Category Archives: Ireland

A Year Without Grades

My children completed their first year in an Irish primary school. Woohoo! Next year it is on to 2nd and 5th grade. How did that happen so fast? Time is flying, people. Just flying by.

When we moved to Ireland almost a year ago, my kids had been attending a terrific public school in the southern United States. Suffice it to say, this year has been a big adjustment for all of us – especially them.

Side note: My kids are not in the Irish public school system. They attend a private primary school. I detailed those reasons here. If you’re an expat moving to Ireland, it’s worth the read.

My kids were SO DISAPPOINTED when they learned their Irish school did not issue report cards. WHAT?!?! That’s right. No report cards.

You see, up until now, we had been rewarding them for earning “good” report cards.

It was a fantastic motivational tool, but I’ve been wondering lately if we were really rewarding the right thing?

It seems, in some instances, doing well in school is less about intelligence and more about being able to work well within a particular school environment.

Theoretically, a good report card should mean the student has mastered the subject. As a person who has crammed for a test and then promptly forgot everything as soon as the test was over, I know that’s not necessarily the case.

So what’s it like for your kids to NOT receive grades for an entire year?

Speaking ONLY from our experience at the primary school level, I’ve found the difference between receiving grades and not receiving grades is subtle, but profound.

I liken it to the difference between eating your dessert and really savoring every single bite of your dessert. In both instances you get to eat dessert and the same calories are applied, but the person who takes the time to savor each morsel gets so much more out of the experience.


At my children’s school, a big part of their day was spent learning through hands-on methods. For instance, math is regularly done with blocks, beads and other manipulatives.

Kids are encouraged to get up and move around. In my son’s class, they can even take off their shoes when indoors. If you’ve ever met my son, you’ll know how huge this was for him! It also explains some of the missing socks.

Instruction is done in small groups or one-on-one.

Curriculum is integrated in a project-based learning format. For instance it could look like this:
Read about a scientist and a particular experiment.
Look on the globe to see where he/she lived.
Use math to figure out how to recreate the experiment.
Document the results in writing and include colorful drawings and graphics.
Clean up your station. Put away materials neatly for the next group to use.
Give an oral report to the class on your findings.


In a ‘no report card’ environment, success is measured differently.

A report card does not define you as a student. Instead, mastering a new skill or subject over time does.

My daughter brought home a math workbook every school night this year. Her calculations were done in a sum book (see below). Looking through the sum book, I could see where the teacher checked her homework every day (this one was corrected on May 24).

If needed, part of her homework included making corrections. Learning where you went wrong and how to fix it is key in actually mastering the concept. As adults, we all know this.

In my experience with various U.S. public schools, I haven’t seen (maybe it’s done, just not at home where I’ve encountered it), much emphasis being placed on going back and doing corrections. What I have seen happen is a “here’s the next worksheet, try again” scenario. By the way, I mean this in no way as a slight to teachers. They are amazing people working in very challenging situations with rules they rarely control. I have the utmost respect for them.

Also, I’ve noticed my daughter’s math workbook, in particular, keeps coming back to certain topics. Last year, in the United States, she spent time learning fractions and then it was done. The fraction unit was complete, the class moved on and she still was not solid in her understanding of fractions. This was after doing extra work at home and reaching out to the teacher. And she’s a bright kid! This year, we’ve done fractions multiple times. One night I remember saying, “didn’t you already do this?” I was having a strong case of deja vu! As I flipped back through the book, I saw that yes, indeed, she had done fractions 15 pages prior.

Have you heard the phrases “use it or lose it” or “summer slide?” Well, that happens if you don’t practice a certain skill. For my daughter, this technique of periodically coming back to a topic, whether it is math or english, has been so helpful. I can tell when she’s really “gotten” a concept because she doesn’t ask for help with her homework, it takes her less time to finish, she can help someone else and/or she doesn’t have corrections to do.

Success is also redefined in ways that don’t relate to academics. In our case, the intangibles in a child’s development were given a chance to shine. There’s no place on a report card to grade a child who becomes more responsible or who develops confidence (other than a teacher’s note/remark), but those are key life skills they need to develop to become well-balanced individuals.

This year, I often asked my daughter’s teacher how she was doing in math or science, but it was the teacher who often sought me out to say how excited she was to see my daughter blossoming with confidence and creativity.


When my child’s teacher was pointing out personal growth or life skill developments, it wasn’t that the academics were of less importance – quite the contrary. It’s just that the teacher knew from decades of experience that given enough time and hard work each child was going to master the curriculum. Furthermore, they have confidence that child is going to move on and do well in a rigorous secondary school environment where there are grades!

I did well in school, not because I was the smartest – far from it. I did well in school because I worked hard for it. I had to study. A lot. In short, I was motivated.

I saw my kids, for the first time, motivated by something other than a reward from a good report card. Do you know how huge that is? There was no reward. There was no prize at the finish line (especially one mom had facilitated). There really wasn’t a finish line, per se.

Somehow, in this school environment, they found motivation from within. Perhaps it was always there, but in this environment their focus (and mine!) was taken off of the end goal and refocused on the everyday experience of learning and loving to learn.

When my 6-year-old’s homework was to write 3 sentences and instead he writes an entire page just because he wants to – that is motivation that is coming from somewhere inside of him. Because believe me, mommy was tired and ready for homework to be over that day!

They were working hard because they chose to do it. Because it was the right thing to do. Not because I made or motivated them. Not because a teacher was marking down a grade and tabulating a report card score.

My daughter had A LOT of homework this year. A LOT. She has no sense of urgency when it comes to these tasks, but I have to give her credit for not giving up. For not complaining about the work. For sticking with it and asking questions until it all made sense. Her grit got her though.

I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that this was an idyllic, perfect experience. Of course it wasn’t. This is real life with real kids and a mom who is still figuring it all out. There were nights when they were tired, I was tired, when homework seemed like a drag. There were days when they were not at their best when I dropped them off for school. (I’m so sorry about that!) I know there were times when they acted “a little cheeky” to use my son’s new-found phrase. (I’m so, SO sorry about that too!)

My son also will tell you he “doesn’t like school” because he thinks the alternative is staying home with mom and playing Minecraft all day. Dream on, kid! He happily skips into school each day and comes out with a smile on his face, so I think he’s doing just fine.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m taking this experience in. I’m letting it reshape my view of education at the elementary school level. I’m also letting it reshape my view on parenting as it relates to this topic. It’s another piece to the puzzle and we’ll see how it goes next year.

Do I think kids should never be graded or assessed? No, of course not. I understand why they are and see the benefit in it at certain times. At the primary school level I think report cards are less about the students, however, and more about making sure the system is accountable. And I get why the system needs to be accountable.

Finding the right words to describe a very complex experience is tricky and I’ve struggled with writing this post. I hope I have in no way implied that our public school experience in the U.S. has been bad. Quite the contrary. I also haven’t had to walk a mile in the shoes of a parent whose child has special needs. Or in the shoes of a parent whose child has attended a failing school. Our experience is ours alone.

Most of all, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for teachers who devote their lives to educating the next generation. I’m thankful for teachers who continue teaching despite low pay, long hours, demanding parents, mountains of paperwork, bumbling bureaucracies, and so on. Those things can be found everywhere, unfortunately.

I’m thankful for the educators and researchers who are out there in countries around the world trying to make the system better. I’m thankful for parents who donate their time, for businesses that donate resources, for those governments that properly fund schools. I’m thankful for communities that recognize the value of an education. I’m thankful for my kids and their willingness to dive into these new situations and make the most of it. As is the case with so many things, what we put into it is what we get out of it.

I’m also thankful that I did not say out loud, “but how will I know if they learned anything if I don’t get a report card?” You know I thought it at least once.

Turns out, I didn’t need a report to see the fruits of their learning. In this case, I’m happy to be wrong! Here’s to next year! 

P.S. Here’s a bit of contextual information that influences my viewpoint because I know that simply not giving grades doesn’t magically change the education experience. Also, I’m not an educator. I’m simply a mom trying to make the best decisions for my kids’ education.

1. My kids attend a private school. Report cards ARE given in Irish public schools.
2. My kids are in mixed-age classrooms. (6-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds). A mixed-age environment seems to more easily facilitate children being able to work ahead in the curriculum, which my kids did do this year.
3. The student-teacher ratio is approximately 10:1.
4. The school is able to accommodate students with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, English as a second language, etc. Kids with special needs are NOT separated from the rest of the class.
5. My kids do not have special learning needs.
6. I had heard that European schools are much more advanced and/or challenging than U.S. schools, so I was worried about my kids being behind in terms of math, in particular. That proved to not be the case. Both of the kids were either on par or slightly above average in reading and math. I attribute that, in large part, to the excellent teachers we had while in Oregon and Georgia.
7. My kids DO take the standardized tests required of all Irish students. They also get the occasional spelling or math quiz.
8. Teachers have flexibility in how much time is spent on any given topic and how they teach that topic.
9. This type of school environment is something we would definitely be priced out of in the United States, so I am relishing it while we are here.









Another Vegetable My Husband Hates

Here’s the deal.

1. My husband LOVES when I write about him. It makes sense because he is my favorite writing topic. Well, one of my favorite writing topics. He’s definitely up there in the top 10 with felt, bread, embroidery thread and fabric glue. Oh, and my kids. Can’t forget them.

2. I purposefully picked a sensational headline for this post because I’m curious to see how long it takes Handy Husband to notice. Also, scandal sells.

3. This is an absolutely, completely true story. I should feel slightly bad about how it ends, but I don’t.

First, a little background information. For the entire length of our 20 some odd year (I’m losing count) relationship, Handy Husband has been steadfast about two things. His love for me, of course. And his absolute loathing of broccoli and cauliflower.

He will eat broccoli and cauliflower raw, but he refuses to eat it cooked. He doesn’t even want to be in the same house as cooked broccoli and cauliflower. So when I need a little alone time…

To put this another way, the man ate a dill pickle-flavored mint the other day, but throw a little broccoli in a stir fry and THAT is what makes him gag.

Now that I’ve set the stage with that riveting back story, here’s how it all went down.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my usual ‘speed walk and shop’ through the grocery store when I spied something new. Something I had never heard of before. Celeriac.

Oh, celeriac.

You had me at distinctive and nutty.

That’s kind of how I describe myself, actually.

The celeriac was €1.50 ($1.50), so I decided that was a low risk purchase for a possible high reward. Plus, we’d be trying something new! Look at us being all adventurous and stuff.

I asked the checkout lady how to prepare the celeriac and she basically told me with her Irish accent to peel, cube, boil and mash it. Just like potatoes. At least, I think that’s what she said. Sometimes the Irish accent can be VERY hard to understand before I’ve had my daily coffee quota.

Handy Husband immediately spied this new oddity sitting on the counter when he got home.

He’s the type of person that reads the manuals that come with everything appliances, so it didn’t surprise me when he went online to learn more about this funny-looking vegetable.

From the other room I could hear him hollering, “celeriac can last 6 – 8 months if stored in a cool, dry place!” Some women get sweet nothings whispered in their ears. I get facts about root vegetables hollered from across the house. Try to contain your envy.

Celeriac is a variety of celery that is cultivated especially for the root. It originates from the Mediterranean, but celeriac now grows wild in Northern Europe and other places.

Celeriac can be eaten raw or cooked.

My daughter and I both tried a piece raw and it tasted almost exactly like regular celery. It gives you a little mind trip to eat something that looks like a potato, feels like a carrot, but tastes like celery.

After I had peeled and cubed the celeriac, I put it on the stove to boil.

By the way, did you notice the ‘hot hob’ label on my cooker (stove)? ‘Hot hob’ and ‘cooker’ are terms widely used here in Ireland. ‘Hot hob’ still cracks me up almost a year later.

I have not gotten around to purchasing an electric mixer since moving to Ireland, so I mashed the celeriac with a muddler. No, I don’t have a potato masher either. Cooking with me is all about the improv! One way or another, I get the job done.

I added salt, cream and butter to the celeriac as I was mashing it – much how I would make mashed potatoes.

Here’s where the experiment went off its ever-loving-rails.

It turns out that while raw celeriac tastes like celery, cooked celeriac does not.

Oh. my. heavens. You’d have thought I was trying to purposefully poison Handy Husband.

“You didn’t tell me it tasted like CAULIFLOWER!” he said.

Oh, dear. Did I forget to mention that part?

In all fairness, we tell the kids they can’t possibly know if they like or don’t like a food until they try it. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that this week in the last decade, I’d be rich.

I thought I should apply the same principles to Handy Husband. How could I possibly know he would loathe, detest and abhor this vegetable?

Oh, I knew. I totally knew.

Handy Husband would have been much happier if I had given him a heads up about the celeriac’s cooked flavor. I should probably feel bad about not giving him a warning, but I don’t. What I feel is a bit of amusement remembering the look on his face! Plus, the next night when I left his dinner plate in the refrigerator (he often gets home super late from work), he gave it a poke and a sniff before asking me if I tried to hide any celeriac in that night’s dish.

I just smiled.

Living in Ireland: As Seen On My Commute

Most of us make a daily or weekly trek somewhere.

My commute has become a lot more interesting since we moved to Ireland.

In the morning I walk the kids to school. It’s 3/4-mile to the train, then a 10-minute train ride and finally about another 3/4-mile walk to school. The kids ride their scooters because it goes faster that way and this is the important part: there’s LESS WHINING.

In all of that back and forth during the day, I have the opportunity to see some interesting things. These are just snapshots. I don’t have the context around what I see. I don’t have the backstory. I don’t know the characters. I’m not making fun. It all just makes me wonder.

Like glitter boots at 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon.

I only found this interesting because I don’t know when I would ever put on glitter boots. So the fact that this woman was rockin’ the glitter boots on a Monday afternoon makes me curious about her personality.

This is what I usually see on the train (below) – at least in the morning. Business suits and tennis shoes. Everyone is on their phones with earbuds in. No one talks – except my kids!

For reference, we get on at the second stop of this particular train route. This is how busy the train is after the third stop of the morning during the 8 a.m. hour. It’s not too bad. After we get off is when it becomes a human mosh pit.

Since we get on the same train car every morning, we see the same people. I have names for them all: book guy, breakfast-on-the-train girl, doing-her-makeup lady, etc.

These passengers have kind of gotten used to our routine, or so I’d like to think! Mainly they just ignore us.

Sometimes when I’m on the train I will glance around and wonder what the heck decade am I in? Did I just have a Back to the Future moment?

Fashion from the 80s and 90s is definitely making a comeback. As we speak, I’m wearing high-waisted jeans. Oh, yes I am! Let’s not call them mom jeans though, okay?

My train rides during the middle of the day are pretty empty, which is why I happened to see this guy collecting stumps from the train station after Iarnrod Eireann had trimmed the trees by the train platform.

I’ve collected trash off the side of the road to decorate my house, so I’m not judging. I did wonder if he was going to use them for art or for his fireplace. Either way, he was putting in a lot of effort.

I see a fair amount a horrendous amount of graffiti in Ireland. Is that normal for a metro area?

All I know is my kids have learned some really interesting 4-letter words since moving here. I apologize in advance if they share them with you.

This is the view out the window on our train ride. That’s the Irish Sea. You’re feeling super sorry for me, I’ll bet.

And those people down there at 9 a.m. in the morning? Let me zoom in on that picture from the train and show you what they are doing…



At least, the person on the left is.

People here swim in the ocean all year long. I see this sight almost daily. My kids get a BIG kick out of looking for the naked man. I’ve given up trying to convince them that there is more than one person that does this.

Closer to home where everyone wears their clothes in public, our neighbor was very kind to put this sign in the grass next to the sidewalk. My kids thought it was funny that the sign, which was held in place with a screwdriver, was in a different location in the grass each morning.

This neighbor, by the way, is in his late 80s and he has bought my kids chocolate for Christmas and Easter. How nice is that? And now I feel super bad for not getting him anything.

Oh! This next one is super special.

Here’s a picture of me carrying a new frying pan, price tag and all, home in my backpack.

There was a time when I might have found this embarrassing. Not so much anymore.

Sailing is pretty big in the Dublin area. There’s even a school near us that teaches kids as young as 6 to sail.

My kids don’t seem interested in putting on a wetsuit and a heavy jacket to learn how though. I don’t know why not? HA!

I don’t like to freak out about things, but I found it highly alarming that the park near us has been WATERING THE GRASS and flowers WITH A SPRINKLER. You know I live in a place that is famous for its rain, right? So famous you need a rain jacket year-round.

It has been especially dry in Dublin this spring and the grass and flowers are feeling it, I guess. Is this climate change or an anomaly?

I keep asking the locals when the last time was that they saw someone watering their grass and they all look at me with a blank stare. Then they repeat the question back to me like they can’t believe I asked something so dumb. “Water the grass? We don’t do that here.” Uh huh.

Here’s another part of that same park on a sunny day. Gorgeous, right?

Sometimes I forget I don’t live in a tropical climate.

Then I take off my coat.

I’m not in the habit of taking photos of random kids, so please don’t think I’m a creeper.

This kid was unidentifiable, so I thought I’d share. Contrary to what this photo looks like, he’s not crying. In fact, this kid was happy as could be. I watched him for awhile playing with his mum. Then she gave him a bread roll for a snack and that kid just laid down in the bocce ball gravel and was happily eating away.

What I’m trying to say is, I GET THIS KID. Totally get him. All the time Sometimes I feel the same way about carbs.

Also, I have never once seen anyone play bocce ball here. But every single morning I see the grounds crew at this park blow the rocks back into the bocce ball area that the kids throw onto the sidewalk.

This next photo was a first for me. That’s a guy waiting for the train with a pitchfork.

If this was in the United States, people would probably be FREAKING OUT and calling 911.

There are countless miles of stone walls in Ireland. The below wall is located along a pedestrian path we take to school.

I am always amazed when I see gorgeous flowers growing out of the stone and concrete.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

An enterprising gentleman has been making sand sculptures on the sidewalk near my grocery store.

He’s pretty good, right? I wonder how much he makes by doing this. I wonder if he needs a permit. I wonder if he can make anything other than a dog because it’s been the same thing for MONTHS now.

The location in the photo below is at the start of a long pedestrian pier. I’ve only seen the Irish Sea act this way once. You’d think it would have been grey and stormy this particular day, but it wasn’t.

Usually it is completely calm in this area and we walk and scooter down where the water is washing up onto the concrete.

It was a spectacular sight to see. Not long after this was taken the Garda (police) shut down the pier to pedestrians.

Last, but not least, this is a cool bike I saw in Dublin’s City Centre. The River Liffey is behind it.

So there you have it, pictures from my commute. These were all taken in the last few months, so I am quite entertained on a regular basis. Living without a car has been an interesting life experiment. I can’t say I’m always happy and cheerful to head out on this commute – especially when the weather is dreadful. I can say it has forced me to slow down and appreciate the beauty around me though.

Living in Ireland: A Trip to the Hardware Store

A warning for all of you organized types – the pictures in this post may be disturbing.

Now, for the rest of you, let’s head to the hardware store!

My little village in Ireland has a small hardware store. It shares space with the post office.

I’ll let that sink in.

I can buy stamps and then walk three steps over and buy caulk for my shower.

I can’t buy the caulk gun though because they are out of those.

And have been for MONTHS.

Details, details.

As a side note, it’s not unusual for post offices to share space with other businesses in Ireland. I have a friend whose local post office is inside a sweet shop. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it depends on if you are dieting.

My hardware store guy is super nice. Sometimes when I’m paying in cash he just says, “ah, that’s close enough, love.” Who does that?

On further reflection, it is possible that watching me count euro change is just too slow and painful. In my defense, some of the coins look awfully similar.

He also never even blinks when I tell him things like “I don’t know what kind of lightbulb I need because I can’t get the lightbulb out of the socket, but I took a picture of it for you.”

That actually happened.

We have some WEIRD lightbulbs that don’t twist in. When you’re standing on tiptoes trying to figure out why the lightbulb won’t come out and you hear your kid downstairs say, “OOPS!” you know whatever caused that oops is a more important disaster than the lightbulb.

Don’t worry. I’ve got the lightbulb situation all figured out now. I’m a bright one, after all.

The hardware store in my village is pretty organized. As I look at the below picture, the “electrical” sign cracks me up though. Because this is a picture of the ENTIRE store. If you don’t see what you need, all you need to do is take one step to the left. Ah, there it is!

Now, let’s get to the disturbing part of this post. I did promise you some graphic images.

There’s a slightly larger hardware store near my children’s school which has been a more reliable source of home improvement supplies.

For instance, there’s a nice selection of varnish. I made the mistake of asking for stain once.

By a slightly larger store, I mean approximately the size of a 7-11 convenience store.

There’s no slushie machine, but there is a nice, spacious path down the aisle.

Aside from lumber and power tools, I can find pretty much any hardware item I really need here.

Assuming I can actually “find” it.

Maybe there are power tools and lumber behind some of this stuff. Or better yet, a slushie machine!

I’m fairly certain there’s a method to this hardware store’s madness.

I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.

It also makes me wonder if there is such a thing as a fire marshal in Ireland.

There are some big box hardware stores in Ireland. One of them is called Woodie’s. I’ll just let that hang there…

I haven’t visited one of these larger stores – yet. It could be my new happy place though. Projects and possibilities galore!

Travel: Belfast with Kids

When we were considering a move to Ireland last year, we took a bus tour through Northern Ireland. Our bus stopped in Belfast for approximately one hour. Long enough to grab a sandwich, but not much else.

Earlier this month we took a long weekend and headed north to spend more time in Belfast.


It is approximately a 2-hour train ride from Dublin’s Connolly Station to Belfast Central Station. I recommend booking your tickets in advance if you are traveling with a group. This just saves you the headache of finding a seat all together. Plus, the kids get to see their names above their seat (that’s how you know it’s reserved).

These type of trains have a food trolley, a bathroom and outlets to charge iPads. In other words, my kids have no reason to ever leave… or look up when mom wants to take a picture.

You can also take a bus from the Dublin airport to Belfast. Buses leave regularly outside of the arrivals terminal and you can buy a ticket when you arrive.


We stayed at the Radisson Blu in the Gasworks District. We didn’t have a particular reason for choosing this hotel other than we had points to apply to the stay, breakfast was included in our rate and we could walk to the hotel from the train station.

This is the view in front of the hotel:

What was great about the Radisson Blu for kids? Well, let me tell you. The kids got a welcome packet when they arrived with “jellies.” Jellies are gummy bears or fruit snacks. The packet also included an activity book and a scavenger hunt. Their favorite part of the packet was the vouchers they could use in the bar to buy popcorn and hot chocolate.

Yes, kids are allowed in bars in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Hotel bars are pretty tame by bar standards though. In this case, you have to walk through the bar to get to the breakfast area.

This was the first time my kids spent “money” by themselves at a bar/restaurant. They did not want me to go with them, so I watched from the lobby. It took an extra long time because 1) my kids are shorter than the bar and 2) the bartender thought the kids were with the other patrons who were ordering drinks.

But they accomplished their mission and were completely tickled with themselves. It was a good life lesson for them in being polite, how to order food, waiting patiently, etc.

And no one seemed to find it strange that the kids were alone. In the bar.

When in Northern Ireland, I guess…

As for a negative, the hotel restaurant had good food, but the service was slow. They seemed either unorganized or understaffed the night we ate in. Also, if you want to stay in the heart of downtown Belfast where a large number of restaurants and shops are steps away, this hotel’s location is not going to be as ideal for you.


The Republic of Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, etc.) uses the euro. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which includes Great Britain, Scotland and Wales. The  currency in the U.K. is the pound.

EXCEPT. In Northern Ireland, banks can print their own bills. So, there might be 6 different 5 pound notes in circulation. Different colors, different sizes. It’s confusing. All of the pound notes from all of those different banks are accepted at retailers, attractions and restaurants in Northern Ireland.

The only caveat is if you go back to London. Only the Bank of England notes are accepted there. You can’t use money you got from an ATM in Belfast back in London. But you can use the money from an ATM in London in Belfast. Like I said, confusing.

Many attractions will quote you prices in pounds and euros. Also, some places will accept euros, but will give you back change in pounds.

Here’s more about that situation.


Remember, this is a post mainly about traveling with kids, so keep that in mind. 


W5 is an interactive discovery centre or as I like to call it, a hands-on science museum for kids. The W5 stands for who, what, when, where and why. Clever, right?

The museum features a really cool climbing attraction – a sort of 3-D climbing sculpture. This was my 9-year-old daughter’s favorite part.

There are hands-on learning stations on different levels of the museum with a big emphasis on architecture and motion.

We built cars that moved, we built forts and buildings with blocks, we learned how to fly a plane in a simulator and so on.

There is a cafe in the museum, but you can exit the museum and reenter during your visit. The museum is located inside a mall-like space called Odyssey Pavilion. I don’t remember any shops, but it had several restaurants and a movie theater. It was nice to be able to leave our coats and backpacks tucked away in a locker in the museum while we went to lunch.

Considering we spent close to 6 hours at W5 (I know, CRAZY) , we feel we really got our money’s worth out of our less than €36 family admission fee. I would recommend starting your visit as soon as the museum opens to avoid crowds and school groups.

W5 Website

Titanic Belfast

Visiting the Titanic museum is reason alone to go to Belfast – even if you don’t have kids.

(You’d probably get more out of it if you didn’t have kids in tow, frankly. Or that could just be my experience with 6 and 9-year-olds. I’m sure yours stop and patiently read every display.)

Titanic Belfast is broken into 3 visitor experiences:

1) The Titanic Belfast museum experience: Walk through displays covering the building of the ship, what the ship looked like, what went wrong and the search for the sunken ship. This includes an amusement park ride (it’s not fast or scary), which was my children’s favorite part.

While the museum is fairly interactive, to get the most out of the museum experience, you have to be willing to stop and READ. That part tested the limits of my 6-year-old’s attention span, but the rest of us really, really enjoyed it.

This video will give you the best overview of what’s there. (Hopefully the link works.)

2) SS Nomadic: The SS Nomadic was, among other things, the Titanic’s tender. The vessel has been preserved and sits in dry dock next to the Titanic Belfast museum.

Touring the Nomadic was quite interactive for my kids. In other words, there were plenty of things they could touch! The self-guided tour illuminates the experience you would have received 100 years ago on board the Nomadic while being ferried to the Titanic.

You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the work the ship performed in the decades after the Titanic sank.

3) Guided Discovery Tour: This is a one-hour guided walking tour (much of it is outside). You’ll learn about the drawing offices where the plans for the Titanic were designed. You’ll also learn about the hidden meanings and metaphors behind the museum’s design. The thought and care that went into constructing this museum – not just as a tourist attraction, but as a memorial – was astonishing.  My kids were fairly attentive for 3/4 of the guided tour – mainly because they got to wear headphones.

If you want to do the Discovery Tour, you need to book your tickets in advance. We purchased a combo pack that included all three experiences. It included 2 souvenir photos and an activity packet for the kids. Considering those souvenir photos were the first family photos we’ve had taken in a long time, it was totally worth it. Cheesy, but worth it.

If your kids are toddlers, I’d wait before spending money on the Titanic Belfast. They (and you) will get so much more out of it if they are just a little bit older.

We ate in one of the museum’s cafes and had a great meal. The Belfast Baking Company is right across from the museum (really good scones, by the way) or you can walk over to the W5 building to eat in a restaurant there.

Titanic Belfast website

River Lagan Towpath (Walkway)

If you’d like to walk along the River Lagan, there is fantastic paved trail through the heart of Belfast. You can walk from the Botanical Gardens to the Titanic Museum and beyond. Bridges cross over the river at several points to get you back and forth to various tourist attractions.

Depending on when you’re out walking, you might see something like this:

Ulster Museum and Botanical Gardens

We walked through the botanical gardens, but it was raining and February, so we did not get the  full experience. We also did not go inside the Palm House, which is part of the gardens. Mainly, we were on a mission to get to the Ulster Museum.

The Ulster Museum is free. They ask for a donation, which we were happy to give because it was truly a great museum – especially for a free one.

The museum offers a little bit of everything: natural history, art, science, geology, animals, native people and history.
My kids had fun exploring the exhibits, touching animal pelts, looking at rocks, trying on masks and more.
I had a teary-eyed moment reading about The Troubles. That is what Northern Ireland refers to as the 30-year period of conflict beginning in 1968. There was so much tragedy. So much loss.

I was in my early 20s when the peace accord was reached. All I really remember were the bombings all over Belfast. I didn’t understand why people were driven to do what they did.

Understanding the “why” is important in preventing such unrest from happening again or something like it from happening elsewhere. Ulster Museum helped me understand the “why” and refreshed my memory on the facts as they happened chronologically.

My kids didn’t fully understand this part of the museum and for now I’m okay with that. Let them be little.

Victoria Square

If you like to shop, Victoria Square is a good place to visit. It’s mainly indoor with an outdoor vibe. We popped in there to pick up a cord from the Apple Store. The mall has sit down and fast-food restaurants if you need sustenance. I’m not going to say the restaurants are all authentic – there is a TGIFridays after all. Crazy, I know. No, we did not go there.

You can also take tours of the glass dome, which shows off views of the city.

Learn more.

The Big Fish Sculpture

Along the River Lagan is The Big Fish, which was commissioned in 1999 to commemorate the regeneration of the River Lagan. The skin of the fish is made out of ceramic tiles, which show historic images of Belfast. The sculpture is approximately 30-feet long, so it makes for quite the photo opportunity!
I still don’t know why she wanted to kiss the fish. My kids have very robust immune systems.

Learn more about the fish.

Beacon of Hope Sculpture

Also along the River Lagan is the almost 60-foot tall Beacon of Hope Sculpture. It was built in 2007 and the lady in the sculpture stands on a globe representing peace, harmony and thanksgiving.

The sculpture’s artist, Andy Scott, said of the sculpture, “I hope that the figure is adopted by the people of Belfast as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and as a shining beacon of modernity and progress.”

Learn more.

We had 2 1/2 days to spend in Belfast. It really was not long enough – especially since we spent most of our time at W5 and Titanic Belfast. We barely scratched the surface on things to do and explore in the area, so we’d love to go back!

I am happy to have had a second chance to explore this city and highly recommend you include it on your Travel Bucket List.

To learn more about things to do in Belfast, click here.

St Patrick’s Day Craft: Burlap Pot of Gold

Happy first day of March! Who’s excited?

March is a big month on the little island I currently call home. Ireland. I don’t say that every time to rub it in. I only mention it, again, on the off chance someone is joining the blog today for the first time. It could happen!

Anyway, there’s this little holiday on the 17th with leprechauns and drinking. Lots of drinking. You might have heard of it.

Well, have you heard of island time? Ireland operates on its own sort of island time. I just started to see advertisements go up for St. Patrick’s Day events. The local newspaper is still asking for entries for their small town parade. No one gets too worked up about these things.

Except me! Because we need to plan, people!

My kids are SUPER excited to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year. Mainly because they get the day off from school and daddy gets the day off from work. But also because we’re going to try and experience as much as we can on that day that’s kid-friendly.

I wouldn’t normally decorate or do crafts for this holiday, but because we get to experience St. Patrick’s Day with actual Irish people in Ireland, I’m getting in the spirit of things.

That’s why I did a little crafting this weekend.

I don’t know what the best name is for this creation, so I consulted my creative team (me, myself and a cup of joe) and we decided ‘burlap pot of gold’ sounded catchy.

The burlap bag is one I’ve been reusing for a couple of years. A scrap of burlap would work terrific for this project as well.

I used a needle and thread to thread together the pom-poms and then tied them to a piece of twine.

I used the twine to cinch the sack around the vase of flowers.

Aren’t they happy looking?

Then the I cut a shamrock out of green felt.

I opted for a normal shamrock instead of a 4-leaf clover.

Personal preference. No other reason.

The shamrock is tacked onto the burlap with a little bit of thread. I don’t intend for this to be a permanent project, so I didn’t have a need to secure the felt in a never-coming-off sort of way.

When that was all done, I just slipped the bag around a vase of yellow tulips.

One woman’s pot of gold is another woman’s bouquet of yellow tulips!

With the exception of the tulips, this craft utilized materials I already had on hand. Plus, it was quick and easy.

I think this would be a fun way to package up a bouquet of flowers or a potted plant for a friend.

If you’d like a little behind-the-scenes chuckle, here’s a story for you. When I was taking these photos, I had an extra vase of flowers on hand. In a really dumb move, I set the extra vase on the floor while I moved flowers from one vase to the other. I was in a hurry because the weather changes minute-by-minute here and I was so happy to have a short window of decent lighting. In my haste, I forgot about the vase on the floor…until I backed into it while taking a photo. As I made a mad dash to the kitchen for a towel to sop up the mess, I stepped on a Lego.  The teeny, tiniest, sharpest Lego. Luck of the Irish was not on my side right in that moment.

But it was all worth it because I’m loving this cheerful craft!

Living in Ireland: Grocery Shopping

I don’t want to brag (or do I?), but I feel like quite the pro when it comes to procuring groceries for our family sans automobile.

(If you’re new here: We moved to Ireland from the USA. We haven’t tried driving here – yet. Public transportation and walking for the win!)

Grocery shopping without a vehicle requires a bit of planning. For instance, I don’t want to purchase all the heavy stuff in one trip because I have to carry it home in a backpack or reusable shopping bag.

More or less, I’m purchasing what we will consume that day or the next. No bulk shopping here. A jumbo pack of toilet paper is AWESOME – except when you have to haul it a mile down the street. It becomes awkward. On so many levels.

Today I want to take you on a virtual shopping trip of my local grocery store. By and large, the store’s presentation is similar to what you’d see at your local Safeway, Kroger or Walmart.

The differences are in the details.

For instance, this section of the meat case is devoted entirely to lamb. I’d say lamb meat is much more prevalent in Ireland than in the United States. They must not sing Mary Had a Little Lamb as kids.

(The dollar and the euro are getting close to 1:1, if that helps you decide what the prices mean. )

The Irish also LOVE their pork.

This is an entire section devoted to “rashers” or bacon. (There’s another 10-foot section for other cuts of pork out of camera frame.)

These types of rashers are what I would equate to super thinly sliced boneless pork chops. They taste great, but they aren’t bacon. If you want American-style bacon you need to purchase streaky rashers. That will be closer, but they still don’t crisp up quite the same.

Then there’s a special sort of Irish meat: black and white pudding.

Calling it meat might be over-selling it.

Black pudding is a type of blood sausage. It’s made with pork blood, fat and oatmeal. There might be a few other ingredients in there, but I think we can stop with blood.

I had the pleasure of eating black pudding at Christmas dinner and I actually enjoyed it. It was prepared in such a way that it was a little crispy and quite flavorful – not at all off-putting. I’m not sure I’d go out-of-my-way to order it at a restaurant though.

White pudding is pretty much the same as black pudding, but without the blood. Oh, yay.

Let’s move on to the condiment aisle.

Need some salad dressing? How about salad cream?

I just haven’t been able to bring myself to try it yet…should I?

I’ve been making this easy berry balsamic recipe at home instead.

Interestingly enough, ranch-flavored salad dressing is not a thing in Ireland. There are garlic and herb dressings, but if you’ve grown up with American-style ranch dressing you will know it’s not the same. The ONE brand of ranch dressing I’ve found here comes from the USA and it is Newman’s Own brand.

Moving on to soups, I haven’t tried this doozy.

Oxtail soup.

But it was on sale!

I should have gone for it.

Bread is pretty inexpensive in Ireland.

I’m not sure why that is, other than bakeries are very common. The Irish seem to prefer bread and pastries over crackers for snacks. Crackers aren’t that prevalent. This has been hard for my kids to get used to. I think my son survived on crackers and grapes for an entire year once…or so it seemed. Those toddler years are a bit of a blur.

Barmbrack is a sort of sweet bread – usually with raisins and sultanas inside.

I think I’ve mentioned waffles before on the blog. Waffles and pancakes are sold on-the-shelf. Much to my children’s dismay, they cannot get blueberry freezer waffles here. They can’t get any frozen waffles. Perhaps I should break down and purchase a waffle maker?

I’m sure it’s becoming apparent to you that my children have highly refined tastebuds.

I will leave you with one final picture.

It’s of another product that I cannot bring myself to try. At least not yet.

I think it’s something to do with the name.

Have you tried mushy peas? Did they make your tastebuds so happy you bought the value pack? Mushy peas are served a lot in restaurants in Ireland, so it’s quite the normal thing around these parts.

Well, this concludes today’s virtual shopping trip. Let me know what other things you are curious about in Ireland. I’d be happy to share more of life in this great country with you through my expat lens.

Living in Ireland: Want to See My Hot Press?

Moving to a foreign country – even one where you speak the language – is a humbling experience.

My advice? Settle into the feeling that you are going to be the biggest idiot in the room. A little humor and humility go a long way toward settling in.

When we were looking for house in Ireland we toured an owner-occupied home they were putting on the rental market. During the tour the owner made a passing reference to the hot press.

“I’m sorry. A hot what?”

In hindsight, my question probably did not inspire confidence with the homeowner. Needless to say, we did not get that house.

The house we ended up moving into also had a hot press. I’m a lucky, lucky gal. As I was putting laundry away last week, I decided to snap some quick iPhone photos of the hot press to share with you.

Now who’s the lucky one?

My hot press is not glamorous or styled or magazine-worthy, but it gets the job done. It may also be a metaphor for my life. Hmm…

What is a hot press? It is an Irish term for an enclosed storage space such as a cabinet or closet where a home’s water heater is stored. Ours happens to be in one of the bathrooms. The original hot press concept was for the space to double as an “airing cupboard.” This meant slatted wood shelves were installed around the water heater, which could be used as a drying rack for clothing.

By and large, the Irish seem to prefer to air dry their clothes. I kid you not, it can be 40 degrees outside and you’ll see people hanging their clothes OUTSIDE to dry. I speak from personal experience when I say it will take approximately and this is a conservative estimate, 71 billion hours to dry clothes outside in Ireland in those temperatures. I don’t care how windy it is.

Here is our little water heater all bundled up in some sort of insulated tarp. I did warn you this wouldn’t be glamorous.

Storage is a precious commodity in all homes, especially ours. So, I’m not using the hot press to dry my clothes. It seems like it would be very inconvenient to hang them in there anyway.

I use the hot press as a linen closet. I store our towels, hair appliances, iron and other toiletries that I’m not worried about being damaged by a slightly warm environment in this space. Some of these items include toilet paper, my precious nail polish collection, first aid supplies, extra razors and toothbrushes, extra soap. All the exciting stuff.

The other “fun” thing about hot water heaters especially in older Irish homes is they are often immersion heaters. This was new to me. It means you can heat just the water in that tank using the tank’s immersion heater, which is electric-based. Or, you can heat all of the water to the house (the water in the hot water heater and the water for the radiators) using the heating oil and not electricity.

The immersion heater and the heat for the radiators are controlled by timers on a dial, like the one shown in our cupboard below. No one explained to us how the timers worked or which timer controlled which thing when we moved in. There was a casual, passing mention of “just set the timer” and you’re good. Needless to say, we did it wrong for approximately 4 months.

Humor and humility, folks. It gets you through.

I have since learned in the winter to set the radiator timer located in the kitchen for however long we want to heat the house. Typically, it comes on for a couple of hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening. Remember, this will also heat the water in my hot water tank.

If I want hot water during the day when the radiators aren’t on, I need to have the timer in my hot press set appropriately to turn the immersion heater on – the one that just heats my cute, little hot water tank.

Are you confused yet?

Oh, gosh. Me too.

In the summer, I will only use the immersion heater for water and the timer for the radiators will be turned off.

We do have two showers in this house. One of the showers heats its own water. The other uses the water from the hot water heater.

The other feature of the immersion hot water heater is that I can set it to heat only half the water in the tank or all of the water. This is determined by a switch in the cupboard that says “sink” on one side and “bath” on the other. Super self-explanatory, right?

If you have gotten the impression that Irish people are VERY concerned about electricity costs, you would be right.

Back to the clothes drying topic. We are fortunate to have a clothes dryer. It’s outside in a shed.

I’ll just let that hang there for a second.

I mainly only use the dryer for sheets because it is terribly inefficient. The rest of our clothes are hung to dry in the second bathroom – it’s a small room, so it stays nice and warm. Or if I really want to dry something quickly I lay it on the radiators.

So if my towels and washcloths look crispy, that’s because they haven’t seen a tumble dryer or a  fabric softener sheet in months.

If you have read through this entire post you deserve a cookie.

I’ll finish with a bit of bonus trivia. NO ONE pays for water in Ireland! There are no residential water bills. You’ll pay to heat your water and many people think electricity is way too expensive in this country, but you won’t pay for the water itself.

Now, do you feel enriched by this knowledge? I’m happy to help. Go eat your cookie.

If you want to learn more about living in Ireland, here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic.

Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail

Living in Ireland: Groceries

Moving to Ireland: Grocery Look Alikes

Moving to Ireland: The Great Purge

Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #1

Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #2

Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #3

Living in Ireland: Merry Christmas 2016

Here we are.

The eve of Christmas Eve. My kids are busting with excitement!

Today, instead of my usual happy list, I thought I’d show you some of my recent Instagram snaps of Christmas lights around Dublin.

Plus, a few more random gems for good measure.

Seeing Christmas lights makes me so happy. I love how this building in Dublin’s City Centre is lit up in red and green.

In the distance in the below picture is the Ha’penny Bridge  – a famous pedestrian bridge that crosses over the River Liffey in Dublin.

Here’s my girl at the ice skating rink that was set-up near us just for the holidays. She loves to skate – just like her dad.

And that hair…my goodness.

We took the kids to Grafton Street in Dublin to see how the city was lit up for the holidays. Despite being there with thousands of other people, which is normally my worst nightmare, it was a magical night.

Along our walk through the city we saw a special video snow globe. If you stood in the exact right spot in the street, it would look like you were standing in the middle of a snow globe.

Then your mom would lean over at a really weird angle to try and snap a picture of you without actually ending up in the picture herself. That worked marvelously, but the random stranger in the background didn’t get the message. Oh, well.

Below is the famous Temple Bar Pub. We didn’t take the kids in, although that is perfectly legal in Dublin until a certain time at night.

In case you are wondering what kind of delicacies you can buy at Christmas time, well, feast your eyes on this.

No, I did not buy the chicken liver parfait. You’re a little disappointed, aren’t you?

Moving on. I am thankful the days are now getting longer because the below shot of city hall in the town of Dun Laoghaire was taken at 4 p.m. That’s too early for the sun to go down, my friends. Way too early.

This last one is the perfect juxtaposition of old and new in South Dublin.

On the left is St. Michael’s Church. On the right are a couple of shopping centers. On the very bottom of the photo you can see some double-decker buses. Straight ahead about 4 blocks this road dead-ends into the Irish Sea – you can just make it out in the distance.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas. Thank you so much for sharing this little spot of the Internet with me. I’ll be taking some time off from writing until the second week in January to soak up as much family time as I can get while the kids are on a school break!

Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail

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 a Pottery Barn-like store. I will take one of everything.

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.

The next three photos were taken at a place called Powerscourt House and Gardens.

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.