Tang: A Dublin Brunch Spot We Love

June 14, 2019

Michael and I haven’t managed to get out in the evening very much this year, but last weekend we decided we needed to start trying out new babysitters. Our kids are used to our family members who watch them sometimes, but we didn’t have anyone since our nanny went back to Uruguay who could watch them when no family members were available.

So because I wasn’t going to land the kids or the sitter with nap time or bedtime on the first go, that left us with a brunch date. And actually, it was delightful. The kids are happiest in the morning, so I wasn’t worried about them acting up or needing us too much, and let’s face it, brunch is cheaper than dinner anyway! Plus, I really do love brunch food.

We had been wanting to try Tang, on Lower Abbey Street, but it’s closed on Sundays when we’re usually around the corner for church. So we went a few weeks ago and it was as delicious as it was cute. The Luas goes right by and it feels like you’re right in the city.

The coffee was great (sometimes decaf lattes are hard to get right, but this was very right) and I haven’t stopped thinking about the mushrooms on toast since. I literally could have eaten it again a few hours later, it was that good. I mean, I was full, but it was so yummy. Michael had shakshuka and he loved it, too. A friend said their chicken salad is her fave, so that’ll be next on my lunch list to try.

We brought the kids back today since both kids were home and Michael is out of school for the summer. It was delightfully quiet mid-morning and Maya ate so. much. oatmeal. Which, of course, was probably because it was very delicious oatmeal, with coconut milk, honey, granola and toasted nuts. I think we need to step our home oatmeal situation up a level!


The kids have babyccino KeepCups and they are as good for the environment as they are for keeping spills from happening.

Managing the toddler chaos is definitely easier when there are benches and big tables involved!

Tang: 9A Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1

Sharing Our Adoption Story On The Radio

May 28, 2019

Michael and I dropped the kids with their uncle and grandpa early yesterday morning and headed across town to be on the radio! We were contacted by a researcher at the Tubridy Show on RTE Radio One who had seen my article on Image.ie (which if you missed the print copy, you can check it out now online!) and wanted us to come chat about our journey to Houston and back.

You can listen to the full interview here (we start around 20 minutes in) and it actually goes on for 25 minutes! I could have stayed and chatted all day. The story of how our family was built is, by far, my favorite story of all time.

Ryan Tubridy was genuine and kind, on and off air. It’s nerve-racking to be speaking live, but he put us right at ease. I’d do it again tomorrow if they asked!

Hiking With Toddlers 101

February 26, 2019

I’ve gotten a bunch of questions, especially on Instagram, about hiking with our two kids. So here’s what we’ve learned!

I bought two hiking backpacks on secondhand sites (I’m a huge fan of Facebook Marketplace and use DoneDeal often as well). I didn’t know what the brands were when I bough them, but I asked the owners if they’d be good for carrying toddlers. They’re probably not the top of the line, but they’ve worked really well for us. I wasn’t ready to shell out big bucks because we weren’t sure if the kids were going to sit still in the packs long enough to make it worth it. So instead, I think I paid €65 for the two packs and I think we’ve used them probably ten times.

Noah’s pack is a Bush Baby and Maya’s pack doesn’t even seem to have a brand on it! Noah’s has a little head pillow which is nice, but they’re otherwise both fairly basic. They don’t have covers, so if it were to start pouring, we’d all get wet. We’ve hiked in the mist before, and we just put the kids in their wet gear, which also gives them another layer of warmth against the elements. Both packs have water bottle holders on both sides and big storage pouches at the back for snacks and any layers we shed as we hike.  We have light kids, which does make a difference. Noah’s twenty pounds at 18 months and Maya’s not yet thirty pounds at three years and three months old. If you had really heavy kids, I think you’d have to be stronger or go more often to get more practice!

We usually max out at about an hour of hiking. Sometimes the kids are done after an hour, and sometimes we’re exhausted by then, but an hour is usually our sweet spot. We typically end up with at least one kid asleep for part of it, and they always seem comfortable enough to snooze as we clomp along the trail.

We bring a billion snacks and that keeps our kids (who don’t sit still much) happy to sit in their packs for an hour. We’ve also instituted a hike-then-pub tradition, which Maya has really taken to. When we talk about hiking, she now puts the two together (good or bad, who knows!) and declares, “Yes, and then chippies.” Nothing like a little toddler positive reinforcement!

Our favorite hike is from the Martello tower in Sutton about halfway to Baily lighthouse, and then we walk back along the road to the car. We could probably hike to the lighthouse and then up to the Summit Inn, but we usually do the loop and drive the mile up the hill so we don’t have to wait on the bus to take us back down to the car. The kids otherwise don’t have a whole lot of fries in their lives, so they love it, and we definitely earn the snack (and maybe a glass of wine and a pint of Guinness) by the time we lug those kids around for an hour! We tried Maya with a short, 20-minute hike a few weeks ago, and we were shocked at how nimble she was. The key to her success seemed to be her own “hiking boots” — boots I bought before we moved back in case there was another snowy winter in Dublin. But they’re perfect for hiking because they’re pretty waterproof but also shearling lined. I wouldn’t take her on a hike where there isn’t a barrier between us and a cliff because I don’t trust her not to go flinging off the edge, but since she’s definitely getting heavier, I think we’re going to give her as much hiking practice as possible in these next few months!

If you have specific hiking with babies/toddlers questions, send them my way. We’re by no means experts, but we’ve loved being able to get out hiking as a family!

House Projects On Deck

February 12, 2019

A friend asked me the other day whether our house in Dublin was finished. Well, sort of. When we moved in we obviously did a ton of work before we moved in. It made more sense to do as much as we could before we moved two kids into the chaos. When we did move in, we figured we had a few large projects on the horizon in the coming years. We initially thought that renovating our upstairs bathroom would be first on that list, but I think we’ve switched our priorities.

We actually made some major improvements to the upstairs bathroom that make it less of a dungeon and more livable long term. I painted the bathroom floor and the shower wall tiles and that made all the difference. I think could live with it for years now.

But the other project that was on our list was adding a staircase to the third level. Our attic is finished, with a skylight and carpeting and lighting, but it only has a drop-down ladder as access from the second floor. We have a bed up there and we sleep there when we have guests who stay in our room, but adding a dormer with a staircase would make it a proper guest bedroom.

So that is our major project that we need to save for over the coming year or two.  In the meantime, we have two other categories of projects. First, I want to finish the finishing touches on just about every room in the house. They’re not big, but they’re keeping each of the rooms from feeling finished. Noah’s room needs a floor lamp for reading, since we only have the overhead for a kid who demands at least five books before every nap and bedtime. Maya’s room could use a rug, the master bedroom needs all the artwork hung on the wall and some sort of solution for the blinds. Downstairs, the bathroom needs to be wallpapered and I need to figure out shelving for both bathrooms so that kids stop getting into every single item every time we accidentally leave the door open.

The second category is the exterior. The house has been painted, but the front garden needs desperate help and the back garden needs personality and functionality. And really, what I want to do is figure out a way to DIY stucco all of the horrible concrete blocks they tend to make everything with in Ireland.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to share the kids’ bedrooms soon, and then potentially the upstairs bathroom with all that painted and stenciled tile. Those are the small goals before I start to tackle the bigger ones. Stay tuned!

Delightful Dublin With Kids / The Dead Zoo

February 6, 2019

I’m still really early in exploring Dublin with my kids, and I’ll blame that mostly on nap schedules and Dublin traffic which has increased astronomically in since we last lived here. I’m not quite ready to take both kids on the bus (we don’t live on the Dart line anymore, womp womp), so I prefer to drive in. But that means avoiding the kids’ naps which now run consecutively rather than concurrently, and the window in the afternoon before rush hour traffic hits is very, very small. All that to say, we have lots to explore and we’re only really getting started!

A few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, I decided to take both kids into town to the Natural History Museum, traffic be damned. We needed a boost and a boost we did get. The Dead Zoo was on my list of places to visit with the kids, but I didn’t realize just how perfect it would be for two toddlers. It was very quiet on a Friday afternoon and we spent an hour just wandering from animal to animal. I followed their lead and we circled back around a few times. Maya loved the whole thing, upstairs and downstairs, and Noah loved following her around and stamping on the grates around some of the animal exhibits. They made a nice clanging noise I’m sure the few other people in the museum really enjoyed.

Right across the street from the Dead Zoo is Merrion Square Park, which has a great playground and a green for running around. But around the corner the other direction are cupcakes. Once we looked at enough animals, Maya decided it was too precarious for Noah to be almost touching all the animals and we needed to leave. She actually enlisted the very kind security guard to give Noah a stern talking to about trying to touch the zebra. So we walked up to KC Peaches and picked out a cupcake before heading home for bedtime. The traffic wasn’t great, but I had packed leftover pizza for them to munch in the car on the way home, so they were well occupied.

All in all, it’s a super outing with small kids who love animals. Or grates. Or ancient stairways. A few photos from a picture-perfect little adventure in Dublin.  And proof of mom on the way out the door taken by nice tourists!

Three North Dublin Playgrounds That Are Great

February 4, 2019

Maya and Noah are the perfect ages for playgrounds, and we are lucky that there are some incredible playgrounds that are a short trip away from us. I will never tire of a seaside playground. It might not be warm enough for a splash pad in Ireland, but the country does make up for it with playgrounds with serious views.

We’re in a tricky wintry season where there isn’t enough time between naps and darkness falling to really do much. But before that happened, we tried to take advantage of that post-nap, pre-dinner time with little adventures a few times a week. And in that time, we found three playgrounds we’re definitely going to be frequenting more often once there’s a longer stretch in the evenings. Maya still asks at lunchtime every day if it’s getting dark, so we’re not there yet, but hopefully in another month or so we’ll be back on the playground exploration circuit!

Here are three of our favorite playgrounds in North Dublin and one honorable mention.

Ardgillan Castle

First, Ardgillan Castle. It’s about thirty minutes north of Dublin and it’s a really good half-day excursion. The playground is awesome, with a zip line and lots of different climbing structures for kids of different ages. There’s also a lot of grass for running around, gardens for wandering, and a castle with a cafe for a special snack before heading home. I will say, though, that there is a very large hill between the main parking lot and the playground. Like very, very large. It makes for an incredible view, but it also makes for a pretty big workout pushing a double stroller back up. When we went, the small parking lot at the bottom of the hill was empty, but I’m not sure if you’re supposed to park there. It seemed like you could, but I’m not fully sure what the rules are.

We went on a day that was pretty grey and wet, but you can just about see in the distance – the sea! Also, Noah’s determination slays me. 

Skerries Seaside Playground

Skerries playground is a similar distance from Dublin and even closer to the sea. It’s smaller, but just steps away from a really yummy fish and chips spot and an ice cream shack and a cute coffee spot. It makes for a really nice evening getaway from the city where the adults can enjoy the cute seaside town and the kids get to play on the playground. This one’s probably better for smaller children.

St. Anne’s Park

St. Anne’s Park is much closer to the city, maybe ten minutes north, straight up the coast. It’s an enormous grassy park with lots of giant trees, a stunning rose garden, a cafe, and tons of paths for running, walking, strolling or scootering. It also has a huge playground with lots of fun things to climb and swing.

Honorable Mention

Malahide Castle gets an honorable mention, although I know a lot of people who really love it. Here’s why I’m not a fan: it has a sand pit. And I really just don’t like to mix sand with playgrounds. If we want to deal with the commitment to mess that is sand, we go to the beach. Playgrounds shouldn’t give me that amount of mess to deal with. Also, I am the kind of un-fun mom who doesn’t allow shoes off at the playground (broken glass! rusty nails! danger lurking below!), and it seems a lot of other parents are way more fun. Every time we’ve done Malahide Castle playground we’ve ended in a meltdown about sand and shoes staying on. Luckily, though, there isn’t a giant hill between the playground and the parking lot so we’ve been able to make slightly easier exits upon meltdown!

If you’re visiting Dublin with kids, the first three would be reliably good recommendations. If you’re local, do you have different favorites we should explore?

Taking Them To The Beach / Winter Edition

February 2, 2019

If there is one place our entire family loves, perhaps more than anywhere else at any given time, it’s the beach. It makes each one of us so happy to be out in the fresh air next to the sea. Maya asks to go to the beach just about every day (especially sunny days, when she knows we should be outside getting while the getting’s good), and both kids’ faces fall apart with glee when we announce we’re heading there. I rarely break out my camera lately. I changed cameras before we left Houston because my old one died and couldn’t be fixed, and I just don’t like the new one. The other major problem is that it’s always dark here, so everyone is blurrier than usual. But I’ve been trying when we get outside to bring it with me. They’re still blurry, but they still capture that glee!

We’d never been up on the dunes behind the beach before (and I think you’re not really supposed to hang out on dunes because of erosion, but there are no signs and we weren’t the only ones), and the kids were obsessed. It was a little easier to be up there with Noah because on the beach he just wanted to run straight into the water. I can’t wait to bring him to warm water this summer!  With the mittens and wellies and snowsuit, Noah had a hard time getting himself upright every time he fell down. That’s his booty in the air and it cracked me up.  Noah rocking his sister’s Patriots hat for the big game this weekend!  We did let them splash in the water, but Noah had no concept of when to turn around.  Happy, happy Maya girl.  These two are headed for Frick and Frack status (although perhaps a little more like tweedle dee and tweedle dum in their giant wet gear outfits 😉 and also perhaps only 10% of the time when they’re not screeching at each other) and it’s both the cutest thing ever and a little terrifying. We are in for it when they start teaming up!

Rent Our Dublin Home For July

January 31, 2019

It’s hard to believe we’re talking about the summer when it’s still very much the thick of winter, but such has become our expat life. Michael’s littlest brother is getting married this summer in Chicago, so we’ve built our annual summer visit back to America around that event. I missed Michael’s sister’s wedding because I had to fly home to Houston to pick up a certain little brother. That was of course a reasonable cause to miss a family wedding, but needless to say, we are all going to make this one.

We’ll be in Maine to bookend our Chicago visit, which means we’ll be gone the guts of a month. We’ve always rented our Dublin home (even when it was our tiny apartment!) to cover the costs of rent or now mortgage, and to ensure someone is in it instead of having it deserted for such a long time.

We’ve used HomeAway in the past, but we really prefer to rent to friends or friends of friends, and we may list it that way, but we thought we’d put it out there that our house is available for the month of July (roughly June 24-July 24). If you’re interested, you can send me an email at emily@fromchinavillage.com and I can fill you in on all the details and answer any questions you might have. Here’s the basic gist:

  • It’s a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath house with a tub/shower upstairs. The master has a king, and we can either leave the toddler bed in one room and crib in another, or move in a double/full or two twins. If you are traveling with kids, we have toddler toys, baby gates, a swing set and scooter/balance bike.
  • It’s on two bus lines that go straight into the city centre in about 20 minutes, depending on traffic
  • It’s a 7 minute walk to possibly the biggest grocery store in the city
  • It’s a 10 minute drive to Howth, Malahide Castle, Portmarnock Beach, and lots more grocery stores and restaurants.
  • It’s a 10 minute drive to the airport
  • There’s room to park a car in the driveway, and we can leave two bicycles here if you’d rather cycle than drive or just have the option
  • There’s a convenience store 100 yards away, along with a very helpful pharmacy and a Chinese takeaway that we’ve never tried but that always seems busy
  • It does most likely come with a cat, but if that’s a deal breaker, we might be able to find another place for him for the month. Although he is extremely low maintenance and just likes to be let out/in once a day — sleep all day, party all night.

And if you need a little more inspiration to plan a trip to Dublin this summer, use the code FRIEND to get 25% off my Delightful Dublin e-guide! You’d need a month to get through half the recommendations!

2019: The Year I Re-Tether

January 21, 2019

 

So, three weeks in to 2019 and I’m finally sitting down to put words to 2018. We were busy! And we did so much. We finalized Noah’s adoption in February, then I went back to work in Michael’s school in Houston the week after. We powered through the rest of the school year, trying to soak up as much of our Texas life as we could, and then worked our buns off moving out of our Houston apartment and back to Dublin. We packed up three years of life and managed to move back with just six suitcases, two carry-ons, two car seats, two diaper bags, a double stroller and our two beautiful kids. Phew!

But of course, once we landed in Dublin we weren’t done yet. We had a house to renovate and a life to re-start. The day we landed, we started on the house and everything else. Bought a car, found a nanny, got Maya settled with school, unpacked the belongings we hadn’t seen in three years and started looking for a whole bunch of second-hand furniture that would make our house a home.

My first novel was published and Michael got a new job in his dream school and started in August. Rachael and I launched our new copywriting company, Wordsmiths, and I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. For Mabel & Moxie, for ParentMap, for The Journal, for the Irish Mail on Sunday, and for Image magazine. Not as much for From China Village, but still, thousands upon thousands of words.

Since we returned to Dublin, the kids have picked up at least three colds each and we think most recently the flu. Maya has had three rounds of infections treated with antibiotics, and a whole lot of broken sleep. Noah has had extreme separation anxiety for months (10, to be exact) and has been very screechy and clingy with Michael and I (and very, very uninterested in anyone other than us and our lovely nanny). I feel like I spent most of 2018 carrying one or both children for hours on end.

The lack of sleep for the last seven months has taken its toll, but I think the change from life in Houston to life in Dublin has been much harder than I anticipated. I had a community in Houston that I loved and that supported me. I miss it and them. I haven’t found that community yet in Dublin, and that has made Ireland, so far, a little lonely. Living here with children is very different than living here before we were parents.

I ended 2018 feeling untethered and drifting. And also very, utterly exhausted. I ran on sheer adrenaline for the last three years and at the end of 2018, I ran out. Part of that is because there’s nothing that particularly needs adrenaline anymore. We spent more than three years chasing enormous goals — baby one, fostering, baby two, moving back to Ireland, book, company, new job, hustle upon hustle — and there’s a certain amount of let-down inherent in transitioning to a life that doesn’t necessitate such pushing for such enormously emotional projects.

So 2019 is the year I re-tether, where I find my feet again and regain some of the confidence I lost in the last few months of no sleep and dark, wintry weather. 2019 is going to be the year I make some friends (two of my besties in Ireland live across the country, so that’s tough!), maybe some mom friends who I can feel I’m raising kids alongside, which is one of the things I miss the most about Houston. We’ll find a new pediatrician for the kids (you might have seen on my Instagram stories that we ended up with a racist one who needs replacing and probably reporting), and start to explore the city and the countryside more with them hopefully healthy.

2019 didn’t exactly start with a lot of change from the survival mode of 2018; both kids were sick for a full week of fevers and coughs and still no sleep and all the clinginess. But Michael and I got to spend a night away in Cork and the kids slept and were nice to their grandparents (thank you, grandparents!) and I think that might have been the shift we were all looking for. We came back rested to happy kids free from snot and whining. And in fact, we think Noah has actually started to release his white-knuckled grip on us and seems to be enjoying other people again. Hallelujah!

All that to say, lest you think moving 4,000 miles with 2 small people after being gone for 3 years is an easy task, think again. It’s thrown me for a loop and I am just declaring that 2019 is the year we put the pieces all back together and find a new, coasting normal for a while.

And of course, it’s not as though we’re just going to sit around with our healthy kids and twiddle our thumbs. Want a snapshot of what I have in the works? Wordsmiths is taking on new contracts by the week, it seems, so that will be ramping up. Blogging on FCV will be (and has already!) making a comeback. I’m working on a still-secret book project of an entirely new variety. I have a bunch of new and important stories in the works for Image magazine and am so excited to dig into the research they will entail. I’m continuing to write regularly for Mabel & Moxie, ParentMap, The Journal, and I still have my column in the Irish Mail on Sunday. We have a few plans for small trips around Ireland with the kids in the spring, and we can’t wait to welcome some more visitors in the coming months.

Thank you, as always, for your support from around the world via the internet. Here’s to 2019!

Ringing In 2019

January 18, 2019

In an effort to wrap up 2018 before 2019 is half over, here’s my second recap of our holidays in Dublin! Soon, on to a few thoughts for the new year, hopefully before January is out!

We actually had a really special holiday season in Dublin this year, not only because it was the first time we were back in Dublin as a family of four, but also because all of Michael’s brothers and sister and their families (and one fiancee!) were home for a few weeks, too. It would have been a little more enjoyable if Maya wasn’t sick for a chunk of the time, but it was still a treat to have everyone together. The last time we were supposed to be together was August of 2017, but I don’t think we ended up with everyone in Dublin at the same time because I had to leave unexpectedly to go get a certain little brother!

So we had everyone at Michael’s parents’ for Christmas Day (no photos of that because my phone was dropped in the toilet on Christmas Eve by a certain someone who will remain nameless but who is not Maya or Noah), and then everyone came to our house for Stephen’s Day brunch. A few days later, we all headed south for two nights at Waterford Castle. My in-laws booked three of the Castle’s lodges, which each have three bedrooms and four bathrooms, big living spaces and lots of room for cousins to play.

We’ve taken to hiking with the kids in backpacks lately, so we left a little early to hike a cliff walk into Dunmore East. All credit to Michael for finding the perfect path (almost makes up for the cell phone in toilet fiasco) for our last family hike of 2018.  The kids do really well in their backpacks, and even though it was misting half the time, they were total troopers. We have to stop often to dole out snacks, but otherwise they just chat away back there. We figure we’ve got to hike as much as possible with them in backpacks before they get too heavy to carry. We can’t go for more than an hour without getting pretty tired, but Maya’s nowhere near big enough to hike or even walk very far on her own, so we’ve got to get while the getting’s good!

So this hike involved a very steep path down to a beach, which we soon realize would be impassable upon our return if the tide came in while we were gone. None of the locals around seemed to know when high tide was, so we risked it and figured we’d walk back on the road if we had to. Luckily, no high tide to be found, so we walked to Dunmore East and back in about an hour and a half.  The sun came out in the middle of our hike and it was really glorious in the sunshine.  My old L.L. Bean hiking boots disintegrated shortly before Christmas so I hiked it in sneakers and was fine. It was a little muddy but not too bad. 

After our hike, we drove back inland to Waterford Castle, where you have to take a cable ferry across the river. Maya is still talking about ‘her other house with the ferry.’  And then my photos take a sharp decline because Maya got sicker and Noah decided 4:45am was a nice time to wake up for the day. It was a lovely, cozy time with family, but I’d still like to request a do-over next year preferably with healthy kids who want to sleep late! The rest of the crew (minus Maya and I, who sat in the car while she napped) tried the Dunmore East hike from the other direction. We took a few whole-family photos after they got back from the hike and Maya had woken up, and then ate chowder at a pub down by the water. We had a dance party New Year’s Eve and headed back to Dublin on New Year’s Day.     It was a relatively easy drive from Dublin, and it’s always refreshing to get out of the city and out into the countryside.

If you want to try the hike we did (about twenty minutes into Dunmore East, longer if you have to stop every 5 minutes to feed your kids snacks), you can find information about how to find here. Dunmore East is a little fishing town filled with very cute thatched houses. If you go, take more photos than I did to remember the cuteness!