Make your own Italian and Breakfast Sausage

A quick post this evening, due to a discussion I have been having with fellow expats about how to adapt US recipes to the available ingredients in Ireland.  Of of the most common food-related questions I hear is “where can I buy Italian sausage?”  or “Can I buy Jimmy Dean here?”

In Ireland, sausage usually refers to either blood sausage, or “white” sausage, both of which are served at breakfast.  There really isn’t a Jimmy Dean-style breakfast sausage equivalent available.  Italian sausage is also hard to find here. You can make your own sausage with a few basic ingredients, and no scary equipment.  I buy ground pork, or “pork mince” at my local butcher or Polish grocery store.  I find that the ground pork I get at the Polish grocer is the best. For both of these recipes, I try to make the sausage at least 24 hours before I need it, as the time gives the ingredients time to come together.

Below are two recipes I use to make my own sausage.

Italian Sausage

Yield: 3 1-pound portions

3 pounds (1.5 kg) ground pork
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder – if you can’t find onion powder, either omit, or add extra garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed.  I usually throw in about a teaspoon of whole fennel seed as well.
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix ingredients together, separate into three 1-pound (500g) portions.  Freeze until needed.

Adapted from this recipe.

American-style breakfast sausage

Yield: 1-pound breakfast sausage

400-500g ground pork
1.5 tablespoons of sage
1 tablespoon of dried marjoram
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2-3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Mix ingredients together. Once combined, I roll this sausage into 3″ logs, and freeze. When I want sausage patties, I let it thaw slightly and then slice, and cook.

Both recipes are really flexible.  I add additional spices, or omit spices, depending on what is in my cabinet at the time!

Live and Let Live

By now, I’m sure you have seen this video from Similac, about the parenting/mommy “wars”.   It was moving and funny, but for me, left a bad aftertaste.  I both loved and hated how it played into the typical parental stereotypes – the “yoga-loving, earth mother”, “career mom”, “stay-at-home dad”, “cloth-diaper environmental fanatic”, “natural birth zealot”, and “breastpolice”.  The hyperbolic stereotypes definitely added to the humor – “drug-free pool birth, dolphin-assisted”, anyone?

The video also struck me as so…American.  My reaction doesn’t stem from a judgmental, everyone-should-live-like-Europeans way, but just how in American culture, we tend to reduce issues to black/white, liberal/conservative, wrong/right.  We draw lines in the sand and take sides.  The implication is that you can’t be the nursing mom who also supplements with formula, that you can’t love your career and love your child, or that generally, by making one choice, you are rendered incapable of seeing how someone else might make a different choice.

Somehow, it is a bit more nuanced over here.  They tend to see things in shades of gray, rather than black and white.  You want to breastfeed, that’s fine.  You want to bottle feed?  Also fine. Ireland has one of the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the EU, but I was never made to feel out of place or uncomfortable.  Co-sleeping? Definitely not the norm, but not criticized either.  The working vs stay-at-home debate is circumvented by generous maternity leave policies.  My Irish friends see the mommy wars as so over the top.  “Why would anyone want to fight about that?  Why would anyone care?” they ask.  I can’t recall any heated conversations I have had about parenting choices with my Irish friends. None.  Sure, my friends knew about my choices, and I know about theirs, but it just isn’t topic of debate.  (Now schooling choices…that’s a whole other ball of wax!)

Cynics might call this “Moral Relativism” – basically whatever is right for you is fine, and whatever is right for me is fine.  Even this is phrase is over the top, as it implies a moral choice.  That somehow, one option is morally superior to another.

I would call it:

Live and Let Live


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.

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!

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…

School lunches in Ireland

A few weeks back, I wrote about school in Ireland and alluded to the differences in the lunch system between here and the US.  The few months leading up to Isaac starting school, I envisioned that Isaac would eat lunch in the cafeteria, just like I did in the US.  In fact, when I went to register him for school, it didn’t even occur to me to ask about lunches.  Of course he would either bring his lunch or eat at school – in the cafeteria!  Except…not.  Here in Ireland, most schools do not have a cafeteria, (also known as a canteen).  Instead, all students bring their lunch and eat in the classroom, at their desks. They can have a small portion of their lunch during their first break, and the rest during their lunch break.

The lunch must not need refrigeration, and there is no access to a microwave or kettle to heat up food.  Moreover, there are specific requirements for what can and cannot be included in the lunch.  Items not allowed include:

[checklist icon=”fa-times” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Nuts of any type, including peanut butter[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Sweets, including candy, cookies/biscuits, sweet buns, cakes, and chocolate[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Chips or crisps – this includes any similar “foil wrapped products like popcorn or pretzels[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]No fizzy (carbonated) drinks, including fruit-based drinks[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Juice is discouraged[/li_item]

What is most interesting to me is that this policy is enforced every day. All year.  As frustrating as it is that we don’t have another option except to pack a lunch for Isaac, I really do like that the school reinforces the eating habits we have established at home.  Easy on the sweets and junk food.  No carbonated drinks. Focus on whole foods.  It also begs the question – what exactly do you pack in your child’s lunch besides ham and cheese, that fits within these guidelines?  For someone who ate peanut butter and jam growing up, this is very challenging! After trial and error – here is what we have come up with for Isaac’s lunch:

[checklist icon=”fa-cutlery” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”small” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Ham and cheese[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Cream cheese and jam[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Egg salad or egg mayo[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Shredded carrot, shredded cheddar, and cream cheese sandwich[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Quesadillas[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Hamburger, turkey burger, or lentil burger (leftovers)[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Pitas, hummus and tzatziki[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Leftover fried rice[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Leftover frittata[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Mini Quiches[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]And Isaac’s favorite – Runzas, a stuffed pastry with ground beef and cabbage. Definitely related to Brad for this one![/li_item]

I usually include some chopped veggies such as carrot sticks, bell pepper sticks, cucumber or celery, along with fruit or yogurt.  He also takes a water bottle.  Obviously not every school has this policy.  I know of several schools that provide hot lunches, and schools in economically disadvantaged areas have also started breakfast clubs to ensure students have the opportunity to eat breakfast.  In general, parents do not come to school and eat lunch with their child, or bring fast food to share with their child.  The school day is much shorter anyway, so if I want to take Isaac to McDonald’s, I can do that after I collect him at 1:30.

School lunches in Ireland – yet another thing that I didn’t expect to be different, but we have grown to like it anyway.

School in Ireland

We are now into the second week of the school term, and I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss school here in Ireland.

This is our second year in the formal school system.  The school year runs from the first of September to the end of June, with a two-month summer break.  Schools have a mid-term break around Halloween, two weeks at Christmas, a mid-term break in February, and a two week break surrounding Easter.  Isaac is in Sr. Infants which is similar to first grade in the US. The first year of school is called Jr Infants.  Isaac has the same teacher for both junior and senior infants, and will have the same set of classmates throughout primary school.

Public or Private?

Isaac attends a public, or National School, near our home.  There are also private, or “fee-paying” schools in Ireland.  However, we don’t have any private schools near us, so we opted to start in the National School system, with the thought that if we needed to make a change, we could do that later.  We have been very happy with Isaac’s school.  His teacher is wonderful, and being in the local school has afforded us the opportunity to make friends with other families in the area.  Because there are so many multinational companies in our area, Isaac’s class is very international.  There are children from France, the Philippines, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, in addition to his Irish classmates.  Isaac is the only American in his class though.

Isaac’s school is a Catholic school.  There are public schools in Ireland affiliated with the Catholic church, the Church of Ireland (Anglican), Christian Ethos/Non-Denominational, and schools unaffiliated with any religious belief.   The students in Isaac’s class are primarily Catholic, but the school has a policy of admitting at least 30% non-Catholics, which is more reflective of the area.

Uniform, or not?
Clearly he loves having his picture taken!
Clearly he loves having his picture taken!

Nearly every school in Ireland, public or private, requires a uniform.  Isaac is required to wear his crested tracksuit (sweatpants and sweatshirt with embroidered logo), plus the accompanying polo to school every day.  Beginning next year, he will only be allowed to wear his tracksuit on PE days.  The rest of the time, he will wear navy dress pants, white button-down shirt, tie and navy sweater with school crest (“jumper”). Girls can wear pants, or a skirt or pinafore (what the US would call a jumper), with white blouse/button down shirt, and sweater. Nearly all girls I see are wearing the skirt or pinafore. Although the shoes of kids in the younger grades vary widely, in the older grades, everyone is wearing black or navy dress shoes.  If you go into the shoe stores here during the “back to school” sales, you see nothing but black, blue and brown dress shoes.

When students begin secondary school, the uniform becomes more formal, with boys required to wear a jacket and tie some days, and virtually all girls in skirts.

Typical School Day

The school day for the first two years is 8:50 – 1:30, with before and aftercare available onsite. The times vary slightly from school to school.  After Jr and Sr Infants, the school day extends to 2:30 pm.  As someone who is accustomed to the longer US school day, I was skeptical at first.  The fact that they can get all the instruction in 4.5 hours is really impressive. Isaac’s classroom is intentionally “low-tech”. Although they have computers and iPads at their disposal, the teachers prefer a much more hands-on approach. I prefer the Montessori or Waldorf teaching philosophies, so the low-tech approach is just fine with me.  Other parents chafe at it, so it’s all in personal preference.

During the day, students have two recesses: a 10-minute “walk and talk” break, and a longer 20-30 minute break after lunch. There is no playground at the school, which seems to be the norm here.  The children play soccer, or other yard games.  Most Irish schools do not have a cafeteria, or canteen. Rather, children bring their lunch every day, and eat lunch in the classroom. (I’ll write a post later about school lunches, and the interesting dynamics around that.)


During the day, they cover all the topics you would expect: reading, mathematics (which they call “maths” here), writing, science, religion, social studies/history, music.  I love the focus on penmanship.  Isaac will start learning cursive this year.  His teacher also focuses on writing skills – she has the children writing and illustrating stories.  The parents are required to purchase the schoolbooks each year for their child.  In addition to the school books, Isaac’s school collects an “Art and Supply” fee from each child.  This fee covers all of his school supplies for the year. I love this setup, because as the parent, I do not have to go to 6 different stores looking for items off the school supply list.

Introduction to Cursive!
Introduction to Cursive!

Children in Ireland also learn the Irish language as a part of the curriculum.  In fact, if you live in Ireland you have the option of having your child(ren) educated entirely in Irish, at a Gaelscoil. As Brad and I do not know any Irish, and it is not spoken outside of Ireland, we chose not to send our kids to an Gaelscoil.  (It was also a bit out of the way from where we live.)  However, all of Isaac’s non-academic instruction, “Stand up”, “Take your seats”, “Line up at the door”, etc is conducted in Irish.  As a result, Isaac speaks a lot more Irish than we do!

*As a general note, this post just serves to share our experience, which has been very positive.  Just as in every country around the world, if you were to ask 5 different families, you would get 5 different experiences in school system. Some schools are longer, shorter, richer, poorer, single-sex, co-ed, and the list goes on.  As in life, there is no ‘average’ experience.  What other questions do you have?

x Rheagan

Coffee or Tea?

Monday Mocha
Sometimes Mondays just call for a mocha

Do you consider yourself a coffee or tea person?  I like both…a lot, but what is really interesting to me is how my tea and coffee drinking habits changed once I moved to Ireland.  Coffee in Ireland is really hit-or-miss.  For years, it was simply an afterthought compared to tea. It is not uncommon for me to visit one of my Irish friends’ homes, and be offered instant (!) coffee.  Many people don’t even have a coffee maker.  For espresso, Starbucks serves reasonably good coffee, but it isn’t a daily ritual like it is in the US.  The Starbucks near my house opens at 8:00 am.  There are great independent places for coffee in Dublin – KC Peaches, 3FE, Coffee Kiosk, Brother Hubbard, just to name a few.  As a sign of the changing attitudes towards coffee, the World Barista Championships will be held in Dublin in 2016.

Now tea…tea is a completely different experience.  Tea is served hot any time of year, and is a daily ritual for the Irish.  Most people take milk with their tea, and maybe sugar.   There are two main brands of Irish tea: Barry’s and Lyons.  These two brands account for the majority of the market share.  The Barry’s vs Lyons debate is similar to the Coke vs Pepsi, or Coke vs Dr. Pepper in the US.  Either you’re a Barry’s fan, or a Lyons fan, and never the two shall meet.  I drink Barry’s tea, but really only because a neighbor of mine brought me a box of Barry’s Tea the first day we moved into our house.  (Thanks Joanne!)  And what can I say, brand allegiances are strong, and I have bought Barry’s ever since.


My typical 'cuppa': a bit of milk, no sugar
My typical ‘cuppa’: a bit of milk, no sugar

There are places where you can go for “Afternoon Tea” or “High Tea” where it is served with scones and jam, tea sandwiches, and perhaps a small dessert.  It is a wonderful experience, and I recommend it to visitors all the time.  (Future blog post, perhaps?)  However, most regular Irish people just have tea as a part of their day.  They have it with breakfast, as their morning or afternoon break, or with friends.  The longer I live in Dublin, the more I gravitate towards, tea, especially when the weather is bad.  The climate in Dublin is perfect for tea, and there’s nothing quite like a “cuppa” to keep the dull, damp, and dreary weather at bay – even if just for a moment.

x Rheagan