us! In Ireland!

How cool is that?

Actually, it is literally cool here…62 Fahrenheit in August with a little rain every day just to keep the country’s emerald isle reputation SOLID.

This week I watched my kids play on a 400-year-old tree with an 800-year-old castle in the background.

This tree’s bottom branches had grown down low and were touching the ground, as if inviting each and every child in its vicinity to come play.

(Apparently, this is a sign that the tree was in an area that had never been grazed by livestock.)

I stood there and watched the kids for awhile and it made me wonder about how many children in the last 400 years had played on this same tree. And how many mamas had watched their children, either from the grounds or from a castle window, play on this same tree.

Oh, the stories it could tell.

I’ll be radio silent on the blog the rest of the week because we have so many stories yet to be written. We’re going to take our family on an adventure to explore parts of Ireland that we haven’t yet seen. Most of all, we’re going to be making hearts-bursting-with-happiness memories because I know how precious this time is together.

Oh, the stories I’ll soon be able to tell.


If you want to follow along on our journey, please follow my Instagram page.

If you want to learn more about where this 400-year-old tree lives, please visit Malahide Castle and Gardens.

 

 

 

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