Category Archives: Ireland

Living in Ireland: Pediatric Emergency Medicine

When our family moved to Ireland 15 months ago, I did what I could from a medical perspective to make sure our transition was as smooth as possible.

Today I’m going to share what I did in the hope that you’ll find my list helpful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Then I’ll get to the dramatic part tell you how it all went to hell a story of what happened last week that showed the drastic gap in my planning that most certainly contributed to a new patch of grey hair.


BEFORE WE LEFT THE USA:

Prescriptions: Before I left the states, I arranged to “buy-out” the remaining months of our prescriptions. In our case, only one of us was taking a prescription and it was valid for another 4 months. The pharmacy told me our insurance would only cover one month at a time, but there was a significant discount for me to buy out the remainder of the prescription. I’m not sure why, but I learned it is always worth asking. This afforded me a longer grace period when we arrived in Ireland to find a doctor and get a new prescription.

Contact Lenses: We also visited the eye doctor before we left and stocked up on a year’s supply of contact lenses.

Dentist: The timing worked out right for us to all visit the dentist in the weeks right before we left the country. This gave us 6 months, barring no problems, to find a new dentist. Although, in Ireland, they seem to recommend only yearly cleanings.

Health Insurance: Because there was a gap between when my husband would be starting his job in Ireland and when the kids and I would join him, we worked with his employer to keep him on the U.S. payroll for an extra month so that we could maintain our health coverage and not have to go on Cobra. You know the minute we dropped our insurance would be the minute one of the kids broke an arm. I couldn’t tempt fate!

Medical Records: I also procured copies of important medical records that I thought we might need in Ireland. For example, immunization records.

Life Insurance: This is sort of medical related – after medicine doesn’t help you any longer. I called and confirmed that our life insurance policies were valid no matter where we resided.


WHEN WE ARRIVED IN IRELAND:

Insurance: Straight away when my husband switched to Irish payroll we enrolled in the private health insurance program his company offers. Having private insurance offers a few benefits – like bumping us to the front of the line for procedures, private hospitals, etc. Irish residents are entitled to state-sponsored insurance, but I’m not an expert on the details of how that works.

Family Doctor: Within a couple of weeks of moving into our new home in Ireland, I made a point to ask neighbors, our landlord, really anyone who would listen for their advice on family doctors or pediatricians. I took the list of suggestions and started calling to see who had availability to accept new patients. While there was nothing wrong with any of us at that moment, I wanted to be certain we were patients of record with a doctor’s office before someone got sick.

Our decision on which doctor to go with had a lot to do with who was accepting new patients and location. We don’t have a car, so I needed to find a doctor close to our house. It worked out that I liked the first doctor I saw, but I was prepared to keep searching.

Also, I had to adjust my expectations for medical care. Our doctor’s office (or surgery as they call it) is located in a townhouse. The doctor’s desk with his mountain of paperwork is in the room with the exam table. Immunization schedules aren’t as rigorous. Well child visits are few and far between. The doctor called pee/urine “waterworks.” Little things like that. And, yes, that last one still makes me laugh.

I do like that Irish doctors post their price lists on their websites. You are never surprised by what things cost (it’s not a lot, either) and we submit the receipts to our insurance for reimbursement.

999: When we moved here, I taught my kids what to do if mommy or daddy is hurt and they need to call for help. In Ireland and the UK, the emergency services number is 999, not 911. I’m not going to say this has been an easy transition. The kids had to learn a new street address, mommy’s new phone number and a new emergency number. Just the other day when I quizzed the kids, my son said 9-9-1?

*sigh* So close, but so not helpful. We’ll just keep working on it!

Pharmacy Visits: In Ireland, you go to the pharmacy for over-the-counter pain meds, cough syrup, makeup, etc. Over the course of our time here, I’ve familiarized myself with the fact that medications are called different things. Ibuprofen is Nurofen, for instance.

I’ve also come to accept that pharmacy staff are trained to be either very helpful or very nosy. It depends on your perspective. For instance, I bought two different types of children’s cold medicine a few months ago. The pharmacy clerk – not a pharmacist, but the lady who rings up your purchase – quizzed me about if my purchase was for two different kids? I responded, “yes, I have two kids.” Now, in all reality, I just didn’t know which, if any, medication was going to help the one kid that was sick. Basically, I was stocking up so that I’d be prepared for anything.

Also, I cannot buy a Costco-sized bottle of tylenol or ibuprofen here. I can buy 10 tylenol pills at one time. I cannot buy 2 packages of 10 pills at one time. For someone who doesn’t like to shop, this is all very annoying.


HOW ALL MY PLANNING FAILED ME 15 MONTHS AFTER OUR MOVE:

Last Tuesday after school, we went to the park. This is something we do probably 4 times a week if it’s not raining.

Our routine play time was disrupted when my 10-year-old daughter fell off the one thing all the kids climb on, but really shouldn’t. Especially when there’s a large group of them.

As a mom, you can tell the difference in your child’s cry. The I’m-pretending-I’m-a-baby cry, the my-pride-is-hurt cry, the this-hurts-but-I’m-really-okay cry, the I’m-going-to-cry-and-my-sibling-will-get-in-trouble cry, the I-didn’t-get-my-way-and-life-is-unfair cry and the HOLY-HECK-THIS-IS-REAL-PAIN cry.

My daughter had that last one. I thought her tailbone was what she had really injured, but it turns out her arm/hand was the real culprit.

This was one of those situations where you’re not going to call an ambulance, but you know your kid probably needs to be checked out. And we’ve all been conditioned to avoid the hospital ER at all costs. No one wants to go there and THEY don’t want you to go there unless you’re really, truly having an emergency. Thankfully, urgent care clinics have filled that gap in the market for the urgent, but not dying stuff.

Now, let me paint you a picture. I’m in the park with two kids, two backpacks, two scooters and no car. I’m nowhere near my house. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m trying to decide what I should do. At a minimum, I know I need to get ice and ibuprofen.

A friend (who happened to be at the park) offered to drive us to the urgent care clinic in our area. She’d been there before and knew they had an x-ray machine on site.

Done!

Going to a private clinic was exactly why we procured private insurance! Along the way, I tried to call our insurance company, but they wouldn’t let me ask my question about clinics and coverage because I didn’t have our member number – it was on my phone. So I had to hang up and write the number now. By that time, we were at the clinic so my friend dropped us off and I hauled two backpacks, two scooters and two kids up the steps and into the clinic.

That’s where I encountered THE SIGN on the door. The sign that said, in essence, as of September 1st the clinic would not help anyone that was not a member of said clinic. We were not members. I missed the window of help by 4 days. Frickity Frack.

Trying to explain this development to my daughter who was still sniffling with pain and holding her arm at a weird angle was not fun.

I called our insurance company (again) and asked them to tell me where the closest clinic with an x-ray machine was located that would help my daughter. They gave me directions to the clinic, confirmed my pediatric question and informed me it closed at 6 p.m., which was in one hour. The most efficient way to get to the clinic would be via a cab.

As soon as I hung up the call, I opened my phone’s taxi app to hail a cab. Except, I couldn’t get a cab. My app was searching and searching and no drivers were available. Just great.

I could feel my blood pressure rising while we waited, which wasn’t being helped by the fact that my son was bored and decided to start sliding down a banister in front of the clinic that wouldn’t help us. One hurt arm is all I can handle at a time!

After about 10 minutes a random cab pulls up in with a passenger. I flag the driver down and ask if he was accepting fares. Of course he said yes. I explained how odd it was that I couldn’t get a cab when I know we were close to a shopping mall. He said, “oh, I know what it was. The drivers in the taxi rank were too lazy to get out of line to go pick up a fare. They’d rather wait for shoppers exiting the mall.”

To recap. My daughter is hurt. I have one hour to get her to the clinic before it closes. The quickest way to get there is by taxi. The taxi drivers are TOO LAZY to pick us up.

Awesome.

I’d also like to mention that it is now 5 p.m., which is getting close to the dinner hour and I’d already given the kids all the food I had when we were at the park. Nothing good happens when my kids are hurt, tired AND hungry.

I’m fairly certain I can actually FEEL the grey hairs growing out of my scalp now.

Anyway, the cab driver gets us to the second clinic in 15 minutes. I hop out with the two kids, the two backpacks and two scooters to find the emergency department, which was on the opposite side of the building from where we’d been dropped off.

I walk up to the reception desk, explain why we are there and the lady says, “I’m sorry. We only take patients 16 years and older.”

*insert a whole host of expletives here*

Thankfully, I did not say those bad words out loud.

If I hadn’t felt like crying at that point, I probably would have laughed at the ridiculousness of this situation. Bad timing. Misinformation. It was a complete fiasco.

I did calmly and politely ask the lady who would not help my hurt child who was standing right in front of her where I should take my daughter for help.

“Oh, well, you have to take her to a children’s hospital. She can’t go to a regular hospital A&E.”

I’m not sure what A&E meant at that moment, but I assumed it was the ER.

*insert another list of newly invented expletives here*

Thankfully, I did not say those bad words out loud either. But I did text them with very angry fingers to my husband.

Just keeping it real.

In my mind, getting my child help should have been a simple process. It wasn’t. And it was made worse by me not knowing how the system worked when it comes to urgent care.

Looking back, I should have just called our family doctor. And looking back even farther, when I met with the doctor the very first time, I should have inquired about what to do if there is a non-emergency emergency. Then I would have had a plan in place and would not have carried around the guilt and utter frustration associated with not being able to get my child help. This is one of those times when it shouldn’t have been so hard and I’m lucky that it all worked out okay in the end.

24 hours after the incident, my daughter saw our family doctor. He, bless his heart, told me “if you would have come in yesterday, I probably would have told you to come back and see me in 24 hours.” I’m not sure if that’s true or if he could see the parental guilt coming off me in waves, but I appreciated the sentiment.

He, predictably, referred us to the children’s hospital for x-rays.

I also told the doctor about how I woke up in the middle of the night and asked my husband, “so if a child was stabbed in the parking lot of a regular hospital, that hospital would not help that child?” The doctor rolled his eyes and said, “I know, I know. The system is a little messed up. They probably would give the kid pain meds, but they would call an ambulance and have them sent to the children’s hospital for treatment.”

*insert a picture of me shaking my head in disbelief at how asinine that is*

We ended up having a really fantastic (if you can call it that) experience in the hospital. We were in and out with x-rays and a cast in about an hour.

I did learn that children’s hospitals in Dublin are all public. So the benefits of having private insurance – unless she ends up needing a room – are negligible.

I’m sharing this story because I want you to know I have a really brave kid. And she feels much better now.

I also acknowledge there are parents out there dealing with medical situations far more horrific than a broken wrist and my heart goes out to them because I know that burden must be indescribably heavy.

Most of all, I’m sharing this story for anyone who is moving to a foreign country. I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Kids get sick. Kids get hurt. Knowing what to do in those situations – whether they be minor, urgent or a true emergency – can help you direct your energy where it needs to go the most – to your child.

As we left the hospital on foot to catch the train home, my daughter, sporting her new red cast said, “It’s a good thing I didn’t break my leg! That would have been a lot worse!”

She found the bright spot in this situation and I’m happy she reminded me it was there all along.

In truth, she’s my bright spot.


P.S. As you can see, I’m still learning the ins and outs of the medical and health insurance system in Ireland. I am in no way, shape or form an expert. Please do your own due diligence before moving to Ireland. It really is a fantastic place. I wish you the best of luck! 

 

 

What I Bought While in the United States

Confession time!

I can’t remember the last time I’ve looked in someone’s medicine cabinet, but I’m sure I have.

I love going for a walk at night and looking in someone’s window to see how they’ve decorated. I promise I’m not standing in their flower beds. It’s all legit slow-walking from the sidewalk, I swear!

To equalize things, even though I will never be in 99.999% of your homes or flowerbeds, I thought you might like to know what I bought during my visit to the U.S. after living in Ireland for a year.

It is juicy, scintillating stuff. Of that I can definitely not promise you.

Here are the highlights.


KING-SIZE SHEETS

Just like crisps are chips and chips are fries in Ireland, so are bed sizes.

A queen is a king and a king is NOTHING. American-sized king beds don’t exist.

Are you confused yet? Are you in shock and bewilderment? Me too.

I have ZERO regrets about shipping our king-size bed to Ireland. None.

Plus, my husband’s company paid for it. That really eases the regret levels, I must say.

For the first 5 minutes of our marriage, cuddling on a small bed was great. Now, almost 20 years later, my viewpoint is a little more nuanced. I tend to describe it more in terms of GIVE ME ALL THE SPACE. This is ironic since I regularly wake up to find a child has snuck into our bed and I have a sliver of space and a neck ache.

Since I don’t know when I’ll be back to the U.S. (even though I can have stuff shipped here), I decided to get another set of sheets since we’ve been using the same ones for over a year.

I’ve had great success with the Threshold brand sheets at Target. Even after a year or two of constant use, they don’t pill up. I picked up these sheets in the Blue Diamond pattern. I had plain white sheets, also from Target, so these are jazzing things up a little.

Also, I find it weird that I just showed you a picture of where I cling to the edge at night my bed.


BACKPACK

Handy Husband has been on me for a year to buy a “proper” backpack. Whatever that means. He thought it was embarrassing that I had been carrying my son’s gigantic LL Bean backpack. It was too big for my son, which was why I was using it, but man, does it hold A TON of groceries!

It also holds frying pans…as you can see below.

The problem was, I don’t really like the look of most backpacks – especially the ones that will hold a ton of frying pans groceries. So I didn’t see the need to spend money on something that I didn’t really like anyway.

Well, my son needs to use the backpack this year, so I felt pressure to finally purchase one for myself. I found the Women’s Recon Backpack at the NorthFace outlet for $55. It’s $99 on the Northface website right now. Mine might have been last year’s model though. It’s slightly smaller than the LL Bean pack, but it is working okay so far.

Time will tell if it lasts longer than Handy Husband’s Deuter Backpack. I’m feeling competitive about this because he’s a big Deuter fan.


MEDICINE AND TOILETRIES

My husband takes a daily allergy pill. The type he was buying in Ireland wasn’t working as great as what he used to take. I saw a year’s supply of a generic Zyrtec allergy pill on Amazon for $15.99. For that price, he couldn’t not try it. That would save us around $150 per year, which is no joke.

When people ask how I stay so youthful (they don’t, but whatever) it’s because my skin still acts like it is youthful and breaks out from time to time. Yes, I know I’m DECADES past my youth, but again, whatever.

Turns out, benzoyl peroxide-based acne creams are not available in the U.K. and Ireland. They are banned until further testing is done. I’m choosing to ignore their science and go with my own interpretation of the facts on this one because I’m too old to mess around with zits. For real.


COOBIE BRA

I’ll try to keep this next one g-rated! And I hope these pictures don’t show up in the Facebook feed.

A friend raved about the Coobie Bra and said I had to try it. I’m a skeptic. It’s no secret that she is more, uh, well-endowed than I am in this particular area. My needs run more in the training bra bralette category – especially after having kids. A little padding is helpful though – especially after having kids. You don’t need me to elaborate do you?

PHEW!

I was even more skeptical when the bra said ‘one size fits most.’ She and I are lightyears apart in body type. This is supposed to fit her and me? But the freaking miracle bra did! Well, I didn’t try hers on – that would be weird. The one I tried on fit me and I’m just taking the label at its word.

I went on the Coobie Bra site to do a bit of research because I am sometimes thorough over here. Their FAQs say the bras fit sizes 32A to 36D. They also have a new full size for 38-42D. There are nursing bras too.

The Coobie Bra is like a prettier, fancier sports bra that doesn’t give you a uni-boob. The best part is the padding insert has held its shape after multiple washings – even though you are supposed to take it out first – oops! I don’t put the bra in the dryer though.

I got mine at a local shop called Felicity’s in Salem, Oregon. Shop local when you can! Otherwise, you can find them online at The Coobie Store. I also found them on Amazon for the same price or less. I’m wishing I would have got more than one now.


MINI IPADS

We don’t have a TV, but we are a technology family. My husband’s in the biz. Our kids get screen time. It works for us.

We decided to use our trip to the U.S. and our visit to a state without sales tax to switch the kids to iPad minis. Their old devices were limping along, but just barely.

I will caution you though. If you buy an Apple device in the U.S., but you live in a foreign country, your warranty is tied to the U.S. This can be problematic if you are prone to dropping devices.

We usually buy our devices straight from Apple, but the Apple store in our area did not have any iPad minis. What?!?! So, we ordered ours through Best Buy, who was having a sale on them. We ended up saving over $200 by doing this. I’m not sure if they are discontinuing the minis, but they were definitely trying to get rid of remaining inventory.


LINEN BATH TOWEL

I finally bit the bullet and bought some linen bath towels. Well, after a friend gifted me one! (I wrote about my bath towel quest here.)

I ordered two of these linen towels made by LinenMe.

If anyone is interested, I might write about my experience with the towels and the two different brands I’ve tried so far. One of the brands has been softer than the other. Suffice it to say, I’m definitely happy with the choice to invest in the linen bath towels – they are the ones we reach for first now.


We bought some food products while we were in the states. I love dried mangoes! We also came home with Goldfish crackers and graham crackers – both of which are not available in Ireland. I did buy some clothes when I was at the outlet mall too.

All in all, though, I’ve let go of most of my brand attachments in the past year. The hard things are the personal items – makeup is a good example. This isn’t because you can’t buy makeup in Ireland – quite the contrary. It’s just the trial and error involved in finding something to replace what you had been using can be time consuming, frustrating and expensive. On the flip side, it can also turn out amazing!

I try to remind myself when I’m shopping for a new brand of jeans, makeup, spaghetti sauce, etc. that this is all part of the adventure. When my attitude is in the right space, everything is just a bit brighter and happier.

But my wallet might end up lighter!

 

 

Affiliate links to Amazon contained in this post. 

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!

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!

Living in Ireland: Back After a Month in the U.S.

It’s flat out STRANGE to visit the United States after living in Ireland for a year.

I tried to put my finger on why exactly.

In part, I think it’s because I’ve changed. Evolved, shall we say? How could you not after moving to a foreign country?

But when I went ‘home’ I realized how much HADN’T changed. There is something comforting in that though.

I also realized that I’d gotten used to being slightly uncomfortable ALL. THE. TIME. while in Ireland.

You can try to look and act local in the face of constant new experiences, but as soon as you open your mouth you see a flicker of “you’re not from around here” pass across someone’s face.

This is especially funny when someone asks me for directions. I take it as a huge compliment that the poor soul assumes I’m a local. Fake it ’til you make it! But then I have to respond to their question and I can visibly see them trying to decide if I REALLY know what I’m talking about. Don’t worry. I mostly do.

When I’m in the United States, I’m not special at all.

Oh, we all know I’m SPECIAL, but what I really mean is I fit in. When I was back, I noticed I fit in, which is a weird thing to be acutely aware of.

That lady at Panera just assumed I’d been in her restaurant quite regularly because I was quick to order. I always get the same sandwich though.

The guy at the gas station just assumed I’d remember what zip code the credit card I hadn’t used in a year was attached to. I did…after a long, awkward pause and a quick prayer.

And the lady at the rental car company…well, let’s just say she should have asked me how long it’s been since I’ve USED my driver’s license, not if I have a valid one or not. Rest assured, I surprisingly remembered how to drive.

Our visit to the U.S. went by super quickly. I’m beyond grateful that I have this quirky blogging job that allows me to be home with the kids and gives me the freedom to work from anywhere. Even from a farm, 10 miles from civilization with slow-as-molasses internet. Talk about roughing it!

I was worried the kids would not want to return to Ireland. Not because they don’t like it here, but because it’s fun being with friends, cousins and grandparents. Thankfully, they were ready to go home. They missed daddy and all the things they normally play with.

Apparently, the neighbor’s cat missed them too. We call her Mittens. I’ve stopped wondering what her actual name is.

(In case you are wondering what my daughter is doing in inside-out pajamas, she is painting her LPS to look like Warrior Cats from her favorite book series. It’s a messy activity best done outside.)

I was a little concerned the kids were having a hard time adjusting when they announced they were going outside to play ‘cold weather survival.’

It was 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Definitely not my idea of summer temps, I’ll grant them that.

We also needed to stock up on food because Handy Husband’s idea of stocking the refrigerator does not include food things like fruits and vegetables.

I’m teaching the kids how to ring up the groceries because I have dreams of one day just giving them a list and sending them to the store. These are important help your mama life skills.

Now, folks. Jet lag is real and it can whoop your behind. This happened to me the last time we did the 8-hour time change.

I’ve figured out what works for me though. The magic formula is to stay up all day and then sleep for 14 hours straight.

I kid you not, it works every time!

Handy Husband’s idea of overcoming jet lag is to go for a 4-mile hike the day after we land.

He’s so helpful.

I told him the 14 hours of sleep had me feeling pretty good, but no, no.

A hiking we did go!

We did get to see some awesome views of this lighthouse though.

Meanwhile, can you spot which kid and husband are mine?

Finally, we eased back into Irish life by going for a bike ride and discovering my favorite thing of all time a carnival.

This is what happens when I let the kids ride ahead of me.

But!

Here’s the good news. I think.

My boy, who has a healthy fear of these death traps, decided to get on that big sky swing.

If he showed even the slightest sign of being scared, I was prepared to go all mama bear on the entire carnival to shut that ride down, but my concerns were not warranted.

He had a fantastic time. Funny how you blink and they’ve done some growing up on you.

All in all, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to spend time in the U.S. this summer.

The place of your birth has a strange tug on your heartstrings. I realized this when I got teary-eyed listening to the national anthem being sung at a rodeo. Legit tears in my eyes, people.

Someday I’ll be back, but until then I’m happy to be home in my own bed in 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.


LEARNING WITH ALL THE SENSES

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.


SUCCESS IS REDEFINED

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.


DON’T QUIT, HAVE GRIT

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…

Swimming.

Naked.

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.

GETTING THERE FROM DUBLIN:

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.

WHERE WE STAYED:

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.

NOTE ABOUT CURRENCY:

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.

WHAT WE DID:

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


W5 

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.