An Irish Holiday Bucket List

November 15, 2018

I keep trying to explain to Maya that it’s sort of almost Christmas, but Thanksgiving comes first. I’m not sure the concept is really landing yet. She asked to wear a Christmas shirt yesterday and fawned over the Christmas trees when we got to Ikea the other day. Christmas just seems to start so darn early now and while I’m not one for Thanksgiving to get eclipsed, I’ve already started booking and planning a few Christmas festivities for our family.

So here’s what we’re going to try to squeeze into an already hectic season.

Dublin Zoo Lights and Hole in the Wall Pub Lunch

I posted about the Dublin Zoo Lights in my Instagram stories because I wasn’t sure it would be worth it for such small kids. The tickets are expensive (€20/person for adults and €15 per kid over 3), so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be something that I wished we had saved for next year. But a lot of friends said the kids (or at least Maya) would love it. And Noah’s free anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if he enjoys it! Ha!

Another friend suggested going to the Hole in the Wall Pub in Glasnevin for late lunch/early dinner before going to the Zoo Lights right when it starts at 5pm. That sounded delightful and festive, so we booked that, too, for early December. Sure, what else are we going to do when it gets dark so early!

Grafton Street Lights and Hot Chocolate

With the exception of church on Sundays, we rarely make it into the city at the moment. Sometimes it kills me, but I’m trying to remember it’s just a nap-heavy season and we’ll have lots of time for city exploring in the months and years go come. So we’re going to make a point to go in to Grafton Street and look at the lights one afternoon and have hot chocolate. There isn’t a city that does hot chocolate better than Dublin, so we’ll have lots of options on that front!

Cut Down a Tree

I haven’t yet found a Christmas tree farm, but I will (any suggestions?) and we’re going to go cut one down. Maya has spent every Christmas so far in the snow in Maine, so she thinks she’s getting snow and I hope she’s not disappointed that she doesn’t get to ride in a sled to cut her tree down like we’ve done the last few years!

See Santa Somewhere

Here’s the thing about Santa. I did enjoy the magic of Santa when I was little, so I’m going to try to put a little more effort into the whole thing, but when I talk about Santa I just can’t take myself seriously. It just sounds so ridiculous! But we’ve visited Santa in Houston every year so we’re going to find one here. But here’s the other thing. Maya’s not old enough to appreciate the whole “experience” that’s bundled into seeing Santa in most places now. And it’s so expensive when you do that sort of thing! I just want to find a reasonably inexpensive Santa they can see for a for a few minutes, snap a photo, and then we’ll go get hot chocolate somewhere. Any suggestions?

Last year we went to Second Cup in Houston and got several photos, decorated cookies and ornaments for $20 and it all went to support victims of human trafficking. That’s my Santa style if you know of that sort of thing in Dublin!

Bake Christmas Cookies

We haven’t met a lot of our neighbors yet, but I’m figuring bringing Christmas cookies is a good excuse!

Host a Billion People for Christmas Dinner 

Well, not a billion, but ALL of Michael’s large family plus our wonderful nanny and her friend from home (who is also here from Uruguay studying English) and possibly one of Michael’s teammates are coming for our very first Christmas in our new home. We aren’t entirely sure they’ll all fit in our small house, but we’re going to give it a shot!

Make Ornaments

I wrote a post for Mabel & Moxie that will be published next week about DIY Christmas ornaments you can make with kiddos and I have about 15 different ones I want us to make together. I mean, marbled baubles with nail polish and these sweet little silhouettes? I’m also going to whip up a few pom pom wreaths for the kids rooms and hopefully enlist Maya’s help somehow.

Do you have any awesome Irish Christmas traditions we should add? Happy holiday planning, friends!


National Adoption Month / What It Feels Like To Have A Failed Match

November 8, 2018

First, can you believe how little our littles were at Noah’s adoption day? Nothing like a photo of two kids with their hands in their mouths. Ha!

Second, it’s National Adoption Month in the States in November, and I wrote about failed adoptive matches for ParentMap. In the span of a year between adopting our Maya and finally finding our Noah, we had two failed infant adoptions fall through, and we had two foster-adoption situations fall apart. I’d love for you to read that article, and then read this back story. And bear with me, because it starts as a downer, but I hope it’s reassuring in the end to people who reticent to consider adoption because they fear a failed match.

I think a failed match or a failed adoptive situation is one of the biggest fears people have when they consider or think about adoption. I actually didn’t consider it happening until we started our search for Maya’s little sibling, because Maya came so quickly and her situation meant that she was all but legally ours from the minute we laid eyes on her. But when we were matched with an expectant mother when Maya was six months old, there was a really intense period of wondering whether it would actually come to be. And then we did that same wondering and waiting that melted my brain three more times before we got to Noah.

I can only speak for myself, but we didn’t name that first potentially-ours baby — in fact, we couldn’t decide on a name for that baby, which I now believe was because he wasn’t meant to be ours; the only baby we have ever been able to name before he arrived was Noah. But we did call that first failed match baby ‘Little Man,’ for the whole time we waited for him. Our whole family called him that. We packed a hospital bag for him with tiny newborn clothes and snacks for us and it sat in the living room for weeks; the expectant mother had cut off communication shortly before her due date and no one could find her until about ten days later. And even then, it was only by the grace of God that we found out that she and the baby were safe and supported in a mother-and-baby home, and that she had decided to parent her son.

Maya was napping in her room as I sat on our bed and got the call from our agency. It was our first true heartbreak in our adoption process, a fact for which I will always be incredibly grateful. A failed match is hard to process; Michael and I kept saying to each other, “This is what you want, you want a mom and son to be together.” And yet we had to grieve the loss of a member of our family we imagined and planned for and would never meet. (Of course, we did end up meeting Little Man seven months later — and again thought we would be able to adopt him, and again were heartbroken when that decision changed.) Your head knows it’s the right thing (if it’s safe for everyone involved, which it isn’t always and wasn’t in Little Man’s case, but luckily we didn’t know that at the time), but your heart is broken for what never was.

That day when our hearts were feeling bruised and sad, we decided that the best thing to do would be to go get margaritas a few blocks from our house. It was April and hot out already and Maya was wearing a sundress my mom had made her. We laughed and cried and processed and grieved — and thank God for strong margaritas in a case like that!

My editor, Vicky, asked me if I could sum up what it feels like to have a failed match and I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I had to find a way to express it a little more succinctly for the purpose of the ParentMap article, but if I’d had more room I would have tried to explain this: a failed match feels like your heart has dropped out of your body. It feels like the worst thing that could have happened did happen. But counterintuitively, there’s a huge strength to be found in surviving what you think is the worst thing that could happen. I didn’t think I was strong enough to cope with the sadness of not holding a baby I envisioned for weeks, but I am, and I’m grateful for that silver lining.

I’d also explain that a failed match feels very different with time. In retrospect, we know that the children who didn’t end up with us weren’t meant to be our children. We hope we played a role in their lives through fostering them, or maybe we played a role in their moms’ lives, giving them a plan that gave them a modicum of peace in a crisis, but they weren’t meant to join our family forever. Failed matches, in the months afterward, feel more like a missed connection than a loss.

The hardest thing about experiencing a failed match was trying to hold onto hope in future adoptive situations. But as I mentioned in the article, we owed it to whoever was going to be our child in the months or years to come to hold onto hope that he was out there. We owed it to Noah to be able to tell him that we were so excited about his arrival — not that we were so fearful of it falling through that we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to dream of his little self.

It was a rollercoaster eight months of Little Man, then Baby J, then Little Man again, then another failed infant situation that fell apart on New Year’s Eve. I think we were fueled entirely by adrenaline and tacos (and let’s be honest, a few margaritas). But I’m so glad we were able to continue to hope with every situation that whoever was meant to make us a family of four would find us, and in the meantime, we would just keep saying yes without fear of our own sadness.

If you’re considering adoption or are even just interested in the ins and outs, I hope maybe this elucidates what a failed match is like. It’s crummy and sad, but it’s survivable, and certainly not a reason to avoid adoption altogether. And the ability to hope in the face of potential heartbreak is a gift I never knew I needed. Xx

Our Dublin Home / Kitchen Reveal Photos

October 31, 2018

Noah would like to welcome you to our new kitchen!

First, a peek at the before:  This was taken before the house was rented the first time, right after we bought it. We had been prepared to live with most of the kitchen, but when we got back and saw the state of it, we figured it was worth gutting. The brown linoleum counters, the shiny black tile, the sagging cabinets. It was all pretty yucky and we are so incredibly glad we have a brand new kitchen now.

Here is the after!  It’s so. much. better. I think the oven and the dishwasher are the only things that remained, and that’s because they had been replaced not that long before when their predecessors bit the dust.

Michael and Julian, our builder, ripped out the tile, the backsplash, all of the cabinets, the countertops and sink and island. I never thought I was going to get a brand new kitchen, but I’m so grateful! I spend a ton of time in it and I’m very, very happy with it.

The light fixture is going at some point, but I’m having trouble finding what I want to replace it with. But otherwise, the kitchen is done! The counters, stovetop and sink are all from Ikea and are holding up quite well. The cabinets are from The Paneling Centre, and they were a little terrifying to choose. Julian recommended The Paneling Centre and because we were trying to make decisions fast, we just went with what they had to offer. They didn’t have as many color options as I was hoping (I originally wanted white uppers and dark blue/navy lowers) but I think the light grey and dark grey combination is probably more timeless.

I also think I’m going to take down the blinds in the window. We never put it down and it’s a little wonky. I’d prefer it to be clean and open once we take down the autumn leaf decorations.

This photo might help you understand the layout better. The dining area is right through the old double doors and the kitchen is right across the little peninsula bar.  Here’s a photo that will show you just how useless that peninsula was before.  Not only was it ugly, but it didn’t even have any cabinet space! Now it has cabinets that Noah likes to empty daily. We also got rid of that hideous rounded corner. Thank goodness!  The stools are from Harvey Norman and they’re really comfortable, although I’m a little worried they’re not going to hold up to Maya’s sticky jam fingers every morning. She knows she’s not supposed to have dirty hands on them, but she’s three, so you know. I know they won’t hold up like a completely wipe-able option, but hopefully we can keep them nice for a little while!  Another before:  And after!  The copper handles are from The Paneling Centre as well, and while I don’t really like subway tile, I did like this more textured version for our backsplash. The leaves are seasonal but since I forced Michael to put them up for me the other day, I figured I’d leave them up for these photos! I love having a window over our kitchen sink since we didn’t have that in our Houston apartment or in our old Dublin apartment. The kids aren’t really old enough to be out in the back garden by themselves, but one day that will be my view!  And this is my view from the sink across to the dining table, which I also love. The dining table is sort of darker than I thought I’d like, but it helps the space not be too matchy-matchy. The light fixture makes me so happy and is from We found Stokke high chairs second hand and they’ve been great for both kids for the most part, except Maya has started to prefer sitting in my seat, so we might pick up a third of the navy Ikea chairs sooner than later.  Although I do like perching on her Stokke, which is what has to happen when she kicks me out of mine! It’s quite comfortable!  And that’s my view of my sweet son having a snack (before he starts throwing it all on the floor!). If you asked me what my favorite part of our new house is, I’d tell you it’s that I get to stand in the kitchen and have the view of my family at the table. I love having company in the kitchen, I love when my kids sit at the bar with their dad and steal all his scrambled eggs in the morning. Jammy fingers and all!

Our Dublin Home / The Living Room Reveal Photos With DFS

October 25, 2018

It’s reveal time! Three and a half months ago, we moved back to Dublin and immediately started work on our house. We’ve done so much in a very short time! There’s still a ton left to do, but it’s close enough to show you how it’s looking currently and to have a fairly satisfying before-after photo situation.

I explained before that Michael helped our builder, Julian, take out part of a wall to make our downstairs essentially one big, long room. So this living room is a piece of that space. I’ll share the kitchen next and at some point, when I get around to finishing the toy organization situation in the little sunroom/playroom, I’ll share that as well. There’s also a downstairs bathroom that I was pretty sure was going to be my first after reveal, but I failed to calculate how much wallpaper to order before my mom brought it over, so I’m about a roll short and trying to decide whether to wait until our next visitors come over from the States or to try to DIY some sort of stencil myself. We shall see!

Down to the room at hand. Our living room, with a big bay window that lets in so much light and a gas fireplace we haven’t yet tried. It previously had double doors between the kitchen/dining area and the living room, but we knew we’d never want to close them, so Michael had the brilliant idea of taking out about 18 inches on either side and above the doors to almost totally open it up. They had to install beams or something because the wall was load bearing, but it made the biggest difference of any of the changes we made.

And just one note: this is our day-to-day styling. I came home yesterday and Laura, our amazing nanny, had the place looking so great (thanks, long napping Noah!) that I tidied up the kids’ shoes and the Tupperware Noah always digs out of the cupboards and took photos as fast as I could. From where I sit writing this, I can see a toy and a rogue grape under the couch right now. Maya has put the couch pillows in the cat’s bed (oh, I didn’t even bother moving the cat under the yellow table!) at some point this afternoon. And while it’s not perfect styling, it’s how you’d find our house if you gave me about 30 minutes notice (or if Laura had just left, ha!), and I like that. Not perfect, but perfectly our little life.

So to refresh your memory, here’s before in all its butter yellow glory: And after! Painting the walls, changing the really low light fixture that Michael hit his head on every time he walked by, and switching the way the door opens — all really good changes for the flow of the house.  And another before, with terrible, terrible sconces and the monstrosity of a fireplace.  And after!  I originally had Michael and Julian take off the fireplace, thinking I’d do a really simple wood beam as a mantle, but there would have been plaster work to be done and it was way faster for them to whack it back on the wall and have it painted when the interior was painted. And I actually really like it now. I think you can appreciate the detail of the metal part a lot more. I still wish it didn’t have that second little mini mantle, but it’s not worth trying to rip off.

Oh, here’s another fun before view:  And after! It’s so much more open and bright throughout the whole house.  And of course, having all new furniture is the icing on the cake. When we returned from Houston, I got a very surprising email asking if I’d like to work with DFS, a furniture company whose work I’ve featured in my column in the Irish Mail on Sunday for the last year. Their styling is always impeccable and their furniture is the perfect mix of classic but modern. I responded very, very quickly that yes, I’d love to work together! It was especially timely because at that point, we had basically no furniture. Everything we had in our old apartment had been used to death by our old tenants, and plus, our old apartment was smaller and had a different layout than this. We were starting from scratch.

So we chose, if you can believe it, the Maya line from DFS. Isn’t that perfect? Michael was set on an L-couch shape, since he values lounging above all else in a couch. I was set on something that was kid-friendly but looked like we weren’t waiting until they were 18 to buy nice furniture. Like grown-up furniture that would withstand toddlers, which isn’t the easiest combo to find. But we did.

We found the perfect sofa and two very comfortable armchairs that fit the space and our varying requirements perfectly. I found out a few weeks after we got the furniture that had heard we had young kids and decided to treat it with Fabricoat. I was and am so grateful! Although we’ve done a pretty good job of instituting a new no-food-near-furniture rule that Maya at least understands pretty well. It’s tricky, of course, because the dining table is all of 15 feet from the couch and Maya absolutely never sits still, but so far so great. Even without the Fabricoat, the sofa and armchairs have a special certification for strength and durability called Kitemark, that means they go above the basic industry standards for quality. So they’re ready for Maya and all her usual jumping and climbing!  Maya’s been sick (her third coughing cold thing in 6 weeks, ugh), so she actually was sitting still and lounging while watching a little television. I love how she makes the sofa look huge. When you see Michael on it, you’ll see the real scale, which is pretty perfect for the size of the room. I asked her to say cheese since she wasn’t looking too perky. Here’s what I got. Ha!  I have two frames that will probably go beside the circular mirror, but choosing photos and getting them printed was taking me much too long and I actually like how peaceful it is for the moment. I’m trying not to clutter up the zen of the room with too much on the walls. And one day, when my kids are like ten and not as liable to spill everything, we might get a rug. But for now, I think it keeps the room more open and a heck of a lot easier to clean.  I do have every intention of finding a few more colorful and textural pillows to mix in the bunch, but the chairs and sofa came with pillows, so we’re definitely not short on comfort! There just doesn’t seem to be loads of time to go shopping for throw pillows, go figure.

When the armchairs arrived, I panicked because they were replacing a space that was previously empty, so they felt enormous. After about a day, we realized they were just perfect for the space. And I’m sitting in one as I write this and they’re so comfortable. They make me feel rested and relaxed, even when at least one toddler is trying to crawl all over me.  The side tables are from the Twist nest of tables at DFS as well (the pink one is in Maya’s room), and while yellow isn’t usually a color I choose, it’s a nice pop in an otherwise cool room. The square tables on the end of the couch are also from DFS, the Alpha set, and they’re very convenient when we have guests because one slides out from inside the other. We can sort of use one as a coffee table in the nook of the couch for extra drink placement. They are always, always covered in tiny finger smudges and I can’t even be mad. My brother gave us that print one year for Christmas, it’s a painting of Portland, Maine, and it fits perfectly above the mantle. It’s framed in an Ikea Ribba frame, but the mat is custom and the whole thing is professionally secured at the back, which keeps it from sagging, which is my usual complaint about large Ikea frames. Little pro tip there for ya!  And that’s a little peek into the kitchen/dining/playroom area that I’ll share next week! We’ve definitely come a long way since the before version of this house and we appreciate it all the time. It’s the perfect amount of space for our family — for now at least!


Irish Autumn: Alright Pumpkin Patch

October 24, 2018

We went to a pumpkin patch last weekend! And we somehow organized the most amazing weather. We started with hats and definitely didn’t need them about ten minutes in. Thank goodness, because in all my thorough packing for our hour-long road trip, I forgot their jackets. I literally remembered everything else, but no jackets. Whoops. Mom fail saved by unexpected great Irish weather!

We met Michael’s brother-and-fam and another friend-and-fam for the afternoon at Alright Pumpkin in County Meath, a little less than an hour from Dublin. They are open again this coming weekend and the following weekend, so long as they have pumpkins left. You can check their website to make sure, but on the weekend days they’re open from 11-4pm. You just rock up, check out the corn maze and select a pumpkin from the field. They also have treats and tea in a little tent, as well as freshly dug carrots and potatoes and their own honey. They give you stickers when you buy a pumpkin and they have a few heirloom pumpkin varieties, which we couldn’t resist. We picked up one of those little blue-green ones that are ubiquitous in the States but nearly impossible to find here. All in all, a total win and I’d recommend it to anyone this season. We loved it. Clearly. Maya loves being bossed around for family photos. Ehhhh.  Noah’s hair is getting really wild on top. We need a more professional haircut before hat season truly hits!

I laughed so hard at just how mini was compared to her cousin Eabha and friend Elsie. They have almost two years on her and she barely comes up to their shoulders!   h Children in a wheelbarrow was pretty cute!  And Noah with his dad and the sunset.

If you’re in Dublin, you should go to Alright Pumpkin this weekend!

Our Dublin Home: Before Photos

October 16, 2018

We’ve officially been back in Dublin for 3 months and one week. Honestly, it feels like much, much longer. And not because it’s all been hard (although I won’t be signing up for an international move in again in the near future, did I mention that before), but because we’ve done so much.

The biggest transformation has been our Dublin home. To catch you up, we bought our house in Dublin as we were moving to Houston in 2015. We knew it would be just about the only time we could make it happen since Ireland has a requirement that if you work for yourself, you have to show two years of accounts. If we didn’t buy a house then, we would have had to rent for another two years once we got back to Dublin, and we knew the rental prices were going to be completely unaffordable for us. We weren’t wrong, they’re outrageous.

So we bought the house and then rented it. Michael’s mom (thank you Lois!) took care of the house and dealt with our renters, which was a huge job. We are so appreciate that we were able to cover our mortgage and have a little bit of income from the property while we were gone.

If we’d moved into the house right away, we probably wouldn’t have done much to it. It was livable as it was, and we would have lived with it for a few years and then done a lot of what we have done in the last few months. But in our last year in Houston, we were able to save some money in Ireland from my freelance work over here and when we got back, we made some changes that we are so, so grateful to have been able to make happen. Because after three years of tenants, it was looking pretty shabby. The surfaces weren’t nice enough to withstand more than a year or two of wear, from us or anyone else.

I want to share with you all of those changes (although if you follow me on Instagram stories, you’ve probably seen the guts of the work we’ve done) and share after photos, but first I figured I’d share the before version. We bought a fairly standard Dublin suburban semi-detached house. It’s attached to another house on one side, so in America we’d just call it a duplex. Just imagine that every other house in the neighborhood are all duplexes that look very, very similar. There are also row houses that are attached on both sides to other homes, and then detached homes, which are generally fancier. It’s a luxury not to share a wall with neighbors, apparently, although it doesn’t bother us in the least after living in apartments for the last 10 years. Maybe more like 15 when you count college dorm life.

So we bought this house. We looked at it for all of 7 minutes at the viewing and then put in an offer. Until we returned from Houston, I hadn’t seen the inside of it since. Most of the time, it felt like we didn’t even own the house, because the rent paid the mortgage and we didn’t have to think too much about it (thanks again, Lois!). But what a luxury it is to have this house in a housing market that’s in total crisis. We know how lucky we are to have been able to buy it when we did!

Michael and I made some plans when we were in Houston so that we could hit the ground running when we got back to Dublin. We had a Pinterest board and started to hone in on what we both knew we liked, and we started looking at our budget and made goals about what we could afford to change. Thankfully, we were able to change even more than we planned.

The day after we got back to Dublin, Michael met with our builder, Julian, to go over the plan, and Julian started the very next day. Michael worked alongside him, mostly doing the demo to make the job go faster. They took out all the flooring and the entire kitchen, and widened a wall. We hired a painter to paint the inside, and later the outside, and someone to do the tile in the kitchen. We still have jobs we’d like to do in the future, like build a staircase to the finished attic or gut the upstairs bathroom, but for the most part, it’s basically brand new from top to bottom.

It’s not huge, in fact, we aren’t sure we gained all that much more square footage on our teeny Houston apartment. But the layout is so good and the light streams in even on the darker days. And we have an upstairs, which is a total gift after our Houston apartment, where we were 10 feet from the kids beds while we sat in the living room and watched TV at night. We never needed to share a room with them, because we could hear them breathing in the next room at all times!

All that to say, we are so grateful to be here in our new home. I can’t wait to share some of the after photos very soon, including a few collaborations about which I’m so excited.

But first, the before photos. And keep in mind, the flooring was the cheapest of laminate, the kind that’s essentially a photo stuck on top of disintegrating MDF. So bad. The carpet upstairs was such bad quality that even though it was new when we bought the house, it was disgusting by the time we moved back. And we had the loveliest of renters in those three years — none of the wear was down to bad renters. It was all just poor quality.

So, the entryway and the exterior. We were the sad house on the block that really needed a paint job. And the brown front door was just so drab.

Ooh, terrible light fixtures. I’m so glad those are gone!  This is the living room, which is long and narrow and totally taken over by that monstrosity of a fireplace. These photos are from when my mother-in-law was getting the house ready to rent. She made the most of the house for sure! (Thank you Lois!) Oh man, I can’t wait to show you what we’ve done to the kitchen. It’s SO much better. The cabinets were essentially falling apart by the time we returned, so although we didn’t plan on a full kitchen gut, that’s what we ended up doing and I’m thrilled. That was the dumbest peninsula/bar thingy ever. We extended it and made it way more functional with cabinets underneath. This is the little extension off the back of the house that’s now our playroom. Bad, bad brown carpet in the master bedroom. All gone! This is Noah’s room now and the only room upstairs that had the terrible laminate initially. And this is Maya’s room now. Michael ripped out those built ins because she’s obviously not going to be sleeping in a double bed for a long while yet and that’s the only thing that fits in that silly space behind the cabinets. Her room is so cheery and pretty now. It’s almost complete and ready to share!  I actually didn’t mind that little tile in the downstairs bathroom, but we put in laminate like the rest of the house and I love how it all flows together. We also put in a new toilet and vanity and it’s less prison-esque now. I’m still working on making the upstairs bathroom less dire. It’s our Achilles heel of the house and we just can’t afford to gut it like we’d like to yet. But I’ve got a few DIY projects that I’m hoping will help! And finally, the little outdoor patio. I don’t think I have a before photo of the back garden, which is a bummer. It’s so much better already!

One last tidbit to share in this epic before post. These were the photos my mother-in-law took before she rented it the first time. They were the photos I stared at for three years in Houston whenever I remembered we owned a house and I would try to plan what it would be like to live in. It’s so wild to think we’re finally in this house and it’s so much better than I ever imagined!

Each room is now about 75% finished, but I’m hoping to finish Maya’s room to share with you this week and the kitchen next week.

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!