Advent at our house

Wow!  It’s almost a week until Christmas!  How did that happen?  The days have literally evaporated into thin air… Every year, I have all of these grand ideas on how we are going to celebrate Advent, what activities we’ll do, things we’ll make, etc etc etc.   And then reality catches up with me, and it’s Dec 17th.  So, a brief look back at what we did, or didn’t do, for Advent this year.

Things we did, or – let’s be honest here – attempted during Advent:

Jesse Tree Ornaments: I picked up this set of color-your-own Jesse Tree ornaments awhile back.  At the time, I thought, “Oh, the kids will LOVE this!  They love coloring!”  The idea is to color an ornament for each day of advent and hang it up on the tree. It was a total bust.  I think we did 5 or 6, and the rest got pulled out of the advent calendar by Patrick, and strewn across the house.  No one seemed sad to see this activity die.  Maybe when the kids are older, perhaps?

Advent Wreath:  This is actually a tradition that we have kept going! The kids love fire, basically, and the fact that we have fire ON THE TABLE makes everything so much more fun.  Of course, now we have obligatory arguments every evening about which child will get to blow out the candles after dinner.

Miniature Nativity ornaments:  I picked up this cute set of nativity ornaments at a kitchen shop called Stock, here in Dublin. Again, the idea with this is to hang one ornament up for each day of advent.  The only problem is that I keep our Advent calendar within the kids’ reach.  Patrick has loved taking the ornaments out of the calendar, rearranging them, giving them rides on his trucks, etc.  Not one has made it to the tree so far, but they have made an appearance at the Lego nativity.

Keeping Baby Jesus in the Advent Calendar until Christmas:  We have been successful at this idea…kinda.  Baby Jesus eventually makes his way back to the Advent calendar every night, but the kids are always pulling him out again.  In addition to the Nativity ornaments, we have a larger Holy Family Nativity set from Fontanini.  I would love to add to this set, but finding them here is hard. They are unbreakable and indestructible, so I really don’t mind that the kids play with them.  They are supposed to keep Baby Jesus in the Advent Calendar until Dec 25, when they can place him in the manger.  Of course, in our house, Mary and Joseph are moved around from day to day.   In fairness, Isaac and Liesl like to pretend that Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem.  Patrick just enjoys hiding them on the radiator.

Advent in our house
No Advent Calendar is safe at our house!

Advent-themed bedtime reading.  We have been reading the 24 Christmas Stories for Little Ones.  This is our second year to read this book, and the kids really enjoyed it. I like that it is one book (less stuff to keep up with) and has stories that appeal to a wide age group.

Things we don’t do during Advent:

Elf on the Shelf.  I’m terrible at things where I have to sneak around after the kids go to bed. I barely remember the tooth fairy!  I am not particularly creative, so coming up with creative things for Elfie or Twinkle to do would just add more stress. It is a cute idea, and I know tons of families that really enjoy it, but Elf on the Shelf would be a total disaster at our house.

Unwrap a Christmas Book each day.  Again – sounds fun, but I can just see myself running around looking for wrapping paper at 7:00 am, or just putting the book in a garbage sack with a bow on it.

Family activity Advent calendar I have seen a couple of ideas for this, and they look fun.  I actually think it would be great to do something one of these January or February, which are particularly dark, cold months here.  It would be nice to break up the monotony.

Irish Christmas Fun:

Santa Train
Santa Train!

Since we are staying in Dublin for Christmas this year, we have also added some Irish Christmas activities.

We have been to see Santa and the reindeer at Powerscourt EstateAvoca, an Anthropologie-like store here in Ireland has a great Santa, plus a small petting zoo where you can see reindeer and other animals.

Last weekend, we rode on the Santa Train from Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.  Carolers, mulled wine, Guinness, and Santa – all aboard a restored steam engine train!

This weekend, the kids are in a Nativity Play for a nursing home, which should promise to be filled with chaotic hilarity.  We may also venture down to see the Gingerbread House at the Four Seasons, the Christmas Market at St. Stephen’s Green, or the celebrations at Phoenix Park, depending on our interests.

So, there it is. Advent at our house.  It’s not Pinterest-worthy, but it is loads of fun.

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

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

What to do in Dublin with Kids

Planning a trip to Dublin in the future?  At first the city does not seem to be particularly kid-friendly, but there are plenty of fun activities for the young, and young at heart!

Natural History Museum: Free, near Merrion Square

Natural History Museum Moose

This museum is affectionately called the “dead zoo”.  It has a huge collection of taxidermy animals from all over the world.  Most of the animals are in the large gallery upstairs.  Just park your stroller in the entryway (with all the other strollers) and climb the stairs to the second floor.  It also has clean bathrooms and changing tables, and since the museum is free, there is nothing stopping you from going in just to use the bathroom.

Merrion Square:

One of the five Georgian Squares in Dublin.  Great place for a picnic. It has a brand new playground, the ‘Giant’s Garden’, based on Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Selfless Giant”.  There are also beautiful planters of flowers and plants from around Ireland all over the square.  The tulips in the late spring are AMAZING! On Sundays, there is an art show around the perimeter of the square.  On Thursdays during the summer, there is a lunchtime market.

National Archaeology Museum:  Free, on Kildare Street.

This is a great museum with lots of interesting stuff to look at.  My kids love this museum – there is a Viking boat, mummified remains of people found in bogs, and lots of interesting items from the prehistoric through medieval periods.

St. Stephen’s Green

St Stephen's Green

Another excellent example of the Dublin Georgian Squares.  It is in the centre of town, making it a convenient midday picnic stop.  The fabulous playground has spaces for little and big kids, and a weatherproof surface, so you can go there even if it recently rained.  There are ducks and swans to feed as well.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral is an amazing church to tour.  You have to pay for admission, but it’s free for kids. Among other things, you can learn about the Irish phrase to “chance your arm”. Fun Fact: The Catholic Cathedral in Dublin is called the St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral.  “Pro”, as in, provisional.  Apparently the Catholics are still hoping the Anglicans will return St. Patrick’s to them at some point!  There is a beautiful small park next to the church with a new playground, and on the weekends, there is almost always an ice cream vendor in the park.

For families with older kids and teenagers:

In addition to the above activities, these sights are great for older kids.

Book of Kells & Trinity College

Trinity College is definitely on the “must see” list for any Dublin trip.  The Book of Kells is a wonderful exhibit.  You can take the walking tour of Trinity College, which includes your admission to the book of Kells.  Kids are free.  (You can just buy your ticket to see the book, but I think the tour is worth the extra cost.) The tour is a bunch of walking, then standing and listening.  It’s a great tour – but little kids will tire of it quickly.  Older kids will love The Old Library at the end of the Book of Kells exhibit.  It looks like it was taken straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Even if you skip the tour and the Book of Kells, the campus is still open for you to walk around if you wish.

Grafton Street

Worth a stroll.  You can walk from the corner of Trinity College to St. Stephen’s Green on Grafton Street.  There are usually plenty of street performers and musicians.  There is also a mediocre McDonalds and Burger King, in case you have tired of pub grub.

Dublinia & Christchurch Cathedral

Dublinia is an interactive museum about Viking and Medieval Ireland.   Dublinia is lot of fun for kids, especially those ages 7-12.  I recommend buying the combo ticket for Dublinia and Christchurch Cathedral, which is attached via an enclosed bridge. (See photo above!)

Guinness Storehouse Tour

This is pricey, but a great tour of what makes Guinness the iconic beer (and brand) it is today. The tour includes admission to an enclosed, rooftop bar (serving Guinness and non-alcoholic beverages) with 360-degree views of Dublin.  A great stop for older kids or teenagers.  Adults can even learn how to pour their own pint at the tap.