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!

Our Adoption Story In Image Magazine

January 17, 2019

Over the holidays, an article I wrote about our adoption journey to Houston and back came out in Image Magazine. There isn’t a version online yet, but if you’re in Ireland, you’ll be able to find it in any shop at the moment! And as soon as it goes up online, I’ll be sure to share it here.  And our story actually even made the cover! Not the model, obviously, but the huge headline right underneath the masthead. When Michael came home with a copy (on the first day it was on news stands!) I couldn’t believe it. And honestly, neither of us could believe that we got to share our story with a national magazine in the first six months since we returned.

Doreen Kilfeather took the photos and I love how they turned out. We have two kids who literally never stop wiggling and definitely do not sit still for posed photos, so the fact that she got a non-blurry family of four photo is such a gift. But she actually caught a lot of lovely candid photos of the kids and us with them.  When we left Houston, one of my goals was to begin to change the adoption situation in Ireland so that moving 4,000 miles away wasn’t an easier option than adopting here. When I met with Lizzie Gore-Grimes, the editor of Image, I was thrilled that she was interested in starting to push for change in that direction. She asked me to write about our journey to Houston and back, and then to write about the current adoption environment in Ireland. Every phone call I made doing extra research to top off what I already knew about the dire adoption situation here made me more sure that things need to change. What I found was discouragement at every turn, as though the people who are in charge of the entire adoption arena simply don’t want anyone to be able to adopt. And in fact, the number of adoptions completed has gone down in 2018 from the previous year. Adoption isn’t for everyone, but in most developed countries it is at least an option. And it’s most certainly needed, even if internationally rather than domestically. But a three year (arguably unnecessarily grueling) vetting process before you can even start the international adoption process is cruel.

I’ve heard from so many people who were shocked to learn just how impossible adoption is in Ireland, and then another so many people who have friends or family members who would have adopted if the process wasn’t so outrageously limiting. If you have a chance to pick it up, I’m biased, but I think you’d find it interesting! Plus, cute photos of my cutie kids!  I owe such an enormous thank you to Lizzie and her team at Image. They did our story justice, and they also put themselves on the line and took a really strong stand for change in the Irish adoption system. I’m also thrilled that I’m going to get an opportunity to tackle a few more big issues for them in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Our First Holidays As A Family In Dublin

January 10, 2019

Well, hello for the first time in 2019! What a hectic and full holiday month we’ve just had. It was our first home in Dublin as a family in our new house and while I’m still exhausted from its, overall it was a success. How about a little recap?

After ice skating, we drove out to Wicklow to get our Christmas tree! It was driving rain and cold when we got up there (even though it was sunny in Dublin when we left), so it was not the usual deliberative experience I prefer. But I loved it. We went to the Wicklow Way Christmas Tree Farm and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Maybe a tad more expensive than we would have otherwise gone for, but it’s on the side of a mountain, the staff are the kindest ever, and you get cozy mince pies and hot cocoa after while they cut your tree. But the best part is that the tree is still going strong a month later. Not crispy, not shedding, just ready to turn into a Valentine’s Day tree! I finally took it down today and couldn’t quite bear to part with it, so it’s in the front garden hung with suet balls for the birds.

We baked Christmas cookies — Maya’s first time using cookie cutters was a hit. She had her Christmas show at school, decidedly less of a hit. She is just not the kind of kid who can memorize song lyrics. She much prefers to create her own ballad directly after the first line. We were generously given tickets to see Santa at Malahide Castle, which was also nice. Apparently it’s a thing here that you pay to see Santa and the kids are given a gift by Santa directly. It’s all a bit much for me, but Maya is now totally convinced that Santa lives in a castle around the corner. It was a tick-the-box maybe not do it next year sort of activity. We put the kids in matching Christmas jammies and took them to the carols by candlelight at our church, which they loved. I wish we had had more of that sort of singing, so maybe we’ll go church hopping next year!

And then on Christmas Eve, Michael and Noah and Michael’s brother’s family went into town. It’s a tradition Michael’s dad started when they were little — he used to take all 5 kids into the city for Christmas shopping! Maya and I stayed home and baked a million things for Christmas dinner. Michael actually loved being in town on Christmas Eve, so I think we’ll try to somehow incorporate that next year. It will definitely cut into my baking time though!

Once the kids were in bed on Christmas Eve, we stayed up and finished wrapping presents and watching Love Actually before Michael joined his siblings at the pub (our old pre-kid Irish Christmas tradition!). And then of course, Maya woke up at 4am Christmas morning (just because she hasn’t been sleeping well, not because she thought Santa was coming). Needless to say it meant a slow start to the morning! And by the time we woke her, it was almost time for Noah to go down for a nap. But Maya was so thrilled about her presents and it was very fun to see her face when she saw that she’d gotten a bike and a little doll bed.

I think this year might have been the most magical age for Maya to be at Christmas. She was so genuinely excited about the lights and the candy canes and ‘Santo’ as she called him. She didn’t really understand so much about the presents (although she definitely has more of an understanding now!), and especially loved playing with our little nativity sets. Baby Jesus was a firm favorite as was Balthazar from my mother-in-law’s set. It was hilariously complicated to explain all the concepts of the holiday to her very literal self, but I definitely tried my hardest!

After opening some presents on Christmas morning, we put Noah down for a nap and got ready for church. The kids looked absolutely adorable and I wish I’d gotten a better photo of them. Noah had suspenders and a bow tie for crying out loud! We tried to get both kids to nap after church and before going to Michael’s parents’ house for Christmas dinner, but that didn’t work at all. Everyone was way too wound up! So we made our way to my in-laws in the afternoon, played with cousins, had a delicious meal, exchanged gifts, and even went caroling! That was definitely one of the highlights of my day and I’ve already requested that it be part of our tradition in years to come!

When we finally got both kids to bed (so far beyond their bedtime), I was so tired everything hurt. Christmas as a parent is exhausting! But also very, very magical. It was sad to take all of the decorations down this week, but I think we’re all looking forward to recovering from the very long month that is Christmas in Ireland!

I hope you all had a joyful holiday!

Ice Skating In Dublin

December 13, 2018

Yesterday, we went ice skating in Dublin. The ice was soft and the skates were dull, but the rink was deserted and the Christmas lights were so festive and we had a very enjoyable afternoon. Maya and I went with my sister-in-law, Angie, and her older daughter Eabha, my first niece. The girls were so excited to take the train over to the RDS and meet Angie when she was finished with school.

The tickets were actually free from a friend of the family, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone initially (especially with a 3-year-old) if they hadn’t been. But it was enjoyable enough that I’ll probably shell out the €25 for the two of us every year as a pre-Christmas tradition! There aren’t that many opportunities to skate (and apparently this is the only open air rink in Dublin the rest are also temporary but covered in large tents) in Dublin, and I’m happy to be able to share a winter activity that I spent so much time doing when I was growing up in Maine. Skating on China Lake every year did make me very snobby about ice and skates, but we’ll take what we can get in our slightly milder climate.  I think the key to most of the success of the afternoon was the timing. We arrived right at 3pm, which meant we missed the school groups that would have come during the school day, but we were earlier than any after school or evening people. The fact that it was a random Wednesday didn’t hurt, either. But the rink was so quiet. There’s a kids rink and that only had two other people for the first 20 minutes we were there, and the rest of the time we had it to ourselves!  I will also give full points to the iSkate place for providing helmets and knee, elbow and wrist guards for the kids free of charge. With the double runner skates, they didn’t exactly get up enough speed to make any dramatic falls (you couldn’t even really call it skating), but it was a nice option and Maya was obsessed with the pink “elmet.”

They had little penguins the kids could push as they found their feet, and they had these yellow banana sleds you could push them on. Both kids did more riding than skating, but it was a good workout for the grown ups!  A little while after we arrived, the Christmas lights strung above the rink turned on and both Maya and I were pretty obsessed with the festive vibe.  I hope you have enjoyed these dark and grainy photos from my very ancient iPhone! Well worth documenting, however poor the quality!

If you’re in Dublin, there are rinks dotted around the city over the holidays, but the one we went to was called iSkate at the RDS.

Reining In Christmas

December 13, 2018

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is really getting close. When the stores start to stock holiday things before Halloween, it’s a very long run-up! But we’re less than two weeks away! This is the first year that Maya has had any sort of inkling about Christmas, although she’s still most excited about the lights she sees popping up around the neighborhood. And also candy canes. That girl could get a handful of candy canes for Christmas and be so thrilled.

We actually haven’t really given our kids Christmas gifts yet. When they’re babies, they’re too young to care, and last year I made the mistake of having presents I ordered shipped to Houston…while we spent the holiday in Maine. (That’s the second year in a row I’ve done that, it was no fun!) She obviously didn’t notice, especially since my parents gave her such lovely and thoughtful and homemade gifts. She still thinks everything she’s ever been given came from Grammy and Granddad!

But this year she’s aware of Christmas, and we’ve been talking a lot about all of the other things that the season means, while also planning for how to keep our own impulses to buy them all the things in check. After seeing Maya’s face at her birthday, when we gave her a single, very small Barbie-for-little-kids doll (because it had hair and she loves to brush hair!), I could give her presents every day. She was so darn excited and the pure joy on her face when she realized she had a gift to open was priceless.

That said, we don’t have an unlimited budget and we would probably run the risk of spoiling the kids, so we’re trying to put some parameters on ourselves. We’ve chosen something to read, wear, need and play for each kid. The categories help me stay organized!

I recently wrote an article for The Journal about how to keep Santa and holiday consumerism from going crazy when you have kids at home. I asked for suggestions from my friends on Facebook and Instagram and got so many great suggestions. You can read the full article here if you’re looking for ways to keep Christmas simple. One of the suggestions that I got multiple times was to sort of limit Santa, so I think we’re going to try sticking to stockings from Santa and the rest of the gifts will come from us. Maya will get to choose a gift for Noah, and Noah will “choose” one for Maya as well. We’re trying to focus on the giving rather than receiving, but with a 3-year-old, that is still a little tough.

If you’re still mid-Christmas shopping, have a peek at these suggestions. They were helpful to me and I hope they’ll be helpful to you!

Two Irish Jewelry Options (Hint, Hint)

December 4, 2018

It’s the time of year when I get to write about a whole lot of amazing gift options for American websites and my column in the Irish Mail on Sunday and even here. And do you know how often Michael thinks to check here before he does any Christmas shopping brainstorming? I’m pretty sure never. I make it pretty easy, and yet he claims I’m hard to shop for.

If you see Michael in the next few weeks, maybe point him this direction!

First, the new collection from Names, by my all-time faves Claire and Laura at the Irish Design Shop, who are both jewelers by trade. When I got my citizenship, I got to commemorate the occasion with a pair of rose gold geometric studs from their Lineage collection And now they’ve released a new collection called Homespun and I would be very pleased to see one of their creations under the tree this year!  I’m still in the market for everyday wearable earrings (which these are) but a bangle wouldn’t go astray either!

For more fun outings than trips to the park or sitting at the coffee shop writing, Capulet & Montague’s statement pieces from Longford-born designer Lisa McCormack are so fun and colorful.

So if you have someone just like me on your Christmas list this year, you are welcome.


A New Venture // Wordsmiths

November 27, 2018

I have some more fun news to share! For the last six months, my friend Rachael and I have been working on a new venture. We’re starting a copywriting agency! Meet Wordsmiths!

It’s so fun to think how the universe works to make this sort of thing happen. I met Rachael years and years ago at an Irish food bloggers event back when we both thought we were food bloggers. To be fair, Rachael knows much, much more about food than I ever will, but we’ve both since learned that we’re writers, actually, no matter the subject. Rachael actually does still write about food for Food and Wine magazine, whereas I’ve chosen to just enjoy food and write about nearly everything else!

Since that fateful food blogger event (I think we went to eat some oysters?), Rachael and I have become close friends. We traveled to France for her wedding and they came to Houston to visit us a few years ago. Luckily, our husbands enjoy each others’ company, because we often drag them along to whatever we plan! We’ve shared so many words back and forth between each other on email and WhatsApp over the years, and when we were away in Houston, Rachael’s emails were always some of my most favorite to receive. She has a way with words that is so thoughtful and well-considered, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s just incredibly smart.

So we’ve decided to join forces and write words together for other people and businesses, and it’s already been such fun. If you’re in the market for any words, look no further than Wordsmiths!