Celebrating the Christmas Season

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Every year growing up, when Christmas day was over, my dad would insist on playing Christmas music for at least a week longer. He would always complain that the Christmas season was just too short. I didn’t get it until I turned into a grown up and now I agree – Christmas season goes by in a flash! Especially with Thanksgiving so late, I can’t believe Christmas is three weeks from Thursday!

In Ireland, the Christmas season lasts right through the New Year, which is wonderful. St. Stephen’s Day has become one of my favorite traditions – and we’ll do our best to preserve the cosiness of the day after Christmas even when we’re in Maine this year. Here’s the equation for a perfect Stephen’s Day: pajamas, leftovers, movies and more leftovers.

In an effort to really celebrate the season while it’s here, I’ve made a list. I’m not quite organized enough to put this into an actual advent calendar, but I’m adding them to our to-do list for the next few weeks.

  • Make an advent wreath – I’ll be a little late, but I’m excited for a little DIY action!
  • Join the She Reads Truth advent series (the app version started Sunday and it’s really good!)
  • Make a wreath for our front door
  • Make christmas ornaments – I’m thinking of sewing some this year!
  • Decorate our kitchen chalkboards with some festive cheer
  • Give back – I’d love some volunteer suggestions for Dublin, please!
  • Get hot chocolate and go look at the Christmas lights
  • Go for a chilly winter beach walk
  • Make, write and send christmas cards
  • Set up the nativity scene
  • Put up twinkly lights – we won’t have a tree this year, so I’m settling for lights in the windows
  • Finish our Christmas shopping in the city centre with Michael
  • Bring the neighbors Christmas cookies!

So what’s on your holiday season list? How do you make the most of the season before it’s gone?

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, here’s a round up of holiday projects from years past!

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Festive and Fast Whole Wheat Cranberry Bread

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It’s that time of year again – cranberries are back! Well, technically, I had been hoarding these cranberries in the freezer since last Christmas. I made the bread, we ate it, and we all lived to tell the tale. So that means this year I’m hoarding ten bags for next year, thank you very much!  fast_cranberry_bread

My friend Sebastian came over a few weeks ago and brought a few camera toys to play with from his job at Nikon. He brought a 40 mm lens and a remote flash and both have now been added to my Christmas list. I thought I was opposed to flash, but then the sun started setting at 4pm and I reconsidered.

So we’d have something festive to play with, I made whole wheat cranberry bread, adapted from this recipe. It’s a very simple recipe and has just the right amount of orange flavor and no oil, which is my usual gripe with quick bread recipes. I used only 3/4 cup of sugar, and replaced half of the flour with coarse ground whole wheat flour (because I ran out of regular flour but I liked how nutty the whole wheat tasted!).  cranberry_bread_recipe_2 Are you feeling festive yet? The Christmas lights have been on in Dublin since mid-November, so I feel like we’ve been on the verge of festive for weeks. With Thanksgiving over, now it can really begin!

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Sponsored Video: Avoid the Last Minute Scramble with M&S

This is a sponsored post from Marks & Spencer, and all thoughts remain my own. Share your own Christmas inspiration over on their Facebook page. Thank you for supporting the companies that make From China Village possible!

Now that Thanksgiving is over, Christmas preparation is fully allowed! Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? I’ve gotten a huge head start while I’ve been here in Maine (mostly online, I am NOT on board with Black Friday), so I’m feeling pretty prepared. The next few weeks will be about working on the creative gifts I have up my sleeve, which is always the fun part, and picking up the last few bits – at a leisurely pace.

I’m not a fan of the last minute scramble at all, but to Michael that was always his holiday tradition. Each year, his father would take the five kids out on Christmas Eve so that his mother could finish up last minute preparations with everyone out of her hair. So while I can’t think of anything worse than braving the crowds on Christmas Eve, I think it’s quite sweet that Michael and his siblings have such a fondness for doing ALL of their Christmas shopping the day before Christmas.

Today I’m sharing a little Christmas inspiration video from Marks & Spencer. I, of course, didn’t know about Marks & Spencer until I moved to Dublin, and some of my first memories of the first Christmas here in Ireland involve shopping on Grafton Street and browsing the basement Food Hall at M&S. Grafton Street was just about the only street I could find when I first moved here, and M&S was just so festive. They’re ready this year with lots of Christmas gift inspiration to save you from that last minute gift scramble. For more Christmas gift inspiration, visit them online or in store.

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Snow on Trees

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It snowed! In Maine, not Dublin, in case you missed the episode last week where I surprised my family by coming home for Thanksgiving. I think this is the first snow I’ve seen in over two years, so it feels particularly novel and exciting. Although it was less novel and exciting when I was driving in it as it was falling – I do not miss that at all!

I got up very early yesterday morning and took my camera out to capture the morning light hitting the snowy branches. It was both beautiful and flipping freezing!

rooftops_snow portland_maine_winter_streets snow_portland_maine Portland is such a sweet little city, and I’m always grateful that my siblings live there (and only 4 blocks from each other, isn’t that awesome?!) and let me crash with them whenever I’m in town. I lived there for a year and a half before moving to Dublin and it’s become more trendy and more expensive in the last six years. So many restaurants! Cute little shops! Inundated with tourists in the summer! Well, that last part isn’t my favorite, but we can’t really complain since we are those tourists every summer.

iron_fence_portland icicles chestnuts snow_american_flag portland_sunrise portland_maine_snow_sea I don’t know how it happened, but I was completely unprepared for this level of wintry cold. I had to borrow a down jacket from my sister since I inexplicably brought only a rain coat, and when I went to find my old L.L. Bean boots, someone had “borrowed” the laces! I guess that’s what you get when you leave your boots in the closet for six years.

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snow_bench winter_tree_portland I saw approximately 82 dogs being walked, and at least 4 having a romp in the snow. I just realized I caught this last little guy with his backside in the air!

Posted in Maine Exploring, Travels, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

So Very Thankful

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I can say completely and unequivocally, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. And November is my favorite month. It’s not an obvious choice, but the muted light and the turning leaves and the crispness in November can’t be beaten by any steamy day in July, at least in my book.

Did you know I was born on Thanksgiving? I think I probably mention that every year, sorry about that, but I really do feel like Thanksgiving is my holiday. It makes me practically burst with happiness to have a whole bunch of people I love sitting around a table, talking and eating cranberry sauce (the star of the feast, at least in my book). I’m tearing up just thinking about it now.

For the day that’s in it, this is the cliff notes version of my thankfulness list today. My cup runneth over, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Two supportive, loving families in two different countries
  • Two warm, welcoming homes 3,000 miles apart
  • This blog, with the sweetest of readers, some of whom have turned into wonderful friends
  • A job that I love, that stretches me and introduces me to interesting, creative, passionate people
  • My health and the health of my family. The older I get, the more aware I am that it’s a giant blessing to be able to run and move and see, and to have at least one set of my grandparents who are as sharp as ever
  • A tremendously kind husband who gives awesome pep talks, and who manages to crack me up and challenge me nearly every day
  • Hope for growing our family in the future, after a season of hopelessness that gave me priceless empathy and compassion for friends and strangers who run into road blocks on their journey
  • The freedom and the resources (and a built in planner!) to travel and see the world
  • Cranberries and pumpkin bread and apple cider on repeat, and lattes and avocado toast and sushi and wine all the other times
  • Friends who pick up where we left off six months ago and who will do it again in another six months, and who continue to hold out hope that I’ll one day stop leaving altogether
  • And friends and family who want to be in our adventure with us, and that none of the journey is a burden to share

We have adopted a toast in our family, stolen from dear, dear friends, and it goes like this: To friends who are family, and family who are friends and it always makes us teary because who could really ask for much more than that. I hope tomorrow you are surrounded by friends who are family or family who are friends. I hope you are safe and warm and have an overwhelming feeling of peace in the holiday season to come. Giant grateful hugs from my corner of the universe to yours.

Unexpected Thanksgiving table from Coco + Kelley

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Styled in Ireland / How to Rock an Aran Jumper

Matkin_aran_sweater_02 After a long hiatus, Styled in Ireland is back! I’m hoping to bring it back in full swing in the new year, but it’s temporarily back with a whole feature on how to wear Aran jumpers, one of Ireland’s most popular souvenir!

I’ve shared four looks for women, and one look for men (thanks, Michael, for modeling!) on Conde Nast Traveler. Julie happened to be in town so she snapped a few photos while we chatted and caught up. It was an altogether lovely afternoon and I think the looks came out really modern and fresh, considering just how long Aran jumpers have been around!

Have a peek over on Conde Nast Traveler for the full looks and a little shopping guide!

 

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Surprises

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Last week was a funny week for me – it was very quiet on the outside, but there was lots going on behind the scenes. This time, it had nothing to do with work or projects. This time, I was traveling from Dublin to Maine to surprise my family with a bonus visit! Only my brother knew, and he helped me with the rest of the logistics. I don’t think I’ve looked forward to something this much or wanted to repeat it as many times as last week. It was a blast and a blessing.

Living in Ireland is obviously exciting and fulfilling and wonderful in a lot of ways – Michael and I travel around Europe so much, we get to experience a different culture every day (for better or worse!), we get to live near the city and the sea, the butter tastes better… But living so far from my immediate family is hard most of the time. We have done really well in the last six years to cope with the distance, but it still remains that it’s hard to be the one who moved away. Very, expensively far away.

A few weeks ago marked six years since I have lived in Dublin. Michael and I reminisced about the morning I arrived, at 5am in the howling, windy rain. We have come so far since then, and I have come so far since then. Michael and I have made a home for ourselves, and I have made a career for myself. We are surrounded by family and friends, and we have our hilarious chickens and a cat that is currently being contracted out for some mouse retrieval.

Our life in Dublin is wonderful nearly all the time, but this year I have realized that part of my coping mechanism in the last six years might have been to convince myself I don’t want to move back home. I may very well have brainwashed myself out of homesickness. While we are simultaneously thinking about buying a house in Dublin, I find myself wondering and stewing over whether someday we should move back to America.

All that to say, while I hem and haw about where I’ll be the least homesick, it was so great to add another surprise trip to Maine this year. We found a really cheap flight and I managed to keep the secret for two months! I surprised my sister, my grandparents, and then my parents – and no one had heart attacks! I get to be in Maine for Thanksgiving this week, (and my birthday today!) and in fact we’ve already celebrated with two more Thanksgivings just for good measure.

If anyone wants to talk years on years of ex-pat homesickness and how to cope without brainwashing yourself, I’m all ears!

Posted in Dublin, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Walk in the Park and So Much More

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Last week I put together a post for Conde Nast Traveler about Phoenix Park here in Dublin and I was reminded of just how amazing it is. Phoenix Park is one of the largest in-city parks in Europe, has a herd of wild deer (!), the Dublin Zoo, the President’s house, Victorian gardens, monuments, a castle…the list is so long. It’s a popular spot for locals to run and cycle and bring their children, and it’s a great option for visitors to escape the busy city as well.

You can have a lovely virtual visit to Phoenix Park in my post on Conde Nast Traveler.

All photos by Julie Matkin.

Posted in Dublin, One Day in Dublin | 2 Comments

Delightful Dublin Postcards Available Now!

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Exciting news today! We’ve put together the perfect stocking stuffer for the Irish-at-heart on your holiday list: Delightful Dublin postcards! Six beautiful photographs from the Delightful Dublin guide, with little postcard markings on the back.

Since Delightful Dublin is a digital guide, we knew we wanted to have something physically printed to go along with it and show off Julie’s gorgeous images of the city. This way, if you’d like to order Delightful Dublin as a gift to give to someone, you can have something physical to give them along with the digital download. They come all wrapped up, and shipping anywhere in the world is included, just in time for the holidays.

You can purchase a copy of the guide (for yourself or as a gift) and a pack of postcards for a discounted price. If you’re ordering Delightful Dublin as a gift, send me an email and we’ll help you with the surprise details for the recipient!  delightful_dublin_postcards_2

You can see all the designs there – the War Memorial Gardens, Georgian doors, the General Post Office and even a little shot of gorgeous Howth. I might be biased, but I think they’re so modern and fresh – unlike any postcards I see around the city!

Of course, these little postcards don’t have to be put in the mail, they’re perfect to frame and hang on your wall, too!

You can purchase your postcard pack here, and all orders will ship December 1st, just in time for the holidays!

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DIY Velvet Ribbon Magnets

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At the moment our magnet boards in the kitchen have more magnets than things to hold up, but after living without a magnetic fridge for four years, magnets feel like a novelty so I’ve been hoarding them. And these are probably the cutest DIY magnets I’ve made yet. They take all of ten seconds to complete, and you only need two supplies and two tools!

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Here’s how to make your own. You’ll need:

  • magnets or magnet tape
  • velvet ribbon
  • scissors
  • hot glue gun

Start by cutting your velvet ribbon into sections. You’ll need a one-inch strip and a two-inch strip for each ribbon. Then use sharp scissors to cut out a little triangle section on each side of the two-inch piece.

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Add a dot of hot glue on the back of the longer piece, then wrap the short piece around so it meets in the back.  diy_velvet_ribbon_magnets velvet_ribbon_diy

Then simply attach your magnets with a little more hot glue, and you have DIY magnet ribbons!  DSC_0009 Aren’t they sweet? (And a little Colby College pride from a wedding last summer. Miss those friends of ours so much!)

Am I the only one cluttering up spaces with magnets?

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