Rural rules! Trendy Concepts for Rural Living

Rural LivingRural LivingRural LivingRural Living

What a lucky find!

Despite my desire of escaping civilization and moving to a secluded mountain top, we are still living in our much loved home in County Wicklow. Sometimes we can‘t believe how lucky we were finding the perfect family home at first sight. One viewing it took to makes us give up our apartment in Rathgar and move to the seaside town of Greystones. Rural living with all amenities nearby and close to our beloved Wicklow Mountains. We are very blessed to call this place home since December 2016.

The Payne FARMily

Almost 5 years later we are still happy with our choice. Well, for the most part. We adore our house which now has our own stamp on it. Over the years we have done bits and pieces and feel that it is now living up to its full potential which we had spotted from the start. One of our favourite features was and is the vast secluded garden. It has been my husband John‘s domain so far. Since the start of the pandemic however I grew more fond of contributing to the garden work. This year we added an area for home growing vegetables in addition to our little orchard and herbal beds. Since we got our own chickens just before Easter, I fondly call it the Payne FARMily.

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Greystones – Not rural enough

In the last few years construction of housing estates in Greystones is picking up big time. When we first viewed our house in summer 2016, there were a few new developments around. All within reason for a popular and attractive area like Greystones. But meanwhile I have lost track of the numerous residential properties constantly added to the area. The influx of people is increasing disproportionally to the infrastructure. It makes me feel slightly claustrophobic at times. I never thought that this was going to be something I had to worry about when living in rural Ireland. If we had known at the time we left buzzing Rathgar, we might have opted for an even more rural environment.

Longing for Land

With my growing desire for a secluded surrounding, I tend to isolate. On the weekends I seek out places further afield in the Irish countryside, rather than hitting busy Greystones. I also spend more time in our own green oasis, i.e. our garden wrapping around our bungalow. It seems paradoxical to have a need for isolation in a time of permanent lockdown. However I don‘t seem to be the only one. Whilst many Germans emigrate to Ireland for space and tranquility, I turned to Germany to follow some interesting trends emerging around rural living.

According to a study, about 41% of the Germans could imagine switching their urban setting for a more rural one. Especially during the pandemic, as the proximity to the work place has become redundant, more people take advantage of their newly gained flexibility and flee the packed cities in favour of rural living.

Even before the pandemic the image of country life was already changing. It is no longer seen as outdated lifestyle between boring fields and smelly cow stables. Therefore house prices in rural areas in Germany have been increasing by 40 % in the past 4 years. It used to be the expensive and little supply of living space that forced young people out of the cities. Now more people choose rural living, hoping for a higher-quality family life. (Source: German Documentary “Out of the City – The Dream of Rural Living” [Titel translated])

Rural Living on Trial with “Coconat“

Committing to buying your own property far out in the countryside can still be a challenge despite working from home. Limited accessibility, none or little public transport and usually few facilities nearby –  to name a few. Coconat, about an hour South-West of Berlin, is a great project to live in the countryside ‘on trial‘. “It is perfect to get a feel for country life“, Svenja Nette, a 35-years old blogger says to the ZDF (German TV station). „Am I made for country life and is the country life made for me“, she continues. That is what you can find out as a guest on the expansive former country estate in Klein Glien.

   © 1: Coconat, 2 & 4: Tilman Vogler, 3: Andreas Plata

Klein Glien is a tiny village with not more than 80 residents in the federal state of Brandenburg (surrounding Berlin). Here Coconat offers co-working and living space for young professionals, mostly coming from the nearby capital of Berlin at the moment. Instead of living or working by themselves in a single household, they can join a group of like-minded people from different backgrounds.

In the community area – a huge converted barn – the guests can socialise, share ideas or enjoy the peaceful surroundings on their own. Some only stay for 1 night to work on an assignment. Others book in for weeks or even months, working and contributing to the community in multiple ways. Apart from looking after their guests, the 3 founders Julianne Becker, Janosch Dietrich and Iris Wolf make sure that the locals are kept in the loop too. “It was important to us to respect the views of the people in Klein Glien and that they accept us in return”, says Julianne. The annual village festival, for example, is now hosted on the estate. A fantastic gain for everybody since the estate had been deserted and hence unused for many years beforehand.

Upcycling Big Style – “Your Year in Loitz“

Annika and Rolando, a creative couple from Berlin, have recently moved into an abandoned house in Loitz in Mecklenburg Vorpommern in the North of Germany. With that they have taken on a hell of a project. Namely to convert a big, empty shell into a livable space and to add value for the local community. Annika and Venezuelan native Rolando are full of innovative ideas and have a vision to make it work. After all they have been chosen out of 93 applicants when Loitz got the funding for ‘The City of Future 2030’. The town residents then elected the couple from the 17 finalists to join their community.

Beating Berlin and Freiburg which had also applied for ‘The City of Future 2030’, was a great win for the 4300-resident town of Loitz. From the funding Annika and Rolando receive a monthly base income of €1000 for a year and rent-free living in order to brush up the image of the infrastructurally weak region. The idea behind it is to make living in a remote area more attractive again for young people. Hence, rather than young people benefiting from the countryside, it is the other way around in this case.

Annika and Rolando have a year to put their concept which won over the jury into reality. Supported by ambitious neighbours and volunteers and with their creative ideas and skills they are to transform their temporary home into a vital communal space. With that they hopefully will create a win-win situation even beyond the scope of the project.

Trendiges Landleben coole Konzepte   © Dein Jahr in Loitz; 1, 2 & 4: Matthias Marx

“It takes a Village to raise a Child“

Not only where people live, but also how they live seems to be undergoing a shift towards traditional ways of living. When I asked my friend Julia why she was giving up her convenient city centre apartment in Hamburg to move to a multiple generation living space about 160km further North, she says: “It takes a village to raise a child. And that is my hope for our new home in ‘Freiland Flensburg‘.“ Julia is a single mother with a 5-year old daughter. Living and working in Hamburg has suited her in the past years. “Now it is time to move on“, she tells me. “My grandad was originally from Flensburg. Maybe it is a sign that we found exactly there what we were looking for.“

‘Freiland Flensburg‘ is a campus close to the city centre of Flensburg containing different forms of residential spaces. It includes apartments for single households, different size houses for couples and families, as well accessible units for senior citizens. The main building provides communal space such as guest rooms, a kitchen, a roof terrace and an atrium in the centre. The idea is to offer support for everybody who wants (or needs it) and to profit from the vast skills set of the variety of residents.

“I won‘t need to worry anymore when my daughter is playing outside“, Julia says. “There are always going to be other kids around. Or I can drop her off with a neighbour when I have to run a quick errand or work.“ Julia on the other hand could offer support in digital matters to elderly people, or teach students how to use a sewing machine. Her baking is fantastic too. I am sure her fellow residents are going to profit from that. A great traditional barter system in a modern environment.

Allotment Garden Irish Style

Rural living without a garden doesn‘t really go together for me. What I observe in Greystones however is that most new builds go for an extended indoor space over a green outdoor area. If people have a garden, they often manicure it to perfection or pave it altogether. Not exactly my idea of a natural recreation space.

With joy I read about Tírmór Allotments in Newcastle, Co. Wicklow in the Greystone Guide recently. “The project is to lay a foundation for an agroforestry project“, says founder Huw. He also runs the Co-working space Hub13 that is currently on hold due to Covid 19. “Tírmór allotments is all about increased biodiversity and soil quality“, Huw continues, “and how farming used to be done before we thought we could cheat nature. Construction impacts can lead to increased flooding and I am planning to counteract negative side effects like that by going back to the roots.“

Aimed to be completed within the next 5 years, Huw is converting parts of the 150 year old family farm just outside Newtownmountkennedy into allotments of various sizes. “In combination with the work hubs, people can spend their lunch break planting their own veg“, Huw says with a smile. A fantastic solution for people who prefer a low maintenance garden attached to their house, but would like to give home growing a shot anyway. Cooking and eating it on spot won‘t be too far fetched either as Huw is planning an outdoor kitchen and campsite along with it. The perfect outdoor adventure for hobby gardeners big and small!

Less is More

Above living concepts show that the wheel doesn‘t have to be re-invented. We can absolutely learn from what generations before us did well or even take a peek at other countries. By just giving it a modern twist, it can turn into something innovative and sustainable.

When I was a teenager I didn’t appreciate rural living nor did I see myself settling in the Irish countryside. The older I get, the more I learn to value traditional concepts of living. I enjoy home growing and cooking food from scratch. I think it is intrinsic wanting to provide for your family. It also is very satisfying creating something with your own hands. I enjoy showing our kids how things grow and what you can make out of them. Moreover I am amazed how little we actually need for a happy life. Here is to rural living!




When it’s Time to Isolate on a Mountain Top

Corona Restriction Madness

When we walk past the packed playground in our town where hundreds of kids are mingling, but the 5km travel radius doesn’t allow us to go to an empty forest park. When our son is asking why he can‘t meet with a single friend to play in our garden in the afternoon, although he has played with 20 of them in preschool all morning. Then I don’t want to try and come up with reasonable answers, because there are none. That is when I just want to escape to a secluded mountain top and  isolate from all the people making up nonsensical rules. What would be the difference to Lockdown Level 5 anyway?

What is more essential – Socks or a Kids Jacket?

When I stroll through our town, looking at all the closed shutters of the local stores. I read their posters in front stating “Buy local – Support local businesses“. With that line still ringing in my mind I go home and order all the things that are essential to me online. When I peek over to the shut-off clothes section in the supermarket to work out if knickers and socks are behind the barrier or accessible after all. I realise that I could buy socks indeed, but kids jackets – which I am actually looking for  – have been classified ‘non-essential’ by the Irish government. Hence I can only see them hanging off a clothes rail in the distance, whilst still pondering if I should just buy socks instead.

Freedom of Movement? Not without a Passport!

When my parents in Germany tell me that people are allowed to go to Mallorca on vacation, but can‘t visit their family in the next town over due to the current Corona restrictions. When I find out that the passport office in Dublin doesn’t issue any new passports during Lockdown Level 5 and that includes children’s passports. When I realise that we couldn’t even leave our one and half year old with my husband’s family in Ireland in case we had to travel for essential reasons, as they are not within our 5km travel radius and therefore haven’t seen our daughter in months. Yet another reason to withdraw to our imaginery mountain top where we won’t need a passport, neither justify our movements.

Greystones – The Home of the Cash Cow

When I drive through Greystones and Delgany and see yet another green field is getting turned into a housing estate. When I see how lovely old buildings are torn down to make space for modern, glass-fronted apartment blocks. When I see how much of its original charm the once sleepy fishing village of Greystones has already lost and that the process is still ongoing. When windy, narrow country roads are extended to cope with the daily increasing amount of traffic.

That is when I want to set off to a mountain top, far away from developers and their already pretty milked cash cow.

When I walk through the gorgeous Glen of the Downs trying to imagine what it must have been like without the constant humming noise of the traffic on the N11 running through it. When I remember our Sundays in Delgany Church with the friendly nuns who had called the attached convent their home for centuries and that is now turned into more apartments and houses. When I see another “Developing Site Sign“ towering over a lush piece of land where currently sheep are grazing, but will be replaced by construction vehicles soon.

That is when I want to escape to a mountain top, to just live there with my family in solitude.

Regression of the Civilized World

When I listen to the news and hear that mothers are not called ‘mothers’ anymore in British hospitals, but have to be referred to as ‘birthing person‘ to be politically correct. Also women are not addressed as such anymore in the Irish HSE information on cancer prevention, but were replaced by the phrase ‘anyone with a cervix’. When I hear that parents in Canada are forced by law to allow their underaged children to take puberty blockers if they wish to change to the opposite sex. Otherwise the state has the right take the children away from them. When I hear that there are people out there who can sue you for hate speech when you don‘t refer to them as “wormkind“ as they like to identify themselves. When I realise that there are now three entrances in public toilets for male, female and diverse, but the ‘diverse‘ sign is showing an alien which is meant to be less offensive than not having a third option at all.

That is when I would like to pack my bags and aim for a remote mountain top because this is not the civilized world that I want to live in anymore.

The Mountain Top is Waiting – Pack our Bags!

Maybe the Corona year has changed me and the social isolation has made me less open-minded or tolerant towards the outside world. Maybe I focussed on my family so much that I don‘t respect other opinions anymore who differ too strongly from mine. Maybe I am just getting old or have always been too conservative to handle modernity and changes. Maybe my social anxiety makes me come up with excuses why I’d prefer to live on a mountain top with only my family. Anyway, the day will come when that mountain top is going to be the only valid option. Until then we are to be found in our little sheltered garden paradise.

P.S. Help to stop the construction madness in the village of Delgany by supporting this initiative:




Sexism works both Ways

On the back of some quite negative publicity I have read about men and childminding during the Corona Crisis, I realised that sexism works both ways. And I felt the need to show a different side of the story. It is obviously going to be a very personal point of view from within our family. Nevertheless I don‘t think that my husband John is an edge case. If we still do live in a world where men are misogynistic and can‘t or don‘t want to look after their children, I am even more lucky to have found the one and only super husband & daddy.

„Feminists shouting sexism all over“

I don‘t mind “Men-are-from-Mars-and-Women-from-Venus Jokes“. Men and women are different by nature. They have different strengths and skill sets, often complementing each other. Generalising and joking about their flaws can be humorous. Especially when both sides are aware that it involves stereotyping and exaggerations.

A friend of mine sent me a video the other day about what would happen if women went on strike. It was hilarious! Men were holding crying babies, unable to work out what to do with them. Business men in suits panicking over having to pick up their little ones from kindergarten for the first time. Men at home clueless how to look after domestic stuff. It clearly was exaggerated and sarcastic which I don‘t have a problem with as such.

But jokes like that don‘t seem to work the other way around. Feminists would be shouting „sexism“ from all over. Why is it that we find it very funny when men are put down or made fun of when it comes to child rearing? But jokingly criticizing women‘s driving or mechanical skills  – which is obviously as clichéd – is sexism?

Men against Women

What I have noticed – even more during the Corona Crisis  – is that often it is men against women. As if it was a competition that has to be won by either side. What happened to being partners? Making use of what we both bring to the table and work as a team? Rather than just finger pointing and jumping all over each other’s flaws.

I am not saying that we never have these – let‘s call them gender-based – arguments at home. Who is more tired? How many hours did I look after the kids on the weekend and how many hours did he etc.? Who deserves a break more?  We do argue about these things, because it can be tough at times. Looking after two small children 24/7 in your own four walls while working from home is a challenge that grew exorbitantly during the pandemic.

However once our tempers have cooled down after above mentioned confrontations, we remind ourselves that we don‘t gain anything from winning in a marriage. (Well, except for half an hour extra sleep maybe at the cost of not talking to each other for a while.) We made agreements that we tend to stick to. And if we can‘t for one reason or another we try to compromise and re-adjust. Above all, we know that we are on each other‘s side and not in some strange pseudo-battle between male and female.

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Lazy Housewife vs. Career-oriented Husband

One of our biggest standing agreements is how we split the roles at home. My main task is to look after the children and the domestic chores in the house. John is the sole bread winner. We both have a big responsibility. But for some reason I find neither is perceived as such.

An example for the negative media coverage during the Corona Crisis that I mentioned at the start stated that women are the losers of the pandemic. They have to stay at home and look after the children whilst the men can continue their jobs as before. No one even considers the increased financial pressure now resting on the husband‘s shoulders whilst the mother gets to spend more time with the children. It might not have been the mother’s choice, but not necessarily the father’s either.

It doesn’t help that the image of a house wife and stay-at-home mom is still not the best in modern society. People argue that women make themselves dependent on their husbands and are denied self-fulfilment. They talk about “giving up” something, but never about gaining at the same time. Everybody knows – at least in theory – that it definitely is a full-time job to look after young children. And an important one on top of that. So why is it that women still feel the need to justify themselves for being home carers?

The Grass is always greener on the other Side

It looks like neither men nor women get what they are looking for. Of course I enjoy withdrawing to our home office to work on the computer while John is minding the kids. John on the contrary can‘t wait to get out at night time and roll around on the floor with the kids.

Does that mean we envy the other person all the time? Is that why there is a constant, merciless battle between men and women? Neither a full-time job in the office nor minding the kids at home is always a pleasure. But John and I chose our roles for a reason. The more we enjoy switching occasionally for a break. However we are far from questioning our whole system.

Jobs with a Meaning

After a hard day – rather than arguing who got the better end of the stick – we try to show each other appreciation for what we have achieved. John in his job and I in mine. I also disagree with the assumption that having a paid job is generally more fulfilling. Whilst our children show me appreciation almost every day, John might be looking for it in vain in the office, despite his hard work.

When it comes to the questions whose job as such is more important, I am also the clear winner. The purpose of my work, i.e. our children, add by far more meaning to my life than John’s tasks at the office to his. At the same time we are well aware that we couldn’t afford our life style without John’s long hours and his good salary.

A Healthy Co-Dependency

There is no doubt about it that it needs us as a team to make it all function. Rather than striving for personal happiness and self-fulfillment, we believe that owning up to our responsibilities and contributing our part is the key to a content (family) life on the long run. With this comes happiness and fulfillment.

Apart from that, there is no reward system or competition going on for the harder worker. If one slacks off, the other one has to bear the additional load, or things will start slipping. We are not ashamed of admitting that we are depending on each other. Our marriage and family would not work if we were two separate individuals fighting to realise our own personal goals.

Trouble Shooting in the Crisis

The Corona crisis has required a lot of re-adjustment. Even though our traditional roles made it easier for us to adapt quicker to childminding and working from home, we weren‘t prepared to master it all by ourselves, entirely without the support of family and friends.

Hence we do have our moments when when we are sick and tired of it all and annoyed by each other‘s company. We had an argument recently which we didn‘t sort out before we went to bed. However we both agreed the next day that we didn‘t like that and won‘t be doing it again going forward. (Well, we will argue for sure, but won‘t drag it out until the next day.)

There really is no point. We know that we are generally on the same page and agree on the ‘big stuff‘. Otherwise we wouldn‘t have got married in the first place. When we argue it is about day-to-day things in combination with being tired or overwhelmed. At the end of the day we know that our marriage is the base camp where we both re-charge our batteries.




Living like the Carmenites – Family Vacation in Ireland

Confused by the headline and thinking of calling me out on my apparent typo? Well, it is not a typo and I deliberately wrote ‘Carmenites’ – double meaning desired. Even though it involves some spirituality, we didn’t enter a monastery or found a new order on our family vacation in Sligo. We did discover a fascinating lifestyle though. But first things first.

Family Vacation_Carrowkeel Co. Sligo

Staycation in Ireland

Like most people in Ireland we didn’t have much of a choice but spend our summer vacation on the island due to the Covid regulations. So, we knew quite early on that the 2-week trip to my family in Germany was not going to happen this year. Apart from missing out on a family reunion, spending our family vacation in Ireland was not the worst that could have happened to us. In fact we were pretty excited to bring our kids on our first real family vacation with the four of us.

However it turned out to be a bit of a challenge to find an accommodation last minute that was suitable for ourselves and our friends we were planning to travel with. They also had 2 kids the same age as ours  (3 years & 11 months) and therefore we were looking for something spacious with 4 bedrooms. The new trend “Staycation” apparently still involved travelling rather than staying at home like the term might suggest. So we didn’t have any luck at all finding what we were looking for.

I am getting baptised!

Confusing headline again? Stay with me, it still is all about our family vacation in Sligo.

Many times before I had turned to a ‘higher power’ to ask for things I wanted or didn’t want to happen. The turnout had been pretty impressive. I am not only talking about minor things like finding a holiday home, but big life-changing events. When one of the biggest miracles in our life happened last year my doubt in God began to totter.

When I told my husband John that it wasn’t looking good regarding a place for our spontaneous family vacation he said a silent prayer. He was desperate to get away for a couple of days after a rough time in work and months in his Home Office during Lockdown. In fact we had both been looking forward to a break and a change of scenery as well as spending some time with friends. We would have been very disappointed if we had to stay in our own four walls for our family vacation.

Family Vacation Miracle

After days of browsing the web for a self-catering cottage without any luck, this dream house popped up in my search. All of a sudden, completely out of the blue. It was too good to be true. The pictures looked absolutely stunning and it seemed to be even better than what we had been hoping for. I couldn’t believe when I saw that the 4 nights we had planned to travel were the only dates available in the upcoming weeks. Suspecting a technical glitch, I tried not to get my hopes up just yet.

I knew John’s prayers had been answered when I received the booking confirmation shortly afterwards. I was delighted and astonished at the same time. Once more something we had so desperately wanted worked itself out miraculously.

Now it was my turn to keep my side of the bargain. Fair is fair. Finding this absolutely promising holiday home had finally tipped the scales in favour of my baptism. And it wasn’t going to be the only miracle that happened throughout our family vacation.

Living like the Carmenites_Inspiring LifestyleLiving like the Carmenites_Inspiring LifestyleLiving like the Carmenites_Inspiring LifestyleLiving like the Carmenites_Inspiring Lifestyle

Arrival in Paradise

The headline is not a religious methapor, but literally how I would describe the arrival at our Airbnb in Ballymote. The 3-hour trip through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands had been very pleasant. Once off the motorway, windy country roads led us through lush meadows alternating between grazing sheep and cows. The mountain range in the distance was quite a contrast to the agricultural land dominating the area. The air after a short but heavy rain shower was fresh with a slight smell of silage lingering in the air. The temperature still hadn’t dropped and with about 24 degrees, a mild summer evening was laying ahead. The perfect start of our family vacation.

Dreaming allowed

It is not that we live in a big buzzing city. We moved to the countryside because we love having nature around us. However our lovely seaside village of Greystones slowly but surely seems to turn into a medium-sized town with a lot of new property development going on. Too fast and too much for my liking.

When we started house-hunting in summer 2016 I had already dreamed of a country house in the middle of nowhere. But we decided to be sensible and not move somewhere too remote for various reasons.

Anyway, that doesn’t keep me from dreaming. And the house we were going to call home for our 4-night family vacation was such a dream.

Dinner in the ‘Greenhouse’

The hosts had already warmly welcomed our friends when we got there. We gathered around the long table in the conservatory, the Orangery, for dinner and a chat. What a great idea to have a dining area right beside vegetable beds full of tomato and cucumber plants filling the room with a gorgeous smell. Not to forget the water cress growing in a thick belt around the room.

Our 3-year-olds were excited to see each other. Little did they know they were going to have their first sleepovers in huge comfy beds waking up to the sound of cows mooing in the field across. But who was going to talk about bed time when there was so much to explore first?

Family Vacation_Carmen's & Robert's Country House RetreatLeben wie die Carmeniter_Charming LandhausFamily Vacation_Carmen's & Robert's Country House RetreatFamily Vacation_Carmen's & Robert's Country House Retreat

Welcome to Mediterranean Ireland

Grapes framed the door leading from the spacious country kitchen into the Orangery. They were ripe and sweet as we soon found out. Our kids much preferred them over the Spaghetti we had quickly prepared  for dinner. There were more grapevines around the door leading onto the patio with its almost Mediterranean character. Cosy sunbeds in front of the rustic stone cladding made it the perfect spot for a mild summer night. Two olive trees and a massive fig plant suggested we were not even in Ireland anymore, but somewhere in Southern Europe. No need to dream ourselves away though as we had discovered the perfect spot for our family vacation in rural Ireland and were looking forward to the next couple of days.

The Garden (Eden)

Robert, the man of the house, was doing a wonderful job keeping the fairy tale garden neat and lush for everybody to enjoy. With lots of space for the toddlers to run around (and literally no way to escape the property), they occupied themselves giving the adults some time to have a chat after breakfast. Or to tidy up the mess that their younger siblings had made eating.

Anyway, there was no rush to leave and go places as everybody was happy out staying in the house and garden. Berries, grapes, tomatoes and herbs freshly picked from the Orangery were the highlights for our busy little gardeners. Around noon we decided to leave the paradise for a trip to the beach.

Aughris Head on the Wild Atlantic Way

We never really got around to read up on things to do in the area before our spontaneous family vacation. Therefore we followed the first advice on the sheet our hosts had given us – which was Aughris Head on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Despite our late start, we were one of the first ones to arrive on the usually busy beach as we were going to find out soon enough. The sun was burning down and it was an absolute perfect day to spend by the sea. With the Beach Bar right beside it we knew we had picked the right place to be for the day.

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My First Time in the Irish Ocean

Convinced that I wasn’t going to go for a swim in the sea I hadn’t brought my swim gear. John had packed his wetsuit expecting the water to be as cold as back home on the East coast. I couldn’t believe how much warmer it was compared to the Irish East coast. The shallow water and low tide had a huge positive impact on the temperature and I decided to go for a swim too despite lacking a swim suit. (No, not German nude style, I kept my clothes on!)

I had been swimming in the sea in Ireland before. On a surfing trip in October about 6 years before. I had been wearing a wetsuit though which would make this year’s vacation the first time I was properly bathing in the Irish Atlantic. Another family vacation miracle.

Perfect Ending of a Perfect Day

When we arrived back ‘home’, Robert and his lovely wife (who was German by the way) had prepared a gorgeous BBQ as complimentary part of our stay. The fire was already blazing in the self-built fire pit. While we were waiting for homemade burgers and German Potato Salad, we sat around the fire chatting away to our hosts and hearing about their amazing story of how they had created this stunning place.

When darkness set in, we continued sitting outdoors in shorts and T-shirt in this totally silent environment except for our laughter echoing through the night. In Ireland you never get to sit outside in a T-shirt at night time without being freezing cold. The starry sky turned it into an almost corny setting. Was it God again or just the Gulf Stream in the West of Ireland causing this delightful summer night?

Must-See for Kids and Adults

For the next day we had planned to bring the kids to a bird sanctuary close by. It was hard getting them into the car as they were busy in the garden making ‘salad’ out of Robert’s raspberry bushes. When we eventually left, our 3-year old fell asleep on the short drive to the eagles flying bird sanctuary. Even though he slept through all of the very interesting and entertaining bird show, it was an afternoon well spent. We got to pet the “Harry-Potter-Owl“ (I am sure it has a scientific name too) and many other animals afterwards. Sorry birds, but the attached petting zoo with the cuddlier animals was our toddlers’ favourite experience. But seeing these massive eagles and falcons fly and learning about them made the visit worthwhile for adults too. Definitely a must-see on a family vacation in Sligo! Thanks again to the eagles flying team for doing such a wonderful job!

Sligo from a Bird’s Eye View

The trip to the bird sanctuary had set the bar high for any other activities to come. And still, thanks to Robert’s advice we saw another unbelievably stunning place the next day. This time we saw Sligo from a bird’s eye view.

We visited the Carrowkeel Passage Tombs which were quite high up in the Bricklieve Mountains. Beware that there is another Carrowkeel right beside the Megalithic Cemetery of Carrowmore, same distance but opposite direction from Ballymote. Our friends learned that the hard way when they ended up in the wrong place with their kids getting whingy in the backseats.

The drive and also the short, buggy-friendly hike up to the passage tombs (a little longer with small kids!) was beautiful. Although we didn’t have a very clear view, looking down onto the lakes and the green fields of Sligo gleaming through the mist was beyond words.

Family Vacation_Carrowkeel Co. Sligo

‘Newgrange’ for free

When we got to the top of the hill (last bit without buggy!), we found 3 perfectly intact passage tombs. Like little huts made of rocks they were sitting in a line across the mountain. A local passer-by explained to me that there were several monuments built on hilltops in the region overlooking the landscape. She pointed out Knocknarea to me, a 320 m high mountain across from where we were. On its top I could make out the semi-circular shape of Queen Maeve‘s grave in the distance.

What a spiritual and natural gem Carrowkeel was and what great adventure for the kids peeping through the roof boxes of these impressive passage tombs. Ideal place to include a bit of history into your family vacation.

Why is a site with such historic significance like Carrowkeel almost neglected whilst another one like Newgrange turns into a mass tourism destination? A phenomenon I wrote about in my article “Abandoned in Ireland”.

Self-Catering Spa Treatment

Again, back at our house we had another perfect ending of a perfect day. At least the girls of our little travel group. My friend and I had booked in for a massage that we conveniently received in the house by the lady of the manor. Whilst my husband dealt with the bedtime routine of our kids, I enjoyed my Indian head massage next door. Where in a self-catering Airbnb do you get an in-house Spa treatment? What a glorious finish of an unforgettable trip!

The Aftermath

When we got home the next day, my husband and I were still glowing. The vacation had fulfilled its purpose. Even our children, who slept through the entire journey, seemed to be giving us a grace period before we were about to enter our daily routine again.

Despite the usual family chaos including particularly early mornings with the kids and late nights by the fire, our short trip left us energised. Even the heavy rain on the drive down – whilst unsubtly marking the end of our vacation – couldn’t change that.

When John opened our front door, he noticed how small our house felt compared to Carmen’s & Robert’s Country House Retreat. Whilst we loved our house, we were going to miss the wide and super-comfy double beds in Ballymote. However, it was more the thoughtful touches and cosy snugs that gave the modernised farm house its special character. ‘In love’ with Carmen’s interior design, we decided to ‘carmenise’ our home, as we jokingly called it.

How ‘c(h)arming’ is that

Indeed there was much to learn from Carmen’s knack for decorating. With small children in the house we were obviously restricted when it came to delicate objects. Nevertheless I liked the way Carmen had blended different styles, art works and decorations adding up to this picture book country house. Absolutely charming and with so much attention to detail it was by far more than just a fit for purpose accommodation. It truly was an oasis to relax and unwind, not lacking a single thing as far as I was concerned.

Carmenites_Family Vacation in IrelandCarmenites_Family Vacation in IrelandCarmenites_Family Vacation in IrelandCarmenites_Family Vacation in Ireland

I’ll join the ‘Carmenites’!

Also Robert’s and Carmen’s life style seemed to be in line with what their whole environment conveyed. Something that I had only known from romantic movies before and absolutely adored: A lifestyle back to the roots, but with a very pleasant level of comfort. The weekly shop in the Farmer’s Market, homemade bread, freshly cut flowers on the table, mostly homegrown vegetables – to only give a few examples. Combined with Carmen’s and Robert’s down-to-earth attitude, it really was something worth aiming for. Thanks to our short break in that wonderful little world of its own and the lovely chats with Carmen and Robert, I became cognizant of that once again.

A long-lasting Experience

I gained so much more from that vacation than just a great time with my family and friends. I also own a sourdough culture for the first time in my life now that I use for breadmaking exactly like Carmen. But all joking aside, I haven’t had such an uplifting experience in a long time. The laughter with our friends by the fire. The quality adult-time and fun together as families. The warm summer air infused with all the gorgeous scents in the garden (including the one of the BBQ). The activities and getting to know another wonderful region of Ireland. Strangers welcoming us into their house and looking after us so well. We will be back, for sure!




Good or Bad Parent? You decide!

Family Rules with Kids in Lockdown

To entertain your kids at home you don’t have to be a professional arts & crafts teacher, drill instructor or party clown, but a bit of everything. In my previous articles I already gave a little insight of  how we deal with self-isolation and about our life as home office family. This one is going to be about the master task of them all: How to keep your kids busy at home all day long. Of course it helps that my husband John has been working from home full time and that I am a stay-at-home mom for over 3 years now. So we are well used to being ‘locked in the house’ together 24/7. I have put together 5 simple family rules that have proven to be successful for us well before self-isolation and lockdown.

Business as Usual

I am either the best mother in the world or the worst. Maybe it has to do with the way our kids are, or the family rules we raise them by. Or a bit of both. Possibly the trouble is still ahead of us when our kids reach school age. Who knows. But my life as full-time mammy of a 3-year old and an 8 1/2-months old is pretty relaxed most of the time. (A line that the majority of temporary, involuntary stay-at-home moms probably want to kill me for.)

Not even the Covid19 restrictions are going to change that. Our kids are barely affected by them. Despite the fact they are not able to see their grandparents and friends, they don’t really suffer under the situation. Therefore we don’t see the need to overcompensate with special activities or new toys. In our house it’s business as usual with our good old family rules.

Often the Problem is Me

When days turn out to be more challenging than others it is quite often because of me. Of course the little ones have their phases, throw the odd temper tantrum or can be demanding and needy at times. However most of the time they are their usual self and act appropriately for their age. When I am more irritable, get snappy or impatient quicker, it is me who is having a bad day.

So ‘rule zero’ of our family rules is to “clean your own side of the street first” as they say and check your own mood. Am I putting my grumpiness on them or do I give off a vibe that makes the kids acting up? It doesn’t always help to change the situation, but it makes it easier for me to not let it out on my children.

What to do with your Kids at Home?

I am not going to jump on the ‘creative waggon’ and give advice about what you can handcraft or invent with your children. (Others are much better at that – check out SENSEable Tots Website or Instagram.) I rather want to write about how little kids need to entertain themselves and how I make life easy for myself as stay-at-home mom. So here are our (genius?) rules of (lazy?) parenting:

Family Rule # 1: Don’t make the Kids the Centre of your Life

Our kids mean everything to me. I am their main caretaker and I couldn’t picture spending my day-to-day life without them. Sounds pretty much as if they were the centre of my life and everything evolves around them, right?

In a way it does. However we (that is my husband and myself) do believe that it is important to show them that there are boundaries and they are not the centre of the universe all the time. They are only little now, but it is our responsibility to prepare them for life in society later. Our family is their small society and we need to teach them how to behave socially for their own sake. It would be unfair if our family rules completely differed from the ones they have to stick to in society later on, wouldn’t it?

Therefore we think it is okay to say „Hang on for a minute, Mammy and Daddy are talking“. Or „Dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes, we’ll wait until everybody is at the table“. Even a simple “No you can’t have/do that right now” is ok. Our 3-year old is able to understand that. Once we overcame the initial protest and moaning about it, it paid off. In return we give them many moments when they are the centre of attention.

Family Rule # 2: Stick to the Rules

We think that kids need a routine and above all rules. It helps them and gives them something to rely on when things around them change. Like during a pandemic for example. Family rules are easily set up. Sticking to them and enforcing them as a parent is the difficult bit.

Nobody likes to see their child crying over something. On the contrary, it actually makes me nervous seeing them frustrated. But for us that is not always a reason to give in. If they were about to do something dangerous we wouldn’t give in either and let them touch the hot cooker. So why not do the same with non-hazardous things?

There are many positive ways to enforce rules, without any pressure or shouting (well, most of the time). We always try to explain things child-appropriately or tell them why it is important to obey a certain rule. Rarely we say no without any further explanation.

The best way to enforce family rules still is to be a good example and stick to your own rules. This way we have taught our eldest that tidying up is part of the process and has to be done every night. Daddy does it with the tools after working in the garden. Hence we do it with the toys inside. Some nights there is still some arguing going on about it, but together we always get it done. Be it in a playful way, as a competition or by convincing them (we try to avoid blackmail :-)!). There are exceptions to the rule, but not very often.

Family Rule # 3: Integrate them into your daily Schedule (and not the other way around)

Chicken or egg – I don’t know which came first. Is it our children’s character or is it the way we raise them? Probably a bit of both. Anyway, somehow we managed to match-up our boy’s body clock with mine. Already as a baby he stayed in his bed after waking up in the morning and played quietly by himself. This way I have always had a chance of a lie-in. I am a night owl and like to take it easy in the morning. So it perfectly suits me that our firstborn turned out the same, which definitely contributes to making my life as a full-time mammy easier.

When we have chores to do, the kids help. Small kids love helping. Even when it meant more work for me at the beginning, it was well worth putting the extra time and patience in. Sometimes putting up one load of laundry took me forever because my little ‘helper’ wanted to do it himself. He took it down again or put it back in the washing machine. Over time he developed into a real helper though. He is now fetching the laundry basket for me, loads the machine and switches it on and off (all under supervision of course).

It was the exact opposite with outdoor chores. He never liked messy play in the garden and wasn’t very keen on being outside at all. It was John who put a lot of time and effort in to making him roll around in the grass and getting his hands dirty. Now they both do garden work together on a regular basis and love it.

This way stuff around the house gets done and the kids are busy and enjoy themselves. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement and a gentle nudge in the bottom.

Family Rule # 4: Give them the real Stuff

This family rule is pretty much a logical consequence of the previous one. Children usually want to copy what their parents do. But do they need a toy in miniature for everything? I don’t think so.

Our 3-year old loves playing ‘kitchen’. Instead of buying him a toy one, we let him use the real kitchen stuff. So he just gets some pots and wooden spoons from the presses and makes ‘dinner’. With socks over his hands alias oven gloves he takes out the ‘hot dishes’ from underneath the dinner table which serves as oven.

One day we built him a little kitchen in the garden using old boxes, sticks and stones. He was busy all afternoon cooking with water and leaves in empty plastic containers. When he was finished we just returned everything and saved us yet another toy that sooner or later gets abandoned in the corner.

Principle # 5: Let them be bored

Sometimes the kids don’t need anything at all to play with. Whilst the family rules says so, they are never really bored. Not in our house anyway.

Our toddler is great at inventing his own games or a little fantasy world where we all play a part. One day he is running through the house pretending to catch wild animals. The next moment he is an ambulance driver copying the sirene or a cowboy shouting yeehaaa and throwing his imaginary hat. If he wasn’t constantly talking to himself, I wouldn’t even know what game he was on.

Obviously I am always around, but most of the time it is enough for him when I dip in and out of the play. Often he is in his rooms for ages playing by himself and I just need to quietly check on him once in a while. Slowly but surely he is involving his little sister too, ‘reading’ to her and looking after her like he used to do it with his cuddly toys.

That is when I get time to write my blog articles! Great, isn’t it? Well, until clean-up time. The kids usually turn the house into a mess, occupying each room sooner or later throughout the day. But that’s fine. We just refer to Family #2 in the evening and tidy up together in no time :-).

Good or Bad Parent?

To come back to the opening question: Am I a bad parent because I don’t constantly play with my children or come up with new creative ideas to keep them occupied? Because I let them be ‘bored’ rather than switching on the TV for them? Or am I a good parent because I try to interfere as little as possible and let them do their own thing within our set boundaries and family rules? You decide!

P.S.:

After my husband proofread this article he said that I should probably add that it took me a while to be this ‘relaxed mom’ I am talking about and that quite often I still worry a bit too much even though things are running smoothly. That comes with the job as a mammy, I guess. They are our family rules after all, so a lot of them reflect my husband’s chilled manner to deal with things rather than mine. Therefore we agreed on adding © John Payne ;-).




Welcome to the Home Office

..of the Payne Family

We are in the very lucky position that my husband, our 2 kids and myself are always at home together. Well, some might argue that this is exactly the problem with the self-isolation. However we are coping, because we are used to it. I am not saying that it is always easy. But for us it still is the most suitable way of living. Here is how is our experience as a Home Office family.

Home Office Pro

My husband John is working for an international company with clients and business partners all over the world. He has to adapt his working hours to different time zones. Sometimes he is starting around noon and not finishing until midnight. Or the other way around. Needing to be flexible makes home office the only viable option. For the past 3 years working from home has proven to be the perfect solution for all of us.

Self-Isolation doesn’t change our Routine

As long as John has been working from home I have been a stay-at-home mom. Neither of our two kids go into childcare. All together we make a great team. The Corona crisis might shake things up a bit, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our domestic routine.

What a Way to start the Day

When the kids wake up in the morning the four of us are having a bit of family time together. John and I are sipping our coffees while our almost 3-year old is munching his muesli. Meanwhile our daughter is practicing crawling before she is joining the rest of us in bed for cuddles. We prefer that over a formal sit-down breakfast. No hasty getting ready in the morning or rushing anywhere. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Home Office for Future

One reason we get to do that is because John saves about 3 hours commute every day by working from his home office in Wicklow. Not everybody has the privilege to work from home. But when the Corona crisis is over there will be more Home Office workers for sure.

It can be hard to never see any co-workers, but there are a lot of upsides from a family perspective. Instead of being stuck in rush hour traffic day in day out John gets to see the kids a lot and has had a great bond with them right from the start. Despite me being the main child carer during the day, we both rank equally as parents from our kids’ perspective.

Family Rules for Working from Home

Instead of stating the more or less obvious Home Office pros and cons I put together some simple family rules that make working from home run smoothly for us.

  1. Do not enter!

The home office is off limits for playing. Especially when John is  working obviously. As soon as he closes the door, he turns from the jokey cuddly family daddy into a tough business man. Not for us, but for everyone else who is dealing with him in there (ouch!)

Of course this is hard to explain to a toddler. And some days it is harder to follow this rule than others. John knows that I am doing my best, but am not able to keep the noise down all the time. On the other hand, I am aware that especially during important phone calls I have to put all the effort in to keep the kids quiet. With the increase in people working from home during the Corona crisis we have encountered an even higher level of understanding from John’s business partners and clients though.

  1. Beware of the Cuddle Zone!

The same way the door functions as ‘teleporting machine’ in Rule #1 when John enters the office, it works the other way around when he comes out. So the minute John sticks his nose out the door, he is likely to be ‘attacked’ by the little cuddle monsters. In our house every door creeks differently. So no silently sneaking in or out of the office. Nevertheless John crosses lines quite frequently during the day to the delight of the kids which leads us to Rule #3.

  1. Work Schedule before Family Routine.

This might sound negative. But what it basically means is that we drop everything whenever John has an unexpected break or a cancelled meeting. The kids are delighted when he throws in an extra round of rough play even if it is just for 5 minutes. Especially now with the great weather we all take the opportunity to hang out together in the garden for a bit before everybody resumes what they were doing beforehand.

  1. Leave the Work behind.

A big downside of working from home is that the workplace is just around the corner at all times. So why not quickly nip into the Home Office to answer an email. Or even worse, do it at the dinner table. Therefore this rule is very important to me. I would rather miss out on a family dinner to make sure John gets to finish his work and doesn’t look at his phone or computer for the rest of the day.

  1. Everybody needs a break.

John doesn’t take regular breaks throughout the day. If he was commuting he would at least have the chance to wind down a bit which doesn’t normally happen after a day in the Home Office. For a long time Rule #2 caused him to jump into his daddy job straight away. That is why we invented downtime for John after work unless hell is breaking loose.

If hell is breaking loose, even during the day, I ask John for help provided his work permits it. Occasionally he has to rock the baby during a phone conference or our toddler gets to wear the big ‘Mickey-Mouse’ headset to say hello to the CEO (Editor’s note: the ‘person’ on the screen in the picture is not the CEO!).

  1. Last but not least, Exceptions to the Rule.

Whilst above rules have proven themselves to be working for us, there are certainly days when not everything is going according to plan.

On such days the office might turn into a playground with the office chair as a merry-go-round. Or our toddler storms in mid-meeting asking John for a face to be painted on his plaster*. Quietly playing in the hallway turns into a full-on soccer match. And instead of a peaceful break for John at the end of the day we all settle for some episodes of Peppa Pig together and cuddles on the couch. (*When I ask our son what daddy does for work he says that he has a phone, a computer and pens.)

‘Love in Times of Corona’

I can definitely say that our 3-years home office experience is a huge advantage for successfully dealing with this exceptional situation during the self-isolation. Whilst we also feel an impact of the lockdown, especially on our mental health, we don’t see it as a challenge on our family life. On the contrary, it brings us even closer together. Hopefully people who are Home Office Beginners will see the upsides to it and manage to cope in a similar positive way.

I cannot help it but say it once more how grateful I am for the way of life we chose, meaning me being a stay-at-home mam and John the sole breadwinner. It might not be (possible) for everyone, but for us it is the perfect solution which gives us another advantage with the current situation too.

Instead of juggling Home Schooling and Home Office (which I consider to be extremely difficult) or disappointment because kids can’t go to crèche, nothing has changed for us and everybody is happy at home.

How I keep the children happy at home without big effort or too much screen time, I share in my next blog post. Stay safe until then and make the most of working from home.




How we found our Dream House in Wicklow

It was a coincidence that we moved from Dublin to Co. Wicklow three years ago. Not that we moved, but where we moved to. It’s not that we deliberately picked the most beautiful county in Ireland. With its stunning coastline and the magnificent scenery of the Wicklow Mountains. Which also happens to have a child-friendly environment with lots of family outdoor and indoor activities. Here is our story how we found our dream house in Wicklow:

Tackling the House Search

For over a year we were only looking online and didn’t actually attend any house viewings. I had set up an alert with the main property search engines specifying our budget and criteria. It then became part of my daily routine to check out the latest offers. What the search engine of the websites did for me, I did for my husband John. He only got to see what I had already approved and considered worthwhile sending on. Finding our dream house was basically in my hands.

Daydreaming allowed

Now and then I would get carried away by this fantasy of living in a cosy cottage in the Irish countryside. There were more than enough out there, but usually in the middle of nowhere. Whilst I was already seeing our children playing in the garden and furnishing places in my mind, John was keeping me grounded to the reality of the situation. We were both working in Dublin and didn’t want to become commuters spending hours on the road every day. However I wasn’t ready to abandon my idea of our dream house nestled between rolling green hills and grazing sheep.

Going for a Hat-Trick

The urgency to find a bigger place suddenly increased from being a hobby to an absolute necessity. After our wedding in May that year we had just bought a car in prospective of the house hunting. Still taking it slowly, we found out shortly afterwards that I was pregnant. Neither of us would have thought that 2016 was going to be such a big year for us. Were we really about to score a hat-trick in our personal game of life?

Too good to be true

Eventually I came upon an offer that looked too good to be true. A detached house – which John said we would never be able to afford. In an attractive seaside town in Co. Wicklow about 45-minutes drive from Dublin. Perfect size for us with a big front and back garden – one of our must-haves. John’s priority was a spacious kitchen, whereas I wanted (space for) a bath. The property in question seemed to have it all. Our dream house?

I was thrilled. For the first time I felt we could be onto something and the house hunt became tangible. Without consulting John I called up the agent and arranged a viewing appointment. John was cool with it, but by far wasn’t getting as excited as I was.

Let the Journey begin

On a foggy and rainy day at the beginning of September 2016 we were headed from our tiny city apartment in Rathgar to the countryside for our first house viewing. With our special power of getting lost everywhere we go, it took us a while to find our way on the small country roads. Despite all the  positive events we had been blessed with this year and from that the resulting urgency to find a place, we approached the appointment with low expectations. The house had already been on the market for a while and we were sure that there must be a reason for it. It was our first viewing after all and what were the chances that we came across our dream house at once? We were expecting it to be the start of a long journey.

Mixed Impressions

The real estate agent warmly welcomed us and didn’t seem a bit annoyed that we just made him wait as we were  zig-zagging through what felt like half North Wicklow. He led us into a spacious hallway that smelled of a strong air freshener which put me off straight away. Knowing how important smells were when it came to liking things I instantly thought it was a bad omen.

Without talking to each other John and I walked through the house room by room. I really liked what I saw. Small cosy rooms as opposed to an open-plan houses which we both weren’t big fans of. Three decent sized bedrooms and a fire place in both living rooms. The kitchen probably hadn’t been modernised since the house was built in the 1970’s, but had this country cottage charm with dark beams on the sides and ceiling. The bathroom came as a bit of a shock. We knew now why there hadn’t been any photographs of it online. The fittings and wall tiles were in a screaming turquoise. The shower above the well used iron tub was mounted way too low for our body height. So was the mirror on the wall. If we really bought the house we would only be able to wash and see our bottom half for the next while.

The bursting of the Bubble

I felt the dream house bubble burst as the list of things in need of repair increased as we kept walking through the bungalow. There was no way that John was going to agree to buy the house. Compared to a newly built one it had too many things that we would need to invest in. And whilst it was within our set budget the deposit would eat up all our savings for now. I felt disappointed. Apparently I had gotten my hopes up despite all the intentions not to. Yes, the house had a few cosmetic issues, but I could actually see us living here.

Meanwhile the fog was so bad that we weren’t able to see much of the garden and the highly anticipated sea view. We said goodbye to the real estate agent and still without talking walked back up the long garden path through the black iron gate that closed behind us with a bang.

Made for each other

It was not until we were back in the car, that we looked at each other and knew that we were both on the same page. I had a big smile on my face and so did John. It turned out that he only wanted to keep his poker face in front of the agent. Despite of it all, we both had fallen in love with the house and its location. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for us.

With one Foot in Wicklow

Still in positive shock that our first house viewing had gone so well we half-heartedly tried to talk ourselves out of closing the deal. I was busy writing a pro and con list deliberately focusing on the downsides of the house. We couldn’t possibly buy the first house that we had viewed. In a town that we had never even properly visited before. But here we were, sitting in a local pub, John calculating our finances on the phone and me saying over and over again that we had to look at a few more properties, but not really meaning it.

Home sweet Home

In the three years that we have been living in that very same house we haven’t regretted it once. It was love at first sight and our gut feeling had been right. We had both seen the potential of it and turned it into our own, very special home. Both our kids were born here (well, not literally) and we just love being here. It had its own character when we first saw it. And now it has its own character with our personal touch in it.

 

\\ BY THE WAY… //

When we bought our house in 2016 the average asking price for a 3 bed semi-detached house in Co. Wicklow was roughly at €269,000. Compared to Co. Dublin with €314,000. The national average house price was €221,000, whereas Co. Longford came in lowest with €65,000.

In 2019 that had changed significantly. The average house price in Co. Wicklow had risen to €322,000. Countrywide the average had climbed to €265,000, headed by Co. Dublin with €368,000. Co. Longford came last again with €96,750 which was still a remarkable increase in only three years (source: myhome.ie).

Also the number of transactions has grown immensly in the past couple of years. Whilst only 24,568 houses were sold in 2013, 40,150 changed their owner in 2016 and 45,276 in 2019.

House prices were at their highest at the peak of the Celtic Tiger in 2007. In 2012 they had reached 46.7% of the peak again and in 2019 82.7% (source: Central Statistics Office).




How we survive – My Birthing Story

There are certain things that cannot be described in words. One of them is childbirth. I have read somewhere that the pain during childbirth is the second worst pain after burning. People have also told me that the birth of their children has been the most touching moment in their lives. When I see a woman giving birth I ask myself – how on earth does mankind survive? A simple answer would be – nobody knows what to expect on their first child. But how do you end up being a mother of one+ like myself and so many other women on the planet? So here is my birthing story.

The Miracle begins

I had a fantastic first pregnancy. It didn’t take us long to conceive. It was absolutely planned and perfect timing. Right after our wedding and honeymoon. Apart from a little queasiness at the beginning I didn’t have any of the typical pregnancy symptoms. The public maternity service in Ireland was brilliant and I felt well looked after in the Dublin Coombe Hospital. We didn’t find out if we were having a boy or a girl and were looking forward to our very special surprise.

The Elephant in the Room

So all in all I felt amazing. That was mostly physical though. Mentally it was a bit of a challenge for me getting used to that big change that was about to happen. Whilst looking forward to being a mammy and embracing every moment of the pregnancy, fear kept creeping in. There were lots of different fears and worries. The big one that kept me awake at night and obviously the first one I had to face was giving birth. There are a lot of things in your life that you can avoid out of fear. Delivering your baby is not one of them.

Miracle behind a Wall

No matter how much information I gathered or how many people I asked, no one was able to tell me what giving birth would be like for me. It was a two-faced fear. On the one hand I was excitingly waiting for the big day that was the due date. On the other hand I wanted to push it as far away as possible. Sometimes I almost felt like being in a state of panic. I had that beautiful little miracle inside me that I couldn’t wait to meet. But the moment when this was eventually going to happen felt so unreachable. Or at least the pain and suffering that I would have to go through to get there felt like a heavy burden on my consciousness.

No Way back

When labour eventually started I became once more aware that there was no turning back. Well, not there was ever an option or even the wish to turn back anyway. In theory I knew everything. How to breathe, at what stage happens what and what I could use for pain relief. I thought at the time that I was approaching birth with an open mind and was flexible with my birthing plan. My husband on the other hand knew right from the start that I had made up my mind how I wanted things to happen and that I wasn’t a bit flexible.

Procrastination stops here

The date for my induction was already set. I really didn’t want to be induced and so I was determined to get baby out beforehand. When labour started the evening before, I surprisingly felt calm. I was already overdue by 10 days and I knew procrastination was no longer an option if I wanted a natural birth. It was like coming to terms with something that had eaten away at me for so long. Now it was time to stand up and fight it. Or in my case – focus on what was lying ahead and that I had been preparing for for 9 months.

The Monster showing its Face

When the first mild contractions started, I got an idea of the pain I was dealing with. Finally, the invisible monster had started showing its face (no, not the baby yet!). I remember feeling quite confident that I could handle an even stronger level of that type of pain. What I didn’t know and only learned in the hospital was that the real monster hadn’t even come out yet (again, not talking about the baby!).

Imagination vs. Reality

I have to admit that I was overwhelmed when the real pain kicked in. I couldn’t really focus on anything that I had learned in the numerous antenatal classes. Or at least I couldn’t do so consciously. Looking back I am amazed how most of the things somehow happened naturally. So I must have done something right. Well, the result, our beautiful baby boy, who was born after only 5 hours of active labour and without major pain relief is the best proof.

A “Vicious“ Cycle

And here comes what I consider the first big paradox. Battered and tired from giving birth, still remembering what the pain felt like (no, you don’t forget!), I knew I was going to do it again. Something I rationally couldn’t explain at all. I had gone through the worst pain I had ever experienced and was glowing with happiness. Still I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Even if someone had offered to hand me the baby just like that. For some reason it had to happen the way it did. It just felt right.

And I was going to do it again. About 18 months after our son was born, I became pregnant again. Another absolutely wanted and deliberately made decision. And again, there was the fear of giving birth. I actually think that the fear was even bigger the second time around knowing what was coming.

Entering the Ring as a Pro

Giving birth the second time I was what you would call a pro. More preparation classes under my belt and thanks to them with my breathing techniques perfected. The big change compared to the first time was that I was still conscious when entering the delivery suite and not in some sort of pain delirium. I didn’t get carried away by the pain like the last time and did well breathing the contractions away. My husband and I were even joking about having a third baby when I started active labour. Maybe it was the laughing gas after all…

Be careful what you ask for

It is a myths though that childbirth becomes easier on the second one. Maybe quicker, but not easier. Not for me anyway. In other words the pain was as horrendous as I remembered it from the first time. I was convinced that I would pass out if my body couldn’t handle it. Only to find out that it didn’t do me that favour. I was amazed of what I was capable of and what strength lay dormant inside me. So was my husband when he said I could squeeze his hand as tightly as I wanted. He told me afterwards that he thought I had broken it.

A Flicker of Regret

He didn’t wait till afterwards however, to ask me if I could still imagine, in that very moment of tremendous pain, to go for another baby. He must have felt quite safe with me crippled with pain and the midwife focussing on monitoring the little reason of my suffering. At that stage I was close to a breakdown from exhaustion and not even sure if I wanted to keep going with this one. So the answer was no. What had I been thinking to do that to myself?

Nature is smart

Very shortly after the lowest moment of my birthing experience, our second little miracle was born. I couldn’t quite believe that I had made progress so fast and unexpectedly. It might sound strange, but the second our daughter was out and safe I knew it had been worth it. I was still shaken up by the physical impact of the delivery, but a cocktail of endorphins came just in time to offset that. It is hard to describe without sounding corny, but the emotions that overcame me holding her were just so incredibly amazing. Instinctively I had that sense of wanting to protect her. And my husband’s rather sarcastic question that I had answered with no only an hour before, already I changed my mind on. Yes, I would do it again. I guess this is exactly how mankind survives.

The biggest Paradox of them all

This was about 4 months ago. The other week our little baby turned around by herself for the first time. Whilst enjoying seeing her grow, I find it hard how time flies. Sometimes I would just like to stop the clock and keep her from growing. With each developmental step she is gaining more independence. Even at that early stage I can see how this is literally moving her further and further away from me. Hopefully into leading a self-contained life one day. This to me is the biggest paradox of them all. As a mother I want my children to grow and become independent. On the other hand I  would love to keep them around forever.




A Family Trip to Belfast causing ‘Troubles’

As we enter Belfast I notice parts of the peace wall beside the motorway leading into the city centre. It is a massive concrete barrier with an iron fence along the top. I feel intimidated just driving by, well aware of its literally troubling history. If you didn’t know any better you could easily take it for the fencing of an industrial estate.

It is hard to believe that this eight metre high construct still separates the unionist and nationalist quarters with its gates being locked in the evening time. On one side lies Shankill Road, the Protestant Quarter, whereas Falls Road is dominated by the Catholic community.

Belfast – Two Worlds

It is around noon when we drive through buzzing downtown Belfast. The streets are decorated with Christmas lights and signs wishing everybody a Happy Christmas. People are hustling through the streets looking for the last Christmas presents. I am surprised everybody is so done up. I wonder whether they are on their way to a Christmas Party or „leftovers“ from the night before which would be even more surprising considering their pristine looks. There is a good vibe coming of the crowd. The atmosphere is festive with decorations and seasonal ornaments everywhere you look. A young street band is playing rather non-Christmassy rock songs, but is generously rewarded by onlookers swaying to the beat in the crisp air. Nothing suggests that the Northern Irish capital had been the centre of the Troubles until the late 90’s when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Not quite there yet

We are circling the City Hall in search of a parking space. To me it is the most impressive building in Belfast. It is probably the most popular photo on Christmas cards too. With its lights at night time the Baroque Revival façade looks like a palace. That is the bit I am looking forward to the most: The Christmas Market on the town hall square amidst the perfect Christmas setting. I have already caught a glimpse of the colourful stalls as we were passing by.

On the very top of a packed car park we eventually find a space just big enough for our car. Almost as time-consuming as finding that spot is getting out of the car with a toddler and a baby. Whilst „team boys“ is up and running within minutes thanks to my husband, I am still dealing with an uber-full nappy on the baby front. I end up doing a complete outfit change with missy rolling around and getting pee all over the passenger seat. Luckily I am well prepared today and didn’t forget half the content of the baby bag like the last time.

The Disappointment of the Day

When „team girls“ is finally also ready, the boys already come back from a short look-around in search of a toilet. There they have made a rather disappointing discovery. The reason we came to Belfast, the lovely Christmas Market, had closed the day before. It is 23rd December and they are just about to take down the stalls with other upset visitors being left outside the gates. When planning our trip it didn’t occur to us in the slightest that the Christmas Market might finish up a day before Christmas Eve.

Plan B: Child-friendly Sightseeing

Anyway, the weather is nice so we take a stroll down to the Waterfront. Water is always the go-to place with our kids. On the way we pass the Albert Clock and the Big Fish. I am a terrible tour guide, but remember most of the sites from my work with Irish tour operators. In my head I classified these two as quite child-friendly. But neither the tilted clock tower nor the oversized stone fish gets much attention from our 2-year old. If it was for him he would be throwing stones into the water all day long. What impresses him though is a guy in a blow-up Santa Claus suit flying by on his skateboard smoking pot. Well, he leaves us all open-mouthed albeit for different reasons.

We aim for St. George’s Market. At least it has food. After water the second thing that our hungry caterpillar is usually fond of. But guess what, even the popular Victorian indoor market is closed. Apparently people from Belfast are not big into markets this time of the year.

Moving on

Back in the shopping district we start looking for a family-friendly restaurant. For us that means above all spaciousness. No point in being cramped into a fancy gourmet place with a buggy and an agile toddler. Our choice falls onto the Bullitt Hotel off Victoria Street. Even though we have to wait ages for our food (not so family-friendly from this point of view), our eldest is absolutely amazing. I am always so proud when he plays with his toys instead of staring at some sort of screen like some of his peers.

Only Problems and no Solution

After we eventually had our dinner and are ready to leave I feel a strange warmth on my knee while dressing the little one. Instantly a million thoughts rush through my head. The nappy is leaking. We have to change her out of the wet clothes. She is already wearing her spare outfit. It is too cold to only wrap her in a blanket and bring her outside. The other outfit might have dried by now but I left it on the dashboard in the car…Whilst I am coming up with lots of problems and no solutions, my husband John already jumps up to run out and buy her a new outfit. Of course I had thought about that too, but discarded it straight away. I have an obsession with washing clothes before putting them on. Due to the lack of alternatives it was the only sensible thing to do though.

Super Daddy to the Rescue

For about 20 minutes with a soaking baby in my arms and a luckily still calm toddler I am impatiently waiting for John’s return. I am glad he went out to get a change of clothes. I couldn’t have handled the time pressure and would have probably rushed into different places to find the perfect outfit at the best available price. Super daddy on the other hand confidently walked into a baby store, picked out a onesie in the right size that coincidentally colour-matched her cardigan and even was on sale.

Relieved I start stripping her down as I see John walking into the door. Rummaging around in the bag for the nappies it strikes me like a lightning bold. I left them in the car too. Super daddy has to ‘fly’ out again and get nappies. He charms his way to the top of the supermarket queue and again is back in no time.

The Journey is the Destination

When we finally leave the restaurant it is dark outside. Fortunately we didn’t have an agenda for our day in Belfast apart from the closed Christmas market. So we are not too upset about it. All I wanted was to enjoy the Christmassy atmosphere. We get to do that now. The whole city is shining bright with Christmas decorations as we walk around the busy Victoria Square.

I have a little flashback remembering the last times I had been to Belfast. The first time was with a good friend of mine. We were both students, staying in a hostel and keen on discovering all the political sites such as the murals, graveyards and infamous areas of the troubles on a black cab tour. The next couple of times I had been to Belfast on business. On behalf of a German tour operator that I occasionally still work for I got to visit Titanic Belfast after it had just opened. I had dined in the City Hall, stayed at fancy hotels and went on pub crawls including the iconic Crown Liquor Saloon. I had even been to St. George’s Market attending a trade show there about 3 years ago. Hence I have pretty much seen the touristy side of Belfast.

Today it isn’t about visiting places or ticking boxes. It doesn’t matter if we are in Belfast, Dublin or any other city. Today all that matters is having a good time with the family. The plan was to have no plans and just go with the flow. In this regard it has been a successful day even though it was different than expected.

An Imperfect Happy End

On the way home we get lost when leaving the motorway in search of a service station. It wouldn’t be a day trip with the Paynes without getting lost. Mostly during the attempt of locating a place to eat. Me breastfeeding the little one in the passenger seat, big brother slightly grumpy in the back seat (rightly so!) and my husband beside me figuring out the GPS we strand on a dark country road. However we make up for the detour shortly afterwards as we pull into the service station where we had already stopped in the morning. It has a spacious soft-play area where our 2-year old gets another go despite already wearing his PJs. If it was for him we could have skipped Belfast altogether and just stayed here all day. His laughter when going down the slide fills the meanwhile empty food hall. The ending of a perfect family day!

 

 

 

 




Blood on the Wreath

It is the 6th year now that I have been decorating with my husband John for Christmas. Well, he is decorating and I only have veto rights. He looooves Christmas and is always so excited when we get the decorations out on 1st December. The more things and the more colours the better. That is John’s approach. I would prefer a simple green and red colour scheme. It is hard to find a compromise between these two.

Christmas Market Feeling in the Living Room

The first Christmas that we spent in the new house I banned the flashy 70’s festoon that we used to put up in John’s old apartment. To me that wasn’t Christmassy at all. But still, our Christmas decorations are far from being subtle. When we switch on all the lights in the living room it shines as bright as a German Christmas market. Anyway, apart from a few tacky little elements our house is like a wonderful cottage Christmas dream.

Principles…

I insist on a real Christmas tree every year. I love the smell of it because it reminds me of Christmas in my childhood. John can’t live without the Christmas tree hangers he has been collecting since he was a kid. Some of them still contain the original sweets that are older than me by now. It has become our tradition that we buy a new item for the tree together every year.

…and Compromises

Instead of delicate Christmas balls following a certain colour scheme, our tree is a collection of things that have personal value to either or both of us. At the bottom we put unbreakable stuff that our 2-year old can take off and play with. The hangers with the 40-years old sweets go to the very top so that no one gets food poisoning.

The Apple doesn’t fall far from the Tree

So neither of us is getting their way. John had to say goodbye to his tinsel and I will never see my green and red colour scheme. I guess that is what marriage is about. We tend to do it differently with the Christmas gifts though. Hopefully everybody is getting what they want in this case.

That said it gave me a huge satisfaction to hear that originally Christmas trees started off with just red apples hanging on them. The homily in the church on 3rd of Advent was all about where the custom of the Christmas tree comes from. When no one could read or write bible stories were told through little performances. On Christmas Eve a play used to show the story of Adam & Eve. Therefore they needed a tree that was still green in winter. And it is well known that apples played a vital role in it too. So I was intrinsically right about my colour scheme and that is all I needed to know.

So where does the Blood on the Wreath come from?

Anyway, it didn’t cause an argument between John and me. So where does the blood on the wreath come from when not from a fight over the Christmas decorations? The wreaths that are put up on the lovely Irish front doors in Advent also have a deeper (Christian) meaning. They originate from the little crown of leaves that the Antique Romans wore on their heads when they came home victorious. After Jesus’ crucifixion his followers put it outside their doors as sign of victory over death. No crucifixion without blood. This was symbolised by red berries stuck on the wreath which we now know as the classic Advent wreath. Nowadays often replaced by red ribbons or balls. More common is the symbolism of everlasting life represented by its circular shape and the always green pine leaves.

Exciting News

I have been going to mass with my husband on a Sunday for quite a while now. Hence I have gone through the liturgy a few times. I still learn something new every week. However this time I felt a bit like a child in school who couldn’t wait to get home to share what they have learned. It was just a refreshing piece of information and in contrast to the contents from the weekly readings I didn’t have to follow up on it in our son’s children’s bible.

With these ‘enlightening’ news I want to wish you all a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year! Now that you have finished reading this blog post, try to put your phone to the side for a while. This is exactly what I am going to do. I am looking forward to a few enjoyable days with my family.




Why Parents of Toddlers lose all their Friends

Parents of a toddler are really hard to hang out with. Especially for people who don’t have kids. They run off in the middle of a conversation chasing after their little one. They don’t look at you when you talk to them because they always have to keep at least one eye on their demanding offspring who could be destroying the place before the other person finishes their sentence. Parents also seem to forget about social norms when their priority is to prevent injuries and serious damage of foreign property inflicted by their kids. Hence it becomes acceptable to them to greedily stuff food into their mouths with their hands – for both themselves and their toddler. They don’t think twice before changing a stinky nappy in the room where their “childless” friends are still eating. They might not even have bothered putting on a clean top before going out. Firstly, since it won’t stay clean for long. Secondly, there most likely wasn’t anything clean left since the laundry has been piling up for the last couple of days. The bottom line is, parents can appear quite rude to people who are not used to having small children around.

Night(mare) at the Museum

We recently visited the National Museum of Natural History in Dublin with our newborn and our 2.5-year old. As if this hadn’t been challenging enough we arranged to meet a friend with his 3-year old twins. In fairness they all behaved very well – for toddlers. My husband was following our little one’s instructions of “Look Papa, look”, excitingly pointing into different directions. And by following I mean he was pulled along by the toddler leash on his backpack that we had put on him to keep him close. Our friend was trying to explain some strange looking animals to his amazed kids by reading the explanations on the display cabinet and fumbling in his backpack for some snacks and drinks at the same time. Multitasking at its best. Of course the most interesting animals – well, in the eyes of our kids – were on the top floor which was currently closed for renovations. This was nicely explained to us by an elderly museum guard. He seemed to be happy that someone had asked a question at all and gave us half the history of the place. One of the twins innocently interrupted by whispering “Daddy I need to pee.” That suited us well in this particular situation. Maybe rather inappropriate when your best friend (without kids) is pouring his heart out.

Like a chaotic American Comedy

While everyone was putting back on their bits and pieces in the foyer afterwards, I tried to take myself out of the situation. Looking down on us as if I wasn’t part of our noisy little group. But that girl that I used to be about 5 years ago doing the odd sightseeing on my own. It was like watching one of these American comedies that are too annoying to keep watching till the end. Our little one was knackered and too tired to keep walking, but still protested when we put him into the buggy. Once this was done, his shortly interrupted asking for food continued. While our friend ran out to extend his parking ticket we had to keep the twins busy, quiet and most importantly with us until he got back. We were actually thinking he might not come back at all or at least not for a while to have some peaceful moments in the car. When the level of noise started to get out of control my husband suggested a silent screaming competition. Strange, but brilliant concept. Everybody was happy with us just mouthing the screams, including the slighlty grim looking man at reception.

Kinder Surprise

Surprisingly our friend returned after only a couple of minutes and we all decided to go for lunch. An experience that most parents probably dread. I stopped going for lunch with our boy shortly after he started to walk. There was just no upside to having food in a public place other than not having to cook myself. However the downsides were outweighing that by far. First I have to keep him busy until the food arrives. As you can imagine this involves walking around a lot. The kids’ food normally arrives before mine so I can help him eating. Great, but who is going to explore the place with him when I get my dinner? Anyway, that was in the past. Lately it can actually be quite relaxed to go to a restaurant with the family. Can be, no guarantee given! Sometimes you enter a place with the calmest child in the world. Before you even get the menu you end up with demon baby at – or even on or under – the table. It is literally like a kinder surprise when you bring your ‘kinder’ (German for children) out to eat. You never know what comes out from underneath that sweet cover.

Country Folk in the City

We were lucky that day and enjoyed the meal in a civilised manner. Shout-out to Lauren from Foley’s Bar who besides providing a great service, had a good sense of humour and a soft spot for kids. We could even have a grown-up conversation. Well, the way parents have conversations. Meaning not looking at each other when talking, taking at least three attempts before finishing a story and waving sticky fingers in the air to emphasise a point. By the end of the dinner our little live wires were completely worn out and we decided to have a quick gander through the city (with everybody in their buggies). Who knows how long we hadn’t been in Dublin. Grafton Street had meanwhile been re-branded as Grafton Quarter. And our son got excited about the LUAS, repeatedly asking what that was. I pointed out the newly refurbished Bewleys Café to my husband which had already been re-opened in November 2017.

I wouldn’t change it for the World

Trips like that have become rare for us. With all the effort it takes to leave the house at a decent hour of the day, we value days like this even more. That morning we had just dropped everything and left the chaos behind to spontaneously spend a day in the city. Walking through the newly appointed Grafton Quarter at dusk, watching all the dressed up ladies in short skirts rushing through the cold, I remembered for a split second what it was like when I used to go out on a Saturday night. It seemed so far away, almost as if it had happened in a different life. I can honestly say that I didn’t envy these people heading out to some fancy bar or club. I couldn’t have been happier than I was in that precise moment. Sipping away on my hot chocolate with my 2-months old daughter snuggled into my coat. My husband beside me pushing the buggy with our sleeping toddler walking through Pre-Christmas Dublin.

“Party-Me” is definitely gone. Some friendships might have changed or even dissolved because of that. On the other hand I have met so many nice people through my kids who are in the same boat and who I can share my turbulent life as Stay-at-Home Mom with. Thanks again to the twin daddy who spontaneously spent the day with us in Dublin and to his lovely partner. And to all my dear mammy friends who make life so much easier for me.




How to become the Employee of the Month as a Stay-at-Home-Mom

Numerous times I have been awarded Employee of the Month. It usually is a small ceremony. Few words, big emotions. Sometimes even tears. The last time I dressed up for the occassion but unfortunately someone spilled on my top. No big deal, it happens.

For the last two and a half years a young man has been managing the procedure. In September a sweet little lady joined the commitee. Together they monitor me all day long and you never know what’s going on in their heads. Sometimes I expect adoration and get shouted at. Other times for no reason at all I receive supportive smiles. They are harsh critics and they don’t make a secret out of it. Their expectations are high and occasionally I struggle to meet them. I often have doubts that I am doing my job properly. The more surprised I am when I receive approval for my efforts.

The Challenge

The job itself is popular. Many people want to do it sooner or later. On the other hand you hear a lot of negative things about it. The job description sounds pretty straight forward at first. You’ll find out soon enough though that you have to be flexible, able to improvise and multitask. Funny enough these are all skills that I didn’t think I had . What I like about it is that I can work from home most of the time. That also means unfortunately that it is not 9 am to 5 pm.

When I took up the challenge in May 2017, I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I thought I was well prepared, but in hind sight there was still a lot to worry about. I left my secure office job to jump into something completely new, which I didn’t know if I wanted for the long term. Now I am glad that I had the courage to do it. I couldn’t think of anything else that I would rather do. Of course there are days when I am fed up with it all, but I had these in my old job too. So I definitely made the right decsion.

More than a Job

By now I am quite passionate about my work and that really helps. Once you got into it, it is hard to go back to a job behind a desk. A very important part of my day-to-day tasks are the people I am dealing with. Different characters and sometimes even multiple personalities in one. This makes it prone to conflicts and it is on me to keep it all under control. This is something I really had to learn. I have always liked a structured and tidy working environment. And this isn’t one. You are basically trying to keep the chaos to a minimum most of the time.

My shiny Award

Looks like I am one of those people myself who has a lot of negative things to say about this mysterious job. So I should mention at that stage that the reward I am getting makes all the stress and overtime worthwhile. And I pressume it is also time to tell you what this ‘Employee-of-the-Month thing’ is all about if you haven’t already guessed.

Instead of a gold-plated plaque to hang on the wall I receive colourful scribbles on paper. I get handcrafted cards with Thank-you-stamps and random animal stickers on it. Muddy little fingers bring me in daisys from the garden. I get cuddles and hugs, accompanied by heartwarming smiles and loud laughter. After a long day I am served ‘homemade’, imaginary meals. When I lie exhausted on the couch someone leans his tiny head against my shoulder without saying a word. With sparkling innocent eyes looking at me I get told “Mammy I love you“. Then I know that I have the best job in the world and that for two little people I will always be the Employee of the Months. No shiny award needed.

 

 




About the Irish Summer, a Writer’s wishful Thinking and a terrible Summer Blues or: 5 Ways of Dealing with a Writer’s Block

Where two Days of Sun are called Summer

When temperatures climb slightly over 20 degrees in Ireland, we call that a heatwave whereas it would just be considered summer elsewhere. Even in July it rarely happens and you have to make the most of it when it does. It could still mean that you have to get out your rain jacket the same day, so never ever leave home without one!

When the thermometer shows the magic number 20 and the sun is out, drop everything you are doing and head outside. Not before putting on a few layers of sunscreen though! It’s not only the pale-skinned who burn quickly in the merciless Irish sun.

This is what I have been doing the last couple of summery days. Besides a few small projects for a German tour operator and my duties as full-time mammy, I spent a lot of time outdoors.

Imagine, me sitting in our wonderful, newly designed garden, with a cool drink beside my laptop. Our 2-year-old happily splashing around in the pool next to me. My fingers flying over the keyboard and words just miraculously appearing on my page…
Well, I was. Only that the anticipated productivity was more of a writer’s wishful thinking.

Summer Slump instead of Bestseller Season

Apart from the fact that I could hardly see anything on the screen due to the sun blinding me, our son wasn’t all that peacefully playing by himself either. The main difference was that nothing came into my mind to write. Perfect conditions wouldn’t have changed anything about that.

Instead, thoughts of giving up my blog altogether popped into my head. No one is reading it anyway, so why bother? There are hundreds of people out there giving advice about emigrating and their lives in Ireland. If I was depending on my blog financially, we would have starved by now.

Publishing my own book is my dream. But do I even have what it takes to start a big project like that? I don’t think so. Others are by far more creative and have more discipline than me.

Summer Blues – does something like that even exist?

On days when my head is filled with “voices” like that, even the Irish sun can’t cheer me up. I just feel I am in a dark, empty place. My perfect life, my perfect family, having all I need doesn’t help either.

On the contrary, it shows me how malicious these “depressive mood swings”, as you call them I guess, are. It is not about what you have or don’t have. It can just hit you anytime out of the blue.

I am only learning to stop looking for reasons why they occur and just try to accept them. That is not easy. Same as writing about it on my blog which was not my intention at all when I started typing that post. However I do think there may be the odd person among my readers who can identify with what I am talking about. Probably someone that you wouldn’t expect it of either.

Writer’s Block – Here is what I do

Having said that, I am leaving myself a positive message and a simple action plan for bad times. It refers to writing, but maybe you get something out of it too, even though you are not a writer. So I am sharing it with you:

1) Take it easy!

Writing is and always will be my hobby. I get pleasure out of it no matter how many people read my blog. So why put myself under pressure? What is the worst that can happen if I don’t publish something on time? And what does ‘on time’ even mean when I am the one making the rules. Deadlines can be helpful and are needed especially when you are writing professionally. But I don’t and therefore I keep deadlines out of my leisure time.

2) Short and frequent

I didn’t post anything in quite a while and the pressure built up that the next post has to be extra long and super creative. But does it always have to be an extensive, deep and meaningful essay? From now on I am planning to keep it short and simple, maybe more often when time allows.

3) Competition – so what?

Surely every topic on earth has been covered at some stage by some writer. In particular when it is such a popular one as Ireland. Probably there are blogs out there that are very similar to mine. But: everything I write contains my personal touch and experience and I don’t just „recycle“ or make it up. That should count for something, no?

4) Being criticised is part of it

Of course I prefer positive feedback and approval when it comes to my posts. Who doesn’t? If I am honest, I quickly feel discouraged when I get negative responses. But as far as I know it is much more likely for people to leave a negative comment rather than a positive one. At least that is what I am going to tell myself from now on when I am upset about some nasty „cyber attack“.

4) Discipline vs. Creative Chaos

Usually I am someone who needs structure and clear instructions. That is why I have read loads of „How-to-organise-your-day-books“ and have started many to-do-lists in my life. Ironically I read them when I was full of energy and highly motivated anyway. On days where I would have needed them the most, I fell back into old habits of „well, I do it tomorrow“. That is who I am, I guess. Therefore my newly discovered ‘technique’ is the following: Write whenever you are in the flow and if possible, without a break. (Domestic chores have to wait in this case.) Forget about sitting down every day for a certain amount of time to write a certain number of words. The result will only be a poor text that I could have done in half the time and twice the quality on one of my good days.

If you haven’t already noticed yourself, the above is far from being qualified advice for (professional) writers. Instead it should be taken with a pinch of salt. However I opened up a very personal side of me in this article and hope it will be appreciated by like-minded people.




15 Things People ask me about living in Ireland

An interview with myself

One of the reasons I initiated my Blog was to share my experience as an expatriate in Ireland. And hopefully to assist others with making a decision whether they should take that big step of emigrating or not. Before I left my life in Germany behind and moved to the „Emerald Isle“ I had a lot of questions myself and different thoughts were going through my head. All doubts and fears have vanished and lots of questions have been answered after having lived in Ireland for over five years. Thanks to all the people who helped my on my journey!

Now, people – not only potential emigrants – ask me questions about my new life in Ireland. In my blog post Would I emigrate to Ireland again? I have already answered a few practical matters. Here I would like to give an insight into quite personal things that people have been asking me over the years.

Did you emigrate for love?

No, I did not come to Ireland because of a man. I came to Ireland because of love, though. Love to a country with which I started a relationship many years before I finally moved here. It was a very conscious decision and not because of a job or any other practicality. Pure love and gut feeling.

Did you have an employment contract when you came to Ireland?

Yes I did. My successful application with a company that I really was interested in working with at the time was the security I needed for myself to move forward with my plans and to eventually emigrate.

Do you feel homesick at times?

I never really feel homesick. I do find it hard however that it is much more complicated to plan family get-togethers and that they can’t happen spontaneously. Since we have a child I find it even more stressful to travel and have become super inflexible with boarding a plane. Video calls have become more regular and precious since.

How often to you go to Germany?

I try to go to Germany at least twice a year. Usually I stay for at least a week to make it worthwhile. I tend to make an exception and plan an extra visit for very special occasions.

Where do you spend Christmas?

The first couple of years after I had moved to Ireland we celebrated with my family in Germany. Then it was my husband’s turn and we stayed with his family in Ireland. Since there is three of us we like to keep Christmas simple and establish our little tradition in our own home. Not that we would give the opulent Christmas dinner a miss that my husband’s sister is hosting on the 25th every year!

What do you miss most in Ireland?

There is nothing „German“ that I particularly miss in Ireland. I enjoy being at my parents’ and sometimes I fantasize about sitting in their lovely garden in the sun. Especially on a rainy day or when I know they are having a family BBQ without me.

Is there anything that you still buy in Germany?

That is a question that I usually answer to (female) friends only since it is quite private. There is a certain brand of female sanitary products that I still import from Germany as I cannot get them here. Other than that, Ireland has it all thanks to Lidl, Aldi & Co. Even herbal infusions that I used to „smuggle“ in from Germany are not an issue anymore. Thanks again to everybody who has sent me little care packages over the years!

Do you speak German to your child?

Yes, I exclusively speak German to our son. It used to be a bit difficult at the beginning when our little one didn’t talk yet since my husband doesn’t have any German. So every time I said something in German I translated it for my husband. By now my husband has a good few words in German or gets the context from the little one’s response. With nearly two years our child has far more German than English. However this will change as soon as he starts playschool at the age of three. I am very happy with his bilingual development, especially because I thought we were going to face more problems with that.

Do you speak Irish?

I definitely have an affinity to languages, but I am not a genius! Whoever learns Irish or Gaelic on the side and didn’t grow up with it deserves my adoration. To me – without being insulting – it sounds like random sounds put together that are extremely hard to pronounce. And it doesn’t seem to have any similarities to a language known to me, except the Scottish Gaelic maybe. Besides English, Irish is an official language in Ireland. Hence all official documents, road signs etc. are given in both languages. In the Gaeltacht Areas – the Irish speaking communities – in Gaelic only. I am happy enough with just speaking English and I love the different accents you hear all around the island!

Do you sometimes dream in English?

Someone told me that once you dream in a foreign language you have settled in well into your country of choice. For me that was definitely the case. After living in Ireland for a while I started dreaming a mix of English and German – depending on the language the people in my dream spoke.

What bothers you most in Irish people?

Tricky questions since I will definitely get into trouble for using stereotypes or generalisations. However I do find that Irish people are less reliable than Germans. Especially when it comes to casual agreements. People either don’t show up at all or cancel last minute. I am well aware by now that the statement „We have to meet up sometime“ doesn’t mean anything and you could be waiting forever for the person to get in touch. Most of the time people would even have a good reason for cancelling. Other times they just „overbook“ themselves which is due to a lack of proper planning rather than unreliability. Read my full „tirade“ about that in my blog post Typically Irish.

How do you feel about driving on the left side?

It has become normal to me and really isn’t a problem anymore. On the contrary, I now really have to focus when driving in Germany that I don’t enter a roundabout the wrong way around. I also bump my hand on the door every time I am trying to shift gears or get into the car on the wrong side for a start. But it really is a matter of habit and I can say that I safely drive on either side of the road – once I remember which country I am in…

Is Irish food really that bad?

When people ask me that question I assume that they have the reputation of the English cuisine in mind. Or that they haven’t eaten in Ireland in years and if so, probably in a restaurant of poor quality. I like Irish food. I am not a „food snob“, rather the opposite. I like reasonable sized portions in kind of „home-cooked“ quality. Pub grub is usually great for that.

How do you cope with the Irish weather?

Honestly, when we suffer the third week of rain in a grey and dull February, I ask myself that questions, too. But as soon as the spring sun is breaking through and all those colours start spreading around, the bad, long winters are almost forgotten. People bring their flip flops and shorts for a walk in 17 degrees and everybody is visibly in a good mood. Sometimes I do get a bit frustrated when there is no real summer and temperatures barely rise above 20 degrees in July and August. However when I hear about 40 degrees in Germany and a constant drought, I prefer the moderate Irish climate.

Are you planning to stay in Ireland for good?

There is no going back for me. In Ireland I have found what I had been looking for. I have settled in well and it is the home of my family. In other words, yes I’ll stay!

That means there will be much more different experiences following in the future. And I will gladly share them on my blog with whoever is interested. I have already answered the question Would I emigrate to Ireland again? in a previous blog post which gives information about health insurance, finding a place to stay etc. If you would like some more advice or have individual questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!




Typically Irish

We know most of them. Often we laugh about them. Sometimes we are tired of hearing them. Clichés. But what is behind the clichés and stereotypes which are put on a whole nation and are hard to get rid of? To me it is a delicate and interesting topic and I probably won’t write about it for the last time. So here is Part I – my personal experience with some of the most common Irish clichés.

Using Clichés to fill Knowledge Gaps

Before I came to Ireland for a 6-months internship in 2008, I was planning on gathering some information about the country and its people. Up to then Ireland had pretty much been a blank (or rather a green) spot on the map to me. All I knew was that English was an official language in Ireland which was enough for me to sign up for a semester abroad. And if you know nothing at all about a country, it’s always funny to start with some clichés. Ireland – ah the island that has more sheep than people and where nearly everybody is a redhead.

A Sense of Humour needed

Anyway, I didn’t find the time to collect a deep knowledge about my country of choice before I went on my half-year adventure. All I had was this book by Ralf Sotschek, called “Instruction Manual for Ireland”. I managed to read a few chapters on the 2-hour flight, despite being terribly nervous and excited at the same time. Recently I read the same book again, after having lived in Ireland for 5 years. It is only now that I can smile about certain “Irish traits” that caused me a bit of an uneasy feeling back then.

#1: The Irish Laid-back Attitude

One of these traits described in the book was the so called “Mañana-Mentality”. I had just returned from living in Spain for a while and thought I was well used to this kind of lifestyle. In my first couple of weeks in Ireland, it almost tipped me over the edge though.

Bumpy Start

After over a week in a shared bedroom in a hostel and whilst I was already working full time with a tour operator, I still hadn’t received the keys to my rented apartment. Whenever I was supposed to meet the real estate agent after a long day of work and hours stuck in traffic to get to the place, he never showed up. Several busted appointments later, following a short stay in a dubious replacement apartment and a couple of nights on a stranger’s couch, I finally moved into my own apartment.

Laid-back or unreliable?

It took me a while before I was able to laugh about that story. On the other hand, I never encountered a case of such ignorance ever again as I did with this real estate agent. Therefore I still see the Irish laid-back attitude as a positive thing. Only on the odd occasion, when the plumber shows up 2 hours too late. Or not at all without calling. Only then I get furious and call it “Irish unreliability” instead. For a short moment. Very rarely. And only quietly talking to myself.

#2: Irish Sociability

The Irish are also renowned for their sociability. Endless chats in the pub without a care in the world. Spontaneous music sessions together whenever time allows it. Going for “one” after work with the colleagues. (I am not going to entertain the stereotype of the “drunk Irish” at that stage).

Perfect for travelling alone

When travelling through Ireland, you won’t stay by yourself for long. It is easy to get started on a pleasant conversation with an Irish person. Irish people are interested in who they are talking to – no pretending or false smiles. Ireland is the only country that I travelled alone and never felt lonely at all.

Holiday Acquaintance vs. Long-lasting Friendship

What is it like when you emigrate to Ireland and make it your new home? Is it as easy to find new friendships as it is to feel entertained on a night out in a pub? For me it wasn’t at all.

When I moved to Ireland in 2014, it was mainly foreigners at my workplace that helped me to integrate quickly. Thanks to an international team, I soon had a bunch of people that I regularly spend time with after work. But despite going out and meeting Irish people, it was hard to get in contact with locals apart from a casual chit chat. I didn’t feel deliberately excluded. But I also didn’t feel particularly integrated at the time.

Love as Door Opener

My now-husband and I met when we were both living in the same house in Dublin City. He himself had only come back from America after being away for a long time. We were facing the same problem in a way and slowly (re-)integrated ourselves together. Until today we still only have a few Irish friends. However now it is by choice – quality over quantity as they say.

#3 The Irish Redhead

As widespread as the sheep in Ireland is the stereotype of the Irish redhead. So what’s behind that theory that almost everybody in Ireland has red hair? There are actually not that many people in Ireland with that particular hair colour. In fact about 10% of Irish people are redheads. Considering the percentage of 1-2% worldwide and ca. 4% within Europe, the number is quite high though (Source: irlandnews.com).

Cliché fulfilled

My “Dublin girls” that I met during my internship in Ireland 10 years ago, had always predicted I was going to marry a red-haired Irish man. Obviously they based their assumption on one of the most common clichés – at least in regard to the hair colour of my future husband. However, they weren’t too far off. Even though my Irish husband has dark hair, our son has a lovely shade of red which we like to refer to as “strawberry blonde”. The explanation is simple: About 30% of Irish people carry the “redhead-gene”. So does my husband.




Driving Home for Christmas

When I was a child I didn’t want to be anywhere for Christmas but home. I insisted that we celebrated Christmas exactly the same every year. Just the family. At home. No visitors. When we left the house it was only for our traditional Christmas walk through the winter wonderland. Well, there wasn’t always snow, but most of the time it was cold and crisp which was acceptable for me too.

The good old Tradition

Only as an adult do I now realise how important tradition was to me and obviously always has been, especially around Christmas time. I loved the same Christmas decorations every year, nothing new and fancy. Everything had its place. The colourful aluminium tree, that made a metallic jingle once the candles were put in motion on the kitchen table. The tree top reserved for a glittery angel with short white hair, who I therefore named after an old aunt of the family. My favourite Christmas balls had lost a bit of their colour already, but I always sneaked into the tree. Replacements were about as welcome as spontaneous visitors interrupting the “family peace”.

I don’t like Change

Over the years the way we celebrated Christmas changed. Sometimes they were big, unwanted changes, such as the first Christmas without granddad. Other years they were only small, practical adjustments like putting the tree up in a different place. When granny died, the tradition of Christmas-cookie-making ended. Anyway, I tried to hold on to as many family rituals as I could.

A Matter of Perspective

I took over making the advent calendar out of empty toilet paper rolls, that my granny used to put up for us on the staircase in the hallway. I asked my parents to move the Christmas tree back to the corner in the living room where it had always been before. I insisted on watching Russian fairy tales while decorating the Christmas tree, since my sister and I used to love them when we were kids. But Christmas wasn’t the same anymore. I thought it was due to the fact that my beloved jingly tree had eventually met its maker.

Whatever I did to keep our family Christmas traditions alive, nothing brought back the feeling of excitement and joy that I used to have as a child awaiting Christmas Eve. I just wasn’t able to see it all through the eyes of a child anymore. Guess what, I wasn’t a child anymore. However, all the “magical things” that seemed to have happened for me during Advent had now been replaced by a rather sober view of a grown-up.

New Traditions

Two years ago I ended the tradition of spending Christmas in my parents’ house. Not because I didn’t want to be with my family anymore, but because I now had a family of my own. I realised that I can bring back the magic of Christmas by looking into my son’s eyes rather than trying to revive reams of Christmas rituals of my own childhood. So I learned to see Christmas from a different angle again – not with children’s eyes but in them.

One for you one for me

This year is going to be the third Christmas away from “home”. We are on our way to establish our own family traditions. (I am still looking for a jingly tree like the one we had, but I have also found new ‘favourite’ decorations in the meantime.) The first year we had to decide what we are going to do the German way and what the Irish one. I introduced the empty-toilette-roll-advent-calendar. My husband made me familiar with the stockings on the fireplace. I had to adapt to doing presents on the morning of the 25th instead of 24th at night time. On the other hand, I gladly accepted putting up the Christmas tree on the 1st December and not just on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we are now going to the evening mass which my grandparents used to bring us to in Germany before I even knew what this was all about. Thus old and new, German and Irish traditions come full circle.

The Christmas Magic is back

The magic of Christmas now means for me to spend a very special time with my family. It means to reflect on old traditions and memories, but also to make new ones. Having said that, I wish everybody and especially my family in Germany and Ireland a Merry Christmas with lots of memorable moments!

P.S. If you have lost the ability of seeing the magic of Christmas as a grown-up as well, I would like to recommend you watching the movie “The Polar Express”. My sister gave it to me years ago and I know now why.




Zorro is a Wexford Man

Exploring County Wexford

Wexford is one of our favourite destinations for spontaneous weekend trips. Despite being three times as far from us as Dublin, there is no difference in travel time. Therefore we often rule in favour of less crowded Wexford over the busy capital.

It was Wexford where my husband and I took our first trip to on the train, when we were freshly in love. In Wexford it was where my sister and I bought the first baby clothes for our little one. Hence, I associate a lot with Wexford. Zorro, the man with the black mask I didn’t connect to the county capital until I was proven wrong. More about that later.

Wexford is not Dublin

On a lovely autumn Sunday we decided to take a trip down to Wexford again. We were looking forward to a bit of pottering around. The shopping area in Wexford’s town centre is ideal for us. Just big enough to not be boring and not too busy so we can have a look around in peace. After browsing the shops, there was a nice coffee in the sun on the horizon. That was our plan.

In the car on the way down we had been “bitching” about  overcrowded Dublin. Only to find out shortly afterwards that the shops weren’t open in Wexford on a Sunday. We hadn’t even thought for a second that this might be the case. Wexford after all is not Dublin. Anyway, we went straight on to the coffee break by the water which was very enjoyable at least.

We changed plans and decided to take a drive along the coast and keep our eyes out for a nice restaurant. Instantly I pictured the three of us sitting on a sunny terrace by the water, taking in the Mediterranean feel that was in the air that day. Our well rested baby calmly eating his food in the high chair, while “mammy” enjoyed  a glass of chilled white wine. So much for the picture in my head.

Touring County Wexford

Our journey along the coastal road was promising. The sun was splitting the stones, no clouds to be seen. The glistening sea to the right, lush green hills to the left. My husband was confidently stirring us through the twisty-turny country roads while myself and the little one were half snoozing in the car. I didn’t want to shut my eyes entirely as I enjoyed seeing all these amazing houses passing by. Long driveways leading up to mansions surrounded by huge gardens. Living in Dublin with all its compact built housing estates, lets one forget what it is like when space is not an issue.

The Beginning of a long Journey

My husband interrupted me in my daydreaming. “Let me know when you see something that looks like a pub”, he said. We were confident that we would find something soon. It was a popular holiday area after all, and we were still in season. We had just been passing through Curracloe which has one of the most stunning beaches in the area, though apparently  no restaurant or pubs. The same in Blackwater which my husband remembered to be a great day out when he used to come down on holidays to the area.  At this point we decided to consult the GPS. I am reluctant to use it on “joy rides”, but the good old roadmap didn’t help us with finding somewhere to make our tummies stop rumbling.

Turns out the Google Van hadn’t been here in a while either. After having pulled into two places that were supposed to be open but weren’t, we lowered our expectations for our anticipated Sunday lunch.

On a Food Quest

The next potential destination promised a varied menu and more importantly to be open according to its own website. Full of hope we zig-zagged our way through corn fields and remote villages. “You have reached your destination”, the GPS said when we pulled into a driveway of a huge mansion. We found ourselves at Wells House, a Victorian Tudor Gothic country house, which looked worth visiting. Not so, however, when you are asked to pay admission 1 hour before closing time. Especially when all you want is grabbing some food. The search continued.

“Grand Finalé”

We were still in good humour, when our little hungry monster in the back seat woke up. This left us with only a short window to find some place to eat. We had to rely on the GPS once more. By now we had come so far north that we were almost back home and could have targeted our own fridge. We decided to give it one last shot.

After about another 20 minutes of driving, the nice lady in the GPS lead us right into Courtown Woodland. We were supposed to find the restaurant we had aimed for straight ahead. Well, that wasn’t the case. Unless we couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Again, nice stop for a Sunday walk – not with empty stomachs though. It wasn’t until an actual person directed us to the restaurant, that we found ourselves with a nice meal, good service and happily ever after.

Zorro – The Man behind the Mask

At last the Home Restaurant in Courtown Harbour was our “saviour”. In the early 17th century it might have been Zorro. Yes, the “Robin Hood of Mexico” that helped people in need. But what does he have to do with Ireland? For the longest time I pictured him with a Spanish accent and a Latin American temperament.

Well, far from it! Born in Wexford as William Lamport in 1611, he could have indeed been a redhead. He was a well educated man and by the time he was 21 years old, he spoke 14 different languages. After studies in Dublin and London, he made his way to Spain from where he was later sent to Mexico. As opponent of the inquisition he led a dangerous and adventurous life. On the upside, this made him very attractive to the ladies. Until he was finally captured and burned at the stake. His legacy however is known to this day. Not least due to a story by Vicente Riva Palacio based on his character which them became known to us as Zorro (Source: Irish Times).

Hooked?

The first time I heard about this story was during a guided tour in Selskar Abbey, Wexford Town. The abbey itself is connected to a romantic story, but a lot of other interesting facts were mentioned as well. So if you would like to hear more about the regional and national history of Ireland – and Zorro of course – I can highly recommend the daily tour in Selskar Abbey.

More Tips for County Wexford

If you are down in Wexford for more than a day, take a drive to Hook Peninsula and its lighthouse. It is one of the oldest, still working lighthouses in the world and can be explored on a very entertaining tour. The views of the rather rough coastline are well worth a visit, too.

Or why not travel through 9000 (!) years of Irish history in Wexford Heritage Park? This amazing open-air museum is ideal for combining an educational stop with being outdoors and getting to know Irish culture throughout history.

For just a short break en-route I recommend the Seal Rescue Centre in Courtown. A small visitor centre provides information about the work of the volunteers. The highlight of course is seeing the cute little fellas from a short distance.

For more information on Wexford, check out this website or drop me a line.

 




How child-friendly is Ireland?

(This article is neither referring nor in any way related to the abortion debate. Please check out my blog post Life is Life on that topic.)

When I moved to Ireland about 4 1/2 years ago this question wasn’t relevant to me. Now it is. Though it can no longer affect my decisions, as my little one runs around my feet as I write this. However I am still interested in the topic. In the following article I share my personal experience throughout and after my first pregnancy in Ireland. Starting with the medical care up to child-minding options. Hopefully my evaluation can be of use to those considering having children here. As well as for people with kids thinking about emigrating to Ireland. I am also interested to hear how others feel about parenthood in Ireland.

Medical Care during Pregnancy

The first thing that came to my mind when we were about to have a baby were child-minding costs. When I did a bit of research on that I was shocked. I knew straight away that having a child and pursuing my career at the same time were close to impossible. However I was only at the beginning of my pregnancy at that stage. All that mattered to me then was proper medical care.

I never had any worries about Ireland in regard to medical care. I also didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t familiar with the health care for mothers-to-be in my home country Germany either. Coincidentally a friend of mine in Germany was pregnant at the same time. Not only could we exchange our joys and fears, but also compare the quite different health systems.

Shared Maternity Care

Compared to Germany where your GP (gynaecologist) would look after you throughout the whole pregnancy, the maternity care in Ireland is divided between the GP and a maternity clinic of your choice. This has the upside that come D-day (delivery day), you are already familiar with the place where you are going to have your baby. Instead of just getting a show-around, you are in touch with the medial staff in the hospital and know where everything is. No harm in getting a hang of the “labyrinthal” floor plan well before the big day.

Well prepared, theoretically

At the time of my pregnancy I didn’t have private health insurance. I could still avail of several public healthcare courses in preparation of birth and parenthood. Apart from the classic Antenatal Class (including a funny nappy challenge for the daddies-to-be), I took part in a physiotherapy course to hear all about the physical joys of childbirth. I felt like an expert myself afterwards. Well, in theory at least.

I was an absolute newbie when it came to small babies. I had never changed a nappy in my life nor minded kids when I was younger. My husband used to mind his nephews and had a clear advantage over me. Anyway, we both attended as many courses as we could. Why not take the opportunity when given.

I am not going to go into much more detail here. But I would like to point out how pleasantly surprised I was about the variety of classes provided by the hospital. From baby safety to alternative birth methods there was not a thing that wasn’t covered in the programmes.

The Midwife is Part of the Deal

The midwife owns a huge part of the prenatal care in Ireland. I didn’t have to find one myself (like in Germany) nor did I have to pay extra for her service. During the check-ups in the hospital everything discussed was neatly recorded and there was always enough time for questions to be answered. So even if it wasn’t the same midwife every time, I always felt well looked after. I can’t really say much about the midwife that was on duty the night I had our son. I am sure she was great, but my mind was kind of focussed on something else I am afraid.

Why reinvent the Wheel…

As soon as I was discharged from hospital, the regional health nurse was informed. She came to the house a couple of days later to check that the baby and I were doing well. She was very supportive. Easing our worries and helping us with questions. In addition to the home visits and being available over the phone, she held a weekly clinic. I proudly told my parents about this great institution they invented in Ireland. My mam smiled and said that they used to have exactly the same service in the GDR and she gladly availed of it as well when I was born. Unfortunately it is not available as standard in Germany anymore. I think this is something which should be reconsidered.

Support when needed

When I heard about a breastfeeding support group for the first time, I thought the name was a bit inappropriate. Support group to me sounded like something you need when you are in trouble. I couldn’t possibly think how these two could go together. I know now. Though I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have any difficulties at all with breastfeeding.

I was also lucky that people made it easy for me and even in public I never felt uncomfortable breastfeeding or looked at in a strange way. One time I had to feed in a mall and one of the shop owners brought me a glass of water. I still tell people about this thoughtful and kind gesture.

First Child, what now

I was convinced I wasn’t the type for “mammy friendships”. And for sure I wasn’t going to have coffees after going for a walk in a convoy of baby buggies. Sure as hell I was never ever going to exchange recipes for sugar free baby muffins. I was wrong. I am now part of a nice and small group of mammies and their cute little babies. And yes, we do talk about healthy cooking and all the other stuff I thought I never would be interested in. As a stay-at-home parent our weekly meetings have become an important part of my life. And the same way it was recommended to me, I am going to pass it on to other mothers-to-be: Get out and build yourself a “mammy-network”.

Clap Hands till Grumpy is gone…

I am not a morning person. I like to start my day slowly and above all quietly. Why on earth do all musical playgroups start before 10 in the morning? I should probably mention that our little one is not exactly a morning person either. We don’t know if it is genetic or just rubbed off. Anyway, when I open the blinds before 8 a.m. all I get is a dissatisfied grunt. With the cuddly toy on his face to shield it from the incoming light, he rolls over in disbelief wondering what made me come in so early. He should know by now though that Thursday is playgroup time and we all have to make sacrifices to attend. At the latest when my mammy-friend and her always smiling daughter are waiting for us at the gate, we both overcome our morning grumpiness and are ready to clap along.

Let me entertain you

There are a good few playgroups and activities for kids of several age groups in our area. They are all focussed on community, meeting new people (and the kids each other of course) as well as exchange of information (such as healthy cooking recipes). The organisers – some of them volunteers – are very enthusiastic and welcoming. I cannot speak for all of Ireland, but for what I know there is no shortage of mother and toddler activities. Not all of them are for free. Some of them can be rather expensive. In our neighbourhood it is the Church Parish and the town library that host activities for small or no money. Social media is probably the easiest way to find out what’s on in which area. Alternatively, word of mouth (or should I say mothers) has never failed.

Horrendous Childcare Costs

Childcare is probably the most delicate topic when it comes to my initial question “How child-friendly is Ireland?” Only recently I read an article in The Irish Times titled “High childcare costs keeping women out of workplace.” Indeed it is not worthwhile going back to work when the costs for full-time crèche are approximately €1000 per month. When I enquired about childcare when I was still pregnant the lowest offer I got was €950 a month. It came with a significant wait list. The most expensive one was €1650. Another 2 or 3 crèches were somewhere in between.

Career vs. Full-time Parenting

To us it became clear very quickly that I would put my career on hold whilst minding the baby. Apart from personal reasons it was financially and logistically absolutely not viable for me to go back to work. I think I am not an exception among women with a low or medium income. In order to drop off my child at the crèche and pick him up on time I would have needed to work less than full-time. The monthly ticket for the commute would come out of my already reduced salary. To be able to spend the little time left with my son, we might have hired a cleaner for the house – extra costs again. At the end of the month I would have worked for the childcare costs and some pocket money at the cost of being away from my son for over 40 hours a week. To us this was a quite simple equation.

Demand for Cheaper Alternatives

However, some people might not want to give up their careers or simply need the extra money, no matter how little it may be. And obviously they want to know their child is in safe hands while they are working. I have heard quite a lot of grandparents or other family members taking over the role of a full-time carer for the child. Also au pairs and private childminders are a more reasonable alternative compared to a crèche. Nevertheless, it seems to become more and more obvious that women drop out of the workforce due to the above mentioned reasons.

It’s getting (slightly) better

With older children, the financial outlook regarding childcare is slightly more positive. From 3 years of age children are entitled to a state-funded preschool place with the ECCE programme. However it doesn’t help the mother to re-integrate into work life since it only covers mornings from 9 am – 12. Whilst primary education starting at 4 or 5 years of age is free, there are costs that parents have to face during that time. The average cost for a primary school kid in 2018 is €830 per year (Source: Zurich.ie). For a child in secondary school an average annual cost of €1,495 has to be covered by the parents (Source: Zurich.ie).

Childcare or Caring for your Child?

I think we can all agree that the maternity support in Ireland is pretty decent. So Ireland ticks the box regarding child-friendliness in that regard. It looks slightly different when it comes to costs for childcare. Does that mean affordable childcare would make Ireland more child-friendly? I disagree. Me staying at home with our little one only has upsides for both of us. We get to spend precious time together. I am there for his first big milestones. I can teach him things the way I want to. I can comfort him when he is upset. I think this is the best for our son. The first 3 years of his life, that are financially not worthwhile for me going back to work, are also the most significant in our child’s development. To be there for him 100% during that time is pretty child-friendly, isn’t it?




A German’s View on Irish Weather

My Palm Tree which isn’t actually a Palm Tree

Surprisingly I haven’t dedicated a blog post to the Irish weather yet. It’s about time, as Ireland has a distinct climate that comprises some interesting phenomena…

A German friend of mine recently came to visit. She was surprised to find palm trees on our quite cold island. Our house came with a palm tree in the front garden. In Germany they only grow in plant pots, so I was particularly proud to be the owner of a “wild one”. Despite my husband’s exasperation about having to clean up its leaves, it is under my personal protection.

This type of tree is actually common in Ireland and Great Britain. So much so, that when the sun is shining, the coastline south of Dublin looks like the French Riviera. Whilst doing research on how the palm tree made it to Ireland, I found a few interesting points:

  1. This particular tree is called Cordyline australis though it is native to New Zealand.
  2. It came to Europe in the middle of the 19th century.
  3. And it is not in any way related to a palm tree.There are no palm trees natively growing in Ireland.

So my beautiful exotic palm tree is not a palm tree. This leaves me with no arguments in case my husband asks me again to cut it down. So I’d better not tell him…

Subtropical Gems in Ireland

Let’s stay with subtropical plants of which there are a few in Ireland (though not palm trees). Due to the Gulf Stream that brings a warm current and mild air from the South, the temperature rarely drops below zero in Ireland. Summers are not hot, but an average temperature of 20℃ seems to be enough for these exotic species.

Garnish Island

One of these “subtropical gems” is Garnish Island, on Ireland’s West Coast. The little island can be reached by a tiny ferry that leaves from Glengarriff in West Cork from the months of April to the end of October. Besides the Mediterranean plants on the island itself, the seals you meet on the way over are quite a highlight. They are usually sunbathing on a rock near Garnish Island and seem to take advantage of the Gulf Stream climate too.

The Burren National Park

The word Burren comes from the Irish “Boíreann” which means “rocky place”. And it looks how I would picture the surface of the moon. You would expect nothing to grow there. However this is not the case. In the Burren National Park in Co. Clare you find a contradictory flora. Both subtropical and Arctic plant types growing here side by side. (Source: www.ireland.com).

The latter are a remainder from the last Ice Age. Simply put, they love the light conditions in the Burren. The way it is reflected by the rocky surface seems to remind them of their Arctic home.

All in all, this unique landscape is home to over 900 different plants. Among them are 23 of the 27 types of Orchids growing in Ireland. What my parents in Germany try to cultivate with huge effort indoors seems to be growing on what looks like barren grounds. If I didn’t know it any better I would suggest that this is where the National Park gets its name from.

Botanical Gardens Kilmacurragh

My personal favourite though are the Rhododendron bushes that grow as tall as houses in Ireland. They often sprout wildly and unnoticed on the side of some country road until they blossom in the most amazing pink. That is why everybody who comes to visit us when the Rhododendron is flowering (app. May – July) has to go to the Botanical Gardens in Kilmacurragh with us to see the Rhododendron Avenue. Even when their petals have already fallen down it is worth going to see the “carpet of pink” on the ground. On the weekends during the summer a lot of people would come here for picnics while enjoying the magnificent view onto the Wicklow Mountains. During the week or off-season Kilmacurragh is the quietest and most peaceful place. It is perfect to go for a quick bite or a coffee in the Café on site. I am loving it, no matter what season of the year.

Fifty Shades of Rain

But back to my original topic – the Irish weather. My plan was to start off this paragraph as follows: “Whereas the Inuit have over a hundred words for snow, the Irish have almost as many for rain.” According to my research though it is a misconception that Eskimo actually do have that many expressions for the tiny white flakes. Surprisingly the Scottish do! Whilst not being confronted with the icy pleasure very often, they hold the record of different words for snow. According to a scientific study that I found in the German magazine Focus, Ireland’s neighbour country has 421 “shades of snow”. So much for that and the reason why this paragraph now starts like this:

What the Snow is for the Scots, the Rain is for the Irish

Whereas the Scots have 421 different expressions for snow, the Irish are pretty creative when it comes to the various intensities of their “liquid sunhine” – which would be number 1. Compared to the amount of snow in Scotland, it is a well-known fact that there is plenty of rain on the Green Isle which eventually gave it its nickname.

Rain isn’t always Rain

But if it is worth getting your rain gear out or not, depends on if it is “bucketing down” or only “spittin’”. Drizzle is very annoying for your glasses, but not annoying enough to open an umbrella. The expression “wet rain” seems to be redundant, but for Irish people it means better to stay indoors or get wrapped up properly when leaving the house. However it could be worse, what is then called “lashing”. This is one of my favourites as it almost sounds like rain splashing against the window. I could go on like that for a while. I could even go into more detail by outlining the different shape of raindrops or depth of puddles. I am going to leave it at that. I hope you enjoyed this little insight into the world of (linguistic) precipitation.

Live with it

In Ireland it’s going to rain at least once a day – somewhere, sometime. I have seen it raining in our front garden while it stayed dry at the back of our house. No matter how sunny and warm the morning appears, always bring something to throw on for when it is “pelting down” all of a sudden. You will get used to it over time and learn to live with it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And usually, as quickly as the rain comes, it disappears again, unless “it is down for the day”.

Heatwave in Irish

If there is just one gorgeous afternoon during a throughout miserable summer, it is when you are stuck in work. In Ireland it is not unlikely however that your employer will give you half a day off in that case. At least it happened to me about 2 years ago. My colleagues and I were roasting in our top floor office in Dublin city centre with no air condition whatsoever. Our Manager let us all finish up earlier with the words: “Take advantage of the weather while it lasts”. This is a line you hear quite often in Ireland. Well, as often as the sun is out. Maybe that explains why some red-faced sun worshippers are reluctant to give up their space in the sun even though it would be better for their health.

Grand Drying Weather

I also re-schedule my day when it turns out to be nice despite a contrary weather forecast. (The forecast is inaccurate most of the time. Don’t even bother listening to it!) My husband is laughing at me when I drop everything to put on the laundry and make the most of the “grand drying weather”. Apparently that is something a good Irish housewife would do – adaptation is everything!

The Irish and their Weather

Talking of adaptation – I would like to suggest a random theory that is not based on any (scientific) evidence. Irish people are generally considered to be easy-going and joyful. They seem to have that “mañana mentality” similar to the Spanish.

Could it be that they have to stay flexible in case their plans for the day (or even the week) get overthrown by unfavourable weather? Or else, that they originally invented pubs to have a dry and cosy place to wait for a shower to pass?

Traditional Music to wait out a Shower?

And to go even one step further, they came up with a great way to entertain themselves and everybody around them – traditional Irish music. I have seen guys pulling a tin whistle out of their shirt pocket and starting a spontaneous jam session. (That is probably the most practical instrument since it can be carried around easily and doesn’t get damaged in the rain.)

Irish people are also great at storytelling. Another activity that is a nice way to wait for the rain to clear. Better than huddling together in a sheltered bus stop like you would see it in Germany.

If the rain really turned Irish people into great musicians and storytellers or if they just can’t be bothered by something as trivial as the weather – who knows. Fact is, the rain belongs to the emerald island like rice is white. And figures show it is not putting off holidaymakers either. So pack your rain gear and explore Ireland if you haven’t done so already.

Best Time to visit Ireland

The “official season” in Ireland starts around the Easter holidays when most of the touristic sites would open their gates again. I love Ireland in April! It can get quite warm and nature is slowly coming back to life. The gorse in its intense yellow colour will have spread all over the landscape at that stage. It’s a lovely contrast to the lush green everywhere. Together they signalise the beginning of spring for me. The season lasts as long as late October which again can turn nature into amazing colours. You can expect less tourists than during the summer months. Queues at the most popular attractions will definitely be shorter, too.

Worst Time to travel to Ireland

The amount of people travelling Ireland in August is one reason why I wouldn’t recommend this particular month. Due to national and international holidaymakers, hotel capacities and prices are at their maximum at that time of the year. Secondly, there hasn’t been a dry or sunny August for the past 3 years. Even this year with the best and hottest Irish summer in 20 years, August wasn’t nice at all.

Another period of the year I can’t recommend for visiting Ireland are the months of January and February. Whether they feel dull and grey because they are following the magical Christmas season; or because they are pretty damp and cold. Don’t come to Ireland at the beginning of the year unless you want to spend most of the time indoors.!

However, bad weather is in the eye of the beholder and German mothers as well as Irish ones are probably right when they say: “You are not made of sugar.”




A Tourist in my own Country

From Backpacking to Bag-packing

When I was planning our vacation this summer everything was different. I was never exactly a globetrotter but travelling to me had always been adventurous rather than luxurious, i.e. I preferred a tent or hostel over a Spa hotel and using my bike instead of the car. I was also quite relaxed when it came to the planning in advance. Hence, not every single part had to be pre-booked, but I liked to be flexible, waking up in the morning with nothing more than a rough idea where the journey was supposed to go that day. Even though I am not a very spontaneous person, vacation used to be that time of the year when structure and detailed planning was left alone.

Going on your first family vacation with a 1-year old is a different story altogether. Being well organised and prepared as best as you can, becomes essential. It all starts with picking a suitable destination, which seemed to be the smallest challenge of all though, as we decided to go to Germany for various reasons. First of all we could skip the familiarisation phase, secondly I haven’t really introduced my husband to the nice vacation areas of my home country and last but not least there would be a chance of the odd date night as soon as we get to my parents’ house.

A slightly bigger challenge was getting all the essentials packed and transported while using as little space as possible. I have always been a “light traveller” and took pride in cutting the things that I needed on vacation down to the bare minimum in order to fit it into a tiny single bag. This was unfortunately not possible anymore when travelling with a baby . However my packing skills came in handy with folding, squeezing and stuffing everything into what was now three medium-sized suitcases.

The biggest challenge of all was finding the proper accommodation for a couple of days before we got to my family’s house. Whereas I had something simple and quiet in mind, my husband luckily pointed out that we should choose somewhere with lots of indoor activities for ourselves and the little one in case of bad weather. Furthermore we had to take into account that we were restricted to the range of the baby monitor after 7 p.m. With all the focusing on our youngest traveller, we also wanted to make sure that the trip was a change of scene for us too. Thus we were looking for a family-friendly holiday park with basically all amenities under one roof – a category that I had always avoided so far when planning my vacation…

Who let the Cow out

We found a lovely holiday village called Dorfhotel Fleesensee at the Lakelands Mecklenburger Seenplatte North of Berlin. Our expectations were even exceeded when we got there at the end of June. On the way to our apartment, pulling our luggage plus child in a handcart behind us (brilliant idea!), we stopped at a tiny merry-go-round to be operated by the kids themselves – the first highlight for our little holiday-maker. With all that “excitement” going on there was no point in putting him to bed and so we all enjoyed a welcome cocktail at the bar to start our vacation. Thrilled about the attention to detail inside the apartment and its surroundings, we were looking forward to the upcoming week in our apparently well chosen holiday domicile.

The “awakening” literally came in the morning while we were having a relaxed breakfast when a huge dancing “cow” walked in to gather all the kids for the club dance that seemed to take place every day. My husband and I exchanged looks with an awkward smile and without saying a word we knew what the other one was thinking. Instead of endless party nights with loud music we were now exposed to almost the same level of noise in a crowded breakfast room and the entertainment came in form of a life-size mascot singing jolly children’s’ songs. Our son loved it…

Family-friendly is a Matter of Perspective

Another selling point for this particular accommodation was the fact that childminding was included. A topic that I had been avoiding in the last 14 months since our little boy was born. There was no better time to try it out than here and now –  in a super child-friendly environment with a relaxed mammy in vacation mode. The kids club looked great with lots of toys and pro-active, helpful staff. Junior was immediately immersed the minute we walked in and we signed him up for 3 hours. I was relieved to see him running (well, crawling) off so light-heartedly. On the other hand it made me feel slightly heavy-hearted seeing him drawing bigger and bigger circles.

Anyway, we enjoyed a couple of hours in the Spa next door and encouraged by not hearing anything from the childminder, planned a Squash match for the next morning straight away. Next day around, same plan, so far so good… We hadn’t even made it to the Squash court when the phone rang. I could hardly hear that it was the girl from the kids club since the very upset cry of our son in the background was almost drowning out her voice. It turned out he wasn’t happy at all with the situation today and we made our way back to pick him up. It was as if he wanted to tell us that “family-friendly” doesn’t mean that activities were taking place without him. Hence our trio was complete again from now on and the family-friendly vacation became a family vacation which everybody enjoyed.

Topsy-turvy World

Whereas the heatwave caused a hose-ban in Ireland (people were asked to report their neighbours when they caught them watering the garden), temperatures in the German Lakelands weren’t climbing high enough to take advantage of the many gorgeous lakes surrounding us. Whilst there was plenty of other stuff to do, I had been picturing us sitting on the beach and going for refreshing swims at least once. Just at the time of our departure and while we were getting ready for a 4-hour car journey, the sun came back splitting the stones. Not only had me worrying for weeks how we would survive without air condition in a holiday home in over 30 degrees, been in vain; we also had missed the only week in Ireland ever, when temperatures were higher than in most parts of Europe. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the end of our Germany trip yet and we were looking forward to spending the next few days with my family.

The Story with the Potatoes

While my husband was driving I was looking for somewhere to stop along the way. Besides just having a break I wanted it to be a must-see, something to make my husband want to come back. While I was still thinking where or what that could be, the motorway exit sign for Potsdam popped up. Yes, perfect place and perfect timing – I decided to show my husband the Palace of Sanssouci which had always impressed me as a child and was usually on the agenda when my parents had visitors from abroad. So the decision was made – we were heading for Sanssouci and I wanted to be a good tour guide and give my husband a few details about its history, architecture etc. All I knew though was the fact that there was always potatoes lying on the grave slab of Frederick the Great in the park of the palace. When my husband asked why that was, I answered without hesitation: “Well, because he was the one who invented them”. My husband just stared at me in silence and once again I had proven to everybody that despite being from Germany and a tourism expert, I was the worst tour guide ever.

Letting go

The time in my parents’ house was easy-going and quite relaxed. We finally got our hot summer days as anticipated and their spacious garden was perfect for us to withdraw and unwind. The feeling that I constantly had to check on our little one slowly started to shift. Whenever I turned my head to check what he was up to, I was re-assured that he had my parents’ full attention. It was a great feeling to be able to just get up and leave for a second without scanning the environment for possible hazards beforehand. It took me a while to get used to it though. Over the next couple of days I got braver and my husband and I managed to go out for grown-up time twice. Thanks to granny and grandpa!

When you realise that your hometown isn’t home anymore

Being back in my hometown Torgau makes me feels somewhere between being a guest in a familiar environment and travelling back in time. All excited I was showing my husband around, brought him to places that used to be special to me and that were full of old memories. When we went out for dinner and were looking to get out some cash beforehand I was aiming for the big wooden door of the 24hrs-bank that had always “saved” me when I ran out of money during our weekly pub crawls as a teenager. When the door wouldn’t open as usual I checked the sign outside that said the branch had been closed down in 2017. You might imagine that an ATM closing down wouldn’t affect you in any way, but I was a bit startled since it had always been there. I used to run in here in a hurry before meeting a friend for coffee next door. I had come in here tipsy having difficulties keying in my pin. I would wait in here during the winter when it was too cold outside. And now it was gone. It closed down about a year ago which meant that it’s been longer since I had been here trying to get in. Time flies.

However we had enough cash left to go for a drink in one of my old locals. The lovely beergarden and unspoilt view over the river Elbe was still the same. The people weren’t. Well, I guess it was their local now. I hadn’t been in there in such a long time  that I didn’t spot one single familiar face, except the owners’ ones. But when we sat down I heard the very familiar local dialect and I turned around to the people at the table next to us to ask them something. When I didn’t catch their reply in German and asked them to repeat it, I heared somebody else say “You have to speak English, they don’t understand you”, I was baffled for just a second. I have never felt more like a tourist in my own hometown than in this precise moment.




Me and the Sea

Being born “inland” the sea will always remain something special for me, even though I now have it at my doorstep.

I remember when I was a child my grandparents used to gush about their vacations at the Baltic Sea, a distance which to me seemed unreachable – or at least five long, sweaty hours in our Trabant. It would take a few more years before I  finally saw the Baltic Sea myself.

Funny enough  I went to the Mediterranean Sea first where I spent wonderful holidays with my family. I used to love lying on the beach feeling the warm air on my skin, surrounded by the lite scent of sunscreen and the pleasant sound of the waves. This was the beginning of a lifelong relationship.

It was more or less by accident that I ended up studying at Stralsund University right by the Baltic Sea. “Studying where others go on vacation” is their proud slogan. Sometimes a curse when you are sitting on the campus preparing for exams. However there were also moments when I was cycling along the “Sundpromenade” thinking to myself how amazing it is that I actually live here.

Afterwards I moved to Hamburg which too is maritime in its own way as it is perfectly situated between the coast of the North and Baltic Sea, and trips to either of them became a regular weekend activity for me.

A day trip to the beach of St. Peter Ording at the North Sea with a very good friend of mine is one of my favourite memories. Well wrapped up against the cool autumn breeze we walked between the amazing dunes facing the unspoilt view towards the horizon. And then rosy cheeked coming in from the bitter cold smelling of fresh air to enjoy a hot chocolate- nothing better.

 

I left Hamburg for Dublin. Although being closer to the Sea wasn’t the main driver, I really enjoy living on an island and being surrounded by water. And it’s not just the ocean – Ireland’s coast is so diversified, ranging from wide sandy beaches to rocky cliffs and secluded little bays. After a couple of years in Dublin City we now live as close to the Sea as we could get.  And now my husband is the one saying all the time “We live where others go on vacation” and I think to myself – so very true!

Footprints in the Sand

Back when I used to visit Dublin as a tourist, I always made sure I squeezed in a walk on one of the many beaches that Dublin is surrounded by. And that is not all that difficult. Within minutes on the train or bus you leave the buzzing city life behind. Suddenly the urban skyline disappears and the Irish Sea emerges as if someone just changed a movie setting. Each of the following beaches I am in some way connected to by a personal story or positive memories.

The Beach that changed my Life

I remember well sitting in some hotel in Dublin City on a rainy October morning. My mood wasn’t the greatest since I had pictured my annual trip to Ireland slightly different. I had been looking forward to reuniting with the girls from my internship years ago and we usually all make it back to Dublin at least once a year. This year this wasn’t the case, but I had decided to take the trip on my own anyway. Long story short, this is how I had ended up in a single room in a hotel instead of a messy 5-dorm hostel bed, seriously lacking motivation to go out and do something. I eventually managed since it was my last day before going home and decided for a walk on the mostly quite empty Killiney Beach. So I jumped onto the train and after an about 35-minute ride got out at a basically deserted beach. No one seemed to want to step outside in that miserable rainy weather, and I found myself  looking onto a wild ocean with grey clouds hovering above it. However with every step my spirits were lifting up under my huge umbrella. I reflected about my past, present and future and I am sure this was the moment when I decided to emigrate to Ireland. It’s not that this walk alone was responsible for it, but I’d say it put the idea in my head. I knew that something had to change in my life and feeling that content despite missing company and pouring rain made me confident enough that this could work. Turns out it did.

How else would you spend New Year’s Day

Sandymount Beach used to be my husband’s and my “Go-to-Beach” on the weekends when we were still living in the city. Its characteristic, actually ugly red and white chimneys are almost a landmark and I have always appreciated them since they help me with my bad sense of direction as they can be seen from quite a distance. During low tide the comparatively short beach is great for walking unless you are more the “waves-gently-rolling-against-your-feet-type-of-person”. In other words – the water is gone and the sea only adumbrates on the far horizon. However don’t rely on this like we did on a cold New Year’s Day when we were suddenly surrounded by icy water that slowly crept in seemingly from nowhere. So we found ourselves barefoot in the middle of the Irish Sea, jumping over puddles that were expanding by the minute. Definitely a walk to remember…

She sells Sea Shells on the Sea Shore

My fingers frozen and stiff from the cold won’t keep me from collecting shells on the beach. It is as if a childish urge kicks in that makes me leap from one “little treasure” to the next. Hence this is what I did on a cold winter’s day on North Bull Island. A storm must have been in the days before since the beach was laced with the most beautiful, perfect shells and tiny sea creatures. As usual I wasn’t prepared for bringing my “goods” home and my pockets got heavier and soaking wet which still didn’t make me stop picking up shells. However my husband isn’t a big fan of my shell decorations all over the house I end up putting or giving them away. Anyway, for me it is not about owning or keeping them; it’s the pure joy of discovering them on the beach, revealing them from underneath the sand, curious to see if they have yet another colour than the one before.

“Welcome to your Hen Party”

North of Dublin City is the Peninsula of Howth. Its prominent lighthouse on the very tip is a familiar sight when approaching Dublin on a plane. The Cliff Walk and Howth Head are the highlight for me rather than the beach. I also love the variety of (fish) restaurants and little coffee shops where you can reward yourself after climbing Howth Summit. Howth is perfect for exploring Ireland’s spectacular coastline, enjoying a great view all over Dublin Bay and strolling around the picturesque fishing village or the marina. That is why we picked it for having our rehearsal dinner the night before our “spontaneous” wedding. The restaurant Wrights Findlater was a good choice too and after a nice dinner we stopped off at Howth Head to get a glimpse at the lighthouse that was just about to disappear in the dusk. We took a couple of great photographs as a reminder of a wonderful evening which my friend would later comment with the words: “Now you had something like a hen party after all.”

 

Carribbean, Australia? No, Brittas Bay!

When we plan a trip to Brittas Bay on the weekend there is usually no need to bring swimming togs. Going to the beach in Ireland doesn’t mean going for a swim, but having a nice picnic, building sand castles and apply sunscreen factor 50. (Or eating sandwiches in the car when it’s raining gazing onto the water without getting out.) Especially because there is always a cool breeze down by the water I underestimate the Irish sun on a regular basis. This summer, with temperatures climbing up into the high 20’s, is definitely making up for the long and cold winter we had.

Even though Brittas Bay would be one of the most popular beaches in the region it’s spacious enough for everybody to find their little private corner in between the dunes. The dunes are not only a great wind shelter, but also perfect for my husband to re-discover his inner child and roll down in the fine soft sand. Of course he never has to wait long for followers…
Therefore I can highly recommend the fabulous beach of Brittas Bay for young and old and everybody in between such as my husband and myself.

I love coming back to the beaches that I connect positive memories with. However once in a while I discover new little gems so that there will hopefully be many more anecdotes which I look forward to sharing with you.




Two Weddings and luckily no Funeral

When we tell people the story of our wedding, they say something along the lines of “you should write that down for your grandchildren” – but why wait for so long?

It didn’t take us much time to figure out when and how we wanted to get married: as soon as possible and low key. We quickly found a suitable location, arranged all the details with the wedding coordinator at the hotel, paid a deposit and sent out the invites. The official paper work was the only thing missing, but we didn’t expect a major delay here either – mistake number 1.

Who knew that Ireland could even beat Germany in terms of bureaucracy. When filling in the forms at the Marriage Registration office it was pointed out to us that there might be a small inconsistency in my fiancée’s American divorce papers. In response to our question what this meant and what we should do about it we were told that we had to send the paper work off anyway and wait for the official reply. The official reply took its time and as already expected at that stage the request was turned down due to an inconsistency in the divorce papers. After we had sent in all the apparently missing details that were supposed to solve the problem and a lot of correspondence back and forth, we learned that the application could never have been accepted since my fiancé was no longer a resident of the country where his divorce was granted. This earlier mentioned bureaucracy was eating into our valuable time and we had no choice but to consult a lawyer who specialised in cases like this. After an initial chat to her however we were confident that things would be sorted out soon and well on time for our scheduled wedding date – mistake number 2.

We proceeded to book the accommodation for our guests, who also booked their flights from Germany and America to attend the joyful event. An event which was becoming less joyful by the minute as we were currently looking for my future husband’s ex-wife whom he hadn’t been in touch with for over 13 years. Ironically, as we found out, she had been able to get married again. Nevertheless, we needed her to sign the divorce papers again so that an Irish Judge could validate my husbands American divorce. Our lawyer confirmed that this was all that had to be done and we trusted in her legal advice – mistake number 3.

Two Yeses and one No

About 3 months before our scheduled wedding date – both of us still confident that everything was going according to plan – we found out that something had gone wrong with the legal procedure. Our lawyer was supposed to disclose to the state in advance which approach she was going to take, namely filing for acceptance of the American divorce. Since she hadn’t done that, it was decided in court that the only way to set my “chosen one” free was to get another (but this time an Irish) divorce. Of course this was going to take some extra time and our wedding plans became less likely.

To keep the financial loss at a minimum we cancelled the wedding hotel at that stage and informed our guests about the situation. And as if my own disappointment was not enough, I had to explain to family and friends that they had just booked flights to the most depressing event of the year – a busted wedding.

Day Tour instead of Wedding Celebration

At least we had 2 months left to get over the fact that we wouldn’t be getting married on 7th May 2016. However we would still have the house full of people that had decided to pay us a visit anyway. There was no time for self-pity as we needed to roll up our sleeves to make the most of the situation and enjoy our family and friends coming over. We organised a tour coach and made a reservation in one of Dublin’s best and most traditional Pubs, Johnnie Fox’s. We saw no harm in showing everybody the lovely Dublin & Wicklow Mountains to make sure they would want to come back to our wedding for round 2.

Cold Feet

It wouldn’t come to that though. One week before the planned date the Irish divorce was officially through. Whilst too late to re-apply to the Civil Registration Office, let alone to resurrect the previous wedding plans, our local priest supported us in moving forward with the religious ceremony. Knowing that family and friends were about to arrive and might not be able to come a second time shortly afterwards, my husband and I decided to wave good-bye to our originally planned wedding reception and to just go for it. Hence, 3 days from the wedding day we were back in the game…

Priceless Wedding Planners

If you have only got 3 days to organise a wedding basically from scratch, possibilities are limited. One might think that this takes away from the day that is supposed to be the most important in your life. In our case it was the best thing that could have happened to us. Instead of sightseeing for our visitors, everybody got assigned a task and everything fell into place as if it was never meant to be a different way. After this emotional rollercoaster it was so nice to watch how each of our helpers did their part for us to enjoy a great day. Best wedding gift ever!

The most wonderful(ly) chaotic Day of my Life

Our wedding day started for me on a wobbly air mattress, in front of my bed which my friend had been staying in for the last couple of days. A photographer definitely would have had his difficulties finding his way around my cramped, tiny apartment to take pictures of the “bride getting ready in the morning”. Luckily I had my all-rounder Susanne who – besides doing my hair – took the obligatory black and white picture of my wedding dress on the hanger, with the air bed in the background though ;-). I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about that morning. Everything was so perfectly imperfect which surprisingly didn’t bother me at all that day.

In contrast to that the ceremony in the church was absolutely perfect. Just the inner circle of family and friends, lovely singers, my emotional dad who walked me down the aisle, my sister as witness who had done a wonderful job in the last couple of days organising all sorts of bits and pieces, the most amazing priest who made all present feel so welcome and my atheist friend Claudia who helped with that by spontaneously translating his opening words into German.

Our little tourist excursion to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains was still on the cards. Only difference – instead of hiking boots and a rain jacket I was wearing a white wedding dress and red high heels. My parents had picked up some sandwiches on the way to church and the coach was loaded with snacks and cans. At one of my favourite spots in Ireland, Sally’s Gap, we had our “wedding reception”. While enjoying champagne out of plastic cups, the first pictures were taken. The sky was looking wild and a few hairstyles got messed up by the fresh Irish breeze, but no one seemed to mind. The moment was just too precious to complain about anything. A little mound overlooking the gorgeous lake down in the valley virtually offered itself for the speech of the bride’s father which turned out just like the day – informal and entertaining. Our official wedding photographs we got taken at the beautiful monastic site of Glendalough and it’s surroundings (thanks again to our photographer Fran!). Back on the coach we had a joyful ride to Johnnie Fox’s Pub, where people were cheering me on arrival – apparently a bride is not spotted very often among a pub crowd on a Saturday afternoon.

The Promise – a never ending Story

My husband and I had made a promise to each other on 7th May, but we also promised to the priest that we were going to hold the legal marriage certificate in our hands soon. Little did we know that it was going to take us almost another year before we could eventually get civilly married. The lady in the Registration Office that we had been dealing with from the start greeted us nervously when we went in to receive the wedding certificate. She remembered us well and this was mutual. The sweat on her forehead indicated that she was at least well aware of our situation and the time we had – more or less patiently – endured to get to this point. Even though it looked like we had finally made it to a Happy End, it was quite challenging for my “almost-offical-husband” to not lose his temper when facing this friendly civil servant again. Well, she couldn’t really be accused of anything, but sticking to a nonsensical regulation and leaving us in the dark about it for too long. However we are all very glad that the final count stayed at 2 weddings, 3 divorces and luckily no funeral.




Would I emigrate to Ireland again?

Personal Review and Practical Advice

Quite a few people have been asking me lately if I would emigrate to Ireland again, if I had to make the decision today. Looking back over the last 4 years and considering everything that has happened and how well things are going for me (see my article About God, Destiny, Luck or what else it may be called), I would answer with an emphatic yes! However, people who are currently thinking about moving to Ireland need a more unbiased and objective picture which I will try and give in this article.

Vacations ain’t living

It helps when you have been to Ireland before you chose to emigrate. I think however a joyful holiday trip does not really prepare you for the day-to-day challenges you have to face when actually living in a foreign country. Searching for a place to live, finding a job you can survive on and making acquaintance with the bureaucracy and the health system are the things you will be dealing with to find out whether a country is suited for you. No vacation can prepare you for that. So before settling down and burning bridges in your home country, give yourself a “trial period” to see how you get on. Also, some research about culture, people and economy might save you from disappointments. Reading this blog article is a good start :-).

It’s good to know yourself

Knowing yourself is an advantage when thinking about living somewhere other than your home country. How well do you adapt to other circumstances and living conditions? Are you someone comfortable with the unknown and the possibility of failure or do you thrive only with consistency? When I first came to Ireland I would often catch myself saying: “This wouldn’t have happened in Germany” or “Everything is much more expensive here”. By now I have accepted that certain things are just different in Ireland, but not necessarily worse than in Germany. There is hardly anything that I still “import” or that I miss so badly that I couldn’t live without it. This was an important step for me – to realise that Ireland is my home now without constantly comparing it to Germany or pointing out things that might not be as good or just different. I value what I have here and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Moving to Ireland = Making your dream come true?

You will have your reasons for emigrating, they might be push or pull factors. Some just want to get away, no matter where to and others deliberately pick Ireland as an emigration destination. Either way I am sure there is some expectation involved of how you picture your future. If you are considering Ireland as a place to spend the next couple of years or even the rest of your life, you should ask yourself what the probability is that Ireland will become the place your dreams are met.

I had my difficulties with a pro and con list (as described in my article Why Ireland) since emotions and the feeling of being drawn towards something don’t translate very well into a plain list. Nevertheless, away from all the dreaming of a fresh start, you should be realistic about what you can do by carefully evaluating your resources.

The Essentials – Earnings and a Place to stay

After completing the “emotional part” I recommend to start the practical preparations by looking for a job before you move to Ireland. For me personally it would have been too risky to get here without a signed work contract. Or let’s put it that way – I couldn’t have survived very long on my savings. Apart from that it is good to know what kind of jobs are available and if they suit your skills. Speaking a foreign language always gives you a head start. Best to have a look for specific offers on www.jobs.ie which I found very handy for vacancies across all industries. Compared to Germany the net income is slightly higher in Ireland at the same gross salary which I thought was great at first. But I soon found out that higher costs of living made that advantage disappear. Going easy on drinks and cigarettes as well as using German discount supermarkets helped me to get by though ;-).

To afford accommodation – particularly in Dublin – is a different story altogether and the rent situation a real dilemma. Since 2013 rents in County Dublin have increased by 10% every year (except in 2015 when they only rose by 8.2%; Source: Irish Rental Price Report). In the midlands house prices and rental apartments are significantly cheaper, but most of the jobs are in Dublin Metropolitan Area. This brings me back to what I mentioned earlier about expectations and taking your resources into account: If you are fantasising about a nice home in a pleasant environment – be prepared to put up with losing a couple of hours a day on the commute. In case you are you planning on spending more quality time with your family after work, it is helpful to have connections to a real estate broker and a good bit of cash at hand. If you want to be right in the middle of the buzzing Irish capital without spending a fortune – welcome to a shabby basement apartment. To get an idea what’s out there have a look at www.daft.ie and www.myhome.ie. Viewing appointments are usually arranged at quite short notice and might involve queuing.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Often people ask me about health insurance in Ireland. There is no compulsory health insurance like in Germany, but private providers where you can acquire different health plans. The annual costs vary depending on the provider and services included. Touch wood I have been living okay without any health insurance the past 4 years. I pay as I go for GP visits, dentist etc. –between €50 and €80 per consultation, children under 6 years are free. If you get referred to a specialist the treatment is free too. However, waiting times for an appointment might be horrendous and a health insurance would definitely help with that. In case of an emergency you pay a fee of currently €100 and a daily lump sum for a hospital stay. All maternity services in the public sector are free of charge. This information applies to EU-citizens and is without any guarantee. More detailed information on that topic can be found here.

Childcare can be another important decisive factor when considering emigrating to Ireland. Only recently it became relevant for us too and I did some research on it. My husband and I decided that I was going to stay at home with our little one. Even though this is what I wanted, it wouldn’t have been financially viable for me to go back into my old job. Crèches and private childminders are quite expensive in Ireland. For full-time care (ca. 40 hrs/week) I was given rates between €850 and €1650 a month in the Wicklow area. Between commute and opening times of the crèche I would have been forced to go part-time which means less money and hence an even higher financial burden. Again, if you have been dreaming of having an extended family and climbing up the career ladder at the same time – Ireland might not be the place for it.

With regard to education there is free primary and secondary schools run by the state or private schools where you pay a fee. Kids start school at 4 or 5 years respectively. From 3 years you can avail of a free pre-school place for a couple of hours a day. Studying at a State University currently costs €3,000 p.a. A summary of the Irish education system can be found here.

Ireland – yes or no?

When people ask me if I would recommend emigrating to Ireland my answer is a bit ambiguous. I love living here, I still value all the things that brought me here: the lovely people, the stunning landscape, the language. However, the way the economy is going at the moment – back to “good” old Celtic Tiger times – I find it very hard to rule in favour of my dream country from the financial point of view. I guess I was lucky that I came here when I did. I probably would emigrate again today, but if I could afford it is a different story.




Happy for the Moment

I am just back from a walk in 13 degrees and lovely sunshine. For the first time there was that smell that makes me feel spring is about to begin. If it only was spring already, I thought to myself. Then everything would start flowering and the air would smell that fresh all the time.

I had a similar thought when I was walking through Greystones in December and the Christmas decorations came on for the first time: Finally, the Christmas season has arrived that I had been waiting for so long. Time to get cosy in our lovely home in front of the fire. My next thought was that the depressing January is just around the corner though.

Last weekend we were browsing through several home stores, picking out paint for our living room that needs to be renovated. We had a look at curtains, re-arranged the furniture in our heads and chose the pictures to go up on the wall. By the time we got home, we were both eager to get started, but eventually stuck to the original plan to wait until March. Since then, however, all I am seeing is the faded colours on the walls and the things that are in need of repair. It is still the same cosy living room after all.

Our little “sunshine” is just over 8 months now and is changing every day. His first teeth are coming through and he is babbling away. I sometimes catch myself proudly telling people that he has started saying Da-da for Daddy, comparing the number of teeth to babies the same age or asking if he should be crawling properly at that stage. Time is already flying by, so why wishing he was further ahead?

It’s called Mindfulness

All the above examples have one thing in common: I am always thinking about something in the future rather than being in the moment. And that is what I do most of the time. Even when everything is perfect – I guess a living room in need of refurbishment is not exactly an imperfection – it is hard for me to enjoy what I have and I keep thinking about what could be better.  It is ridiculous that I will ruin a perfect today worrying about a possible future.

I have been thinking about taking a Mindfulness Course and learn how to focus my awareness on the present moment, what mindfulness means by definition. But whilst the concept is simple, it is not that easy for me to apply. I like to be distracted by music or silly TV-shows while doing chores in the house, rather than focusing on what I am doing. I guess it is understandable when it comes to folding the laundry – who is not wishing oneself away while doing that?

However I come to the conclusion that I don’t like being alone with my thoughts. Or am I just not used to it anymore? Whenever I have 5 minutes during the day, my phone gets taken out. It’s not that I fear I could miss something or that much has changed since the last time I checked. No, I actually hope for it. Something will be there to “entertain” me for sure. Although I know beforehand that nothing on Facebook or the like could be as important as what is going on in real life.

Belated New Year’s Resolutions

The next time I go for a walk in the winter sun, seeing trees without leaves and taking in the smell of the approaching spring, I will enjoy that rather than wishing for the actual spring to arrive. And I won’t wish for summer in spring, nor Christmas to come when it is autumn. Doesn’t waiting for something make it more precious?

Instead of spoiling an occasion for myself by thinking about how quickly it will pass, I am going to enjoy the time until it finally arrives. And planning a little highlight for afterwards might also be helpful to avoid the “after-blues”. It’s all about positive thinking :-)!

The biggest one for me to work on is being grateful for what I have instead of seeing flaws and imperfections in everything. Not an easy one, but since when are New Year’s resolutions easy to accomplish?

Easy on the other hand will be enjoying every moment with our son without constantly judging what he should be able to do at his age or not. I sometimes get carried away by talking to other mums and hearing about their “wonder babies” and I am not any different. Our little one is perfect the way he is and I will go with him through each and every change, whenever it happens and no matter how long it takes.

There is another point that I can already take off the list, namely posting that article as soon as possible in order to get these resolutions out there and not being able to ignore them anymore.

 

 




At Home in Wicklow

We have spent a great first summer in our new (old) house and are now looking forward to cosy autumn nights by the fire. I am a bit sad though how time has been flying in considered that the summer was quite decent this year – for an Irish one anyway. You can’t really argue with that when shorts, an inflatable pool and sun screen were part of it.

Delighted with the weather and the new surroundings we have been doing a lot in County Wicklow over the last few months. And even though I have been to parts of Wicklow before, we still discovered some real gems that I would like to share with you in this article.

Full article in German

(English translation will follow shortly – sorry for the inconvenience caused.)




Life is Life

To listen to the heartbeat of your unborn baby for the first time is a very special moment. I am grateful I was able to experience that myself last year. It’s like a little miracle growing inside you for nine months. In my case in fact it was nine and a half.

But what if it is an unwanted pregnancy and you find yourself in a rather unfortunate situation? Be it financially or with the wrong or none partner by your side or just at the wrong time. Do you get the right to have an abortion in this case? And if so, up to which week should this be allowed? And also, is it the woman’s right alone to make this decision?

Questions that people in Ireland are publicly debating at the moment. Pro Choice supporters demand to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution that currently protects the life of the unborn child. To keep it and therefore have abortion to remain illegal is what the Pro Life Movement is fighting for.

Does Demand determine Supply?

Thousands of Irish women travel to Great Britain per year to have an abortion. In the UK it is legal to abort a baby up to the 24th week and about 1 in 5 pregnancies end in an abortion (Source: loveboth.ie). In 2016 3,265 abortions of women with an Irish address were recorded in British hospitals (Source: ifpa.ie). However the actual number is likely to be higher since “patients” don’t always give the right contact details or might go to another country to have an abortion done. It is estimated that about 5,000 women per year with residence in Ireland are looking to end their pregnancies (Source: ifpa.ie). What the actual reasons are is hard to determine. In most cases they are summarised under the so called “Ground C” which is basically an abortion for “social reasons” (Source: AbortionReview.org).

The Pro Choice side argues that these women shouldn’t be forced to travel all the way to the neighbouring island to be able to have an abortion. Furthermore they insist that they should have the right to their own body and hence should be allowed to terminate an unwanted pregnancy legally in Ireland. Should we therefore legalise abortion because ca. 12 women per day are currently looking for one?

You are not alone

If it was the women’s bodies only that were concerned, I would agreed. Since this is clearly not the case I have to disagree. In the 3rd week of pregnancy the heart of the baby starts beating. This is usually about a week before you would even find out you are pregnant. That means that whenever you decide to have an abortion there is already a little human being growing inside you and it starts looking like one in week 12 at the latest. So how do women get the right to end the life of a human being solely because they don’t want him or her? Apart from that, who or what determines until when an abortion is legitimate?

When a mother kills her newborn out of despair it is considered murder and no one is going to argue about the legal situation. If she was going to do it at 24 weeks whilst the baby is still in her womb – and could already survive outside her womb – it is legal and called abortion? That doesn’t make any sense to me. What is the difference between a desperate woman before giving birth and a woman in the same difficult situation afterwards? Would it not be much more sensible instead to provide support in crisis pregnancies in order to prevent either of these 2 extreme cases?

Eeny meeny miney moe…

This leaves me with discussing the abortion limit, i.e. up to when it is considered legitimate to end a pregnancy. Even if the deadline was set much earlier than the currently 24 weeks in the UK, it stays questionable what condition is used as reference to define that limit. In Germany women can have an abortion up to the 14th week under certain circumstances (after a consultation with a doctor or a qualified agency). However even at that stage the baby’s brain is already working and sending impulses to coordinate the little one’s first facial expressions and hand movements. The heart is busily pumping blood through baby’s veins for almost 3 months at that point. The argument of a lack of consciousness is irrelevant, too. Otherwise one could argue that a newborn or premature baby doesn’t really know what’s going on around him/her either and we don’t consider it an option to legally get rid of them, do we?

In the end it all comes down to the question if we consider an unborn child, regardless of his or her age and stage of development, a human being or not. If we answer this question with yes, we cannot support abortion by all means.

I owe my Child

Since May this year I am a mother myself and all the way through pregnancy I have lived by the principle that I owe my child. No, I don’t get the right to have a cigarette or a drink whenever I feel like it while I’m pregnant. To live on sugary stuff and junk food is bad enough when I do it to my own body, but it is a no-go when I have a little fella inside me eating away on a direct supply.
Was it easy on top of all these things that come with the big bump, such as losing my mobility and giving up my favourite tummy sleeping position? No it wasn’t. Did I sometimes fail and didn’t do everything 100% according to the books? For sure. But I owe my child to always try my best even though it might be hard at times.

In the three months since our little sunshine was born this “mantra” has still helped me to get through the day. Because no matter how sweet his smile is and how much joy he brings us, there are these sleepless nights that everybody is talking about and I do reach my limits once in a while. And then I remind myself that he is not a commodity determined to make us happy. With the decision to have a child we have taken on a huge commitment and we owe him to always stick to it. We owe him to be there for him together, we owe him to protect and nurture him, we owe him to put his needs before ours as long as he is depending on us.
He doesn’t owe us anything, we owe him everything.

Children are not our possession. All decision we make on their behalf until they are able to make their own should be in their best interest. Therefore the most important one has to be the decision “pro life”.




About God, Destiny, Luck or what else it may be called

I am not a religious person, but what does that mean? Maybe it is time for me to re-consider old ideas and belief systems. That is what people usually want the Catholic Church to do – claiming it to be outdated. To me however it is completely new, just as the whole concept of a “Higher Power” that guides us and is beyond our control.

Growing up under the influence of the atheist system of the former GDR where religion obviously wasn’t part of my day-to-day life, this concept seemed to be absurd to me for a long time. Even though my parents raised me according to Christian values and taught me a morality based on the Christian faith, Christianity itself only played a role from the historic point of view and not the spiritual one. I was a so called cultural Christian. You would hear people talk about “fate” or “destiny”, but it never crossed my mind to thank “someone” when miraculous things happened, let alone ask for help. But I can see more and more that I need to revise my atheistic attitude that I used to have when I was a teenager.

Lately I am pondering questions like, what is so wrong with turning to a “Higher Power” seeking for hope and strength during bad times? Or, is it really just good luck or chance when things go well without you actually working hard? And the other way around – failing despite trying hard and discovering later that you have only been kept from something that wasn’t meant for you? And wouldn’t it also make things easier if you knew there was a path you are supposed to follow and a place for you to be? Easier to accept things that you cannot change instead of resentfully holding on to them? So it’s then only fair to pause and be grateful instead of taking everything for granted, isn’t it? Whom to address that “Thank you” to and what to call your personal source of strength, is a different story.

Spiritual Beginner meets devout Catholic Boy

All these thoughts didn’t just pop into my head out of the blue. Religion now is part of my day-to-day life: My husband is Catholic and not only according to his Baptism Certificate. He practices his faith with everything that comes with it and relies on God. To be honest, I am a bit jealous sometimes when I see how much he gets out of it. Then why not try it myself?
He, on the other hand, envies me for my natural spirituality as he always calls it. And that doesn’t come out of the blue either, but goes back to a couple of significant, life-changing decisions I made. All I based them on was a gut feeling, completely ignoring my conscious mind, people’s pessimism and my constant fear of taking responsibility and being a grown-up. I am not saying it was easy, but I felt it was the right thing to do and hence trusted things were going to be okay. And I was rewarded – with many positive turns that my life took without me seemingly putting too much effort into it.

Believe it or not

Either I am really smart and always know what the right thing is to do or there is a God. A God who made it possible that I could move to my dream country by getting a job after only sending one single job application. A God that helped me to pick exactly that apartment to live – out of all the rather suboptimal options – where I was going to meet my future husband in a very “traditional” and romantic way. A God that opened up a new career choice to me without me actively being involved which then allowed me to stop living of my savings and therefore continue to stay in Ireland. A God who just like that “gave” me the perfect car and house in the countryside that I always wished for and didn’t think I was going to find it. At least not that quickly anyway and without a single obstacle in our way. Talking of obstacles, there were some huge ones with the planning of our wedding, but even these were cleared up literally last minute and we ended up having a completely different wedding than planned (probably the most spontaneous in the history of Irish weddings), but better than we could have ever imagined.

I could go on like that for a while and people might say “it was just meant to be”. But this leads me back to the questions I mentioned at the beginning: who or what determines which ways our lives go and if we achieve something easily or sometimes fight hard without success because it is apparently not for us? Is there a set plan we are supposed to follow and according to that an external power that leads us? Somewhere we get a resonance from when we do the right things and doubts when we do wrong?
And with me being exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in my life I am looking for an answer who or what guided me to here, I guess.

Spirituality doesn’t happen over night

My “experiment“ started about 2 years ago: my husband and I go to church together and I enjoy our little Sunday ritual. Initially I was joking about it and counted the different churches I went to mass in as some sort of competition. Now I take it more seriously, which means in my case trying to get rid of prejudices and to be open to faith and religion in general. I like listening to the homilies which always include day-to-day issues and things that everybody should be concerned about, no matter if they live Christian lives or not. The time in the church is ideal for me to immerse deeper into the whole religious world and helps me to come up with more questions that I yet have to find an answer to, but which my husband will happily discuss with me afterwards.

Our wedding took place in a Catholic church. Above all I agreed to a religious ceremony because I knew how important it was to my husband. On the other hand I couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t.

In theory I am already on a spiritual journey. In reality it will probably take me a little longer to overcome my old ways of thinking and replace them by new ones – ways that are maybe more in line with the Catholic faith!? God knows ;-)!




Is Ireland cutting the ground from under its own feet?

Two news articles caught my attention as a “tourism expert” in 2016:

Number 1: According to a survey of the US Magazine Condé Nast Traveler, Dublin was voted 3rd and Galway 6th friendliest city in the world (Source: Tourism Ireland).

Number 2: According to the Hotel Reservation Provider HRS, Dublin is the 2nd most expensive place in Europe with regard to accommodation. The average room rate was given with €188 per night (Source: Irish Times) which is reflecting the continuously growing demand.

Speaking of high demand, visitor numbers in the first half of 2016 have increased by 14% compared to the same period in 2015. This is an increase of 420.000 within 6 months (Source: Tourism Ireland). It is an achievement to be proud of indeed. The economy is back and the recession finally seems to be over.

Justified Concerns!?

At every travel workshop I attend, the latest positive developments in Irish tourism are proudly presented. Whereas I watch everything with slight concern. Firstly for the very egotistical reason that someday I might have to share “my island” with thousands of visitors in the summer. And that I will only be able to experience all its scenic places after having queued for hours. Secondly, very pragmatic questions pop into my head – where to accommodate all these additional guests on an island that is surrounded by the Sea (definition of an island, I guess) and therefore limited in its size. This leaves only one option, namely to further develop and expand the existing tourism infrastructure: build more hotels, event locations, visitor attractions, etc. on the existing land to cater for the expected influx of visitors in 2017.

Hold on, does that not sound somehow familiar? And very similar to the building boom during the euphoria of the Celtic Tiger in the middle of the 1990’s in order to make the country more attractive to guests? Or was this rather to satisfy the greed of some investment masterminds? Anyway, it eventually came to a big downfall in 2008 and less people travelled to Ireland during the crisis. Not surprisingly, because I am convinced that what foreigners appreciate about Ireland is not its massive newly developed visitor attractions, but the unspoilt nature and beautiful landscape.

Sawing off the branch which I sit on…

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying Irish people are overall greedy and profit-oriented. Neither am I an economic expert who can make an educated guess on the country’s future. However I know what it is like to deal with suppliers of the Irish tourism industry on a daily basis and let me tell you, it has become very difficult! First of all I have to admit that I am one of these people myself who actively help to bring more holidaymakers into the country. A normally quite pleasant job where you mostly get to deal with happy people on both sides.

Lately, most of the hotel partners are not that nice and accommodating anymore to how I was used to for the past few years. I am praising the ones that still remember us in the good days as they did during their bad times. Unfortunately these are few. Instead, arrogance and rejection define my day in the office at the moment. A truly unpleasant working atmosphere. It may sound harsh, but sometimes my colleagues and I are wishing for the times when the economy wasn’t all that great, but our work was highly appreciated and needed to help the tourism industry to make their living. A crisis is terrible and making extra money during good times is nothing to be frowned upon. Forgetting about loyal relationships, sustainability and a healthy growth rate, on the other hand is.

At least visitors don’t seem to take notice of this “cold-hearted environment”. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been voted among the 6 friendliest cities worldwide. But let me continue with a discussion on this statistic:

After a short chat with a shop assistant in the rather small town of Wexford, my husband said that he still remembered that this used to be so common in Dublin when he was growing up. Whenever you walked into a store you would just start talking about the weather or the like and might end up discussing current politics for ages. Nowadays you feel like the person in the line behind you is rolling their eyes when you spend longer than necessary at the checkout. I am one of these people myself – rushing through the city ignoring what’s happening around me most of the time. Despite Dublin being the 3rd friendliest city in the world, I sometimes feel there is no time for being extraordinarily friendly or walking the extra mile to help someone anymore. So what happened to the relaxed Irish way of life? The other day on my way to work a woman almost collapsed on the bus and asked if someone could press the Stop button for her. She got off at the next stop gasping for air. No one got off with her or attended to her to offer help – including me. I felt terrible and it made me think why it hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Let’s go Country(side)

I ask myself what came first – the hectic city that makes it more and more difficult to keep up the “Irish virtues” of friendliness, helpfulness and always being up for a chat. Or is it us, the people with their smartphones who pay less attention to interpersonal relationships and turns Dublin (and I guess other big cities) into an anonymous hideout for overly busy people?

These are just my own personal thoughts and things I ponder. It may also have to do with the fact that my days living and working in heart of Dublin are numbered and it is time for me to withdraw to more rural areas. One day when I get caught up into a conversation in a village store when I am actually in a hurry, I might change my opinion about the faced-paced environment in Dublin…

Having read this article you might ask yourself what happened to my positive attitude about Ireland that made me come here and choose it as a place to live. Well, the loving relationship I still have with “my island” can take some criticism once in a while. It even has to in order to be honest.