Friends Abroad

A friend of mine from college sent me the link to this article a few weeks ago.  Her mother is an expat (from Spain, to the US), and she mentioned that she saw a lot of her mother’s friendships in the article.  I read the entire thing, nodding…

There is this subtle understanding in the expat world that it is easier to make American friends outside America.

When we moved here, I worried about making friends.  Here we were, moving to a country we had been to ONCE, where we didn’t know a soul. Despite my Irish surname, I have no known family connections to Ireland.  Brad was hired specifically to IBM Ireland – so we didn’t even know any of his coworkers.  We had two very young kids, and I was pregnant with a (super) surprise baby.  We had no idea about the medical system here.  We didn’t know the least bit about living in Ireland, and just had to jump in with both feet.

As I jumped, a group of women – mainly expats – caught me. They recommended hospitals and doctors, pointed me to local grocery stores where I could get the American foods I was craving, explained the driver’s license process (it’s a long one), listened to my complaints and frustrations without judgement, and generally made me feel at home.  They shortened and lessened the learning curve.  Their knowledge empowered me.  If they could figure all of this out, then I could to.  If their families could survive and thrive in the expat environment, then my little family would find its footing as well.

My friends in Ireland are a diverse lot.  In some ways, I don’t think that I would have been friends with some of them if we had met in the US.  Back home, it is very easy for us to self-select a group of friends that are like-minded.  Friends that are the same age, or same stage in life, similar socio-economic background, with similar views on parenting, religion, politics, etc.  Here – all of that extraneous material is stripped away.  Much like trees in the wintertime.  My expat friends here are different ages, ethnicities, parents (or not), religious (or not), each with a diverse set of values. Most have lived in America at some point in their lives.  The main thing we have in common is that we are, or were, expats.  Most importantly, they are kind and trustworthy.  I loved this quote from the post:

“It’s not as if everyone gets naked and frolics in the hot tub of life abroad. Far from it. There are cliques and groups and people who don’t like each other with an intensity bordering on manic–in other words, it’s just like real life–the one outside the expat bubble. What is different is the closeness you feel to those you do like–and the speed at which that closeness develops.”

Wine and Cheese (Doodles)

It is so very true – I consider these women to be as close as some of my lifelong friends, even though we have only known each other for a short amount of time.  The kind of friend that doesn’t hesitate to be your emergency contact at your child’s school (no relative to put on that one!), sit with you at the hospital, or babysit your children when you’re in a bind.  They are my Irish extended family.  They join you for holiday celebrations, or help out at your child’s birthday party.  One of these women will move back to the US next month.  I wish her well, and I hope that she finds a group of friends there that are just as supportive as our group is here.


The Best Onion Dip Ever

Happy New Year’s Eve!  Are you celebrating tonight, or enjoying a quiet evening in?  Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a great time.

I wanted to share a recipe I found last week that makes the most amazing onion dip.  Here in Ireland, many of the standard American party foods are not available.  There are no Fritos, Velveeta, proper Lays potato chips, ranch dressing (gasp!), or french onion dip.  Now – the Irish have plenty of their own “snack foods”, but they just don’t cut it when I’m craving good ol’ American-style snacks.  We had a small get-together on Christmas Eve with some friends, and we wanted to serve some dishes that reminded us of home.  I ran across this recipe in a Holiday Entertaining magazine from last year, and had to try it.  The results were amazing – this is so much better than the stuff you can buy at the store.  Don’t be put off by the amount of time it takes.  Seriously.  While the onions roasted, I finished other things in the kitchen.  You could make this dip for your New Year’s Party tonight!

Caramelized Onion & Shallot Dip

Serves 16 – but let’s be honest, 2 people could pack it away with enough motivation!

2 lb large yellow onions, thinly sliced.  I used our mandoline, but you could also use a food processor.

2 large shallots, thinly sliced. About 6 oz/170g total. Our shallots are tiny – I think I used 6.

4 sprigs thyme

1/4C olive oil

Salt and Pepper

1 C dry white wine (I used stock/water in a pinch because I didn’t have any wine at that moment.)

2 T Sherry vinegar (I used balsamic.)

2 C sour cream

1/4C minced fresh chives

1/4C plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt

2 t onion powder

Preheat oven to 425F/220C.  Mix onions, shallots, thyme sprigs and oil in large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast onion mixture, stirring and scraping down sides of pan every 10 minutes until mixture starts to break down and turn golden brown, 45-55 minutes.

Discard thyme sprigs. Add wine and vinegar; stir to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan.  Return onion mixture to oven. Continue roasting, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown and completely caramelized, about 15 minutes longer.

Let onion mixture cool to room temperature.

Transfer onion mixture to work surface and mince. Transfer to medium bowl. Stir in sour cream, chives, yogurt, and onion powder.  Season with salt and pepper.

Dip can be made up to 3 days ahead.


Recipe can be found online here.

Friday…err…Sunday Finds

Hello everyone!

I hope you have had a lovely holiday week. It has been busy here, (and thus, quiet on the blog).  The days leading up to Christmas were quite full, but now we have settled into some nice, peaceful days.  St. Stephen’s Day (Dec 26) is also a holiday here in Ireland.  The weather was particularly bad, which actually made for a great day for playing with new toys, reading, and generally enjoying the family time.  I gathered some bits and bobs, as the Irish would say, from around the internet.  Happy Reading!

This Guinness commercial has been around for awhile.  Although it rarely snows here in Dublin (too close to the ocean), it’s fun to dream of the white stuff.

Beautiful photos of Ireland captured by the Irish Air Corps

I loved this (annotated!) video of the last episode of The Colbert Report.

This article made me think that perhaps all that Christmas decor isn’t ‘holly-jolly’ after all.

The day I got my first period.  Not exactly the type of story you expect to see in the Guardian.

What it’s like to be an expat during Christmas. Ha!

And finally, Tiny Prints has put together a great New Year’s Eve Party Game Planner.  It has great ideas on how to fill the hours leading up to the ball drop.  With this, all that is left is to send the invites!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas!  The picture above is from one of our favorite pubs, The Hole in the Wall.  They go all out with their Christmas decorations.

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?

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.


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

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…

10 Tips for Flying with Infants

Terrified of flying the not-so-friendly skies with your infant? Relax – and go for it!  I personally think that, of all the ages and stages I have experienced so far, traveling with infants is the easiest.  They don’t need any toys, they can’t talk back, you don’t have to bring a year’s supply of snacks… I have flown with my kids as young as three weeks old.  I think that the smaller they are, the easier it is.  Here are my tips for a less-stressful experience:

[checklist icon=”fa-plane” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Check your stroller with your luggage.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive, right?  But it is so much easier to not worry about the stroller until you get to your destination.  No trying to fold a stroller one handed while holding your baby.  No worrying about whether the “gate checked” stroller will actually make it off the gate and onto the plane. Instead, carry your child in an ergo/sling/bjorn or other carrier that you like.   I like the Ergo because it has a zippered pocket in front where I kept my wallet, phone, passports and boarding passes. This will keep your hands free. Since you are flying with an infant, your stroller and car seat should be free to check.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Carry all your diaper bag supplies in a backpack.  That cute diaper bag you love, the one with one strap?  Pack it in your luggage.  It is so much easier to have both hands free, rather than trying to keep your diaper bag on your shoulder.  This is the less fashionable option, but definitely the most workable.  You can always carry your diaper bag or purse  when you get to your destination.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Sit on the row with the airplane bassinet, if possible.  If you are flying on a wide-body aircraft, and flying “infant in arms”, you should call the airline and ask to be seated on the bassinet row, if is available.  The bassinet row is the bulkhead row – sometimes the first row of coach – where you can attach a bassinet. The bassinet is this baby bed that attaches to the wall of the bulkhead, and you can place your child in it, as long as you are at cruising altitude, and everything is going smoothly.  Bring a blanket to put in the bassinet.  It makes a great place to put the baby while you rummage through your bag, stretch your arms, or have a snack. Even if you don’t use the bassinet, the extra space in the bulkhead row is so helpful![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Wear slip-on shoes. At TSA checkpoints, you are basically on your own. They will help you put everything through the scanner, but they will not hold your baby while you take your shoes off, or anything else. If you have liquid baby items (diaper cream, etc), I usually keep them in their own plastic baggie. So I have one baggie for my stuff, and one baggie for infant stuff.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Nurse, feed, or offer a pacifier during take off and landing. This is a big one. To keep your child’s ears clear, you’ll want to feed him during take off and landing. If you’re not feeding him, definitely use a pacifier. The sucking that they do during feeding will keep their ears clear in the pressure changes. I try to hold off on feeding until we are taxiing to the runway. Bring a nursing cover if that makes you more comfortable, but it is 100% legal to nurse a baby uncovered on an airplane. I have hilarious stories of nursing on an airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Bring disposable changing pad covers. Changing tables on airplanes and in airports can be gross. I pack several of these large disposable changing pad covers. That way, you can just change your baby and wrap everything up in the changing table cover, and toss it into the trash. You can get them at BabiesRUs, Target, BuyBuy Baby, and other places. (I buy them in the US, and bring them back to Ireland!)[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Pack just enough diapers to get you there. It’s tempting to plan for the absolute worst and bring 30 diapers and a full package of wipes with you. I usually bring enough diapers for 24 hours (more for international trips), about 10-12, and a half-used pack of wipes. I buy more diapers and wipes at my final destination. Or better yet – have whomever you are staying with buy diapers and wipes ahead of time! It is the kind of job that people LOVE.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Check the identification requirements. Infants may not need a picture ID for domestic flights, but you may need to bring a copy of the birth certificate. If you are flying internationally, your child must have a passport.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Water and snacks – FOR YOU. Especially if you are nursing, you can get super thirsty and hungry. I always bring a snack like trail mix that has a good mix of carbs and proteins. Luna bars are also good and can take a beating in your carryon. Rather than try to fill up a water bottle after security, I just buy one.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Don’t worry if he starts crying. I know that is easier said than done, but take a few deep breaths and relax. Don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking. You don’t have to see them again anyway. I have traveled multiple times with infants, and not once has one of them cried the entire flight.[/li_item]

In my experience, the good far outweighs the bad when traveling with kids.  Traveling with kids takes work, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.  I’ll follow-up with posts about flying with older infants and toddlers, and flying with young kids.

Did I miss anything?  Any advice you disagree with?  What tips would you offer?

Friday Finds – Autumnal Equinox Edition

After a long and wonderful Indian summer, we have settled into fall here in Ireland.  The mornings are crisp, the temperatures cooler, and the nights are closing in fast.  The autumnal equinox was earlier this week, and we are losing over 4 minutes per day of daylight right now (30 minutes a week!)  We will continue to lose daylight until the winter solstice, but thankfully, the rate will slow down a bit.  While we savor what is left of of the fall weather, here are a few links for your weekend reading:


Jump into fall with this Butternut Squash dish.  We made it this week.  It’s perfect for cool days, but not too heavy.

We picked some more blackberries. (This is the last time…really…) We didn’t have any sugar, so I used this recipe to make a blackberry-pear crisp.

Expat Life:

I found a great expat blog, Taking Route, this week through a link from a friend of a friend. This post is particularly good.   Looking forward to seeing more from them!

How to Say Goodbye.  One of the things that most impresses me about my kids and this expat life, is how comfortable they are at saying goodbye.  Not that they don’t miss their friends and family in the US.  Not that they don’t get homesick.  They are just much better at living in the moment than adults are.

Other Randomness:

I don’t see much US television, but this video from John Oliver about the Miss America Pageant was hilarious.  Bonus!  He gives a plug for Society of Women Engineers, which could always use more scholarship donations.

At what point does “maintaining your brand” take over your life?  An honest look at blogging at the professional level from the New York Times.


Have a lovely weekend!  See you here on Monday!

x Rheagan