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Expat Life

New Years Eve in Ireland

December 30, 2015

After over a decade living in Ireland I have concluded that my least faveorite holiday to celebrate here is NYE.  In my early twenties back home NYE was usually marked by a killer house party often in some rented house at the beach or in the mountains.

OK so I’m at the point of my life where NYE house parties would have to include a noise threshold to not wake the little people…maybe I can’t blame that on Ireland.

But I have to admit, after years of thinking it was overrated it turns out I miss the ‘ball drop’ back home.

I had high expectations for my first NYE in Cork. I found myself in an overcrowded (but favourite) pub ready for a new way to ring in the new year.  Somewhere in the vicinity of midnight free bubbly was passed around and then suddendly Auld Lang Syne was being played by the house band and it was 3 minutes past midnight!  No countdown! No timely toast or kiss, a whole lot of mass texting from everyone and NO BALL.

Fast forward ten years and a few kids later and I like NYE in Cork even less.  If there is little sense of occasion in Cork for adults on NYE there  seems to be far less for kids and families.

The lack of family friendly NYE events is a missed opportunity in my beloved city.

I’m used to day long First Night festivities back home pretty much all of which are geared towards families.  Now it seems if we want any sense of family festival you need to head to Dublin.

So we decided to take matters into our own hands.  Through the help of Pinterest I came across the idea for Countdown Bags  from Amy at The Idea Room…and our NYE tradition was born.

Now the Idea Room activities and craftiness were great but I was working pretty last minute and wanting to create a holiday atmosphere for a toddler.  So we created ‘Countdown Envelopes’ (with no crafting involved) and started at 2:00 so we could still make bed time at 7:00!

 

It doesn't get LESS craftier than blank envelopes!!

It doesn’t get LESS craftier than blank envelopes!!

 

The past few years our activities have changed and we have started to introduce times onto the envelopes but the kids love the anticipation of seeing what’s next in each envelope.  As they grow we can add all sorts of fun “Year in Review” & “New Years Resolution” activities.

Our only rule is mandatory participation in all activities for the whole family.   We’ve kept it simple with our activities:

  • Paint our nails
  • Play dress up
    Mandatory participation for the WHOLE family!

    Mandatory participation for the WHOLE family!

     

  • Dance Party
  • Bake brownies
  • Order take-a-way and go get it!                                                                                                       IMG_0498
  • Indoor picnic
  • Make a gingerbread house

    Know any good roofers?

    Know any good roofers?

  • Play a board game
  • Make a fort
  • Pillow fight
  • Movie Night                                                                                                                           IMG_0501
  • It’s Midnight somewhere!!  (We always end on this one which involves watching NYE celebrations on the news or YouTube, playing Auld Lang Syne and ‘midnight’ kisses before bed).

Our tradition travelled with us last year to the US when we celebrated with the cousins, and this year the kids are pitching in their own thoughts on what activities should be included.

We’ve managed to create a pretty killer family NYE party in our Irish country home!

 

Expat Life, Uncategorized

100,000 +

July 21, 2015

Today the American Consulate travelled to Cork.  Such a convenient service.  They come every so often  (I suppose when budgets permit).  To be honest we were waiting for their next trip down to Cork to register the Prince’s birth abroad.  We just didn’t have a trip to Dublin planned and I didn’t see the point of making a special trip up…although it would have given us an excuse to go to IKEA…

Although US citizenship transfers to a child at birth, the official paperwork (which can be used as a birth certificate) is Consular Registration of Birth Abroad. It’s also required to get passports and SS# and all that jazz. So anyway when the Dublin Embassy emailed to say they were coming to Cork I jumped at the chance.  There is plenty of paperwork to gather of course.  To register a birth abroad you have to prove your own citizenship as well as your physical presence in the US for at least 5 years.  I provided highschool and college transcripts which were accepted.   All in all it was actually pretty easy.

Out of curiosity as I was chatting to the consuls I asked how many American’s they reckon are in Ireland.  They said that at least 100,000 US citizens are registered with the Embassy in Ireland.  And since registering with the embassy is not compulsory there are likely to be MANY, MANY more.  I had no idea there were so many of us here!!  But it makes total sense given the strong cultural and familial links between the US & Ireland.  But on an island of 4million it’s a lot.

Incidentally, it’s worth registering with the embassy as an expat living in any country.  It will make things easier should you ever need consulate support.  The Dublin Embassy send emails about things that concern expats in Ireland & they let you know when the consulate is travelling around Ireland!!  You can also like the US Embassy Dublin on FB!

Expat Life, Living Abroad, mixed culture family

Bringing my Easter to Ireland

March 29, 2015

Easter has always been  one of my favourite holidays.  I have such memories of dying Easter eggs and searching for countless eggs.  Of eating chocolate for breakfast and watching the Disney Easter Parade.  I remember singing “in your Easter bonnet” around the house with a straw hat on my head.  As  a teenager I insisted we go through the traditions for far longer than was necessary.  Even in college I would break out the egg coloring kids and baskets.  I love Easter.

My first few Easters in Ireland were particularly hard for me. There was no egg dying, no Easter Bunny and certainly no baskets.  I knew damn well if I was going to stay here and make this work easter had to change. For years mom sent me Spring care packages filled with  Paaz kits and jelly beans.  I’ve filled luggage with plastic fillable Easter eggs and pastel colored grass.  I’ve shopped Michael’s and Target for the perfect baskets and brought them back as carry on luggage.
Easter became one of our first family holiday traditions here.  It was a holiday that seemed to be all our own…. I introduced my American traditions or  Egg colouring & baskets to the King and Princess B.  I filled the eggs for them to find & we ate chocolate for breakfast and Princess B loved searching for her basket almost as much as I did long ago.  We’ve held egg dying parties and made easter chocolates every year.   It was something truly unique to our reconstructed family here and I secretly love that all her Easter memories are here with us.
Although it is getting bigger here,  Easter still is pretty much a non-event in our little predominately Catholic country.  I still get crazy looks when I tell people how much I love Easter or suggest some Easter activity.
I don’t care.
This year my brother has kindly posted the Paaz.  I’ve managed to source some more fillable eggs from the Euro Shop….after all the Prince will be well able to hunt this year so we’re gonna need more eggs.
For the most part in Ireland Easter means two weeks of school holidays and giant store bought chocolate Easter eggs that get handed out to every child by practically every adult they know.  Sure the Easter Bunny is catching on, but it’s a bit too ad hoc to give Santa any cause for concern.
But for our house Easter means a weekend filled making memories together. Of Princess M leaving jam sandwiches and carrots out for the Easter Bunny…an Early morning wake-up call by two eager smallies ready for their chocolate breakfast.  We won’t have a parade but we will have a day together as family.
And we will as always be the American-Irish family we are.

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Living Abroad, Missing Home

An Irish Independence Day

July 4, 2014

The alarm went off at 6:00 am this morning…as it does everyday around here. For the first time in weeks it was overcast enough to have to turn the lights on in the house. For a moment I thought to myself;

“that’s it, that’s the end of our Irish summer, and to think it’s only the 4th of July.”

Wait today is the 4th of July?!?!

I mean of course I KNEW what day it was, but somehow it crept up on me this year. I was totally unprepared for it.

I went in to get the Prince out of bed and was tormented with pangs of homesickness and guilt all mixed into one.

Happy 4th of July to my little Irish-American Prince and Princesses & not one thread of red or blue clothing seemed to be clean.

Not one salad of blueberries & strawberries with fresh cream for breakfast.

Oh well, in Cork it was another Friday morning and the end of a very long week. There was a real sense of “let’s just get this week over with” to me.

By the time we made it to my in-laws to drop the kids off I had already forgotten what day it was…maybe that was some sort of self preservation thing. But they were there with open arms, hugs & kisses & offers of a cup of tea before I headed off. Sure how else would they mark the morning of the 4th?

At tea break, as I was tucking into a fresh made scone with jam and butter I almost hung my head in shame when asked what I was doing to celebrate today.

How did I let this happen? I usually take today off! I usually pull out all the USA books and puzzles we have for the kids! I usually have the BBQ (& umbrella) ready to go!

Not this year. What’s worse was when I came home I realized our dinner was actually Shepherd’s Pie. I’m not so sure you can get more un-American.

The kids were happy, the World Cup was on in the background & all I felt was for the first time in a really long time I felt like a foreigner here and it was all my own doing somehow.

And as much as Ireland is my home now. I will always be homesick for home. Especially on the 4th of July.

Expat Life, Love Ireland, Missing Home

TEN

June 30, 2014

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This October will be my 10th Irish birthday or as some expats in Ireland like to call it- my 10th Eire-versary. There will have to be some celebration to mark the occasion, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

It seems impossible that it will be a whole decade since I landed here with two suitcase and not even a rain coat.

I remember telling my mom they day I left I would be back in two years.
She simply said “You won’t.”
Moms are always right.

What started out as a two year stint to have Europe at my feet has become…..life.
An unexpected, far from perfect but joy filled life.

I have without a doubt lived more of my adult life in Ireland.
I have owned more cars in Ireland.
Lived in more houses.
Had more hospital admissions.
Had massive successes.
Experienced great saddness.

Ireland is home…..Syracuse is home.

Is it possible that as an adult I am more Irish while my inner child/teenager remains American at heart?
With every passing day I become more at home in my new country, but I still hold on to my native identity with all my strength.
I catch myself correcting my language…it is NOT ‘rubbish’ it is still ‘trash’ and some days I am making it a point to teach my dual passport holding children to be more AMERICAN. I wonder if it’s all in vain. Should I somehow learn to let go and just be?

Ten years is a LONG time.
I mean it’s a significant amount of time in my life thus far.
And yet I’m still not ready to leave (although I do reserve the right to change my mind).

As I reflect back on the past decade I can’t help but wonder what the next decade will bring. And in another ten years time will I still be lucky enough to have the dilemma of having two homes?

What have you been up to the past ten years?

Living Abroad, Love Ireland

Irish Healthcare

January 30, 2014
Irish Health Service Executive www.hes.ie

Irish Health Service Executive www.hes.ie

 

The King ended up in hospital not long ago….nothing too incredibly serious but still there was a sense of ‘here we go again.’

Technically we were private patients which didn’t mean much in our current situation.

For anyone thinking of moving to Ireland it’s important to know that there is in essence a two tier health system. For the most part healthcare is ‘free’ and paid for by the government. But keep in mind how hefty a healthcare bill it must be to pay for the wellbeing of 4 million people. Many (who can afford it) opt to buy private health insurance which depending on cover offers access to private hospitals or private beds in public hospitals.

As an American I can not bring myself to not have health insurance. This year we paid just under 2,800 euro for our private insurance. Of course to me this is reasonable considering where I come from. But the truth is Irish people are leaving the private healthcare system at the rate of about 5,000 per month because cosst continue to rise. Most employers do not contribute to private insurance…sure why would they when they pay taxes into the public health care system?

I wholeheartedly believe healthcare should be available to all, however, I don’t really think social healthcare works without a massive huge price tag.

Maybe the Swiss have it right but they pay considerable taxes & have a relatively small population (all of whom are socially expected to work and pay their share of taxes).

That said I had two babies with really good healthcare for absolutely free. I could have opted to pay additional to access private maternity care….after much consideration we opted to go the public route. This is a personal decision each couple makes.

In 2012, had I not had private health insurance I would have waited at least 6/9 months to have my gallbladder out.

Princess M is currently on a 2 yr waiting list for her potential fish allergy going the private route she will be seen in under 6 months.

There are many discrepancies between private and public health care in Ireland. Over the course of 10 years here I have availed of both. We are lucky that we can afford to supplement a strained public healthcare system with our private insurance.

Having seen hospital and doctors bills from the US and Ireland the discrepancy amazes me. In 2012 my private insurance paid around 6,000 euro all in for my gallbladder surgery….including anaesthetic and a 4 day hospital stay. When the summary for my mother’s recent week-long stay in a US hospital came it was nearly FIVE times that price…for no surgery and no anestetic. I still can’t fathom the difference.

I believe healthcare should certainly be affordable for all in every country. Not necessarily free but affordable and I guess I am thankful that relatively speaking it is affordable here in Ireland.

 

Expat Life

Why Everyone needs Expat Friends..

January 30, 2014

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wordsonimages.com

Obviously being an expat leads to endless opportunities and experiences that aren’t available to you in your native country. Personally for me the opportunity to meet and form relationships with people from all over is the best part of living an expat life. Upon reflecting on my expat relationships it struck me that everyone, expat or not, needs to have expat friends.

Expats have an open mind.
To leave your comfort zone and truly embrace things that are different requires an open mind. Expats often choose to live an expat life with a desire to understand others. We tend to be curious about other people/cultures. While we may at times disagree, a successful expat does so with an open mind and accepts differences.

Expats are dreamers.
Expats have had the audacity to dream big and take action. They put fear aside and took a leap. If you have a dream-no matter how crazy it may seem- tell an expat. An expat won’t shoot you down, they may just be the push you need.

Expats are optimistic.
Expats tend to see the good in their surroundings before the bad…it’s a survival tactic. If an expat lives in a perpetual state of negativity their new home feels like a prison and their expat life is at threat of an end. Sure we all have bad days, but expats can’t allow themselves to wallow for long. An expat learns to focus on the positives in their life to outweigh the negatives (like home sickness and missing family). If you are in a rut and feeling down, find an expat to help you get reacquainted with the beauty around you.

Expats are rarely idle.
Part of being an expat is living with the knowledge that the current life may come to an end. Expats know all too well that one place may not be home forever. With that in mind expats are keen to take in and see as much as possible in their current location. If you ever wanted to experience something unique about your own home town or area, an expat is great company and always up for a weekend trip or local adventure.

Expats never say goodbye.
Well maybe it’s the exact opposite. Expats are always saying goodbye. We move on, we see our other expat friends move on, but’0l living an expat life teaches you that friendship knows no boundaries. We really do keep in touch. A true expat friend will always stick beside you no matter where in the world they are; and they are excellent at long distance friendships.

Living Abroad, Love Ireland, Uncategorized

5 Reasons I love Christmas in Cork

December 28, 2013

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Galway Continental Christmas Market 2013

I didn’t think I would ever get into the Christmas spirit this year but the past week has surprised me.  It has been hard at times but to be honest it has been far better than I had anticipated.  I enjoyed it….and of course felt guilty about enjoying it for a while but I’m not going to reflect on that.

The truth is I have always loved Christmas in Cork. 

There are so many reasons why Christmas in Ireland but today here are 5 of my top reasons.

1.  Finishing Up

At some point in November at my 9-5 we all start talking about ‘finishing up.’  Everyone wants to know when everyone else is ‘finishing up’ for Christmas.  When you get into the second week of December the evenings leaving work are filled with someone in the office wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas & New Year as they skip out of the office for the holidays.  Even though I wasn’t even in work this time I loved getting texts from my colleagues telling me when they were ‘finishing up.’   As much as I was up to it I tried to meet friends for a drink or a coffee as they finished. We got out our 2014 calendar the other day and the King and I are already talking about when I hope to ‘finish up’ next year. 

2. December 8th

As any good practising Catholic knows the 8th of December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In Cork it is traditionally the day the people in the country travel to the city to do their Christmas shopping (after mass of course).  It is the official start to Christmas time in this house.  While we always decorate on December 1st, the 8th is when we start to crack open the ‘Christmas press’ where we have stashed all the goodies (i.e., chocolates, biscuits, mulled wine, etc) when visitors come to call.  And they will call all month long.

3. The Gift of Time

We buy very few gifts for people outside the family.  Aside from teachers and a few people who went above and beyond for us, or just needed a special gift this Christmas we just don’t exchange gifts with our friends.  We do however make it a point to be with and see as many people as possible over this festive time.  The days are busy with visitors, lunches, coffees, and evening drinks but it’s connecting with people we love that the business of life sometimes keeps us from that this time is about for us.

This is a huge change from my Christmases back home….I would often give gifts and sometimes spend very little time with my friends.  I imagine this is because Americans tend to have less time off and are busy with their families of course. 

4. The Holiday Parties

I know that most places have the obligatory work Christmas party both in Ireland and the US but to be honest I love it here.  Although I didn’t attend this year either the King or I had a holiday party every week from the 29th of November.  There are work parties,  I have team parties for the teams I am on at the 9-5 and then both our jobs have kid friendly family parties. 

5. Santa is an Event

In Ireland you have to start early to do your research and book your trip to Santa.  There are countless Santa experiences around Cork that are amazing.  Although costlier (anything from 20 euro per family or PER CHILD) they usually entail a half hour to hour long visit to a Santa wonderland of sorts which of course ends with a visit to the Mr and Mrs himself complete with a photo and gift!  It hands down beats the mall experience of Santa back home.   Although  while we were home in November  we did visit Santa at Destiny, USA with the cousins and I have to admit in the eyes of my 3 year old Princess the only thing that matters is the man himself!!!!!!

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I miss Christmas at home.  Christmas dinner just isn’t the same to me here and lets face it as someone who grew up with White Christmases each year it’s never the same without snow.  The King and I have also worked hard to combine our traditions.  There are plenty of home baked Christmas cookies in our Christmas press, and our gingerbread house is made.    But the fact is, its the 28th of December and it is still very much Christmas time here until at least the 2 January.

Living Abroad

The Grief of an Expat

December 23, 2013

I have taken the past few weeks off from blogging to somehow start to come to terms with the recent loss of both of my parents. And while I now recognize grief will be a life long process I understand I am only beginning to discover what this actually means.

I never anticipated that like most aspects of my life, being an expat has an impact on how I am grieving. In more ways than one.

The Irish Don’t Know Them
I am truly lucky that I have an amazing network of family and friends in Ireland that dropped everything to help us out and be there when we needed it most. But the reality is, few of my friends here ever met mom and dad, and even fewer had an opportunity to really get to know them. It’s sometimes hard having to give adequate background information when I want to share a story or memory. And although everyone is so willing to listen and support me, they simply don’t have a memory or story to share with me in return.

How will I ever repay my friends?
It was the love and support of friends I have known for a lifetime that got me through two funerals in two months. There are no words of gratitude and I simply can not help but feel guilty and wonder how I will ever repay it to them. Will I even be able to be there and hold their hand when they bury their own parents?

The Randomness of Life
I think I have a great relationship with my sister and brother but the truth is they are busy and have their own families. Everyday I shared with mom and dad the randomness of life and all the experiences of living abroad. The truth is I miss so much being able to share the random things…..i just don’t think my sister or brother will care as much as mom and dad how I just discovered they actually do sell corn syrup here, only that it’s called something different. There are just some things that only your best people really care about and I feel like I’ve lost my two best people.

Everything Reminds Me
I thought I would get off easy with the memories. Mom and Dad were only able to visit me in Ireland twice so I figured it would be easier because few physical things or places would remind me of them. The truth is everything reminds me of them. There really is no way to escape grief.

I don’t think being an expat makes grief easier or harder but I do think it is different.

While there is crushing saddnes in our lives right now there is the immense joy that can only come with a new baby in the family. There are days when my heart moves from feeling painfully broken to swelling with wonder and love in a matter of minutes. The fluctuation of emotions is if nothing else exhausting.

And while this week will be the first Christmas without mom and dad, it will also be the Prince’s first Christmas…and we’ll get through it.

Being Mommy, Living Abroad, mixed culture family

Lunch, Dinner, Supper, Tea…. It’s all really very confusing.

November 11, 2013
Irish Bangers and Mash

Irish Bangers and Mash (Photo credit: cobalt123)

This is what has been happening in my house lately…

The King goes off to work in the mornings and its hugs and kisses all around.

We say “Have a good day Daddy!”

and he says

“You too, I’ll see you at dinner.”

And it’s all smiles and happiness.  We usually have a quiet morning playing, baking (and yes sometimes t.v.) or whatever in the house because the Prince goes for a GREAT nap mid-morning.

All is happy and for the most part calm in our little corner of the world until around noontime when this happens:

Me: “Are you hungry Princess?”

Princess:  “Yes Mommy”

I then proceed to make a mostly nutritious lunch when all hell breaks loose and I get this:

“I’m not hungry!!!!”

“I don’t want that”

“Daddy, daddy, ….DAAAADDDDDYYYY!!!!!!!!!”

“Where’s DADDY?!?!? I WANT DADDY?!?!?”

And the battle begins and continues (albeit intermittently) for the next 4-5 hours depending on the day and when Daddy is due home.  Of course she does manage to eat…she has to refuel for battle right?

I am ashamed to admit that by 5:00 I sometimes find it hard to find any joy in my darling daughter who up until recently has brought me nothing but joy.  Ashamed, I look forward to the days she goes to pre-school and I am most certainly now looking forward to returning to work myself.

But most of all I feel like a failure.  What happened to all the fun we were having?

Since she has turned three she has becoming increasingly independent and strong-willed.  For the most part I can roll with it & keep reminding myself how much this will stand to her as a young woman some day.  But this lunch time crap is a whole new level.

However today, in a major “A-ha” moment,  I think I might have discovered the root of all this drama (and trauma to be honest!!).

In Ireland the main meal of the day is called dinner (like most places).  But the thing is, dinner can be very interchangeable.

For example, sometimes our Sunday dinner is at 2:00….most always it is when we are visiting the King’s family for dinner.  Sometimes we have it at 5 or even 6 if we have plans during the day.

Growing up the King most certainly came home to a ‘dinner’ after school everyday with an evening tea or light meal.  Come to think of it my Dad always talked about growing up similarly and had a light supper most evenings.

I grew up in a house where dinner was almost always at 5:30.  Dad worked and we had our dinner when he got home and we ate it all together.

Now, while I am on maternity leave, if the King finishes at 1:30 I almost always have a ‘dinner’ ready at 2:00 or 3:00 even during the week. That is if Princess B has no after school sports.  We usually then have a light tea or supper then at 6ish (I still struggle to call a light evening meal tea.  To me tea will always be a hot drink).  In our house we try to always have dinner together.

At pre-school Princess M has “small lunch” or what I would call snack at 10:30 and “dinner” at 12:30.  The pre-school dinner is indeed a well balanced, 4 food group, hot meal.  So yes, it’s dinner.  But even on those pre-school days she still comes home and we have dinner together as a family at 5ish.  We always call it dinner because the King and I have only eaten a lunch that day.

Today,  when she asked me at about 10 this morning what was for dinner I told her chicken because that is what I am making this evening.  When I put soup and a sandwich in front of her at noon.  She ‘lost the plot’ as the Irish say, and screamed she didn’t want lunch, where was dinner. WHERE WAS DADDY??!?!?!?!?!

And I finally got it…to Princess M, dinner means Daddy is home.  Because the only thing that is really consistent about dinner is we are usually eating it together.    And sometimes this dinner in the middle of the day.

Even though I was feeding her a lunch she liked. It wasn’t good enough because in her little world it should be dinner, right now so Daddy would be home.

And it is traumatic when your king isn’t there when you are expecting him to be.

So after an afternoon of frustrated tears and me trying to explain the whole three meals of a day thing,  things are calmer.  For today anyway she is ok knowing that dinner will be served at 5:00 and King Daddy will be here for it.  She was even ok to eventually have lunch with just her and Queen Mommy (and the Prince).

So now the King and I will have to regroup and decide on if we are going to change our semantics or what.

Just as I was thinking my kids wouldn’t grow up feeling like third culture kids since they are Irish and will be able to identify with the Irish culture,  perhaps having two parents of different cultures really will pose its own challenges for them…..