Autumn In Ireland

October 13, 2018

Last week, Michael remarked that it felt like autumn had arrived in Dublin this week. Seemingly out of nowhere, all the trees started to turn and leaves are rapidly falling. We joked that next week will be winter. We might not be wrong, there’s was a storm this week and now a lot of leaves on the ground instead of on those trees. The kids are already wearing hats on the morning walk to school and I should break out my gloves because pushing the stroller is starting to make my fingers numb.

But last week was mild and the late afternoon autumn light was glorious. We took the kids to Malahide Castle to get a slice of cake to celebrate Maya’s third birthday (I actually baked for her little party on Sunday when my parents were in town and all our family could join us to celebrate) and found a few corners filled with bright red leaves. We ran and crawled and threw leaves in the air. Maya wanted to play spooky ghosts and look for badgers in the ‘forest.’

We really didn’t have seasons in Houston, so it’s quite fun to experience with them. Maya kept looking at the leaves strewn in the grass, saying, “Is this autumn?”  At this time of year, the Virginia creeper turns bright orange and red and it’s so fun when you find a spot for a few photos with that backdrop!  My boys don’t always get my vision, but whatever. That’s not going to stop me!  I love new walkers with their arms up for balance with every step. And also Noah in skinny jeans that may or may not have been Maya’s.  I made my crew cheese in front of the castle, because a third birthday celebrated at a castle is a pretty magical thing! I’m not sure the Malahide Castle trees were terribly thrilled about 200 pounds climbing up them!   It poured rain for most of today, so we’re packing our rain boots for a trip to the pumpkin patch tomorrow. We’re trying to squeeze the most out of this actual season now that we have it! Happy fall to you!

Dear Houston: Thank You

September 25, 2018

I wrote these words for Mabel & Moxie, a parenting website I contribute to monthly, right after we left Houston. I’d been writing them in my head for weeks before we left, and it was therapeutic to put them down on (digital) paper. I essentially wrote the summarized version of our last 3 years in Houston, ending with a thank you to the city that made us a family. This is an excerpt, the thank you letter to our Houston home, which we still miss very much. 

Leaving Houston was a blur, and so were the 2 months that followed. I’m barely coming up for air now, and blogging feels like a luxury I’ve had to forego for a long time. This is what I would have shared at the time, we are so grateful to the city and the people who made Houston our home. 

Last week, we left Houston, the place where we became a family and then grew our family, to return to Dublin, the place we left as a very hopeful couple. I always knew that leaving the place where we brought our kids home would be impossibly difficult, but it was always far enough in the future that I could push the surge of emotion away. Last week it became reality and we left Houston for the foreseeable future. We left the place where we brought our kids through the door for the first time, said goodbye to the doctors who reassured us in the very early stages of parenting when I know I looked like a deer in the headlights trying to adjust, and hugged our adoption caseworkers one more time.

There’s an episode of Call the Midwife, I think the Christmas special from last year, in which Dr. Turner and his family moved out of the only home they’ve ever known. He says to his son as they’re leaving, “The memories don’t live in the house.” I’ve repeated that line over and over, attempting to sear into my memory the exact smell of the parking lot where I was sitting in my car when I saw the first picture of my daughter. I repeated it as I made my way, one more time, through the labyrinthine parking lot at the hospital where my son was born. I repeated it when I said a very tearful goodbye to my church mom’s group who literally held me up during each of our failed adoptions before our son finally came. I repeated it as we headed for the airport at 4 a.m. with two pajama-clad babies in their car seats behind me. The memories don’t live in the place, but that place surely helped make those memories. And what incredible memories they were.

While the overall goodbye process was emotionally exhausting, it was therapeutic. I managed to see those special Houston people and places one more time before we put our suitcases in the car and made our way east to Dublin. While it was sort of a goodbye tour, it was even more of a gratitude tour. We couldn’t be more grateful for an adopted city to call home while we fought to grow our family, and Houston — people, places, jobs, opportunities, adoption agencies, hospitals, even coffee shops — treated us so well.

The memories aren’t in the place, but we will take with us everlasting memories of a place that was utterly life-changing for us. I’ll never forget the first time we drove our daughter down the 10-lane highway to our house, and how terrified my husband was to drive faster than 65 miles per hour as trucks and SUVS zoomed by us. I’ll never forget the first time we walked into our favorite coffee shop, where we’d later celebrate two adoption day lunches with our friends and families. I’ll never forget the beeping sound of the two NICUs where we laid eyes on our two children for the first time. And I’ll never forget the blue door and the metal threshold and the polished concrete floor we brought them home to for the first time, where they crawled and cooed and giggled first. Our Houston home.

Dear Houston: A Thank You Letter to a Place That Made My Family
Finally, I’ll never forget the feeling of watching Houston grow tiny beneath us as the plane ascended into the air, one child strapped to my chest, his chubby hands bopping my sides, and a toddler buckled in next to me, exclaiming, “Let’s do it, team!” as we took off. Moving to Houston was a flying leap of faith that it could be the place where we could finally become parents; taking off as a family of four felt victorious and redemptive.

We will return one day, with both our kids in tow, perhaps looking for answers or information on their backgrounds, or perhaps just to walk down memory lane with them. We’ll show them the church where they were dedicated and where our friends stood in as family behind us and blessed our little family. We’ll sit in the parking lot where we found out Maya was coming, and we’ll eat at the Thai restaurant we were sitting when we got the call that Noah had arrived. We’ll take the elevator up to the NICUs where they each were born, and we’ll show them the tiny apartment where we spent late nights feeding and early mornings reading stories. As our daughter still calls it, we’ll take a reunion tour of our “Houston home.”

Thank you, Houston, for giving us a home to become a family, and for scooping us up and taking care of us along the way — through ups and downs, extreme grief, and finally, to a family of four. Until we meet again one day, thank you.

Our First Family Howth Hike

September 24, 2018

If you’ve ever met me, you probably know how much I love my Howth cliff walk. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to run it, but if I’m even luckier, I get to hike it with my whole family in the sunshine!

On Saturday, Michael had to go to a training in the country somewhere and on his way home, he texted to say we should find a hiking backpack so we can all go for a hike. Well, I didn’t need any more motivation than that! Before he’d even made it to Dublin, I’d found a second-hand hiking backpack on Facebook Marketplace (do you guys use that? It’s my new favorite thing for finding kids gear second hand) and he had it in hand and was back in our house before the kids even woke up from their naps.

Of course, I insisted that we try it out immediately, so we headed up to the cliffs. I wore Noah in our Lillebaby, which we love, but hopefully will be replaced with another hiking backpack in the next week or so. Michael wore Maya in the hiking backpack, while carrying a cup full of grapes and a grungy, pants-less Barbie she apparently stole from school. I had a perma-grin plastered on my face the entire time. I can’t even explain how good it was. Noah babbled in his little Noah language the entire time, and Maya sang made-up Maya songs for the whole hour. It was downright magical.  Maya was a little nervous about falling over the cliff, and her height up on Michael’s back probably didn’t help that. She kept asking Michael to carry her, so we explained a lot that he was already carrying her. But then she got over it and spotted the horses in the field next to the path and sang them some songs about eating rice cakes for dinner the rest of the way.  Proof of grape cup and pants-less Barbie.  We ended the adventure with a stop at the Summit Inn (we’re planning to work our way up to hiking there, then taking the bus back down the road to our car eventually) for a celebratory drink. Maya had blackcurrant and water and was fully convinced she had ‘black wine like dad’ and Noah munched on all the French fries while Maya was preoccupied. It was a wonderful adventure as a family of four and I can’t wait to explore more walks and hikes soon!

The Dead Samaritan: A Dublin Thriller

September 18, 2018

So in addition to moving back to Dublin this summer, I’ve had a little more excitement in the last few months. Late last month, my book was published! It was so long in the making, and then even longer in the publishing, but The Dead Samaritan  arrived yesterday in the mail and it finally feels real. So now begins the process of letting the world know it exists!

It’s very surreal seeing my name on Amazon. I even have an author page! Julie (my Delightful Dublin partner) took the photo for me and I tried to look as serious as possible. Delightful Dublin and The Dead Samaritan are sort of polar opposites on the genre range, so my author photo needed a different sort of feel. It’s available on Kindle and in paperback, and I really hope that if you buy it, you enjoy it, and if you enjoy it, you’ll leave a kind review on Amazon. Apparently that’s the key to crime novel success these days! Fingers crossed!

Maya Starts Preschool

September 17, 2018

Maya started preschool last week. In Ireland they call preschool Montessori, although not all preschools use the actual Montessori method. Maya’s school does, though, so it’s technically a Montessori Montessori. Ha! On her first day, we barely managed a few photos to commemorate the morning. Are we the only family who always runs out of time for photos on the important occasions? I wish we’d gotten photos with both Michael and I together with Maya. I also wish I’d gotten photos that weren’t blurry, but there’s always next year I suppose! Or the year after that… Her class is mixed with kids from 2.8 years old to 6, and there are 20 of them with 3 teachers. Her main teacher is Mexican, if you can believe it, and she greets each kid by saying ‘hola’ each morning. I couldn’t believe how perfect that was, a lovely smidge of our Houston life and Maya’s heritage every morning. When I pick her up, she says ‘hasta luego’ to her teachers and gabs about her morning all the way home. Since the first morning she’s been nothing but excited to stuff her ‘pack pack’ with as many toys as possible and trundle off to school. She comes home covered in paint and dirt from playing outside. So far, so very good.  It’s hard to believe she’s old enough for preschool, but she’s so ready and so happy.

Noah Turns One

September 14, 2018

We now have a one year old little boy! Well, technically, we have a 13 month old by this point, but we did celebrate on his actual birthday with cupcakes and family, and it only took me a month to get the photos off my camera and onto my computer to share.  Let me tell you a cautionary tale about sparkler candles. Don’t use them with one-year-olds. All was well until we lit that candle and then both Noah and Maya were very nervous about the smell and the flashing. Luckily, the sugar helped them change their tunes. Noah was so concerned. Ha!  He was happier to eat the frosting while in my arms, with my shirt to wipe his fingers. I think it even ended up in my hair.  Maya licked the frosting off at least 3 cupcakes and couldn’t figure out why her cousin spent the whole time asleep on the couch. They came straight from a flight from the States to celebrate with us!  We can’t believe how lucky we are to have Noah in our family. I wish I had photos of him smiling from his birthday, because it truly lights up his whole face. He’s silly and cuddly and loves nothing more than being permanently attached to me or Michael at all times. If he could never be set down, he’d be perfectly happy. He babbles to himself in the car and when he’s playing, and when he’s putting himself down for a nap he has long conversations with himself. He’s a dream come true and we’re so grateful to be smeared in frosting or avocado or oatmeal by him every day!

Transitioning Home

September 10, 2018

I’ve started this post at least five different times in the last few weeks. And each time, before I get a chance to finish it, it’s all out of date and I scrap the whole thing. We’ve been back in Dublin for almost two months and are now settled into our new home. Michael started a new dream job, Maya started preschool last week, and Noah now has a wonderful nanny who comes to watch him three mornings a week so that I can work. Finally, we are getting back to a reality I can survive, because the last few months have been the hardest parenting/living I can remember doing.

A move, in isolation, probably wouldn’t have been quite so taxing. But a move that included a month with one set of grandparents, then another month in the other grandparents’ house without the actual grandparents definitely added to the transition. The first month involved two weeks in Maine with my parents but without Michael – and Noah basically wouldn’t leave my hip. I don’t think I went to the bathroom by myself for two weeks. And then the second month involved staying in Michael’s parents’ house (and trying to keep Maya from getting into her grandma’s craft supply every nap time) while gutting our new house. I watched kids and Michael helped with the work on the house, and in between we tried to make very fast decisions about what actually we wanted in the house. When we finally wrangled both kids into bed at night, I’d write until midnight. Needless to say, 6 hours of sleep or less a night for that long left me feeling fairly depleted. Maya, bless her heart, has turned into a tricky sleeper as a toddler and the stress of the move coupled with sleeping in a new spot and changing time zones led to night terrors that we’re only now recovering from. When she sleeps through the night, we’re still surprised and relieved. Noah, meanwhile, sleeps like a champ for 11 hours each night, but still isn’t willing to go into anyone else’s arms without a fuss. It’s a function of his personality (the first thing he did when I met him at 18 hours old was cling to my finger and not let go) and not having anyone around for the first 10 months of his life.

All that to say, we’re not going to sign up for any more international moves with babies and toddlers anytime soon! We are thrilled with our house, and I can’t wait to properly share it with you. Every morning we say we can’t believe how lucky we were that we bought when we did (in 2015, before we moved to Houston) and every evening we say we can’t believe this is our life. When we left Houston, all we were focused on was getting to Ireland. We didn’t think much beyond stepping off the plane and beginning the next phase of our lives together as a family. Welp, that was silly. Not unusual for me, because I don’t always think ahead in these big change situations, but silly. We should have thought about and prepared ourselves for how big a transition it was going to be for all of us. The kids rocked the jet lag so well in just a few days, but that was the easy part. New routines and places and nothing being familiar has been tricky. Not having our friends and our bagel place and our parks has been hard for Maya and for me. She asks about her Houston home still, and she doesn’t quite understand why all the houses look the same! I miss my friends, and the light, and regularly driving by places where the biggest events of our lives happened.

But we’re getting there, and in a few months hopefully all will feel a bit more peaceful. We’re going to paint our front door a pinky-peach colour so Maya knows which house is ours among a sea of same-looking buildings. We’ve found a new morning routine that often involves “baby-baccinos” from our new favorite coffee shop in Howth, and we’re working hard to make sure we talk about Houston and our life there and remember the amazing memories we can still enjoy from afar.

There are first birthday photos and first day of preschool photos and a whole lot of beach adventuring photos I’m excited to share next week. Thanks for bearing with us in this wild adventure, and for coming back to read after yet another long break.

Greetings from Dublin!

July 13, 2018

We’re home. When we finally landed after our more than 12 hour journey back to Dublin from my parents’ house in Maine, we looked at each other and said, “We’re home.” We did it. The crazy plan worked, we had two beautiful children sleeping in our arms as we walked to baggage claim, and despite being utterly exhausted from the flight, moving out of our Houston home, shlepping suitcases across an ocean, jet lag. We’re home and we did it.

We’ve hit the ground running and started straight in on our new house (the one we bought before we left but that has been rented out for the last 3 years) and it’s currently in a total state of renovation. We are hoping to be in it by the end of July, and you’re welcome to stay updated with that crazy process via my Instagram stories (@emilyholmes).

We took the kids to our favorite beach tonight and Maya couldn’t peel the smile off her face. Even though we’re staying at my in-laws’ house, the kids have already settled more than they have been in months. It’s as though everyone knows this is finally home.  Not to be outdone in the gleeful smile category, our almost-one-year-old is pretty darn thrilled too.  This kid stood on his own for the first time tonight. We almost have another walker!  We are happy to be home. We can’t wait to (hopefully more reliably) share the next part of our journey with you. xx

Big News // We’re Moving Back to Ireland!

May 24, 2018

We are so excited that we finally get to share some big news! We’re moving back to Dublin this summer! While we had envisioned that this wacky Houston adventure would be a one year “sabbatical,” we’re very good at overstaying our welcome (remember how I agreed to live in Dublin for a year and then it was almost 8 and we bought a house and are planning to raise our kids there?) and by the time we leave we will be just short of three years in Houston. Three years, two forever kids, four foster kids, a whole slew of new and dear friends, a few extra pounds (blaming the barbecue and sleep deprivation!) and wrinkles, and utterly priceless memories. Once we knew Noah was ours forever last summer, we knew this would be our last year in Houston. While it has been an incredible experience and so rewarding to be here, it’s also been exhausting. Not having family around while we have two young kids has been really hard, and we have definitely outgrown our little apartment by now. We knew that once we finalized a second adoption, we’d start making plans to head home. So on July 9th, we’ll get on a plane with a squirmy baby-toddler combo and make our way to Dublin!

The kids and I will actually leave Houston in mid-June and head to Maine for a few weeks. Michael will stay on for a little while to finalize getting rid of everything we own. Ha! Just a small project, eh? That will be followed by a few more weeks in Maine with my family, and then another fairly large project once we get to Dublin: fix up and furnish that house we bought as we moved to Houston enough to live in by the end of August! ***

I’ve been thinking so much about our initial move here as we prepare to leave. What a wild leap of faith we took! We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we were so hopeful. It makes me teary to think about the months before we left Dublin and then the weeks of our Houston adventure before Maya arrived. We had so much hope and faith that this wild plan would work. And it did. It worked twice. It’s honestly hard for us to believe and we’re the ones living it! We have two incredible children, Michael (and I, sometimes) got to work at a school that is about as different from an Irish school as you could ever get, we were introduced to fostering, which broke our hearts in all the right ways, and our marriage grew so much stronger through the rollercoaster of this adventure. (Our kids are really receptive to direction when it comes to photo shoots in the heat and humidity!)

I’ve had to stop thinking about what it will be like to actually get on a plane and leave Houston because it makes me so emotional. We have so many priceless memories here, especially in our little bunker of an apartment. We brought both our babies through that door for the first time, they’ve crawled and walked and cried and laughed here, and we’ve all felt so safe in this tiny little space. Part of me is very glad that I don’t have to be part of the process of taking down their cribs or getting rid of the last of their toys before leaving. Good thing Michael is less sentimental about that sort of thing!

***

Last weekend, we had our children dedicated in our Vineyard Houston church, alongside a few other babies in the congregation. They asked us all to come stand up front with any family members who were with us. Of course, our family lives thousands of miles away, so we just expected to stand up there by ourselves, which was fine. I burst into tears of gratitude and surprise when half of my moms group came up to stand behind us and bless our children, standing in for our family. They are our family. People who didn’t know us at all three years ago threw us a baby shower, brought us meals when Noah arrived, loved our children and most importantly, took care of us like family.

But no matter how many tears I’ll probably cry between now and when we leave Houston, returning to Dublin with two children feels like getting to take a victory lap with two giant trophies. We are so grateful for what Houston has given us over the last three years, and what the city has meant to our family. We are looking forward to returning one day to walk our kids through the memories of their first years of life, and to hug our friends again.

***

These photos, taken by our dear and talented friend and Houston Heights neighbor Andrew Buckler, were inspired by the photos I shared almost 3 years ago when I finally revealed the reason we hadn’t returned to Dublin after a summer in the States. It was a fairly vulnerable thing to share that we were uprooting our lives to try to adopt when we didn’t know what would happen or whether our plan would work at all. But not 12 hours after I shared that post, with this little bistro table and chair set I DIY’d back to life, we got the call that our daughter was here.

The chairs are now surrounded by a growing menagerie of toddler toys and plastic vehicles. The fabric covering the chairs has faded, but they’ve been the place we’ve watched Maya and now Noah play outside (until the mosquitos arrive) for hours over the last few years. They’ve been our welcome home to this little bunker of an apartment building, reminding us of the outrageous hope we had when I literally held my breath and posted that blog post, half wondering if everyone would think we were nuts. And reminding us of what our bravery accomplished, what our giant leap into the unknown to find the baby and then babies we had been waiting for achieved.

Weirdly, that little bright green patio set symbolizes our big dream and our even bigger gratitude for this life we get to live because of the leap we took.

***

We are embarking on some exciting new projects upon our return to Dublin, including starting the licensing process to become foster parents over there, launching a copywriting company with a friend, and beginning to document our travels with our own kids around Ireland. Who knows, there might even be Delightful Dublin for Kids on the horizon!

I’ll be sharing all of those adventures here more regularly. I hope you’ll join me. xx

More photos from our little Houston life. 

How To Love Where You Live

May 21, 2018

I’ve been thinking lately about how to love where you live. It’s by far one of the skills I most appreciate having learned. For almost eight years, we lived in Dublin and I think often about how much I struggled to enjoy Dublin when I first moved there. That might even be an understatement. For the first full year, I think I cried more than I didn’t. I was so homesick as a brand new ex-pat, especially because I hadn’t really ever lived very far from my family or where I grew up.

But I actually remember the moment my attitude toward Dublin shifted. It was such an ah-ha moment that I wrote it on a piece of paper and I think it’s still saved with our belongings somewhere back in Dublin. I remember realizing that my unhappiness wasn’t something I wanted to tell our kids decades down the line. What a silly story that one day we’d tell our kids, “Well, we moved to Dublin but your mom hated it and cried all the time.” I realized we’d have to make the story we’d want to tell our kids and our grandkids one day.

That first year in Dublin wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. Skype was brand new, email was still pretty spotty, and texting internationally was expensive. We were so poor, Michael was in grad school and no one would hire me in the height of the recession. We actually ended up having to move out of our first apartment and in with Michael’s parents because we just couldn’t make it work. It felt like we had failed in our first year of marriage. And to add to it all, I couldn’t help but feel that Michael’s friends were hand-me-down friends to me. I hadn’t made new friends in so long and it was hard to do without having a job or any hobbies to do without him. It was all a bit dire!

But changing my attitude toward living there made an enormous difference and quickly. And what I learned in that first year was that despite the challenges, I got to make a choice to love where I lived, and that made me see the place in a new light. Heck, we ended up buying a house over there, so my attitude certainly changed! Eight years later, when we moved to Houston, we weren’t technically expats anymore, but we might as well have been. Michael and I both have American passports, but we’d only ever really lived in Maine. Michael spent a few months in Houston in college, but Houston was still a little shocking for us when we first arrived. And while we did have the exciting purpose of trying to adopt when we were settling in, I think consciously enjoying the place where we were was the key to settling in to Houston quickly and happily.

We aren’t staying in Houston forever (more on that soon!), but I’m pretty sure we could now that I’ve learned that priceless art of loving where you live. Half of it is deciding to love it, and the other half is finding people and places that make you feel like you’re home. We had a total of two friends and one family member in Houston that we knew when we arrived, and they all lived 45 minutes away. Since we are sort of fussy coffee people, we ended up going to the same coffee spot often in our neighborhood (with our Brother Hubbard KeepCups that are still going strong several years later!) and it wasn’t long before they knew us (well, Michael at least) by name.

So I suppose that’s my advice. Decide to love the place you’re in, explore it, and frequent places you love often. Strike up conversations, be friendly, ask for recommendations. Having someone know your face and your name goes such a long way in feeling like you belong somewhere. I was recently approached by the Allianz Care team, a health care company with Expat Health Insurance plans that include an Expat Assistance Program. Isn’t that an awesome idea? And get this, they offer a 24/7 multilingual support service that can help expats and their kids (presuming they’re a bit older than ours) deal with cross-cultural transitions, cultural shock, coping with loneliness, relationships and workplace challenges. I can tell you that having lived in America, where health care is a less holistic or preventative or mental health oriented than ever, I think this is an incredible offering from an international health plan, and if we were staying longer we’d fully take advantage of it.

From time to time, I get emails from people who are moving to Ireland and other places, and I’m always happy to chat about what that transition was like for us.

This post was written in partnership with Allianz. Thanks for supporting the posts that make this blog possible!