No Spend Lent

For the past several years, we have (as a family) given up meat for Lent.  Although this may seem daunting for some, we eat a vegetarian diet about 70-80% of the time, so going meat-free wasn’t that great of a ‘sacrifice’.  So this year, I wanted to do something else.  Something that was still challenging, but in a different way.  Thus the ‘No-Spend Lent’ idea was born.

Why a “No Spend” challenge?

  • We are a family of 5 living in 1400 square feet.  The less we bring into this house, the better.
  • Use what we have.  I literally have a chest freezer that is full of food that needs to be used. We have plenty of clothes/toys/home items.
  • Curb impulse spending.  I am a sucker for take-away coffee, a magazine here or there, drive-thru fast food.  These ‘little nothings’ add up, and I’m curious how much we can save by excluding those from our spending for a few weeks.
  • We have enough.  Truly.  We are healthy, happy, secure. Our pantry and hearts are full.

    I did some research about ‘No-Spend Weekends’ and read about people who went a year without buying anything. There are no “standard” rules for a No-Spend Challenge, so here are the ones we created:

    Allowed Spending

  • Budgeted items such as bills, food, transport costs (fuel, bus/train fare).
  • Preplanned expenses – Patrick’s birthday and passport renewal. (Yay expat expenses!)
  • Kids’ activities – dance and swimming renewals will fall during Lent
  • Work Engagements/Reimbursable expenses – I have several board meetings, Brad has a work trip.  Life doesn’t stop, so we will do our best to make accommodations.
  • Emergency items – hopefully none of these!

    Not Allowed

  • Dining out or takeaway, unless reimbursed
  • Decor for the house – even that fabulous rug I have been eyeing for our dining room!
  • Clothes
  • Random goodies
  • Take-away coffee – sob sob sob

    I hope that this challenge will be a way to refocus on what matters to us, rather than be consumed by the stuff around us.  We literally live in the land of plenty. From an environmental perspective, we are drowning in stuff. The benefits of having ‘less’ are well documented. The fewer toys our kids have, the more they entertain themselves. There is less to clean. We can spend our resources on things that are more important to us.

    In addition to this, I’m also giving up Twitter for Lent. I use Twitter to get my news and political junkie ‘fix’.  It has started to add so much stress to my life, as I feel powerless to affect what is happening in the US.  I find myself checking it all the time. So I’m stepping away from Twitter for these 40 days, deleting the app from my phone and tablet.  I’ll still be on Instagram, documenting the highs and lows of this challenge.

Brexit

As I sit here at my desk, a storm is passing through Dublin.  Rain lashes against the window, and the wind whips the trees back and forth.  Seems fitting, as a storm of huge political and economic consequences is engulfing the European Union this morning.  The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union.  The vote was 52% Leave, 48% Remain.  David Cameron has announced his intention to step down.  The British Pound has fallen to levels not seen since I was a child.  Needless to say, it’s been a challenging morning.

I went to bed last night honestly thinking that the “Remainers” would win.  The final polling and betting markets pointed towards the UK staying in the EU.  I was half awake this morning when Brad picked up his phone from the nightstand, and skimmed Twitter.  “They voted to leave”, he said – almost too calmly.  I shot straight up and I’m sure a string of profanity came flying out of my mouth.  I’m a huge fan of politics on both sides of the Atlantic, and I am truly shocked by this decision.

The Brexit has profound implications for Ireland.  The UK is our largest trading partner.  As the pound plummets, Ireland’s exports become more expensive to the UK.  Despite Ireland’s troubled past with the UK, they are probably our closest political ally.  Our futures and past are inextricably linked.  Enda Kenny (the Irish Taoiseach/Prime Minister) faces an uphill battle to both convince the EU not to punish the UK for leaving, and to also maintain Ireland’s economic footing.

I would be lying if I said that I was writing this without a sincere interest in what happens to the EU. Brad and I have invested 5 years of our time, money, and energy in Ireland. We are on the cusp of applying for Irish citizenship, and thus, EU citizenship. This additional passport will give us the right and opportunity to live and work anywhere in the EU. There are real costs to being an expat (financial and emotional), and up until this point, those costs were balanced by the opportunity and benefit of EU citizenship. Now the question – if the UK leaves, is the future of the entire EU ideal at stake? Will our EU citizenship be worthless? Or will the EU emerge stronger, leaving the UK to sort itself out as a small country in a big world?

I think a lot depends on the politics of the far right and populist movements within Europe. The Netherlands, France, and Austria have seen the rise of far-right parties clamoring for their own referendums.  Part of this is in response to the migrant and refugee crisis, and also on the lack of economic opportunity felt by its citizens.  If you look at the demographics and geography of the Leave vs Remain votes, you see the same patterns.  Low-income, marginalized communities voting to leave, while middle-to high-income earners voting to remain.  The educated, middle-class have the most to gain from increased connections with Europe, while those with lower levels of education and resources have the most to lose.  So it follows that people voted where their economic interest lie.  However, there is more to in than that.  There is the nasty underbelly of nationalism and xenophobia that came to the surface in the campaign.  There was the mailers sent out by the Leave campaign that equated refugees to criminals.  There were Boris Johnson’s appalling comments about the President of the United States.  And then there was the horrific murder of Jo Cox, an MP and member of the Remain campaign.

I am heartbroken that the politics of fear, anti-immigration, and racism won.  Even the killing of an innocent MP was not enough to sway voters. I am frustrated that David Cameron put his country’s future at stake to placate some members of his own party that didn’t particularly care for “those people” coming into the United Kingdom.  I ask myself, “Am I blindsided by this decision because I am a member of the ‘privileged few’?” (Even though I use that term with a bit of irony considering how I don’t feel privileged at all.)  As a friend of mine pointed out, “Do those of us who are educated, mobile, ‘privileged’ even, derive greater benefits from equality and financial interdependence?”

Absolutely.  How do we change that for the future?

The wave of populism engulfing both the UK and EU doesn’t end there.  Donald Trump has risen to popularity, and the presumptive Republican nomination, on this populist wave.   I think one of the reasons that this decision has rattled me so much, is that there are so many parallels between Brexit and the current political situation in the US.  I am not a supporter of Donald Trump, his campaign, or the ideas he claims to stand for.  But I do think that Brexit is a shot across the bow for the US Presidential campaigns.  That if we ignore the concerns of the nativist, marginalized voters, it will have serious ramifications on the US economy, politics, and country.  If we tell people who have lost the most from globalization, integration, and equality that things will get better, but provide no concrete examples, then we should not be surprised when they toss out the entire system in favor of something new.

My research into intergenerational poverty has taught me that moving people up the economic ladder is hard work.  It requires tough choices for both policy makers and the individuals themselves.  But right now, we offer sound bites while cutting budgets for job training and benefits for workers struggling to move up.  We give lip service to the idea that everyone can succeed when the reality says otherwise. The voters who voted to leave the EU are calling out those soundbites, “This system didn’t work for me.  Your reality is not my reality. We need dramatic change in our politics to get what we need.”

Going forward, how do we enact policies that will convince those left behind that we are truly stronger together?  How do we reach out across race, class, religious, and ethnic boundaries to ensure that a rising economic tide, borne by freer movement of goods, services and individuals, truly benefits everyone, and not just those of us who happened to be born in the right place at the right time?

I could continue writing for days, but I’ll wrap up. The sun has peaked out from behind the storm clouds.  It may be sunny for awhile, but I see more storms on the radar. A fitting analogy to the next few months, if there ever was one!

 

Image via New York Times.

Sold! What we learned along the way

When we began considering buying a home here, it was very much a foreign process to us.  Even though we read as much as possible about buying a home in Ireland, sought advice from others, I still felt like we were in a dance where we were never quite sure what the next step was.  Below are a few things we learned about the process along the way.

1.  A buyer’s agent?  What’s that?

Here in Ireland, when you decided to buy a home, it’s just you and the online real estate listings (Daft.ie, and myhome.ie).  You are responsible for finding the homes you are interested in, calling the agent, scheduling a viewing (if they don’t force you to come to an open house), negotiating with the seller’s agent, etc etc etc.  It is a HUGE amount of work.  To be fair, there are a few buyer’s agents, but they are not common at all.

2.  The 30-minute open house.

You got that right.  30 minutes.  None of this leisurely driving around on Sunday afternoons to look at open houses in neighborhoods you like.  You need a map, a list of houses, their opening times, and a PLAN.  I would spend Friday nights looking at the listing of open houses, and planning a driving route that maximized the number of houses we could see at a time.

3.  You don’t need a real estate agent, but you do need a solicitor (lawyer).

A solicitor is necessary to coordinate the title search, correspond with the seller’s solicitor and assure that the documents are correct.  They handle most of the correspondence with the seller and agent.  To some degree, they fill the role of the buyer’s agent, but they aren’t involved until you have agreed on a price with the seller.

4.  Making an offer = calling the estate agent and making a verbal offer.

No paperwork, no contracts to sign.  Instead, the negotiation is handled through the estate agent and the seller.  We didn’t sign anything until we put down our booking deposit (after agreeing on a final price).

5.  But….Nothing is final until the seller signs.

And the seller signs last.  This was probably the most nerve-wracking part.  After we and the seller agreed on a purchase price, the inspection (survey) and title search was completed, and we were happy with the documents, we put 10% of the purchase price down, and signed the documents.  (The remainder of our down payment was transferred at the end of the process.)  This legally committed us to buying the home (no backing out now!), BUT the seller can back out at any moment.  During the real estate boom, there was a practice of ‘gazumping’, where another buyer could come in at the very last moment, offer 20% more, and the seller could back out of the process with the original buyer and agreed-upon price.

6.  The closing date is just when you pick up the keys.

It is very anticlimactic. There is no meeting with both parties where everyone signs off on the documents.  After we signed the purchase documents, it was another 3 weeks before the seller signed.  And another 5 days or so before we were able to pick up the keys and sign the deed.

7.  The process will take at least twice as long as you think it will.

The main thing we learned, we should have already known:  No one is in a hurry here.  This was a very straightforward sale.  Our offer was not contingent on selling a property, we had financing in place, no one was living in the house, and the children of the owners were selling it to close out the estate.  There was literally nothing standing in our way, AND YET, the process took 10 weeks. I still have no idea why it took so long…

Of course, I am writing from personal experience, and I know that others may have different experiences despite going through the same process.  This post is not, and was never intended to be a “guide to buying a home in Ireland”.

 

Home

So this happened today.  We closed on and received the keys to our very own Irish home!  This has been such a long, arduous process and it is still hard for me to believe that the day is here.

It is a 4 bedroom, semi-detached (i.e. duplex) home on a corner lot near Phoenix Park.  It is closer to city centre than our current home, and we love the location.  Semi-detached homes are definitely the standard across Ireland and the UK.   Ours is very much the Irish version of a mid-modern home. It needs a bit of work, but after looking at both completely refurbished homes, and some that had not been modernized, we decided we wanted one that we could put our stamp on.  I’ll get better pictures tomorrow of its current state.  We are having new floors put in before we move, plus a new boiler. (Get excited!) We want to do an extension in the back at some point, but we want to live in it for awhile before making major structural changes.

The kids' first time in the house
Mustard coloured glass in the entryway. We’re rockin’ the 70s now!

Unlike in the US, people in Ireland traditionally only buy one home over their lifetime.  We bought our home from the children of the original owners.  I think the reason Irish people only buy one home is the process takes forever!  We started looking for homes in January, had our offer accepted on this one on May 8, and we just closed TODAY.  TEN WEEKS after the fact.  We didn’t share the news widely, as we were always worried something would happen and the deal would fall through.

But it didn’t, and here we are!  We have decided to stay in Ireland for the time being, and buying a home here really puts that decision into concrete terms. (Literally!)

Apparently, there is an Irish phrase, Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin, which translates “There is no fireplace like your own fireplace.”

 

Sunday Sips

A quiet park. (The very tiny pocket-park, St. Kevin’s Park, in a lovely area of Dublin called The Liberties.)

Are Sundays busy for you?  Or are they truly a day of rest?  Our Sundays are a mix of both.  We usually enjoy a quiet morning at home, read the newspaper, eat brunch as a family, and then walk over to Mass at noon.  Since our early married days, we have kept Sunday morning fairly ‘off limits’.  Of course, that changes as our family gets older, and the ‘stuff of life’ begins to creep in.  Friends, sports, groceries, etc. But I still enjoy our Sunday mornings.  Also, I watched a bit of the Tour de France today “an ghaeilge” (in Irish), on the Irish language channel, TG4 this morning!

For my Muslim, (and foodie) friends, on the last week of Ramadan. These recipes look amazing!

Dear People Who Live in Tiny Houses. Made me laugh out loud!

Expats will probably enjoy this – America explained to non-Americans.

Putting this on my to-do list. A driving tour of Ireland.

For an educated laugh, “How to Speak Foreign Policy“.

I want to see this.  (Thanks for the link, Jacob!)

In relation to my previous post about turnips (yes, my life is THAT exciting), I actually chopped them up and threw them in the pan with the chicken that I roasted today.  They weren’t terrible!  Now, I’m not sure I’d want to eat them all the time, but they weren’t bad.  Success!

Have a great week everyone,

x Rheagan

 

 

Sunday Sips

Friday seems to be a difficult time for me to get a post out, so I am going to switch things up a bit and post my weekend links on Sunday.  (Yes, in a perfect world, I would have the posts drafted, and scheduled for publication 3 days in advance, but we run a just-in-time inventory system here!)  This way, I have time to pull together the stories that I find interesting, and you have something to read over your coffee during brunch, or maybe mid-afternoon. It was such a heavy, yet exhilarating week, so here are some decidedly non-political articles for your enjoyment.

What experienced moms (should) do for new moms.

How to spend less on food this summer.

I thought this was a good article about having kids close together.

What do you think about bikinis for little girls? Look for a post on this from me this week.

7 Things you may not know about expat life.  Ireland…ouch! (Full disclosure: I actually participated in this survey.)

For stateside readers, the penultimate ranking of all 50 states.  (By Thrillist…so, you know…take it with a grain of salt.)

I snapped this picture at The Dean Hotel last week.  I thought it was just a lovely sentiment. Have a great day!

 x Rheagan

 

Somber Week in Ireland

It has been a very sad week here in Ireland.  Six students, five Irish and one Irish-American,  were killed in Berkeley as the balcony they were standing on collapsed. Another seven – all Irish – were seriously injured.  It is hard to fully convey the sense of grief and shock that Ireland is experiencing this week. Although the incident was front page news in the US yesterday, the coverage seemed somewhat detached.  After all, most of these students were just staying for the summer.  Ireland is a small nation – just 4.5 million people.  To put the scale of this tragedy into perspective, it would be as if 867 American students were injured or killed in one freak accident.  This is further compounded by the fact that Ireland is a very tight-knit society.  Everyone knows everyone, so many are related, and people’s roots go very, very deep.

The students were on a program called the J1 Visa Program.  Quite honestly, I had never heard of the program before moving to Ireland.  It is a program by which Irish students can work in the US for a short-term period. Going to America on your J1 is a rite of passage for many Irish college students.  Because Ireland is so small and expensive, students often live with their parents or other family members while attending university.  So venturing out on your own to America to work at a summer camp, wait tables at a restaurant, or another form of employment is something that nearly every young person here looks forward to.  Over 150,000 Irish individuals have participated in the program in the past 50 years.  Many of my Irish peers spent time in America on their J1, and encourage others to do the same.

As this tragedy unfolded, people looked around and thought:  That could have been me.  That could have been my sibling. My friend. My cousin. My child.

The sense of shared grief is palpable.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

(May their souls be on God’s right hand.)

 

Photo Credit:  Irish Independent

Weekend Links

Wow!  The weeks are really flying by now.  Schools here go through the end of June, so I always worry that June is going to last FOREVER, but it is going quickly this year.  Like in the US, so much is jammed into the last weeks of school.  This week, we have 2 birthday parties, dance recital, school sports day, and I’m sure at least one more thing will be thrown into the mix. Here’s hoping for calmer days ahead!

Speaking of summer, I loved this reading list for 7-9 year old boys (and girls).  Hopefully I can convince my son to read a few of these!

No doubt you have read about the comments made by Nobel Laureate scientist Tim Hunt. The responses by female scientists on twitter have been hysterical. #distractinglysexy

Men and maxipads.  Absolutely hilarious, and good social commentary as well.

And related to the above, Panties that could change the world.

Why I Love Peppa Pig.  A great post about what makes good children’s television, and why that matters.  For my US friends, Peppa Pig is a children’s show in the UK/Ireland, about Peppa and her family.  (Also, just stumbled upon Everyday30.com this week.  A great site, especially for UK moms/mums.)

Concrete advice about Raising a Powerful Girl.  Most of the time, I feel like raising boys is straightforward and that raising girls is fraught with challenges. (I’m sure I’ll feel the opposite at some point!)  I loved how these suggestions helped steer the conversation away from appearance, and towards self reliance and confidence.

Have a great weekend everyone!

xRheagan

Photo Credit

Things to Know About (my) Expat Kids

Ask any parent why they decided to move overseas, and “for my kids” usually ranks at or near the top of the list.  “A chance to expose our kids to different cultures and experiences” is one of the main reasons parents choose to take an expat assignment. It was definitely near the top of our list!  Raising third-culture kids (TCKs), i.e. children that spend at least a portion of their childhood outside their passport country, presents a unique set of challenges. In many ways, expat kids are just like any other group of kids.  But in some ways, they are very different from their peers back in their home country.  Like all of my posts, this one is written from mainly my personal experiences of parenting young kids in the expat environment.  Some expat parents will find different challenges…

1.  They are worldly, yet naive.  They can navigate public transit systems, different languages, cultures, and quickly become politically savvy. (My 7-year old has very pointed opinions about US transportation policy…)  They understand that their current home may be different than their passport country, but they may not be able to fully appreciate those differences.  Our kids are easily overwhelmed by the buy-buy-buy consumer-oriented culture in the US.  If I walk into Target, I love seeing all the choices and selection!  But my kids quickly shut down.  It is too much for them – almost sensory overload.  On the other hand, they are genuinely surprised to find out that their peers in the US may have NEVER left America, or flown on an A380! (The latter is particularly shocking to Isaac.) They cannot comprehend why American kids don’t travel internationally like they do.

2.  They can be great on long international flights, yet a two-hour car ride can seem like forever.  To make the trip from our home in Dublin to Amarillo, Texas – our hometown, takes 3 flights and appx 22 hours doorstep-to-doorstep.  (In the expat world – this is a comparatively short trip.) Generally, my kids are GREAT on the long-haul flights.  They know the security drill, how board the plane, put their headphones on, and settle in the long flight.  They may watch Doc McStuffins ad nauseum, but they are much better behaved than some of my adult seatmates.  At the same time, a two or three hour car ride with them can take FOREVER. “Are we there yet?  I need to go to the bathroom. Why can’t we watch a movie?” and on and on and on!  It is all in what you are used to.

3.  They are incredibly resilient, and their bonds with their siblings are very strong.  There’s nothing quite like uprooting your kids, and throwing them into a country where they know no one to encourage resiliency!  I won’t lie – the transition is really tough.  On the other hand, their bonds with their siblings strengthen during this period.  Isaac and Liesl are very close, and I attribute most of this closeness to the fact that for the first 6 months or so, the only playmate they had was each other.

4.  They can easily assimilate into different cultures – almost like chameleons.  Expat kids grow up shifting between cultures, as they travel home, to other countries, and back to their country of residence.  They may meet many kids in their school that are also expats, but from a different country entirely.  Once they get the hang of it, they can blend into most any group, and easily take on the characteristics of that group.  When we were in the US last summer, I thought everyone would find Isaac and Liesl’s Irish accents so cute.  Only one problem. Within 24 hours of us returning to the US, their accents were GONE.  I was shocked at how fast they were able to switch back to “American” English. They had both completely adjusted the tone of their voice – almost subconsciously.  The only thing that gave away their expat-ness was their vocabulary for different things, “car park” instead of parking lot, “lift” instead of elevator, “to mind” instead of “to watch”.  But even those linguistic differences quickly disappeared.

5.  They are scarily, eerily good at saying goodbye.  This is probably the strangest one to experience.  It is written about in expat parenting books, and although you can be prepared for it – seeing how quickly your kids can say goodbye to friends and family and move on with life is both rewarding and scary.  To my kids, they don’t seem to notice the physical distance between themselves and their cousins, or the time spent apart.  Partly because technology has made the world much smaller.  It’s hard to miss your cousins when you can Skype with them whenever you want.  When we are saying goodbye at the airport, I’m usually much more emotional.  Is it because I know how far the distance truly is?  Or is it because I wasn’t accustomed to saying goodbye as a child?  Seeing the detachment that expat kids can show makes you worry – will they ever have a sense of home?  Will they be able to put down roots as an adult?  At the same time, it makes you proud that they understand that saying goodbye quickly and often just comes with the territory.

What are your thoughts?  If you are the parent of an older TCK, are the challenges different?  What should I be looking out for?

P.S. If you are considering moving abroad with kids, or having a child while living overseas, I highly recommend reading Third Culture Kids. Some people give the book negative reviews saying the book itself is too negative, but I think that more information is always better than less. I also really liked that this book did not assume that every expat family was financially well-off.  It covers a variety of situations from corporate expats to military families to missionaries.

London!

A few weeks ago, we took a quick trip to London.  Can you believe that we have lived in Dublin for over three years, but hadn’t been to London yet?  My sister and mother were going to be in town, and my brother-in-law would be passing through London on his way back from the middle east, so we decided to take a long weekend all-together in London (minus Brad, who was in the US for a conference).  We flew out on Friday, and back on Monday, so we didn’t have a ton of time, but we certainly packed in the sights!  A few highlights:

Friday afternoon:

We took in Hyde Park.  I love urban parks in Europe.  Quiet, sophisticated, relaxed…there is just something about the parks in Europe that is missing from US parks.  We had lunch at the Lido Cafe near the Serpentine Lake, and then found a chicken coop, playground (shocker!), and then an adorable ice cream truck.  The weather was cool, but felt so much warmer than Dublin without the brisk wind off the Irish sea!

Saturday:

Did I mention that we forgot that it was a three-day weekend in London?  Ooops.  Luckily, the kids wake up at the crack of dawn (and the dawn cracks early this time of year…) We made it to the Natural History Museum before 10:00am.  We had to walk through what felt like miles and miles of empty queues, but the museum staff said they queues would be filled before noon.  We spent about 2 hours looking at their awesome dinosaur exhibit, and their life-size model of the blue whale.  There was so much more to that museum that we didn’t see – I’d love to go back.  As we left, I looked back towards the entrance, and sure enough, there were people queued to enter.

In the afternoon, we went back to Hyde Park to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.  If you are visiting London with kids, I can’t recommend this playground enough.  (And we have been to plenty of good playgrounds.)  It had an enormous pirate ship in the middle of an even bigger sand pit.  It also had play structures for older kids and little kids, plus picnic areas, a cafe, toilets and changing facilities.

Sunday:

We got a later start on Sunday, as we had brunch with Taylor and Evan, and then decided to take the bus from Marble Arch to Westminster. It was a regular London bus – I can’t remember the route number, but it was like a mini-tour of sights in London!  We saw Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square – where we saw one of the more memorable sights of our trip.  As we were making our way through the square, a group of men came running through the intersection clad in nothing but multicolored briefs. “Look!! Mom!! Those men are running in their UNDERWEAR!”  And to every person who has asked, “What did you see in London?”  my kids have answered, “Men running in their underwear!”

We saw the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben, but the crowds were absolutely HUGE.  So we quickly decamped to see the Tower Bridge, which the kids really enjoyed.  We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant – Perkin Reveller.  Great food, lovely design, and wonderful service – especially for the kids.  Near such a major landmark, and in the height of tourist season, I had decidedly low expectations, but it was a great stop.  Highly recommended!

Sunday Evening we rode the London Eye.  Naturally, it hadn’t rained all day…until about 30 minutes before we rode the Eye.  Sigh.  The views were still great, and the kids liked riding in the pod.  (Pro tip:  Paying for the “Fast Track” tickets is worth it.  Instead of waiting in a loooooong line, (in the rain!), we collected our tickets and waited about 15 minutes before boarding.)

So there you go – a very quick trip to London! We packed in a bunch of sights, some good family time, etc.  One thing I realized over the course of the weekend is that the kids are not ready for a “walking” city like Rome or Paris.  I had to haul the stroller up and down the stairs of the Underground, and as much as Patrick insisted (loudly!) that he could walk, he just isn’t ready for walking-sightseeing.  A few more years perhaps!