Back in the saddle…and a few weekend links

A few fun links as we head into the last 10 days before Christmas:

Did you see this Bailey’s Christmas advert last year?  This ad is still one of my favorites.   Christmas ads for the UK/Ireland market are longer-form commercials than the 30- or 60-sec spots in the US.  The ads are highly anticipated, much like the “Super Bowl” advertising in the US.

A great article written by my friend, Ratha Tep for the New York Times. Despite my rant about costs, Ratha managed to find some great spots for the Frugal Traveler.

We got a new car recently – an uninspiring Ford S-Max 7 seater.  It’s similar to a minivan, but it’s diesel.  (Yay for lower fuel bills!) It isn’t a glamorous car, but it meets our needs at the moment.  The focus on utility and function reminded me of this fun post from years ago on DesignMom.

Why Save a Language?  This article captured my attention because I see how much effort Ireland is putting into preserving their language.   Less than 10% of Irish population speaks Irish regularly outside the classroom. There is a worthwhile debate going on regarding teaching Irish in the schools. I find points of agreement on both sides, but still think preserving the language is worthwhile.

Thanks to everyone who reached out after my previous post. Be assured that we aren’t planning to move back anytime soon.  I was doing so well at the blogging thing, until 2 weeks ago, when I wanted to move back to the US…then Thanksgiving arrived, and my parents came for a few weeks.  We had a lovely time, until all 7 of us caught the cold that Liesl brought home from Montessori.

One of the reasons I started blogging was to add some discipline to my personal writing.  So I’m back in the saddle.  Look for more posts coming soon! Now if only I could have the same motivation when it comes to working out…

x Rheagan

Are the Reasons to Stay, Reasons Enough?

Every expat, no matter how long they have lived in their host country has a “bad day”.  A “bad day” in expat speak is one of those days when you want to chunk your entire life in your host country into the trash and board the next plane back home.  Most of the time, I am very happy with our life in Ireland.  Yeah, it’s far from home, the cars are tiny, there is no Tex-Mex, and the weather is less than ideal, but I can usually look past those inconveniences and see the benefits of living here. We live in a lovely neighborhood, our kids attend great schools, work-life balance is genraly better than in the US, and most importantly, we have wonderful friends.

I think the fact that I have so few “bad days” makes it much harder when one hits me full force.  Like Saturday. I had a few errands to run at the mall near our house.  Brad and Isaac took the car to GAA practice, but that didn’t bother me.  The bus that stops at my neighborhood delivers me straight to the shopping center.  Super convenient!  Patrick, Liesl and I headed out to do some shopping.  The thing about shopping Ireland – there are no big-box stores.  No Wal-Marts, Targets or Costcos. So if you need a few random items, you probably have to visit more than one store.  In every store I entered, I encountered multiple instances of poor customer service. (The Irish are generally quite friendly, but customer-service is not one of their strong points.)  At one store, an employee followed me around, I think because she thought Liesl would break something.  When I went to check out, the cashier accused me of using a stolen credit card because it wasn’t chip-and-pin.  I was furious, but felt really stuck.  I needed the items,  I didn’t know where else I would be able to purchase them, and I was already there. I paid with another card and left, seething.

We had some extra time, so I decided to pop into Marks & Spencers (probably the store most similar to Target), to look for new dresses for Liesl.  She has hit a growth spurt, and her clothes are getting shorter by the day!  Of course, when we get there, there are many dresses to choose from, but only one in her size.  Really M&S?  Only one dress available for a 4-year old, at a large store in the middle of a metropolitan area?  Sadly, this isn’t that uncommon.  Once a store runs out of inventory, they don’t necessarily order more.  The Irish have this phrase, “It’s better to be looking at it, rather than looking for it.”  Meaning that if you see what you need, you should probably buy it right then because you never know if it will be there the next time you pass through the store.  We pick it up, plus a 3-pack of tights and head to the checkout queue. Two people cut me in line, and when I finally got to the till, the cashier rings up my items to €45.  That’s right…the equivalent of almost $60 for ONE dress and a pack of tights.  This wasn’t a dressy-dress, or a holiday dress.  Just a basic corduroy dress for casual wear.  And just then, all the frustration of the morning, and living on this tiny, cold, expensive island caught up with me.

I could have driven a nice car to Target, parked in a huge parking lot, picked up all the items I needed plus a mocha at the in-store Starbucks(!), and the entire trip probably would have cost less than the dress and tights at Marks & Spencers. I would have boarded a plane right then.

When we moved here, the opportunity outweighed the negatives.  The travel!  Experience a new culture! Live outside your comfort zone! But after awhile, it just begins to wear on you.  Ireland is the 5th most expensive country in Europe, after the perennial favorites – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Luxemborg.  At least in the Nordic nations, your cost of living is balanced out with high social benefits like free childcare and high-quality schooling and healthcare.  It costs more to live in Dublin than almost anywhere in the US.  The labor market is quite sticky here, and childcare costs are some of the highest in the world.  The housing market is so expensive that it is unlikely we could purchase a home here for quite some time.  All of this has been wearing on me for awhile, and the experiences of the morning left me wondering, “Is it really worth it? Is it worth taking a step down in standard of living for a higher quality of life?”

My response used to be, “Of course!  Anything is better than the rat-race of the US.”  But now I am not so sure.  Will we look back on our time in Ireland as a grand (mis)adventure where we had great experiences, but didn’t accomplish much, in terms of worldly gain?  Or is it that I’m just being selfish and materialistic?

I think, whether you are an expat or not, making peace with your life’s decisions takes time and effort.  I know I probably shouldn’t compare life in Dublin with life in America.  The population bases, the economies, and the cultural perspectives are very different and we haven’t even touched on challenging subjects like tax policy!  But the fact that I know I have a choice in where I live makes those comparisons unavoidable.  Life would be so much cheaper in America, but does that make for a happier life?  In Ireland, I have many of the things that matter strongly to me. I do know that I have a  great support network here.  Right after posting the tweet, I had several friends call and text me to check in and make sure I was ok. No matter where you live in the world, friends matter.

But I still wonder:  Are the reasons to stay, reasons enough?

Fast, Kid-friendly Vegetarian Dinners

It’s 5:30, you’re staring at a few hungry, grubby faces and thinking, “What are we having for dinner?”  I’m usually a big believer in menu planning.  However, there are plenty of days when I don’t have a plan, but everyone still needs to be fed.

If we lived in the US, we might go out to eat, but in Ireland, there really aren’t many of the “fast-casual” restaurants.  There are no Chili’s, Applebees, etc.  The closest thing to the fast-casual restaurant is the local pub.  Some pubs have great food, and some do not.  Our local (as they are called here), has great atmosphere, but the food is a total dud.  Fast food is not very common either.  So, it is handy to have a few go-to kid-friendly recipes around to get dinner on the table quickly.  We are vegetarian most of the time,  but most of these meals could easily incorporate meat.

For the record, I define fast as: “Idea – to – Table” in 45 minutes or less.

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Pine Nuts and Sage Leaves.  We almost always have these ingredients on hand, thanks to the sage bush in our back garden.

Lentil Sloppy-Joes.  I was really skeptical of this recipe before we tried it, but it is so good! It tastes as good or better than sloppy joes made with manwich and ground beef.  Since this recipe uses lentils and canned tomatoes, you can keep almost all the ingredients in your pantry until needed. Also, this recipe freezes really well, so you can make a double batch and stick it in the freezer for a super-quick meal.

Frittata.  We don’t really use a recipe any more, but I have included one to get you started.  The main difference between this recipe and ours is that we thinly slice our potatoes in the food processor and saute them until crisp along the edges.  With a food processor, this dish is so easy to make.

Pasta with yogurt, peas, and chile.   My kids love peas, and they love yogurt, so they really enjoy this recipe.  If you eat vegetarian regularly, you need to check out Yotam Ottlenghi’s recipes and cookbooks.  We have Plenty and love it. He has a new one coming out this year, Plenty More.

Baked Ravioli.  Another great recipe to help break out of the “pasta and tomato sauce” rut.

For more ideas, you can follow my Pinterest Board, “What To Eat for Dinner 2014“.  I post recipes that we cook for dinner that are available online. What are some of your go-to recipes?  I’m always looking for new ideas!

Friday Finds

So many good things around the internet this week!  I should know – we have been deluged with rain since Wednesday, which has meant lots of time indoors. It’s raining again now, so while I hope for drier weather tomorrow, I’ll get right to the links for your weekend.

Motherhood:

A humorous read: A Day At Home with A Newborn.

Our ‘Mommy’ Problem.  “Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such.”  Does our culture demand that mothers be “all in all the time”?  How does this square up to the “lean in” pressures are well?  There are no right or wrong answers here, but I found this article encapsulated many of the frustrations that mothers face.

Finding your passion:

Great Forbes interview with Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa.  From nuclear policy analyst to restaurant owner to cookbook author.  I wish I possessed her vision and ability to take that “big leap” from one career to the next.

I am curious if this planner would actually help me identify my passions in life. Also, why can’t I come up with a fascinating idea when I am stumped for “what’s next”?

Expat Life:

Cultural miscommunication, even when you share a common language.

I am a triangle. This blog post has made the rounds in the expat world, but it is still one of the best explanations of what happens when you move overseas and the reverse culture shock if/when you move back.

And my favourite/favorite video of the week: The New York Times 36 Hours in Dublin.  The video shares some of my most loved places in Dublin, from Fallon & Byrne and the Green Hen, to the National Museum.  The video conveys the earnest spirit that so many Irish possess, and makes me proud to live here.

 Have a great weekend!

x Rheagan

10 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I wrote up my 10 tips for traveling with an infant.  Traveling with an infant is great, but flying with toddlers definitely requires that you up your game a bit. They are bigger, louder, more mobile, and more independent.  This list is written with long-haul/international flights in mind, but many of the tips are useful for short trips as well.  For those who will be flying the friendly skies with children ages 9 months – 3 years, here is a list of 10 tips to keep in mind.

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[li_item icon=””]1. Do yourself and your child a favor, buy them their own seat, and bring their car seat along.  I can fly “infant in arms” until the child is about 9 months old, and then I reach my limit. Other people have different opinions, but I have found that after about 9 months, the baby is not as comfortable in my arms for the duration of a long flight.  (Short-haul flights, I can usually tough-it-out until the kid is 2.)  Your car seat must be approved for air travel. We bought the FAA-approved Britax car seat, and it has performed beautifully.  We liked it so much, we now have two of them.[/li_item]
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[checklist icon=”fa-plane” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]2.  To carry your car seat, and your kid through the airport, check your stroller and buy one of these.  It’s basically a luggage cart for your car seat.  If your trip is just a one-time thing, beg, borrow or steal one from a friend, but for multiple trips, it is worth the money. You snap the car seat onto it with the LATCH connectors, tilt it back, and pull it through the airport.  It is lightweight, folds flat, and you can store it in the overhead bin, or under the seat. You can also strap your kid into the car seat as you pull it along, but if we have the time, I prefer my kids to walk in the airports. (See #6).[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]3.  Before your trip, go to the dollar store and pick up a few fun toys, games and stickers for the trip.  For our last trip, I bought each child a small pencil bag, and put inside some crayons, colored pencils, and loads of stickers.  I bought each child a new coloring book as well.  When traveling with a toddler, I try to set a “1 toy per 20 minutes” rule.  Meaning, I will get out a new toy every 20 minutes or so, but I will not be the “on-demand” toy factory.  If you expect to be traveling often, make a box of “travel toys”.  Our set of travel toys includes: a set of lacing cards, a set of small dinosaurs, Mini Magna doodle, play-doh, triangular crayons (an ingenious idea – they don’t roll off the tray table!) etc.  The kids know that most of these toys only come out on the plane, and therefore, are more excited to play with them. We also load the iPad with shows they like, and a few games, but most of the time, they want to watch the TV on the airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]4.  Buy a set of over-ear headphones for each child. The ones provided by the airlines don’t usually fit little kids’ heads, and ear buds usually bother them. Also, it can be something special to bring out during the flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]5.  Bring your own food. MORE THAN YOU THINK WILL BE NECESSARY.  Trying to convince your grumpy, tired 2 year old to eat mystery “chicken mornay” may be a hard sell.  Bring sandwiches that travel easily, such as PB&J.  I bring plenty of small foods, such as cheerios, goldfish, teddy grahams, or box raisins.  The box raisins are super handy because the kids kill a bunch of time trying to fish every last raisin out of the box.  They are also high in fiber, which helps counteract travel-related constipation.  I also bring a few apples and granola bars.  Each child has his or her own water bottle.  We encourage them to drink plenty of water.  Pro-tip:  If traveling with your spouse/partner, split the snacks into two gallon-size ziploc bags, in case you are separated on the plane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]6.  If you have time, let the kids walk in the airport.  This is a handy way to burn off excess energy and get the wiggles out.  It is tempting to strap them into the stroller or carrier, and just get on to the next gate, but then they don’t have any time run about.  If you’re worried about a toddler running off, get a leash/harness, or let them walk part of the way, on the less-crowded concourses.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]7. When you get to your gate, sit close to a window so that they can watch the planes, or off to the side, where there is more space for them to run around (within reason).  If you are fighting jet lag, keep moving.  When we have a layover on an international trip, we try not to sit down too much until we get on the next flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]8.  If traveling with your spouse or partner, consider sending one person onto the plane early, with the car seat and carryons (if possible), and then wait until the latest possible moment to board the plane with your child. There is nothing worse than trying to entertain a child while you are still sitting at the gate![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]9.  Clothing: Dress everyone in easy-on, easy-off, non-fussy clothes.  This is not the time to dress your child in that adorable dress with lace and tulle from your aunt.  If necessary, change into that adorable outfit in the airport bathroom when you get to your destination. I dress my daughter in leggings, t-shirt, cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt.  My sons wear comfortable jeans or athletic pants, t-shirt, zip-front sweatshirt.  Pack each child a full backup outfit, including underwear and socks, in a one-gallon ziploc bag.  Should the worst happen, you just have to reach into your bag, find their ziploc, and take that to the bathroom to change.  You never know when someone might get air sick, or spill an entire orange juice down the front of their clothes.  Pack an extra shirt for yourself as well.  If your child is recently potty trained, have them wear pull-ups.  We flew a week after Liesl was potty trained, and I told her that the pull-ups were her “airplane panties”.  She never had an accident, but it was cheap insurance.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]10.  Be flexible and Have Fun! Set some ground rules, but don’t be afraid to make the trip fun as well.  For example, screen time is really limited at our house, but if Liesl wants to watch Doc McStuffins all.the.way from Dublin to New York, I let her.  They rarely get juice at home, but if they want juice every time the flight attendant offers drinks, juice it is!  If they want to do jumping jacks at the gate, they can.  Or we go out of our way during a layover to find the “really big” planes and watch them take off.[/li_item]

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I find that the kids reflect our attitudes, especially in travel.  When things don’t go as planned, if we treat it as a “Grand Adventure”, they will too.  Travel with kids is a lot of work, but given the choice between traveling with kids, or staying home – I’ll choose travel any day!

Friday Finds

What a week! I went to the Web Summit here in Dublin – the largest tech conference in Europe.  I saw tons of interesting ideas, startups, and speakers.  Now my head is full of information, and I’m trying to sort it all out.  (I wrote a brief post on Wednesday about my initial takeaways.)  While I ponder the future of tech (or other, less-challenging topics), a few links for your weekend:

On Not Owning a House.  As an expat in one of the most expensive property markets around, this post reminded me to be content with what we have, rather than letting the green-eyed monster take over.  Thanks Karen!

46 Things about Mr. Rogers.  Such a sweet list.  My kids now watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and it reminds me of the wonderful world of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that I watched as a child.

This conversation made me laugh. We’re not like this at all! (Thanks, Andrea!)

A few of these toys are making it onto our Christmas list.

The oldest known separate map of Ireland will go for auction at Christie’s next week.  At the time the map was drawn in 1468, Ireland was the westernmost point in the known world.  Fascinating to think about.

Finally, I heard the founder of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, speak at the Web Summit this week. I found his story, and his idea – expanding computer science education to all children – very compelling.  They are encouraging teachers, students, and parents to participate in the Hour of Code event  – a one-hour introduction into computer science.  Dec 8-14.  No experience or knowledge of code is necessary!  Have you ever participated?

(I’m actually not a huge fan of technology in the classroom for young children, but I am a fan of logic education and I totally agree with his premise that computer science education is really foundational for ALL careers, not just tech careers.  I’ll probably expand this into a longer post in the future.)

Have a great weekend all!

x Rheagan

 

Checking In…

Just checking in with a short post.  I’m at the Web Summit this week, and my head is full of ideas about ‘what’s next’ in the digital media space.  I know I usually write about parenting, travel, etc, but since this is my space, I can write about whatever I want!  Some brief highlights from the Summit so far:

Listened to a fascinating discussion today about what makes Pinterest different than other social media platforms.  Joanne Bradford, Pinterest’s Head of Partnerships spoke about how “On Twitter you follow people.  On Pinterest you follow your heart”, which I found interesting.  I’m not sure I am THAT passionate about Pinterest, but the platform definitely connects with users in a different way.   Pinterest is also one of the only platforms in which the focus is on intent:  you pin what you intend to make, see, do, visit, read, etc.   Thinking about Pinterest as a view into the future certainly changed my perspective.

One of the most surprising speakers I heard was Lauren Wirtzer of Parkwood Entertainment, Beyonce’s production/entertainment company.  She wasn’t the type of speaker that I would normally be interested in hearing, but I happened to be there for the previous session.  She was great, but it was curious to see how old problems manifest themselves in new areas. Beyonce has basically gone to a full vertical-integration model.  She writes the songs, records the albums, produces the videos and other media, all in-house. The decision of how much to vertically integrate a company is revisited again and again, but I often don’t think about new media companies.   I’m going back to her other talk tomorrow.

Evernote – Do you use it? Do you pay for it?  Phil Libin, founder of Evernote spoke on Tuesday.  He spoke about how Evernote is the tool for the modern knowledge worker, but more importantly, he focused on making a great product.   If you can’t make something great, then there is no point, because someone will come along and make a great product.  “How will you know it is great?  You will make it for yourself.”  His last comments were about the  monetization problem.  Evernote makes money by selling their product…but the product is also available for free.   Their view is that “It is more important that you stay than if you pay.” meaning that the longer you use the product, the more wiling you are to pay for it.  I don’t use Evernote currently, but I’m intrigued.

I also sat through my fair share of dud speakers, or more common – great speakers, but a dud moderator.  There is one more day to the conference.  I have been tweeting from the conference mainly from my professional account, @RheaganCoffey.  You can follow me there, as well as @SipsofCoffey. I hope to have a more coherent post about my takeaways from the conference, next week.

Sunday Evening Reading

Hi All!

Did you have a wonderful Halloween?  Any trick-or-treaters show up at your doorstep?  Halloween was a cold and rainy one here, which takes a bit of fun out of trick-or-treating.  The next morning was bright and crisp.  We took a hop-on, hop-off tour of Dublin.  In the three years that we have lived here, we have never taken the tour.  It was fun to be a local tourist for the day.  While I prep for the week ahead, a few links for your enjoyment:

The cost of high-speed internet around the world.  Nice to see that Dublin wasn’t the most expensive, for a change!

We Need to Stop Saying “Babies Ruin Bodies”. I stumbled upon GOOD magazine when we were in the US this past summer. It is a great read.

I loved this interview of Debora Spar, President of Barnard College.

This pictorial of the Indo-European Linguistic Tree is beautiful and incredibly interesting.  For those that are curious, the Irish language is a part of “Gaelic” on this map.

Finally, food for thought: do unequal societies encourage “pushy parenting“?

Have a great weekend!

x Rheagan

Our experience with an au pair

One of the challenging things about becoming an expat is how often I have to eat my words, “I would never…”  When you’re  thrown into a situation you really never expected, no amount of planning can account for all differences in culture and environment.  Some examples in my life include:

I would never have a baby in another country.

I would never fly with an infant younger than a month.  What sort of parent does that?

I would never be the stay-at-home parent.  I have two masters degrees. NO thank you!

And the latest one to bite the dust:

I would never have an au pair live with us.  That’s just too awkward.

A few weeks ago, we had a chance to host a temporary au pair in our home for 12 days.  A friend of mine was looking for someone to take the au pair she had originally contracted with.  Her family was going out of town, and she didn’t need the au pair as expected.  We decided this was a great time to try out an au pair and see how it might work for our family.  Au Pairs aren’t really common in the US, but they are very common in Ireland. There are all sorts of au-pair arrangements: live-in, live-out, temporary, full-time…  One program for temporary au pairs is called Workaway, also known as a “Cultural Exchange Volunteer”.  In this arrangement, in exchange for room and board, you can contract with an individual to work in your home for 4-5 hours per day.  They could do housecleaning, cooking, child minding, or other forms of light manual labor.

I was really nervous about the whole idea, even though I am the one who volunteered to host her!  We spoke with her several times and exchanged numerous emails.  I know that constantly watching 3 young kids can be mentally and physically exhausting.  What if she didn’t like kids?  What if it was too stressful for her, or we didn’t have good communication? What if all she wanted was a free place to sleep while she did some sightseeing?  What if she stayed out late partying every night?  What if I met her and decided I didn’t trust her?

In reality, all my fears were overblown.  Jenny stayed with us for 12 days, and it was AMAZING.  We picked up Jenny from the train station, and from the start, she was outgoing, kind, fun, and responsible.  She had just turned 25, graduated from university, and completed an internship.  She decided to do a Workaway trip to practice her English, and see Ireland, before starting her full-time job back in Germany.  She played with the kids, helped out around the house, and was genuinely interested in how we came to living in Ireland.  She watched the kids for 4 hours a day, while I worked.  One day, she took the kids to a museum in town.  She even watched the kids on Saturday night so Brad and I could sneak away for a date, and then came to church with us the next morning.  The rest of the time, she did sightseeing in and around Dublin.  We gave her a train/bus card (Leap card), so she could get around on public transit.

I was nervous that it might be awkward having someone else living with us, but we have a spare bedroom, and it really worked out well.  Her English was great, and more importantly, she jumped right in to our family.  It was wonderful to have someone dependable at home.  One of my friends described having an au pair was like having a wife, in that there was always someone at home to watch the kids, move laundry, load the dishwasher, and all the other little things that can fall by the wayside, especially when life gets busy. We will definitely consider an au pair as a viable option for childcare in the future.   Do you think you would consider an au pair, if you had the opportunity?

 

Oh, the picture above was taken at one of our favourite coffee shops in Dublin, and Liesl is at that stage where she gives a fake grin in every picture…

Sunday Evening Reading – Bank Holiday edition

The time changed today for the EU, which means the sun will set at 5:00, and rise around 6:30am, for now.  Yesterday, we took advantage of the last late afternoon for awhile, and went for a walk at Phoenix Park.  The trees are changing, and piles of leaves were everywhere.  We have a three day weekend here, so while we enjoy a bit of downtime, here are some interesting links from around the web.

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? This article was written over a year ago, but for some reason, I just stumbled upon it this week.  It’s a long one, but well worth your time.  As someone with at least one foot in the STEM fields, the concerns raised about roadblocks to more women in science resonated with me.

Speaking of STEM, I am attending the Web Summit, Nov 4-6.  They just released their schedule of speakers. Are you going?  It’s my first tech conference, and I’m excited!

I love this site, Clementine Daily, for no reason in particular, and everything in general.

A bit of Halloween perspective from Dear Prudence.

And a twitter throwdown between Conan O’brien and Madeleine Albright. “Never get into a word war with a diplomat…”