Traveling with the Kids in Ireland — Part II

We had a total of almost three weeks in Ireland which was enough to merit multiple posts. I concluded my last Ireland blog post at Limerick where we spent a weekend with strangers (to us) who quickly became friends. From there, we headed out to the glorious Ring of Kerry. I know you’ll be surprised to learn that we took Rick Steves’ advice and started on the road early, heading in the opposite direction from the tour buses.

Which meant that we hit our first beach early — probably around 9 am. It was chilly, and our plan was to stop for 5 minutes. “Don’t get wet,” we warned the kids as we had all our luggage crammed into the back of an extremely small car with no real knowledge of where to find extra clothes if needed. Besides, we figured they would never get into the freezing water that early in the morning.

We were wrong.

It all started innocently enough...
It all started innocently enough…
He makes it look like it wasn't intentional...
He makes it look like it wasn’t intentional…
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She doesn’t even try to fake innocence.

 

What was supposed to be a 10-minute stop turned into an hour, followed by trying to find dry clothes for 2 freezing kiddos, and then convincing them to change in the parking lot as no one would see them as nobody else would go into the water at 9 am (or probably at any hour given the temperature).

Once we had semi-dry kids, we continued on our route. We made multiple stops along the way to hop out and enjoy the view, stop at interesting sites, and eat chocolate.

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A fun, quick stop with delicious samples!
A fun, quick stop at a chocolate factory with delicious samples!

 

The end of our Ring of Kerry route was Dingle, Ireland where we stayed in a youth hostel. I haven’t stayed in youth hostels in over 25 years, so staying at them in Ireland has been a real treat. We had a private room with a double bed and bunk beds, and our own bathroom (that is a change from 25 years ago!)  What surprised me the most is that the majority of the travelers were older — families and couples as opposed to college-aged backpackers. The hostel was clean and quiet…and the price was right.

We loved relaxing in Dingle. The boys got haircuts; we learned the town quickly; and we drove the Dingle Peninsula during our 4-day stay. And, of course, we hit the beaches again.

This time we were prepared.
This time we were prepared.

 

The other main thing we did in Dingle was buy GAA (Gaelic Athletic Assocation) trading cards. Hurling and Gaelic football trading cards. Tons of them. And, I mean tons of them. The kids first saw packages at the local grocery store and wanted to buy them. Then they wanted more. And more. And more. I think we probably went back to the store 6 times so they could purchase cards. They started learning positions, players, counties and which teams were the best. To say it became an obsession is an understatement, but more on that later.

After our relaxing stay in Dingle (other than continuous trips to the grocery store), we set out to Nenagh, this time to meet relatives for the first time. We were graciously welcomed into Myron and Ruth’s home as if we had known each other for years.

1000 welcomes greeted us!
100,000 welcomes greeted us!

Ruth is an amazing cook, and we were thoroughly spoiled during our stay. I also have to say that I am completely jealous of a great idea Ruth implemented when they redid their kitchen. One of Ruth’s least favorite household tasks is emptying the dishwasher. So…she put in two dishwashers. With a family of 5, they usually fill the dishwasher daily. So, they run it, and then just use the dishes from it the next day. Put those dirty dishes into the other dishwasher, and by the end of the day, there is very little to unload from the first. And then just repeat the process! Genius!

While I loved the kitchen, the kids loved having a wonderful attic loft to sleep in and Legos galore. They watched Lego movies their cousins made…little did we know that was the start of an activity that would take them through the next several months. We now have an entire Lego movie series they created during the trip!

I already wrote about the trip we made to the family homestead which was definitely a highlight for all of us. We also spent time getting to know each other at beaches, the Cliffs of Moher, and family dinners which allowed us to meet additional relatives as well. And Myron even bought the kids more trading cards, officially making him a hero in their eyes. JJ sobbed when we left as he wanted more time with everyone. We finally appeased him by telling him that we would see them all again when Luke (the oldest son) attends school in Montana this spring. Now we just have to convince them all to come and visit!IMG_6007    IMG_6012

They don't quite understand the telescope concept.
They don’t quite understand the telescope concept.

After Nenagh, we went to Kinsale where we enjoyed some time by the water. And bought more trading cards, of course. We did some definite power touring by doing a guided walking tour of the town, touring Charles Fort, taking a narrated boat trip, and doing a ghost tour all in one day. Although Hubs and JJ didn’t do the ghost tour, as JJ opted to stay home and pull out a tooth instead. Thankfully, the tooth fairy was ready for him! (Our tooth fairy gives books along with money, but somehow she made it to Ireland book in hand.)

Charles Fort
Charles Fort

 

From Kinsale, it was off to Kilkenny, stopping at Rock of Cashel along the way. We had a truly amazing guide there who kept us entertained for over an hour. Kilkenny was a wonderful stop at a fantastic B&B where we filled our bellies at breakfast and our eyes and minds during the day. And Hubs got to fill his glass at a brewery tour that even the kids enjoyed.

(Although we might have enjoyed it more than they did.)
(Although we might have enjoyed it more than they did.)

And then…Dublin. I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to Dublin. Several people had advised us to spend as little time as possible in Dublin as it’s just a big city. Well, we loved it!

The day we arrived, Hubs had to return the rental car, so the kids and I walked to Grafton Street. It hadn’t occurred to me that the kids really had no experience with large pedestrian streets or with street performers. They were absolutely mesmerized. They loved watching the dancers, magicians, and flame throwers. I finally had to drag them off the street with the promise that we could return again with Hubs on a different day.

Then…the highlight of Dublin for the kids…a visit to Croke Park stadium. Remember how the kids have become obsessed with hurling and Gaelic football? When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed.

The Gaelic sports are organized by county, and each county has a unique coat-of-arms. The kids made Hubs print out a map of the Ireland counties and a list of all the coat-of-arms so they could figure out where the teams were from and which teams they were missing. Completely on their own, they mastered the geography of Ireland due to the trading cards. They can tell you every county we went to and where it is on the map (and if their hurling team is any good or not). It’s actually been great fun, with many hours of sorting and organizing and negotiating trades as they carry the cards in their backpacks and work on it while we’re waiting for a table at a restaurant or driving.

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They even bought books for storing the cards.

So now was their chance to see where the major games are played. The tour itself was awesome. We saw the locker rooms which contained a jersey from each team, the private boxes, the posh dining/pint room, all the back areas, and, of course, the field. We learned a ton and then spent a few hours in the museum after the tour.

Huge replicas of hurling sticks.
Huge replicas of hurling sticks.

 

Ready to report on the game.
Ready to report on the game.

 

In the museum, there were interactive exhibits where you could try your hand at the sports. A HUGE hit!
In the museum, there were interactive exhibits where you could try your hand at the sports. A HUGE hit!

 

Add a Viking duck tour, the National Museum, watching the Gaelic football semi-finals at a pub, and a visit to Kilmainham Gaol (jail) to the mix, and you have an extremely successful 3 days in Dublin.

Ireland was the one country on our trip that was new to me. But now that I’ve been there, I’m hooked.

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From Trump to North Korea and Everything In Between

In our everyday life, we are a family that dines together the majority of the time. It definitely gets tricky with the kids’ sports schedules, but if we aren’t all sitting down together, it’s sports, not work, that is getting in the way. It’s a priority we have set for our family, and we do our best to make family meals happen.

So I thought we had pretty solid family conversations at the dinner table.

I was wrong.

Let me set the scene. It’s August, and we’re in Bruges, Belgium. It’s been a bit rainy, and we decide to try a fondue restaurant for dinner. Stepping inside, it’s intimate and comfortable. You would almost swear you were in Switzerland except that the fondue comes with all you can eat fries.

Before we order, I say to Hubs, “Did you see the newspaper headline about how Trump is doing?” He replies, and suddenly Missa B jumps in.

“Who is Trump?”
We give a basic explanation.

“Do you like him?”

We respond.

“Why don’t you like him? What does he do that you don’t like?”

So, we go a bit into some of the comments Trump has made (at that point), and who he has offended.

“So who do you like? And why do you like them?”

What started as general questions turned into, I kid you not, a 2-hour conversation about the American political system, the current candidates, previous candidates, what issues divide Americans, and I can’t even remember the rest. It then somehow evolved into an explanation of fascism…and racism…and the political situation in North Korea…and the war in Syria…and refugees….

JJ didn’t say a word for two hours, but it was obvious he was listening, taking it all in, and trying to process. As for Hubs and me, we were pretty much exhausted by the end of the conversation. But, we figured it was a good conversation, so it was worth it.

And then it started up again the next morning.

“So, is it good for the Democrats if Trump does well? Will that help the Democratic Party? How do you think he’ll do?”

And, over two months later, it hasn’t stopped. Except that we visited the D-Day beaches in between, so now Hitler, more information about fascism, and the Nazi party has been thrown into the mix. Even JJ became fully engaged and starting asking lots of questions as well.

I find that sometimes, I just want to sit down to dinner and talk about the weather. And it does happen once in awhile. But, more often than not, the conversations seems to be about past and current world events. We’ll get a break for about a week or so, and suddenly Missa B will, out of the blue, say something like (and these are her words), “Trump is continuing to gain more and more followers. He must be saying something that people like. What makes people want to support him? What is he saying that people want to hear?”

I look at her and have to remind myself that she just turned 10.

That particular question she posed yesterday about what Trump is saying led to a conversation about how politicians phrase messages in general. Which led to questions about whether politicians lie. Which led to a conversation about whether it is ok to lie to get into office.

JJ (age 7) told us adamantly that it is not ok to lie. “And, if I decide to run for President,” he informed us, “I will not lie. And people will look into my eyes and know I am telling the truth so they will decide to vote for me.”

Missa B waffled a bit. “If everyone is lying, then how can you win if you don’t lie? You might have to lie because everyone else is lying as well.”

Seeing the perfect “over-the-top Mom message” moment, I seized it: “You are going to face times in your life when people want you to do something because everyone else is doing it. That’s when you really listen to your heart.” Somehow I went from there to lecturing talking about getting into a car with someone who had a few drinks and having it be the last day of your life. Yea, I know — I tend to go the dramatic route. Subtlety has never been my speciality.
At which point, Missa B said, “Mom. Your whole point makes no sense. You are talking about kids in high school. They can’t drink because they aren’t 21, remember?!”

Right, she’s only 10. She has no clue what is ahead of her.

Or maybe, based on the past 4 months of conversations, she does.

And maybe I need to brush up on politics and world events so I can keep up with her.

Traveling With Kids in Europe — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

As we planned this trip, people constantly told me we were crazy.

I heard things like “How do you plan all that?” Or, “Can you really take the kids out of school that long?”

But honestly, those aren’t the questions I asked myself.

My questions were more along the lines of: “Can I really be with the kids 24/7 for that long?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. A lot. But I am not one of those people who does the Mom thing naturally. And I admit that I get jealous of my amazing friends who do. I look at Facebook and see the posts of the elaborate cakes they made for birthday parties, but I breathe a sigh of relief when my son decides he wants donuts from the grocery store for “something different”. Although, if I attempted to make some of the things I would love to try on Pinterest, he would get “something different” indeed.

Bottom line is – I’m realistic. I wasn’t harboring any fantasies that we were going to jet off to Europe and glide through countries acting like the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver. So I headed into this with a practical, albeit slightly skeptical, eye. Now, 3.5 months into the adventure, I’m learning that traveling this long with kids has some pretty trying moments, and it has absolutely wonderful moments as well.

To read my full account of what’s it been like traveling with kids in Europe, check out my guest post on Jo’s blog.