adventure!

* yes, there should be FIVE sets of boots but Allen ignored my advice to get adequate rain gear...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Motherhood and Jesus

I gave the devotional at my MOPS group this week.  A member asked me if I would post it so I am.  The theme for the year is "A Beautiful Mess" and the theme verse is Ephesians 2:10.

If you're interested in more information about MOPS, you can go here.  In short, it's a mother's group affiliated with churches but open to all.

The relationship between Christ and the Crucifixion is written about somewhat regularly but my line of thought was inspired by a paragraph I read 4-5 years ago.  It was another blogger commenting on yet another blogger and I have no idea where to find the original posting.  But, to that mother that wrote those many years ago, when I was staring at a c-section scar and wondering when I would ever "get my body back," thank you.

***

I gained insight into the power of the Holy Spirit in my early 20s.  I had stuck with a college I thoroughly disliked; worked a job I grew to hate; under a supervisor who clearly was in the wrong profession all due to some sort of internally driven, willful stubbornness that this was where I needed to be even if I didn’t much like it.  Through a series of decisions I likely really shouldn’t have made, I met my husband.

This sort of thing has happened often enough in my life that I have come to something of an understanding about the spiritual promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Whenever you find yourself on a path that seems to defy all reason but are quite sure it is the one you should be on, if you listen closely, you can hear the Holy Spirit hollering with a slight unholy glee, “Road Trip!”  The Holy Spirit is the best teacher you will encounter but the lesson plans are far from straightforward.

Pastor Chris came and spoke to our group a couple of years ago.  She touched on a number of topics but the thing that struck me was how my understanding of God had changed through my experiences of parenting.  I don’t think we can ever fully understand the decision and choices our parents made and I think God is, rightly, even more inscrutable, but, as I parent I begin to understand why you sometimes say “no,” even though you very much want to say “yes.”  I understand why sometimes, the process of keeping my children safe and healthy is in direct opposition to making them happy in that moment.  I have experienced allowing my children to feel pain even when I want nothing more than to protect them from it. I see times when the only answer is “because I have lived longer and have seen more and have more wisdom than you and because I said so.”  I do not know the mind of God but I do feel that I am closer to understanding his heart.

But, the question we are looking at today is how we can embrace our beautiful mess.  

I am looking at that even smaller question of what sort of growth does he offer in that moment that we take on the mantle of “mother?”  

If I grew closer to the Holy Spirit before motherhood, and closer to God the Father through the many acts of mothering, what did that point in which I physically became a mother, offer?

If anything is simultaneously beautiful and a huge mess, it would be having a baby.

For questions as complex as these, there are no simple answers but I once read a meditation on motherhood that seemed to contain at least a piece and now I shall share what I learned with you. 

I can only speak to my own experience and I know that some of you came to motherhood from a different path.  I most sincerely hope that you can find a bit of truth from my story to bring to yours.  

The author pointed out that sacred connection between childbirth and the Crucifixion.  Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed so that we could have a life transcendent past death.  He gave birth to our eternal life through pain, blood, and exhaustion.

My body was broken and my blood was shed so that my children could experience a mortal life.  When I look at my scars and my stretch marks and I consider all the things that don’t work quite as well and aren’t quite as lovely as they were before I had children, I consider the gift that they represent.  I was given the gift of offering life and for that I willing gave of my body and of my blood. 

While some mothers may not have had quite such a literal birth experience, I don’t think it could ever be debated that we have all been broken.  

We have all given far more than we thought we had to give.  

We have all had a moment where we looked to God and said “Seriously?  This is not what I signed on for.  I need an easier task.”

We have all had our time in the garden, in the darkest hours of the night, wondering if anything could possibly be worth this level of pain, deprivation, complete exhaustion and absolute isolation.  And then…

We heard that cry.  We looked at those little feet.  We counted tiny fingers and we felt that breath on our cheek and we knew that, yes, there was pain and yes, it was scary but also that yes, it was worth it and yes, we are happy we wound up on this very rocky but ever so sacred path.  

And, so, the next time you find yourself wishing that various bits worked a bit better or that various marks and scars were a bit fainter, remember that you became part of a symmetry so beautiful and so perfect, it must be divine.  

You are now in a unique position to tell and be told

“This is the body broken for you.  This is the blood, shed for you, that you might have life.”

This is the path offered long ago. 
 This is your story, written before you were even imagined.  
This is the sum of the choices you made and the choices that never seemed like choices at all.  
This is work of the Holy Spirit joined with the Father and with the Son.  

This is the broken that made us whole.
This is the bloodshed that offered us peace.

This is the love that brings forth life.


“We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

This is the body that was broken for you and this is the blood that was shed for you and 

YES, 
this is the work of Christ

 but

 it is also the work of mothers.

The work of Christ, who is so many things but one of them was taking the form of a mortal man, was akin to that which was ever before and ever after within the unique purview of women… 

of mothers

This is the body broken so we can do the good things.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ignorance, Eggs, and Guns Part 2

So when last we left, I had put out a call on facebook for someone to teach me about guns.  I knew I had at least a few friends who were gun users but I hadn't expected the strong response I received.  The thing that most struck me was that there are a hunk of people who are gun owners, who aren't extremists, who would just like you to learn about their interests.  There are a hunk of people who realize that if we stick with our current plan of relying on the most vocal and extreme to dictate the entire discussion about guns, we will wind up with policy that is, at best, *not* of the people- at least not of *most* of the people simply because *most* of the people have no idea what is being discussed.  *Most* of the people don't even have the basic vocabulary needed to enter the discussion.  Most interestingly, there was general interest among *non* gun owners.  I didn't get any of the flames or condemnation I expected but instead, support- or at least curiosity, from all sides.  But, that is for the next post. For this one, I thought I would touch on the more personal.

I have offers from 3 friends to come and learn.  So far, I've managed to visit with 1.  I handled 2 handguns, 2 rifles, and 1 shotgun.  I came away fairly certain that if I ever owned a gun, it would be a shotgun, which really wasn't what I was expecting.  I came to the conclusion that I felt a shotgun allowed for the absolute least moral ambiguity.  You probably could shoot a shotgun by accident (and I'm sure that if I googled, I could find just such an instance) but I suspect the circumstances would be extreme.  Shotguns are big and heavy.  I struggled to hold this one steady- I can't see a child lifting one up and waving it around with any sort of ease.  You can get manual shotguns fairly easily (rather than semi-automatic) which means you have to manually shift a shell into the chamber, every time.  This one, at least, wasn't especially easy to load.  The pieces were heavy and a little awkward.  The trigger is stiff and requires significant pressure to fire.  This is a gun that you can only fire with some deliberation- especially if you store it unloaded.

Shotguns also aren't really designed for covert use.  While I'm sure you could theoretically use them for covert offense, this one, at least, would not be my first choice.  We've all heard of shotgun weddings and I'm sure that they have been (and perhaps still are?) carried off to war.  But, my general impression of a shotgun is that they are generally a defensive weapon and a weapon of last resort, at that.

In short, if I were to use a shotgun against another person, it would be in a very upfront manner.  There would be solid visual and auditory warning before a shot was fired.  It is a weapon that is forthright.

Plus, it does have some multifunctional value.  We do get the very occasional bear and somewhat frequent foxes and coyotes.  If we do decide to raise chickens, I have heard that rubber bullets can come in handy in such cases.  And, it can, after all be used to actually hunt for food should a series of really odd events occur.

The thing is that the only time I have ever wished for a gun, I don't think it would have been of any use.

When Charlie was 4, Megan 2, and Noah less than a year, I had set the children up in the kitchen with their afternoon snack.  I went into the next room to retrieve a forgotten yogurt container and heard something odd.  When I returned to the room, Charlie asked who the funny man was on our deck.

This is when you get very clever, very quickly.

I asked Charlie if the man was wearing a hat and what it looked like and glanced at the (private, gravel) road to see if there was a work truck.  Every once in a while we'll get a meter reader or the like.

He wasn't a meter reader.

Penny (our dog) was napping and hadn't noticed anything amiss.

This is what you think when you realize a strange man is wandering around just outside your home...

Our home was not designed for defense.

Our house has 6 doors and 3 levels.  The children were sitting in the middle of a sliding glass door and I had been standing in front of a picture window.  4 of the doors have windows, including 1 slider and 1 mostly window door, with 2 window panels adjacent.  The safest location was the master bath simply because I could put 2 locked doors between them and an intruder but the locks are flimsy and the master bath far from childproof and small.  We were trapped if he found us.  To get to the master bath, we had to pass 3 large windows and go up a flight of stairs.  Megan was iffy on stairs, Noah had to be carried and neither could manage to be quiet for any length of time.  I couldn't carry a butcher knife, a squirming baby, and hold Megan's hand all at the same time and none of the doors in our house would hold up against a bullet.  It would take 5 minutes for the police to arrive.  I couldn't see the man.

That put the man at the other end of the house where he couldn't see the carport.  It was a sort of long walk around the backside of the house and once he was in the front of the house, the van would no longer be an option for escape but if we were in the van and he was at the front of the house it would relatively simple to run him down or run away.

The door to the carport is adjacent to the kitchen.  If the man was going to just pick us off, he would have done it by then.  The children had been framed, alone, in the sliding glass door for at least 30 seconds.

I was very willing to use my minivan as a deadly weapon.  It offered some protection to the children- metal probably being better than hollow core wood doors.  It offered an opportunity for escape.  I could transport all 3 children- none of whom would be able to really run and hide effectively on their own.

I told the children we were playing a game and they got into the van quietly and everyone was buckled by the time I counted to 20.

We drove to the police station.

The time from Charlie reporting the man to driving away was well under 5 minutes- probably 2-3. Still long enough for something awful to have happened but also about as efficient as could possibly be expected.

After investigating, we discovered that the man had been a person looking at buying the house behind us (we live on an acre).  He had done similar things on other house tours and seemed to have no impulse control nor understanding of personal property boundaries.  Happily, he didn't buy the house but he did get a visit from the police.

The thing is that at no point in that scenario would a shotgun have made a material difference.  It's unlikely we would have kept a gun in the kitchen.  I likely would have had to go to a different room to get the gun- needing to hide the children in the process.  We could have hidden in the bathroom, my initial thought, but we still had the stairs and 3 windows to navigate.  I could have defended the bathroom but children that young couldn't be expected to remain quiet enough for it be a hiding spot- it simply would have been a fort.  I still had the problem of where to physically *put* the children while I was holding the shotgun.  Noah was just mobile enough to get himself into trouble in a place like a bathroom with razors and such and Megan was 2, not an age of the best judgement around such items *or* her baby brother and highly mobile.  Plus, there was still the possibility that I would shoot, the suspected robber would shoot and the children would witness their mother and a strange man bleeding out on the floor and be unsupervised in a home with a loaded gun sitting out until the police discovered them.

Granted, there are scenarios that would have put us at a slightly higher vulnerability but it was pretty high up there in worst case situations.  I was a mother, alone, with 3 very young children- none old enough be anything other than a liability.  There was an attacker invading from an unknown direction using an unknown level of force and no hope of immediate assistance.  The only source of intelligence was a somewhat reliable 4 year old.  Would a shotgun have been useful if there had been 2 adults or even just an 8 year old floating around?  Yes.  Would a shotgun have been a practical response if the same thing happened today with children 7, 5, and 3?  Yes.  But, the fact is that at the time I would have been mostly likely to expect to use one, it wouldn't have made a material difference in my response.  So, it makes me wonder if what I expect to be true and helpful in other crises is really what would be useful.  While I am more confident that I *would* be completely willing to injure or kill or behalf of my children, via gun or other weapon, I am left wondering at the logistical realities.  While we generally assume that you would hear the clink of broken glass, the alarmed barking of the dog, and creep towards an attacker in the dark of night, from your bedroom, is that what is really likely to happen?  If anything, it made me *less* likely to want to own a gun which is really *not* what I would have expected, presented with this as a hypothetical.  While I understand that guns can and have been used for home defense I have to wonder if it's really an option for *me* which is the only factor that really matters.  Perhaps a panic room is a more practical option for mothers with babes in arms?  At any rate, it's a tabled discussion for now but not one I would have had before last month.

Next up, learning the lingo... All the stuff I thought I could define but couldn't.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ignorance, Eggs, and Guns Part I

The Sandy Hook shootings occurred while we were in Ireland.  I was never quite so grateful to be abroad as I was then.  My husband is a professor at Virginia Tech.  I distinctly remember the feelings I had the first day he went back to the office after the incident on April 16.  Charlie and Megan were in preschool the day a police officer at a routine traffic stop on campus was shot and the gunman ran.  That was the second day I spent an afternoon staying away from the windows, praying, and checking my twitter feed; Allen was out of town.  I was so grateful when I took the children to their little Irish school, knowing that the gun violence rate in Ireland is in the low double digits... for the whole country.  On our walk to school, I thought about those parents who lost their children but I also breathed normally and dropped my children off feeling confident that they were safe from serious harm.

Then came the weekend and we rode the LUAS.   That's when I always remembered that while Ireland doesn't tend to have much gun violence now, it wasn't always the case.  The security force wear bullet proof vests, carry semi-automatic rifles (or perhaps automatic- I never asked), and look rather like you would expect security to look in a country where terrorist bombings aren't all that far in the past.

While we were in Ireland I heard about the little boy who shot a playmate as well as rumbles about the latest NRA convention, mixed feelings about the lock-down of Boston, and all manner of discussion about the need for expanding or relaxing gun control.

I spent a lot of time walking from place to place in Ireland and that meant I also spent a lot of time thinking.  And, during my walking, I realized just how very little I knew about guns.


  • I had no idea what to tell my children to do if they saw another child pick up a gun.
  • I knew to call 911 if my children found a gun but no idea what to do if we were somewhere out of reach of the cell phone towers.  I didn't even know how to safely pick one up.
  • I had no idea how to identify a gun beyond big or little; no idea if I was looking at a rifle, shotgun or pistol.
  • I had no vocabulary to even join in the conversation about what guns made sense for civilians to own and which didn't.


As I pointed out to a Swiss friend (which does quite well in the militia department), if the goal of allowing for private gun ownership is the ability to raise a well-armed and trained militia, the US is really falling down on the job.  The thing is that I had been raised with a mentality that guns were across the board bad.  There was no viable reason to own a gun.  I had the vague impression that if you touched any part of a gun it would randomly fire and kill a) a small child b) your best friend or c) your childhood pet

When it came to any element of gun ownership, I was pretty much flying blind, the victim of my own willful ignorance.  The US population seems to fall into a couple of general categories when it comes to guns.  The first group, that I was in, would pretty much like guns to just go away.  The ideal move would be to just take out the 2nd amendment- sort of like we did with slavery.  Barring that possibility, (and it's slightly terrifying implications) the first group would like to make it really hard to acquire bullets or maybe just make it hard to actually get to your gun doing some sort of complicated regulatory system involving firing ranges storing your gun.  The second category is the "take this gun out my cold, dead, hands" group that also sees any restriction in gun ownership as a decisive step down a slippery slope that ends up somewhere between The Hunger Games and North Korea.  There are a few groups with somewhat more nuanced opinions but they are, at the least, not loud enough in the political arena.

The thing is, in Ireland, where strenuous attempts have been made to limit gun violence, you still have heavily armed and armoured guards wandering around the public transit systems.  When I was teaching in rural upstate New York and even when I was living in suburban Maryland, there were families that relied on wild game to complete their basic dietary needs.  Now, in rural Virginia, I know that there are people who have to defend their hen houses from coyotes, foxes, and even the occasional bear.  We have completely decimated the predators that kept the forest ecosystems in balance and there are deer pathetically foraging amongst my hydrangeas.  A friend doing doctoral research on parasites, had to kill periodically to get vitally needed data and the most humane method, as determined by the Forestry service and Fish and Game, was a quick and decisive shot to the head.  I don't think pretending guns will go away is really a viable nor responsible method of dealing with the issue.  Further, coming to the table with many opinions but little knowledge, tends to make for fiery but unproductive conversation.

I came to the conclusion that if I learned cpr, boating safety, water safety, and air crash survival tips, in the unlikely event that I would ever need any of those parenting skills, it made just as much sense to learn some basic gun safety.  As a citizen of a country where we are actively debating gun ownership, I needed to develop some basic gun literacy.  I wanted to be able to touch a gun without hyperventilating; identify it in a basic way; be able to tell if it was loaded; and how to safely pick on up.  My focus was 2-fold.  First, I wanted to be able to respond intelligently in the highly unlikely event that I or my children came across a gun.  Second, I wanted to be able to have an informed conversation about responsible gun ownership.

I needed to find an instructor.  The NRA hunting classes are for people who actually want to shoot a gun, or, at the very least, aren't petrified of them.  I needed a class for people who really didn't like guns, didn't really want to fire one, and didn't have a goal of getting a carry licence but do want to be informed citizens and responsible parents.  So, I did what every sensible girl would do and turned to Facebook.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Quick and Dirty Cooking: 7 Meals for when the tough get going

I thought I would start passing along my quick and dirty cooking tidbits.  It's the sort of thing that sees you through when the baby has colic, the toddler is potty training, the preschooler is melting down and you thought you might break out in hysterical tears when you saw it was still 4 hours until bedtime.  They won't win awards or be quite as good as you could do but they will get you fed and sometimes that's all that matters...  

If I were a very good blogger, I would start in an organized fashion, first advising on meal planning, then freezer stocking, then doing yourself a favor (what Leila calls "save a step") and then the 7 meals but I am obviously the sort to Live On The Edge!  ;-)

All 7 meals rely on your pantry and freezer, contain ingredients that go on sale frequently and require little time or thought to throw together.

Stir Fry - dump 1-2 tbls oil/butter, 1-2 bags stir fry veggie mix, 1-2 cups cooked chicken and soy sauce to taste in skillet.  Cover until everything starts to thaw.  Throw 1-2 cups frozen rice into microwave safe bowl, add 1/4 cup water and microwave on high for 3 min.  Add to skillet and saute with another tablespoon of butter.  Perk up with a little lemon juice if you have it on hand.

Tortellini Soup- cook frozen or dried tortellini in ½ chicken broth ½ water according to package directions.  Add fresh or frozen veggies like spinach, peas, or carrots as desired as well as dried parsley flakes.   Alternatively: Sauté veggies and cooked tortellini in butter/olive oil mix.  Add slices of sausage if desired and make a quick pan sauce by adding a little chicken broth.  Top with paprika and dried parsley.  This looks impressive, tastes filling and is so very simple!

Fake-a-dillas- dump 1-2 tbls oil, 1-2 cups chicken (preferably shredded), 1-2 packages fajita veggie mix, 1 can rotell or salsa, ¼ c water.  Cover and let steam for about 10 minutes or until everything is thawed.  Saute an additional couple of minutes to allow excess liquid to cook off.  Serve with tortillas and shredded cheese.

Spaghetti and meatballs- Brown meatballs, dump on sauce, cook spaghetti and mix.

Kielbasa- dump 1-2 tbls oil, sliced kielbasa (or other sausage), frozen fajita mix, and frozen rice or diced frozen potatoes in skillet.  Cover until everything is thawed and sauté off excess water.  Season with paprika.

Pizza- I make my own crust.  The pizza yeast packets are especially handy for difficult nights but premade crusts will work as well.  Add sauce and cheese.  I top with peppers, caramelized onion (easy to make in slow cooker), deli meat ham, and mushrooms but no toppings or just ham are also good!

Pepped up pasta salad: I start with a premade boxed pasta salad- usually a ranch or herb type and add tuna and cannellini beans to add protein and add frozen corn and peas to the pasta in the last 3 minutes of cooking.  When I mix the seasoning packet, I add more mayo than called for or sometimes add sour cream instead if I have it on hand.

For those wanting a grocery list, make sure you have the following on hand.  It's helpful to stock up when there is a sale.  All of these keep well.  Note: I usually try to avoid processed ingredients but there is a time and a place for everything...  And, at some point, I'll write up how to make several of these convenience foods yourself- such as freezing beans you cooked yourself.

boneless, skinless chicken (bake in bulk in oven and cube, cook in slowcooker and shred, freeze in 1-2 cup portions)
chicken broth
tortellini/ravioli
dried pasta/spaghetti
boxed pasta salad
spaghetti sauce
pizza sauce or tomato paste
frozen fajita veggie mix
frozen peas
frozen corn
frozen stir fry veggies
frozen diced potatoes
diced seasoned tomatoes and/or salsa
tortillas
shredded cheddar
shredded mozzarella
meatballs (premade or make your own)
pizza bases or pizza yeast
sausage
cannellini beans

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cliffs of Moher

You forget what a violent process creating new earth can be.  I'm most familiar with the rolling, ancient hills of the Appalachian chain; quiet witnesses to the passing of eons and epochs.  They are a comforting witness that even the wildest of the Earth will eventually take to a rocking chair and tell you stories of what once was while you play at their feet.

Triskele represent many things-
one is the earth, sea, and sky
We would visit my grandparents in southeastern Missouri, crossing over the Mississippi and then going a little further, to Sikeston, just a touch on the other side of the New Madrid Fault line.  Always, my mother would tell us of the big quake of 1812 when the Mississippi River ran backwards.  As we would drive over the levies, looking over the endless green rows of soybean, corn, and cotton, she would tell us about how the soil was so very fertile, both from the regular overflows of the rivers as well as the fact that once upon a very long time ago, right where we were driving, was the bottom of a deep, deep sea.  This was heady stuff for an 8 year old, especially one who had been in a car for somewhere around 14 hours.  I could close my eyes (if I wasn't too car sick) and imagine the prehistoric beasts gliding past, their great teeth, almost close enough to touch.  I would wonder if they knew that their days were numbered and that one day, I would look at their bones in the Smithsonian on rainy Sunday afternoons.  The New Madrid was deceptively small, as well.  It's just a little hump, hardly more than the damns we drove on top of and perfect for sledding down on snow Sikeston never saw.

I've seen the Rockies and live volcanoes in Hawaii.  The Rockies were stark reminders of just what can happen when two continent meet but they are so huge as to be nearly unfathomable.  I can appreciate their beauty but only on a abstract level.  The live volcanoes are awesome displays of the raw power of creation, both in it's subtle ways as magma slips and bubbles quietly into the cooling ocean as well as when it aggressively claims it's new territory in impressive displays of pyrotechnics.

But, none of these could have prepared me for the Cliffs of Moher.  Looking them down had the visceral impact of your first peek at the Rockies while being of a size that you could easily comprehend their scale and scope.  For a few moments (perhaps longer, if you weren't there with young, very inquisitive children), I felt that I could understand, in a way I never had prior, my place within the land and the sea.  The sea caressed the land while also taking away.  The land gave but also stood steadfast amongst the constant requests.  Both could be harnessed but never fully tamed- something so easily forgotten in a time of climate controlled buildings, flying machines, and food that comes neatly packaged.  To stand at the edge of those cliffs was to stand in the on the edge of that which is civilization.  Once, long ago, people must have crossed the Island to see what was on the other side and found what must have seemed like the edge of the world.  I thought I was at the edge of the world even knowing I had lived beyond it.  The rocky shore danced between the two, betwixt and between, the ephemeral child of two warring but eternally mated elements.  Over the tympanic melee, danced the civilizing strains of pipe and string, giving hint as to how human had made peace with both water and land, nurtured and nurturing both; the very core of what it was to be the people who became known as The Irish.


And, somehow, as I was standing at the edge of the world, I was also standing on the edge of time in a way I imagine gods and astronomers regularly experience.  The tide is the constant metronome of the eternally changing sea while the stolid rocks, constantly shifting and sighing, carried off by the water and borrowed by wind, become the unexpected inconstant, the evidence proving that time must always be accompanied by change no matter how infinitesimal.  Both elements become penultimate, coerced by gravity which is intransigently insistent that there can be only one above all others and they shall bow to his might.  The steady constant of change within the intractable interplay of that which wants nothing more than to stay the same is surely the kernal which is life: the essence of time.  You stand at the top of a cliff and you are standing at a vortex of that which is, which was, and what must be.




If you go nowhere else in Ireland, go to the Cliffs of Moher.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Kitchen

My kitchen makes me happy and I think it's pretty.  I'm not sure a kitchen can help but be real.  Most of all, being back in my kitchen makes me content.  And so I am linking to...

round button chicken

One of the most common questions I get is what I missed the most when I was in Ireland.  I really missed my kitchen.  I thought I would share some of the bits and pieces that I most enjoy.

It's a country kitchen.  I didn't really set out with a great deal of enthusiasm for the style but over time, I've found that it works well both for the kitchen I was given (the house was built before I was born) and my personal style.  I've veered towards materials made of glass and metal and wood.  I try to choose items that are sustainable and re-usable.  I like things that are easy to clean and keep clean and that look reasonably nice, even when you don't get around to actually putting them away for a few days.  I needed storage materials that are mouse and ant proof.  I needed things that are durable and easy to find and not too fiddly.  I need to easily find what I'm looking for and take my favors when they are offered.

Over time, I've grown to learn that this is pretty much the way country housewives from quite a while ago apparently approached things and so, I have a country kitchen...



This is the counter to the right of my sink.  I like my dishes to not smell like anything when they are clean- not flowers, not lemon, not vague "fragrance."  I also don't like to pay for people to drive water around to me.  So, I want an unscented powdered dish detergent.  This is surprisingly difficult to find.  I've found 7th Generation Free and Clear to be the best option.  I needed to have it out of easy reach of small people and the box wasn't all the attractive.  So, I got a cracker jar and put it in there with a pretty scoop from the farmer's market.

I keep all my tea bags in the Dr Who cookie jar.  It seemed appropriate and I've heard that country housewives of the 1920s were big fans.

I had a mug tree and it was always getting unbalanced and tipping over.  The rack was actually intended to hold houseplants but I like it better for mugs.

Big Ben is from our visit to London and the tea pot is from a friend in Ireland.

I use canning jars for all sorts of things and keep the rings and lids in the berry boxes.  Those boxes are always so pretty and fairly sturdy, it only seems right to put them to use.














I accumulated rather a lot of vases.  It seemed like such a waste to only use them for flowers so, a while ago, I put them to work holding dishrags and utensils.  Cracker jars also hold my flour and sugar.  The little jar is cornmeal for sprinkling on the baking stone.  The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook is my go to cookbook.  It covers all the day to day cooking questions you might have in clear terms using supplies you probably already have and using techniques it will teach you if you don't already know them.  When Allen's international students ask me how to learn American cooking, I suggest they try looking through it.


Canning jars are a real workhorse in my kitchen.  I store most dry goods in them.  Cardboard boxes are no match for Virginia humidity and I have no patience with slippy, slidey, slithery plastic bags.  I also do a fair amount of shopping in the bulk bins and can bring my jars to the store to fill directly.  And, if you ever have a problem with any sort of critter, glass will keep them out far better than plastic or cardboard.  Canning jars will stack, have interchangeable lids, come in all sorts of sizes, and can be run through the dishwasher when empty.  A distracted mother can tell at a glance that a 5 pound bag of cornmeal was a lot more cornmeal than she realized but that popcorn is in short supply.  I also use canning jars a great deal in the freezer for everything from beans I've cooked ahead to applesauce and soup.  You just have to be careful to allow for expansion.



We use widemouth pint jars for adult cups and the 1/2 pints for children's cups.  They are extremely durable, withstanding all manner of toddler mishaps.  The 4 ounce jars are perfect for baby food, some baking needs such as baking powder, and make ideal paint cups holding plenty of water while also being very tip resistant.  The 4 ounce size is also useful for storing things like chopped onion or lime wedges that you always seem to have too many of to use all at once but don't want to throw away.  The handiest thing about the pint jars is how they have the ounces marked on the side- this makes cocktail time a breeze.  :-)


We mostly use cloth napkins.  I made cloth wipes mostly for diapering but made a few extra (color coded) for use in the kitchen.  Wipe making is one of those projects that it's just as easy to make 20 as 10 and doesn't require that much more in materials.  These are perfect for the heavy duty napkin needs of the young child.  I made one side flannel and the other either terry or chenille.  They are very absorbant, quite soft, and a managable size for the very small set to wipe up their own messes.  The only caveat is that since they are so thick and absorbant, it takes them a while to dry so you need to be mindful of possible mildewing if you get behind on the laundry.



We've started using the recipe and method offered by Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  It's a joint effort between Allen and me.  I'm pretty sure the fact that Allen is a morning person is proof positive that Jesus loves me.  I mix up a double batch of bread about once a week, form it to rise and rest in the refrigerator the night before and then Allen bakes it up in the morning.  If you want to know how to make it that nice shape, it's easy.  I line a basket with a tea towel or cloth napkin and sprinkle it with flour.  After I shape the loaf, I pop it in the basket.  The basket adds a little structure to the final rise and rest. Allen gently plops it out of the basket onto the baking stone in the morning.

 
I realize that there are several schools of thought on child-proofing.  My body has a very enthusiastic response to progesterone so I desperately needed to leave young children alone in the kitchen at a moments notice without having to worry about if they were dumping all the flour on their heads.  Most of our lower cabinets have child latches but we had some spinning corner cabinets that wouldn't work for.  I had my husband put in some eye hooks and used those really long twist ties that secure children's toys in packaging because a toy that will be hurled down 2 flights of stairs should obviously be well cushioned in transit to your home...

In other parts of our home, I just tied a ribbon through bookshelf door handles and we also installed hook and eye latches high up on sliding closet doors in the bathrooms.  This won't keep a really determined preschooler out but will discourage them and will also buy you some time to notice what's going on before all the toilet rolls have been unrolled or the family pictures have been scattered around the room.



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Muscle Memory

I had been prepared for the mechanics of re-entry to be a slog.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find it exactly the opposite.  The trick is to rely on my muscle memory.

You know how you'll re-arrange your bathroom cabinet and reach for your toothbrush in the old spot for ages?  I'm using that to my advantage.  When I've gone to unpack dishes and books and All The Clothing (seriously, how could such small people need so many socks?), if I try to remember which drawer they go in, I'm sunk.  But, if I just let my body move, everything lands right about where it should be.  The "where" being instantly clear once it's actually there but terribly fuzzy until that moment.

It's the same sort of approach I take to standardized tests (and I rock standardized tests).  If I don't think all that much about a vs c, I almost always pick the right one.  My downfall comes in the "check over your work" moment.  I learned through painful experience that I just should be sure I didn't skip a line and otherwise leave well enough alone.  Of course, this is all further evidence that you should never put all that much stock in test results- I got a 700 on the SAT Math section (before re-norming and whatnot).  That alone is reason for indictment of the college board.

Interestingly, my husband, is having a far rockier re-entry process than I but expected it to go far more smoothly.  I tend to be significantly more intuitive than he.

My biggest concern had been driving.  Drivers and their roads have their quirks.  In Ithaca, it was that whoever was going downhill always had the right of way when it came to things like stop sign placement- this was on account of needing to drive in snow and ice.  In Nashville, the drivers could NOT fathom how to merge and fell to pieces when it rained but became bizarrely aggressive on ice.  I learned to drive in Frederick, which was a reasonably sleepy town with the nice trick that if you drove 25 mph (the speed limit) you could catch all the greens on Main Street.  It also had a rather large preponderance of one way streets that were not always clearly marked.  Before too long you had to be able to navigate the beltway and the required agressive driving around DC and Baltimore.

I don't think I've driven anywhere that was quirkier than Blacksburg, though.  The crux of the matter is the number of different driving styles you see come together.  It's sort of the whole rural v city, town v gown, fiscal conservative v social liberal tension that threads through everything around here and is mainly addressed by the town planners via many, many stoplights and one round-a-bout (which really does work quite well despite the misgivings of pretty much everyone).

It took me a long time to figure out exactly what was going on but the crux of the issue is that you have a bunch of basically country/small town drivers running smack into (sometimes literally) rather inexperienced drivers who learned to drive in places like New Jersey and DC.  When I moved to Nashville from Frederick, I was constantly having riders ask me why I was cutting people off until I got the hang to of the very polite to non-functional merge pattern favored there.  Blacksburg traffic is that conflict on steroids.  The ain't-in-no-hurries v the agressive drivers isn't pretty.  Plus you get the added wildcard that at least 20% of the drivers are lost to some degree or another- it heads up to 40% in August and September as the resident population doubles with student move-in.  The wildest of these wildcards is the returning alumni.  They hit the roads with the carefree assurance that they know this town, nay, practically own it, really, ignoring the 15 years of infrastructure tweaks that have occurred, blithely gesticulating to their captive off-spring, recounting their glory days and making a left hand turn from a lane that has been straight only for the last 10 years.  Nothing is perhaps quite so unpredictible as the lost driver who doesn't know he is lost.  I am the rare inverse of the unwittingly lost driver, a driver who thinks she's probably lost until she suddenly realizes that she apparently knew just where she was going all along, just as long as she doesn't actually try to think about how to get to where she's going.

The mind is rather odd thing.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Return

We've been back in Blacksburg about a week and I've been surprised at some of what I forgot.

I had forgotten the love of plastic bags we have.  Every item in it's own simultaneously forever and ephemeral casing.

I had forgotten what proper attire was for Target and Walmart when you are picking up a few odds and ends before you headed out to the lake or fishing or the family barbeque for the long 4th of July weekend.

Noah had no memory of riding in a shopping cart and had to be coaxed to sit up so high.  He eventually declared it even better than riding on a swing.

I had forgotten the fireflies blinking out the morse code of the summer, their message instantly discernible to all who have ever been a child.  They call for you to enjoy that delicious moment when the air turns and the breeze picks up.  It's that very last moment of the day; that moment of indulgence when bedtime is pushed just a bit further back so children can spin and catch and giggle before the night turns over to the raucous fun of the slightly older crowd.

I have developed a fixation with being warm which translates to a firm determination to not use the air conditioner.  This is actually a fairly achievable goal in the mountains of western Virginia.  The altitude gifts us with the sort of nights I will forever associate with summer college visits to Boston.  The day is almost unmanageably warm but with a liberal application of iced tea, popsicles and ceiling fans, it can be done.  By about an hour past sunset, the night floods in with an understated sort of interest.  It's a slow seduction compared to the exuberant invitation of the summer day.  You can usually count on it to get down to 70 at the very least and, often, if you decide to stay out past curfew, you will find yourself wanting a sweater to slip on over your party dress.

There is a part of me that is already longing for October.  I will look out my window and see a mist every morning.  The deer will be crossing to the woods, shadows, just visible.  The air will be tinged with the bite of woodsmoke and the breeze will nip rather than caress.  But, for now, I will soak in the wonder that is summer in the mountains.

And, yes, there are still a couple of posts about Ireland waiting in the wings.  I have been asked if I will continue to write.  I am inclined to.  After all, isn't life always an adventure?  But, the posts will be about America, mostly my tiny corner of it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Will we have rainbows, day after day?*

*Quote from Que Sera Sera

For those who are wondering, there are at least a couple more Ireland posts coming- most notably one about the Cliffs of Moher.

Today is my 36th birthday and my 13th Anniversary.

Allen and I got married on a very sunny, rather hot day in a truly lovely morning garden wedding.  It was my 23rd birthday and we do indeed have a picture of me blowing out my candles on my wedding day but it's in a cabinet in America so, no dice on seeing it today.

Today, my life is likely about a 1/3 completed and, with any luck, I still have a whopping 2/3rds to look forward to.  Now that the children are getting a little older (that being 2, 5, and 6- ancient, really!), I get asked somewhat frequently what I plan to do with myself.  This question always takes me slightly aback.

First, I think what I am doing actually is a career of it's own.  It takes time and energy and skill to keep a home and keep it well.  I know some families manage to make it all come together (oftentimes, well) with all the bits and pieces crammed into their lives every which way but I just can't pull it off.  There was a facebook discussion that sprung up and I shared that I thought the end goal of feminism should be that you could get a degree in the home arts; that it would be considered just as rigorous as any other; and that men and women completed it in fairly equal numbers.  Keeping a home will never be of great monetary value, it simply won't work that way but it could be given intellectual worth.  My thought is that when the traditional tasks of a woman are as valued as the traditional tasks that were the realm of men, and, perhaps, most notably, the realm of wealth, then I will consider myself and my ambitions to have equal value in our culture.  I should however note, that over time, I've drifted away from self-identifying as a feminist, instead advocating a new paradigm where people are simply valued as a part of a larger unit- a familiest is the closest I can get to a label.  Feminism tends to be too adversarial for my taste with the functional result being that women are either left identifying themselves relative to men and/or in direct opposition to men.  I'd rather look at a family as a unit with an option for men or women who strike out on a different path to still have value, as well.  It takes all sorts...

Leila puts it well in this post when she says:
I don't know why being the manager of the home (leaving aside being its heart, and just purely looking at things job-wise) is considered... nothing.
Have you been to a hotel recently? Maybe to stay, or for a reception? Can you imagine even thinking, "This hotel is great. It's comfortable, welcoming, clean, and refreshing. The food tastes homemade. It's wonderful that this hotel has no manager." 
Laura says it even better:
Just as a little thread of gold, running through a fabric, brightens the whole garment, so women's work at home, while only the doing of little things, is just like the golden gleam of sunlight that runs through and brightens the whole fabric of civilization." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Second, there is the fact that my main career goal was really always to be a wife and mother and keeper of the home. (Try saying that on career day!)  I went to college to get a degree, not to find a husband, but, those degrees are in Social Studies, Special Education, Early Childhood Education, and, the capper, a Master's in Early Childhood Special Education. (taking a moment to toot my own horn- I completed all 4 courses of study within 5 years- it can be done!)  It's not like they are "wasted" while I'm raising and educating and socializing these children.  A typical day leaves me feeling more as if I wish I had gotten even more education.

Mothers must know an impossibly much.  I must know the difference between a toad and a frog and a tortoise and a turtle.  I need to know what is sleet and what is freezing rain and why they aren't hail.  I must know what color shirt the planet Mars would wear and which planet would float in a bathtub (Saturn).  I must know how to count to 10 and then 20 and then 100 and then to infinity and beyond and within all that I must find a good spot for eleventeen.

I need to know why "know" has that pesky k and looks nothing like it sounds and offer up the reassurance that no other word will be quite that contrary.  I need to know why the sky is blue and why it's the dark clouds that make the rain.  I need to know where the puddles go and where streams end.

I need to know where fairies live and what leprechauns like to eat.  I need to who Wee Willy Winky is and why he cares if Jon is asleep.  I need to know why the moon is out when the sun is still up and why we sometimes go to bed when it's bright outside and sometimes wake when the sky is dark.  I need to know just the right mix of frown and hug.  I must know how to cross a street and count the stars and make a very long wait not quite so bad.

Most of all, I must know we haven't even gotten to the hard questions.

Someday I might go to Divinity School or get a therapy licence or even write a few children's books in which the Princess of Books and Princess of Geometry consult with the Princess of Botany, but, for now, my dreams have indeed come true and I am, in fact, doing the very work I once aspired to.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Run for the Cheese

There is a saying to the effect that "the only time you'll ever find me running is if the police are chasing me."  I have been of the school of thought that says "perhaps being arrested wouldn't be all that bad."  Then I had 3 children in slightly less than 4 years and discovered that by the time Allen got home from work, at least part of the time, all I wanted to do was run away.  Happily there is a socially acceptable form of fleeing your teething, tantruming, napless wonders called the "Couch to 5k."  I wasn't running away from responsibility, I was harnessing my stress to work towards fitness!

I landed on the Kiss My Black A** podcasts.  (I have untold layers, people.  Did you know Jen gets transcendental to Tupac?)  There was something deliciously sinful about listening to music I would never listen to around the delicate ears of my dear, sweet, children that was highly motivating.  The only problem is that I tend to run too fast to dance/pop sorts of songs so I tend to wear myself out in the first couple of minutes and then plod through the rest of the run.  Even when I did run a full 30 minutes, I tended toward a sprightly 12:30 minute mile.  Between illness, weather, and short days I had a lot of trouble keeping up a running program but I did what I could.

Then we moved to Dublin.  Dublin (when not in sleet season) may be the ideal home of runners.  Once you get over the hump of sleet and ridiculously short days, you get weather than is consistently 10-15 C/50-70 F, reasonably flat land, and a light to gale force wind to keep you pleasantly cool.  There is often some sort of precipitation but it tends towards drizzle rather than downpour and it's relatively simply to line up daylight and childcare since, for example, the sun currently rises at 4:58 and it gets full dark around 10:30.

I found myself, for the first time in about 7 years, not pregnant and/or breastfeeding which had been my previous form of fat burning activity.  (The nurse nearly wept with joy when I told her Noah weaned at around 25 months- breastfeeding is struggling a bit in Ireland)  There is also that miracle known as the the Irish dairy product.  When you pair any Irish dairy product with the second wonder known as Irish breads and pastries, you discover that you should really take up running again.  (I have decided that butter will have to be a line item in our budget upon return to Blacksburg.  I'm going to taste test the Amish stuff against the Kerrygold and ignore generic butter sales with wild abandon.  Ireland, what have you done to me!)

I developed a new running plan called "Run for the Cheese!"

This time I decided to follow the Doctor Mama strategy which is run in as long a stretch as you can but run really, really slow and make sure you can sing along with your songs.  This brought me back to the pop issue.  80s pop is great running music since the songs are short (nothing is quite as bad as promising yourself you can stop at the end of the song only to realize Fergie will be discussing her Fergaliciousness for another 3 minutes) and quite singable.  But, the peppy beats that motor you through the first few minutes, kill you in the second half.  I decided that the perfect music to both sing along with and encourage you to run just a little slower is country.

Country music is ideal for people who think that being arrested might not be so bad but have an abiding love of both their current pair of jeans AND Irish dairy products.  The songs are short, they are supremely singable, and, the story lines often offer up intriguing lines of thought.  For instance, there is apparently a whole school of thought that considers access to a particular biscuit recipe grounds for marriage.  I need this biscuit recipe!

Another note, if you participated in marching band for, perhaps, 6 years, you will likely find it a supreme struggle to not run to the beat (stepping off on the left) so, pay attention to the beats per minute or prepare for some mental hardship during your run.  Multiples of the same root seem fine- i.e. my sweet spot is around 160 bpm but I can adapt quite happily to 80-90 bpm.  The ones between 110 and 130 throw me off a little but are useful to help me run slower in between "fast" songs or at the end.

The gist of Run for the Cheese, should you choose to try it, is to start by running to around 3 songs.  Try to add a song a week until you are happy with your total time running.  I'm aiming for a consistent 30 min run and I'd like to do 9-10 minute miles but I'm not worrying about speed until I can run a consistent 30 minutes.  I fully expect to backslide when we return to the land of heat, humidity, and hills.  :-)  I find that a rice cake with peanut butter (and maybe a dab of nutella) and a big glass of water with a squeeze of lemon or lime is a good post workout snack.  Plain water tends to make me feel queasy post-run.  If feel completely exhausted after your "run" and snack, consider adding a snack and/or glass of water pre-run, run slower, run for 1 song fewer and/or look into hiring a night nanny.

I've posted the playlist to jog.fm where you can listen on spotify or buy via itunes or Amazon.  You should be able to access the list without any sort of registration but let me know if it's a problem.  I've added a link to the playlist on the sidebar of the blog if you want to get at it later because who wouldn't want to:

RUN


FOR 

THE

CHEESE!!!



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pretty, Funny, Happy, Real


round button chicken

Pretty


The daffodil days have gone and now we are watching sunflowers and lilies.  Sadly, Allen is apparently allergic to lilies and we can only accommodate the sunflowers in the umbrella stand but we still enjoy the pretty as well as the excitement of watching the blooms open.

In a pretty is as pretty does moment, I've think I've decided on my 1st homeschool high school english unit.  We'll spend a term or two on the great romantic poets and then have a verse-off to decide who would be most likely to steal a heart.  The idea sprang from a twitter discussion with National Library of Ireland (NLIreland):
WB Yeats - good or bad roomie?
My response (craftybecky):
I think it could be dicey... What if he started reciting his verses around your girl?

Naturally, that led to wondering who would be the bigger heart breaker: Dunne or Yeats.  

And, really, what could possibly be a better life skill than being able to quote romantic poetry at the drop of a hat?  I will be such a homeschooling maven!  ;-)

Funny

One of the idiosyncrasies of European life is the obsession with reflective vests and dark coats.  I get a number of curious looks for my yellow rain coat which is, in my opinion, the ideal outer covering for a dark and drizzly climate.  My red coat is considered eccentric but passable.  But when I put on my yellow rain jacket, everyone is pretty sure I'm on the train to crazy town.  The ideal solution, according to the locals, is to own a black, brown, or, if feeling rebellious, dark blue jacket and the throw on a reflective vest whenever it's dark or dreary (which is sort of all the time).


In other funny news, Noah found a coin on the playground.  Our children have decided that this portends great luck.  Noah proudly declared "I found a lucky coin!" So, I replied, "Aren't you a lucky duck!"  Noah felt the only appropriate response was to quack the whole way home.



Happy






We had a picnic in a public garden/park on Monday.  It was a Bank Holiday so the children were off school and Allen decided to stay home as well.  I believe there is one a month for June-August.  The upshot is the same as our named summer holidays with lots of 5ks, barbeques and family outings on the long weekend.  The advantage is that it always is a 3 day weekend instead of the periodic 4th of July on a Wednesday dilemma.  They do various memorial days at other points in the year.


Real


Continuing attempts to take a selfie in which
I don't have a double chin and my eyes aren't doing
anything weird.  Mamas have to have a hobby...
We're getting ready to return to the US.  I feel like I have most things under control.  We have started the process of giving toys away.  I made inquiries to the church about giving away the children's loft, Noah's crib (known as a cot), and the linens since those don't belong to the house.  We are eating through the cupboard.  I've made the monster list of items needed to gear a household back up to the full throttle living requirements of a family with young children.  I went through and figured out which things can be delivered from Amazon, which from Walmart, and then made a detailed list of things I will be buying while slightly comatose from Target and the grocery store.  I've even gotten a start on my meal plan for the 1st week!  We have a going away party in the works and Allen went on his last work trip.  Things are clicking along.

But, the thing that strikes terror in my heart is the move-out clean.  I embraced the hired cleaner mode for our move-out clean in US and I am so glad I did.  While I can pack up a home and move a family across an ocean with something akin to sanity, managing to do that and have sparkling toilets is apparently just one step too many.  But, move-out cleaners are neither in our Irish budget or the Irish custom, so, marathon clean it is!

We plan to stay in a hotel our last night and I've found friends to host play dates and Allen is aware his main job on move-out day is to keep the children Out Of The House but, still, getting the house to move-in clean is a daunting task.

Noah has no memory of the US and our home there.  I have to keep assuring him that, yes, we have legos in America and yes, we have bubbles in the US.  This morning, we had a long discourse about the fact that he can take a bath in a tub rather than a shower and later we talked about playing in grass in the yard- the highlight being that the yard will be be simply full to bursting with dandelions to wish on!  Megan and Noah watched a dealer video about our minivan on youtube a couple of months ago, completely entranced.  Megan was moaning about the heat and fondly discussing playing in paddling pools when it hit about 17 (70) on Monday.

Re-entry will be an adventure.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What I'm Looking Forward To...

While I have really enjoyed my time in Ireland there are some things I look forward to enjoying upon our return to the US.

Seasonal Weather

While I don't relish the looming specter of a month or 2 of temperatures and humidity over 80, it will be nice to feel reasonably confident that I will go a full 3 months not wondering if it was wise to pack away the parkas.  At the same time, it's nice to know that at some point, I will need to pull them out.  I like the structure the gradual march of the seasons provides.  Ireland has roughly the same weather every day for 6-9 months.  It then has pretty much the same weather with highs about 20 degrees warmer.  I never realized quite how wearing really boring weather is.  There is a reason that Irish weatherman write poetry rather than forecasts.

It took me 6 weeks to figure out
this is a toast rack.
I wonder if they are the Irish version
 of a toaster oven as wedding gift?
Access to a car

A lot of the time, I have appreciated being forced to rely on walking or public transportation.  However, there have been more "Man up" talks than I am really comfortable giving to a 4 and 6 year old.  To wit: car travel seems appropriate when it is sleeting, when it is hailing, or when there is freezing rain.  This sums up a good hunk of January and February and pretty much every day of March.  Also, car travel for even short distances seems reasonable when running a 103' fever, when recovering from stomach flu, or when you are 6 and recovering from the stomach flu but have to come along with your mom to pick up your siblings.  Also, a car is handy when transporting 3 children and 36 cupcakes to school in a country where it apparently hails all year with no warning.


Knowing how to safely cross the road.

I still get nearly run down by an unexpected bus about once a week even though the crosswalks are all emblazoned with "look left."  Apparently the socialist nanny state is no match for a dyslexic crossing the road.

Georgian Houses look alike.
This made it difficult for drunken Georgian Lords
 to find their way into the correct home.
A clever, clever girl introduced the colorful door.
Looking at the sky and knowing what it means, weatherwise.

I never realized what a visceral connection I feel towards the weather.  It's this knowledge of the environment that creeps in over the years.  It gives you a certain feeling of security that if you can't control the weather, you at least know what it will be for the near future.  When I look up at the sky in the US (or even in Canada), I feel a modicum of confidence that I can tell you if it's likely to rain in the next hour.  I know the warning signs for when to turn on a radio.  I can hazard a guess about if we should try for a picnic for lunch.  I am completely adrift in terms of climatology awareness in Ireland.  To my credit, I don't seem to be alone in my confusion.  Ireland is a small island and seems to be at the mercy of at least a couple of pretty strong jet stream looking things based on the daily radar pictures.  It also has all manner of winds blowing off of the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean.  It makes for a swirly, unpredictable mess.  The upshot is that you can be confident that there will be precipitation pretty much every day.  It will also be windy.  Anything else is a crapshoot no matter how good your technology or modeling.  As a friend told me, the weather predictions on the west coast consist of looking out towards the islands.  If you can see the islands, it will soon rain.  If you can't see the islands, it's raining.

Knowing where to buy things

I am looking forward to walking into a store and not having to ask if they sell x, y, z here.  As an added bonus, I will likely know the correct name for the item.

Guerilla knitting in Belfast

Grocery shopping

There is a magical wonder to the Tesco man showing up once a week with tubs of groceries for me to unload into the cabinets.  But, there is also a big downside.  The grocery store I can get to on foot has a very limited selection so if I happen to forget to order something at all obscure, I'm stuck.  And, obscure means black beans or pizza sauce or non-orange juice among other things.  You also run the risk of the dread "out of stock with no suitable substitute" note.  Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes you are told that they were out of carrots or, my personal favorite, potatoes.  An Irish grocery store is out of potatoes.  There were simply no potatoes to be had In The Entire Store... in IRELAND.  I have to do a fair bit of fancy footwork, dinner-wise every couple of weeks to make up for oversights, out of stock, etc.  I also tend to rely on my grocery shopping as inspiration.  I do a weekly menu plan and build a shopping list from it.  (I love this free printable one)  But, I also will switch things up a bit to allow for unexpected sales and specials or if various produce is or isn't looking especially good.  Since I have my menu right in front of me, it's easy to see what can be switched up and what can't.  On-line grocery shopping has made both shopping the sales and switching up the meals a challenge.  And, most of the produce shopping is with a wish and a prayer that nothing will be too terribly under ripe or overly bruised.  Since I'm not as familiar with the growing cycle here, I have a hard time figuring out how to shop in season.  And, I'm never really sure what size I'm ordering.  This has resulted in awesomely large mayo containers and minuscule pieces of cheese.  Quick, how many grams does your ketchup weigh?  No cheating!

This is the weather report for June, July, and August.
(assuming it's a warm June)
My appliances

A primary role in my life is keeping our household in a state acceptable to the Department of Health.  I also keep us all fed.  These two jobs require tools and the quality of the tool matters.  I can make do with all manner of things and, yes, I am quite aware that my great grandparents made do with far less.  But, that was then and this is now and I just want a vacuum cleaner that doesn't make me question the existence of a loving God.  I miss having an oven that cooks things pretty much the same way every time.  I miss a washing machine that never asks me to fish puke bits out of the drain holes.  I miss a dryer that dries things.  I miss my slow cooker, stand mixer, food processor, and rice cooker.  I can now say with confidence that those things I worried were simply wasting valuable space in my kitchen are, in fact, vital to my happiness as The Fairly Adequate Homemaker.  While I am so pleased to know that you can, in fact, cream butter and sugar with a potato masher, I would far rather let an infernal contraption take that task on.

The weather guys try to spice up the reports.
Bubble Baths

Dublin has at least 2 Lush stores.  I can't figure out why.  As far as I can tell, no one ever really takes a good tub soak.  To have a good bath, you need a solid, overgrown, almost obscene US water heater.  The on a timer, energy conserving jobs just won't do it.  And, really, on this one point, I totally pity the Irish.  If there is any climate that begs for ready bubble bath access, it's a damp and chilly one.  On a related note, I am anxiously anticipating getting to wash my hands with a faucet where the hot and cold water mix.  What can I say?  I dream BIG!

They have a lot of different lovely ways to say
"We just... have No Idea"
Somewhere there is a special bar
for people attempting to forecast Irish weather.
FYI- Met Eireann did the forecast for DDay
(apparently quite well)
Space

I understand that by many standards we are in a perfectly reasonable, nay, might I even hazard GENEROUS space but I am a personal space wuss.  I think I can do a small house with young children or a small yard with young children but I can't do both.  And, while tile and hardwood make for easy clean-up the noise level is unreal.  I desperately long for the day when I can chase them all outside and Not Hear Them unless they put some effort into it.  I want to have the option to divide and conquer.  I want to carry the laundry basket without being concerned I'm about to take out a table and 2 children.

Ireland is a lovely adventure but there's no place like where you're used to.