TWO PARTIES AND A TREE

papa noel lot

Ever since I have lived in Austin, the tall Christmas tree standing decorated by the stairs had been from the Papa Noel's tree lot. Today was no exception. We drove to the Lakeline lot intent on getting the perfect tree. However, the place was nearly empty. It was the first thing the children noticed.

The Christmas holidays arrive earlier each year. I remember a time when people used to wait until one or two weeks before Christmas in order to purchase and decorate a tree. We were lucky today to have found a tree at all and Christmas is a mere week away. I overheard the worker tell another customers they had only short trees left at all of their Austin lots. Mostly four to five feet tall. The one I bought was slightly taller than me - which is not tall to begin with, but is all I can manage to carry by myself.

Being the last day of school meant the last party of the year. Sage's party started at 9am and lasted an hour. There were four activities planned for the duration. Pete the cat was the first project the kindergarteners did today. Sage kept looking up on the board at the sample cat and trying to figure out what to do with the various pieces of the cat in front of him. He did such a good job with his cat that the lady in charge of the activity mistook his cat for her sample cat. Thankfully I located his cat before I left as it was to be one of the ornaments on our tree.

sage and pete the cat
pete the cat by sage

Cinnamon's party was next. The first of the four stations at the Christmas party was bingo. She won two out of three games played.

cinnamon bingo

Decorating a foam gingerbread house with stickers was next, followed by cookie decorating (and eating, in Cinnamon's case), and a guessing game. The gift book exchange was saved for the end of the party. 'I already have this book' she exclaimed as she unwrapped her gift. It was The Cat in the Hat. I told her she can keep that copy at Papa's house since we already had the one we purchased when Saffron was born at my place.

foam gingerbread house

With the school parties completed for the year, decorating the Christmas tree is the next project for the coming weekend. Cinnamon and Sage will be leaving tomorrow, spending the week with their Papa. In the meantime, I will put lights on the tree and attempt to make the place Christmassy by the time they return on Thursday night.

the two by papa noels
seena running to van

BEAR AND PENGUIN

polar express day both

Today was Polar Express Day. The children wore pajamas and slippers at school, drank hot cocoa with marshmallows, and watched the 'Polar Express' movie. The hot cocoa was evident on Sage's face as he descended the stairs of the bus. Yesterday he was lamenting having to drink hot cocoa, stating he did not like it. The chocolate around his mouth today stated otherwise.

sagey bear

Whilst I normally would not allow my children to go out in public in their pajamas, this was a case where I gave in for the sake of the holiday celebration at school. Sage wore his blue striped pajamas with a polar bear on his pajama top whilst his sister donned pink striped pajamas with a penguin on the her pajama top. Both children were excited to spend the day in their pajamas and watch the movie at school.

cinnamon penguin

When Sage and Cinnamon came home today, they ran to their advent calendars. That is, after washing their hands and changing clothes. Earlier in the day when I spoke with Saffron on Skype, she informed me the Playmobil calendar was actually for Cinnamon whilst the Lego Friends calendar was for Sage. I questioned the girl Legos for Sage. Saffron stated the only other option was Star Wars and she knew her brother did not like Star Wars.

So, the children continued to open up a few more windows on the boxes today. Normally they would open one a day but since we received the calendars late and due to the fact the children are at my place every other week, the process was accelerated.

I recall every Christmas all three children would sit at the bar at the old place and open up a tiny drawer on their wooden advent train which Oma sent them. Inside would be three pieces of chocolates or candies, one for each of them. Usually this would be gummy letters or bears, Christmas M&Ms, and marzipan. I'm not sure if they are continuing this tradition at their old place as the train is no longer in my possession.

Tradition is important, especially this time of year. This year things are different as the children are spending Christmas at their father's place then coming to my place the evening of the 25th as their father leaves on a trip to Berlin to see our older daughter Saffron. She is greatly looking forward to spending quality time with her father as she has not seen him since August. Christmas in Berlin is a wonderful experience.

I look forward to this time next year. To having all three children and my boyfriend gathered at the dinner table for Christmas dinner. To having a dining table with chairs instead of sitting on the floor at my small coffee table. To creating new traditions in our new family and not having to spend the holidays alone. To starting a new life with my boyfriend who is thinking of moving to the States since I am not able to move to Ireland just yet. Next year will be an interesting year for us all. 

BEING THERE

sage playmobil advent

Sage looked around the room and amongst all of the parents to find a face he recognised. I waved to him but he did not see me at first. I was worried he would think nobody thought his singing program by the school Christmas tree downstairs in the entrance was important. As soon as he found me in the audience, his eyes lit up and a smile came across his face. He blew kisses my way.

The program lasted a mere half hour with the three kindergarten classes taking turns singing various Christmas songs. It was not a large production as the one we were used to attending at their private school last year but meant just as much to the children who took part in it. It appeared most parents were able to make it and I am sure the children appreciated the fact their parents took the short time out of their day to come see them sing.

Sometimes we think it is not important to go to certain school events. We think the children will not notice if we are not there. At that point, we need to put ourselves in the place of our children and wonder how we would feel if we stood there looking out into the crowd and feeling the disappointment of not seeing a loving face amongst the group of strangers.

christmas singing sage

When we walked into the house after Seena's swimming lesson, both Seena and Sage requested my being by their side as they opened the boxes of the advent calendars sent to them by their sister and Oma from Germany. Sage's advent calendar was one from Playmobil whilst Seena's was from Lego Friends.

Since the package arrived from Germany after I had already left for Ireland, the children had plenty of windows to open on the boxes. Sage opened ten windows and Seena put together the contents of eight windows. They did not request my help with putting the pieces together, although I offered several times. The only thing they wanted, Sage in particular, was for me to be there as they opened the windows and assembled the pieces.

Being there is important for both children and adults. Taking time to sit down to dinner or setting the alarm half an hour earlier to eat breakfast with your significant other before children awaken has a meaning greater than any purchased gift. 

Sometimes we tend to overthink gift giving this time of year. We believe spending more and giving more is what others want but fail to realise the importance of simplicity. We get caught up in crossing people off a list and often put unnecessary stress on ourselves and family when we are unable to find a suitable gift.

The gift of time is the most precious gift we can give. Time taken to bake cookies to give as gifts. Time taken to sit by the fireplace and read a book or two to the children. Time taken to simply sit and listen.

kids advent calendars

Friday is the last day of school for this year before the holiday break. It is also a time for the last party of the year at school. My children are excited about this day and look forward to seeing me there. I'm excited to see what they have been working on in class as a gift to the parents. Sage's party is first, followed by Seena's. Simply being there for the children is what is most important.

THE RETURN

december tree

We waited on the tarmac forty minutes as the pilot tried to get someone to open the plane doors. Or was it the gate. I am not sure as I listened to the pilot apologise to us passengers more than once, stating he had never experienced this type of incident. Red tape, no doubt.

The flight arrived early in Austin. It was scheduled to arrive at 18 minutes past midnight. However, we landed 20 minutes prior to midnight. There were people milling about on the tarmac but no one was authorised to approach the JetBlue plane. 'No one would touch the plane' as the pilot put it.

As soon as the doors were open, we all rushed outside eager to get home. The luggage carousel had stopped rotating and bags were already piled up ready to be claimed by its owners. I wondered why the luggage made it out of the plane before we humans did.

Grabbing my small red duffle bag, I walked outside and stood in line for the shuttle to take me to the long-term parking lot. I noticed the air was warmer than in Ireland. I almost missed the cold and rain. Putting my bag and backpack in the trunk, I sat in the car and was relieved to be off the plane and on my way home.

In a way, I also dreaded the return home. Albeit I looked forward to seeing my son and middle daughter, I knew they would be gone by the time the weekend arrived and I would be alone once again. I also realised the oldest was not there and the dynamic is now different. The three children have always been together since birth but these past few months have been quite the change and things will change again when she returns in February.

The return feels different this time. On previous returns from Ireland, I would get anxious and busy myself with packing and repacking the night before. This time was different. I felt as if I was leaving one home to go back to another somewhat temporary home. I even left a few items of clothing in Ireland along with all of the spices, sugars, and other baking supplies I brought with me. I would need them for my next visit.

It was 1,30 when I arrived home. After a much welcomed hot shower, I spoke with my boyfriend via Skype. It was only 8,00h his time - an hour earlier than he usually awakens - but he was willing to take time to talk before I went to bed. Afterwards, I went back to sleep and awoke a few hours later for a brief talk on Skype again before he left for work. Then it was more sleep for me.

The hours passed as I continued to sleep until 10,30h. I needed to restock my refrigerator and get ready for cooking this week when my children will be here. Milk, fruit, veggies, and salmon were items on my list - the list in my mind as I did not take the time to write anything down. The trips to my two grocery stores of choice took half of the afternoon as I live quite the distance from city centre.

There is something about December which makes it more fun to spend time in the kitchen baking and cooking. I look forward to baking bread, cookies, brownies, and other treats for my children to eat. Filling the house with warmth from the oven and the aromas of Christmas is more enjoyable when there is someone there to share it with you. 

DEPARTURE FROM EMERALD ISLE

IMG_9405-1-2.jpg

'I had a wife. She ran away...with a priest...'

I listened as the old man in the aisle across from me and a row behind me spoke to the lady behind me. He was telling her how he has lived in New York for the past 45 years, had a wife, and has a home in Limerick and another one somewhere else, I think I heard him say.

This morning's departure from Ennis came later than my usual 9am flights. This meant we got to sleep in three hours longer. It also meant flying through JFK and waiting seven hours until my flight to Austin. Despite the long wait, it was worth it.

The Aer Lingus plane was nearly empty. The flight attendants shifted passengers around so everyone had a row to themselves. Even then the plane had many vacant seats. The flight lasted six hours and 40 minutes - an hour longer than the flight to Ireland.

Searching for flights for my February trip, I noticed there were no flights with Aer Lingus flying from Austin. I asked the agent at the Shannon airport why this was the case and she informed me flights during the first three months of the year were suspended from Austin due to the two planes' 12-week maintenance during that time. In this case, I will need to fly with United Airlines.

As I searched for something to eat at the JFK airport, I recalled last night's dinner. A most wonderful meal we ate together. He made filet steak for himself and salmon for me. He also made mashed potatoes and steamed carrots then served everything with sliced fresh cucumbers and baby tomatoes. Everything was plated beautifully. For dessert, we ate the yogurt cake I baked the day before. Afterwards, we watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset - two films by director Richard Linklater. Even if we had eaten bread with cheese, the simple act of eating a meal together is most important.

Sometimes we take for granted the simple things in life. The everyday things such as someone taking the time to make a meal for you and taking the time sit with you to eat the meal together. Lighting some tealight candles for a relaxing atmosphere or taking a walk together out in the cold winter night are other little things which we tend to remember most.

 

THE NINTH DAY

red wall white tree

The last day of my stay here is the last of this year. There are certain feelings which both of us experience as we know this dreaded day has come. Words often are left unspoken. It might appear at times one of us is upset, but it is not the case. Having to leave again is the part upsetting us both and realising our being together proves more of a challenge for us than other couples.

I joined him on the couch for his Liverpool game. Soccer, or football as they call it here, is something I can watch. I know I can never be with someone who is an American football fan. American football and baseball are two sports I have never been able to get into. I realise it makes me very un-American but I was raised Croatian and did not grow up being exposed to typical American sports. I fondly remember my father watching soccer, tennis, and ice hockey.

We took a walk after the game as I looked for something new to photograph. White bare trees against a reddish coloured wall was a pleasant find. The streets were crowded with seemingly everyone in town out for a day of shopping and eating out. The street Christmas lights were lit and a happy feeling filled the air. Happy but not happy in our case. The last day is never long enough and we already plan for things to do on our next visit.

There was another game playing in the background as he prepared dinner. At one point I asked him why the players were allowed to grab the shirts of other players and push each other out of the way to take the soccer ball. I likened it to how kids fight over the ball as they play. He tried explaining that rules are sometimes lax in big games as the English Premier League. I'm still learning.

A quiet day at home together is something we need at times.

 

 

WEEKEND MUSINGS

ennis bw

'My phone!' I exclaimed as I searched my coat pockets and watched as the taxi drove away. It was missing from my pocket. I was emailing myself a reminder on the way back from our friends' house last night - or rather early this morning - and my hand must have slipped outside the pocket, the phone dropping onto the seat.

As soon as he realised what had happened, he ran after the taxi. Thankfully, the driver parked to wait for another fare or to rest. Regardless of the reason, I am glad the phone was retrieved as this has never before happened to me. I am so grateful my boyfriend ran as fast as he could.

We skipped the big breakfast this morning. I opted for one of the chocolate chip cookies I made yesterday and the rest of the cookies I packaged up for him to take to work.

When it came time to leave for him to leave for work, we walked out together and parted ways by the coffeehouse. My coffeehouse visits would be coming to an end soon - at least until I return next year. I chatted with the guy at the coffeehouse telling him how I made cookies and cake yesterday. He said my boyfriend was very lucky. I am lucky as well. He then suggested a new scone, cinnamon and apple, which I ordered with my cappuccino.

After the coffeehouse, I walked through the home section of Dunnes. Large stores like Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma do not exist in a town this size but it also is not necessary. America is the land of consumerism and we tend to get used to it. To the buying of things we oftentimes do not need but somehow feel we must have.

I had been eyeing the strands of Christmas lights - which are called 'fairy lights' here in Ireland - and finally bought a strand for the flat. I had an idea to pin the lights to the wall in the shape of a Christmas tree but soon realised the push pins I bought were too weak for the cement walls. I ended up simply hanging them over a themostat on the wall. I wished to have a Christmas feel to the place even though we would not be celebrating together this year.

The kitchen saw much of me today as I attempted to bake challah bread with a different type of yeast than I am used to in the States. The amount of this one might have been a bit too much as the bread was huge. Then again, it could simply have been the smaller oven making everything appear larger.

While the dough was rising, I measured out the ingredients for the yogurt cake. I also spoke with my daughter Saffron for a while. At first she told me to tell me about my day. Then when I started to, she advised me not to say too much as she would read it online later. She also stated she prefers to look at the photographs more than reading the 'thousands of words' as she put it.

Before my return to the flat, I walked around town for a short while and found a few photographs to make. Bare trees are one of my favourite subjects to photograph..

bw bare tree

At any given time, one can find something interesting to photograph. I will seek out more in February.

FRIDAY WANDERINGS

river fergus

This time last week I was sitting on a plane making my way here to Ennis, Ireland. Albeit it's only been a week, it feels as if it has been much longer. Sadly, I am aware of the fact I must get on a plane Monday around noon leaving my home in Ireland for my journey back to my home in the States.

The sun made an appearance a few times today. Noticing clear skies shortly before I left the flat, it took a mere two minutes before I felt water droplets from the sky. I had intended on searching for postcards but changed plans as soon as the rain started falling harder.

The closest place to hide from the rain was the Suas Coffeehouse. Three people were already gathered in the doorway downstairs, escaping the rain as well. I walked up the stairs and sat at the table by the corner window and was glad the place was not crowded.  

There were two other customers already occupying other tables. I ordered what has now become my usual - a cappuccino and a fruit scone - and watched the rain outside. As I finished the last bite of my scone, I noticed the rain had stopped. I put on my scarf and jacket and paid on the way out.

The search for postcards from Ennis turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. I found two shops carrying postcards from Ireland. I wanted something from Ennis but the three postcards I found at one shop was nothing I would want to receive much less send to anyone. Perhaps I will make my own as I take photographs around town and send them the next time I return to Ennis in February.

After my search for postcards, I returned home to remake my recipe for spiced chocolate chip cookies. The cookies I made a few days ago contained dark muscovado sugar instead of the light muscovado sugar with a less intense molasses flavour. Whilst the cookies were baking, I contacted a friend I hadn't seen since earlier this year. I took a few of the cookies to her place and was glad I did not get lost on my way there.

When I returned home it was still early enough to where I could bake something else before my boyfriend arrived home from work. I decided on a small lemon poppy seed cake which we will take with us tonight when we visit some other friends later tonight.

RAIN TO NO END

town lights

He wanted me to grab my camera as he summoned me to the kitchen window. 'I thought you might want to take a picture of this' I heard him say. It was almost 1,30 in the morning and we were still awake, taking advantage of the time we had after his late return home from work.

He opened the window. It was incredibly cold but so wonderful and thoughtful of him to consider my love of photography. The lights in the distance were beautiful. I took the photo and he closed the window.

The Christmas lights were lit this evening as I returned from a short walk outside. I waited all day for the rain to end, but there was no end other than the few minutes in between the next rain. I walked over to his work to say hi. He was dressed in his black chef's uniform as he stepped outside the kitchen. Even time for a brief hello and a kiss meant everything to me.

bookstore alley

As limited as our time is on the days he works, I appreciate the moments he takes for the little things. Last night he did not need to eat dinner with me as he had already eaten at work, but he sat down and kept me company. We ate the lentil soup with mashed potatoes I made.

ennis christmas lights

The rain today kept me indoors most of the day. I'm hoping tomorrow I can venture outdoors and purchase those postcards I plan on sending out.


YES, MONICA

full rainbow

Sleet was ever present throughout the day and mostly whilst I was out and about gathering supplies and food. After breakfast, we walked out together and went our separate ways - he to work, me to the coffeehouse.

I intended to have my usual cappuccino and a fruit scone but ended up having potato leek soup before my usual two. I wondered how different the soup would taste from the one I made the other day. I also keep wondering why soups in Ireland are always pureed. I noticed a hint of broccoli in this potato leek soup but it was not bad. Still, I prefer seeing the vegetables I eat.

As I sat awaiting my cappuccino, I noticed the sleet and thought I saw a few flakes of snow. I'm sure it was merely sleet, but I wished I would see snow here as there is no hope for snow back home in Texas. Christmas without snow simply does not seem like a real Christmas. Then again, a Christmas alone is not the same as spending it with someone special and I believe this will be the last time my boyfriend and I will spend Christmas alone.

After my lunch, I headed to find the restaurant supply store which was somewhere 'on top of a hill'. The rain followed me wherever I went as did the wind. I walked past Aldi and saw what might be considered a hill and a business park. Walking further up the road, I noticed the bar supply shop but arrived during their lunch break. I was curious as to whether they carried a higher quality baking sheet than the ones I found everywhere else I looked.

I decided to walk around until the shop reopened after their lunch break. I walked back down the 'hill' and past the Fergus River. I stopped to photograph it until the sleet and wind started up again. At one point I relived a 'movie moment'. The one where I was walking along the road and a car drove by and through a puddle which then splashed all over the left side of me and onto my camera. Cold and now wet, I turned around and walked to Aldi where I bought cheese for tomorrow's breakfast. I also managed to find fresh thyme sprigs.

When I walked outside and looked up, I saw a faint rainbow spanning the sky. I was glad to have been able to capture it as it disappeared within two minutes. Back up the hill at the bar supply shop, I was ten minutes early but managed to arrive just as the owners were returning from lunch. I asked if they had cookie sheets. They did, but industrial-sized ones. I decided I would have to settle for the dark non-stick ones I saw at Dunnes - which was nothing close to the Vollrath cookie sheets I have back home.

The rest of the afternoon I spent gathering cleaning supplies for the kitchen and some more food such as the small lentils for the lentil soup I made for dinner. I even managed to find some tiny red roses which were on sale and put all but one in the living room. The lone one I placed on a shelf in the bathroom. I could hear a delighted laughter from him as he noticed the rose upon walking in the bathroom.

Incense, charcoal, and copal resin were other supplies I found at a specialty store - the name of which had 'angel' in it. The metal incense burner has an elephant on it. Something I know my son would love. As I burned the copal resin, the small living room filled up with smoke and lingered for hours with a pleasant smell.

When my boyfriend arrived home from work sometime around 22h, I had my hands covered in sugar as I was testing a new spiced chocolate chip cookie recipe. I also had potatoes cooking on the stove for mashed potatoes.

When I started to mash the potatoes and add the butter to the pot, he came into the kitchen to advise me on adding the cream. I started to say 'I know' when he then immediately said 'Yes, Monica' - referring to Monica on Friends and her dominance in the kitchen.

The first day alone in 'our' new place and already looking forward to tomorrow and what interesting things I will do - to my boyfriend's surprise.

NIGHT TREE

night tree

Six am. Wide awake and cannot sleep. He comes up with the crazy idea of taking a walk at 6am. The streets are empty. Andy's bakery has a car parked outside and two people are busy in the back baking bread for this popular Polish bakery just around the corner from my boyfriend's flat.

My boyfriend suggests I take my camera for some early morning shots. It turned out to be a good idea. The Christmas displays were beautiful.

It's nice to have someone notice your interests and encourage them.

christmas window 6am

The early morning was peaceful. Not a soul in sight...at least for a while. After almost an hour, we return home and try sleeping again. But not before bouts of uncontrollable laughter. If someone can make you laugh and smile...well, that is the best combination. Thankfully, it was successful as I was asleep until 10am.

Day four of my trip albeit it seems as if I've been here forever. Or at least have never left. Later that afternoon we agree to meet as Suas Coffeehouse. A memorable afternoon. I asked for the coffee to be made extra hot.

He arrived a few minutes after I sat down and ordered our coffees - a cappuccino for me and a latte for him. And another fruit scone. I've come to enjoy sitting by the window. Talking and more talking and............... yes.

old ground 6am

A memorable day before he returns to work tomorrow.

GUINNESS AND A CAPPUCCINO

suas coffeehouse

Making the most of every second we have together is the challenge of any long-distance relationship. In the case of a transatlantic relationship, the time spent together becomes even more precious as the minutes until departure are counting down.

Today was day three of my nine-day trip. Another long morning spent sleeping in, waking up for a few minutes, then going back to a dream state until near noon. More lounging on the couch and watching Friends - the last episodes before the series finished. Although I've watched this show all the years it aired, I find it is one of the few television shows I can watch without tiring of it. I Love Lucy is another of those shows.

Once again I enjoyed a lovely and healthy breakfast made by him. I am sure I have eaten more vegetables in my three days being here than I have in a month at home in the States. A meal is always more enjoyable when we have someone to share it with and more so when someone else prepares it for you. I realise I'm spoiled now and will go back to making my own meals next week. For now, I will enjoy it.

We ventured outside in the early afternoon. Our first stop was Open Sesame across the street, albeit I'm more inclined to call Parnell Street a streetlet instead of a street. Open Sesame is a small natural food store where I found organic plain flour, yeast, and dark muscovado sugar for both bread and cookies I plan on baking this week.  

The search for a suitable baking sheet was fruitless as we were unable to find anything which was not non-stick or dark in colour. Tomorrow we will try a restaurant supply store and hope to find something there. I have my mind set on making spiced chocolate chip cookies and have brought with me all of the spices and chocolate chips needed for my recipe.

Instead of returning home, we decided to walk around the town. Ennis is a small enough town to where you are bound to walk into someone you know anytime you venture outside. In the handful of times I've been here, I already know more people than I do back in the States.

The decision we pondered as we walked along the street was stopping for a pint of Guinness at Knox's or coffee at Suas Coffeehouse. We decided on a pint at Knox's first. I have come to know two people who work there and one was there today serving us our beer.

ennis bookshop

After the Guinness, we walked up the street to Suas Coffeehouse where we were able to sit at the coveted corner window spot. The cappuccino I ordered was delicious and the company was the best part of my time there. Being able to sit down for a coffee and enjoy each other's company whilst foregoing any technological distractions is time well spent.

ennis centre

Quality time these days seems difficult to come by. Often when we are out with friends or family most people are bound to have their heads buried in their iDevices, occasionally casting a glance your way. Gone is the time when people were satisfied to simply enjoy each other's company.

Prior to our relaxing dinner at home, I spoke with Saffron. She was in a silly mood and had fun with her heart-shaped stamp pen which she used to stamp the entire length of her left arm. She even went on to stamp parts of her face. I wonder how easy that will be to wash off and am reminded of the time the three children used Sharpies to draw all over their bodies.

The days we have together here in Ireland are limited but all we have this December. Soon we will return to our daily emails, texts, and waiting for the evening to see each other on Skype. For now we will cherish the seconds we have left.

CAREFREE SUNDAY

suas window

A rainy Sunday spent sleeping in until sometime around 8am. Or was it 9am. I am not sure of the exact time as time is not of the essence when you are on vacation. I know it was well before noon as we were sitting and eating breakfast by 10am.

Breakfast is a wonderful experience when you are lucky enough to have someone else prepare it for you. But more so when you get to share the meal with that someone else - my boyfriend in this case. It was simple yet delicious. A sunny-side up egg, yellow bell peppers, radishes, cucumbers, baby tomatoes with feta, sliced cheese, and French bread. There were so many vegetables that I might have even left one out.

We ate on the couch whilst watching Friends. Many episodes until the soccer game came on. Later in the day we walked the three or so minutes to Dunnes Stores for leeks and other provisions. I was to make potato and leek soup for a late lunch. After leaving the store, we went our separate ways for half an hour. He returned to the flat to watch the game and I walked over to Suas Coffeehouse for a flat white and a fruit scone.

The guy at the coffeehouse recognised me from before. 'Oh, you've been away' he commented as I walked in. I told him 'yes, and I am back for nine days this time'. The place is small but was crowded today. I waited for a table by the window so I could photograph the scenery outdoors from the top floor.

The table was one for four people and I knew I would have to relinquish it at one point if more people showed up. I took my photograph and ordered my coffee and scone before having to move to a smaller table. Sundays are busy but the weather was much better suited to stay indoors and enjoy a cup of coffee.

I returned to the flat and started to chop the leeks and onions for the soup. My boyfriend was still tired, not having slept much the days before I arrived. He was happy to see me and glad I was going to make some food for us. He wanted to help but I replied that I know how to cook. 'Monica' he said - referencing my previous statement about my being similar to Monica on Friends, especially when it comes to the kitchen.

He watched another soccer game whilst I prepared the soup. After it was cooked, we returned to the store for wine and fruit for dinner. It was raining, cold, and windy when we left but it stopped raining on our way back home.

As he started dinner preparations, I spoke with Saffron on Skype. She is still in Berlin and has another two months until she returns home. At one point she had to eat dinner but called back afterwards. I prepared the sea bass for dinner, chopping garlic and slicing lemons, and placed all in parchment paper along with salt and urfa red chilies.

My boyfriend prepared the baby potatoes with sliced onions and his dinner of lamb cutlets. At the moment I am taking a break from eating meat - other than fish, which I do consider meat.  We drank the Valpolicella wine despite it having tasted as if it was watered down.

We ate our lovely dinner as we watched Groundhog Day. My daughter commented on how boring the movie is when I told her what was on the television in the background as we talked. She said everything happens over and over again. It's true but it is a great movie nonetheless.

I am grateful for my boyfriend's boss having been so generous in letting him have time off work for the first four days of my visit. I enjoyed yesterday's time at Knox's watching the Liverpool game and drinking a pint of Guinness. Today's carefree Sunday was also memorable.

IRISH JESUS

ennis centre

'Why did you piss her off' he asked.

'What do you mean?

'She walked by a few times asking you to put away your laptop before takeoff' he continued.

I explained to my seatmate how I needed to finish the last few words of my post before the plane took off. He seemed to understand and the conversation took off from there.

He took notice of the empty seat in between us and stated one of us could use it to sleep over two seats. I said he could have it as I could not sleep on flights. He stated he also couldn't sleep on planes but he would try.

We spent most of the 5 1/2 hour flight talking about everything and nothing. He told me he is Irish and was on his way to visit family in Galway. He went on to tell me he moved to the States thirty years ago, residing in New York, and has a wife and two kids - a girl and a boy.

His wife gave him the trip as a combination birthday/Christmas present to go see his aging parents. His wife's mother has just suffered a heart attack so she wanted her husband to take advantage of the time still available whilst his parents were still well. I thought it was a lovely gesture and a beautiful gift.

Albeit Irish, I was able to understand my seatmate. At one point he asked me if I understood what he was saying. 'Yes', I replied. He commented on having difficulty at times understanding the native Irish as he had been away from his country for many decades. I told him I found it difficult to understand some Irish people.

Listening to Irish people speak is at times akin to hearing a language you've studied in school but one where you have to pay really close attention to. You need to have focus. Even then I sometimes could not make out what they were saying.

The drink cart passed our way and he ordered Jameson for himself and asked me if I'd like one as well. I told him I would try one but was not fond of hard liquors in general. I placed the drink on my sloping tray and sipped on it for a while.

Dinner was being served and the choices were chicken curry or beef shepherd's pie. I inquired about a vegetarian option but was informed the choice needed to be selected at time of ticket booking. I denied a meal whilst my seatmate chose the chicken curry.

He looked at me and asked why I didn't simply get any option, that I would be hungry later, and I had already paid for it. He also said if I get the beef option, I could give him the main dish and he would give me everything else. I agreed and we swapped out foods. As we were doing so, I managed to knock over the last few sips of my whiskey onto my lap. I didn't give it too much though and continued with my salad, bread, and cheese dinner.

I must have been hungrier than I'd believed as the guy looked over at me commenting on the fact I had not yet put down my fork. I had not eaten much that day and was hungry for something other than the two bags of M&Ms I consumed. The woman at the Austin airport convinced me to get the larger bag as it was the same price. Good point, but that meant eating much more of a candy I rarely ate in the first place.

After dinner, we continued to talk some more. I told him I was going to see my boyfriend for eleven days and how we are dating across the ocean. He inquired as to how often we speak. I told him every day via email, Skype, and texting. Not a day goes by without our talking with each other. I showed him photos of my three children, told him about making challah bread, and chatted as if we had been old friends catching up. I asked him what he did for a living. 'I'm a carpenter' he replied.

We arrived in Shannon an hour earlier than planned this morning. He gathered his bag and went ahead of me whilst I stayed to place my laptop in my backpack. I was not in a hurry because my boyfriend wasn't arriving until 6am. As I exited the plane, I noticed my seatmate standing at the doors. He told me he wanted to wait for me to tell me goodbye. It reminded me of another situation in Dublin after the concert.

At the baggage carousel, I found my little red duffle bag and said goodbye to the guy. He shook my hand, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and said maybe we'd see each other again one day in the future. The Irish are friendly people indeed.

As I walked away, I realized we had never exchanged names albeit he might have caught a glimpse of mine as I showed him the photos of the front side of my moo contact cards. All I knew was he was Irish and a carpenter living in New York. To me he would be known as Irish Jesus.

 

FLIGHT DAY

airplane wing

'It's a book!' I exclaimed as the agent proceeded to take my Before I Go To Sleep book out of its plastic Ziploc bag. I first made her change her gloves after informing her I have a dirt phobia. I'm no Howard Hughes but I like my books and other items to stay as clean as possible. Everything in my travel camera bag is separated into smaller Ziploc bags for ease of access as well. I then asked her if I could remove the contents of my bag. I could not.

I am sure she was able to sense my annoyance with the procedure. I am also sure she did not like my asking her why she needed to dismantle my bag. 'It's on a need to know basis' was her reply. Well, I need to know why you think a book is a weapon, I thought. Afterwards, I walked over to a shop and lamented the book search to the store clerk. She offered an insightful reason that someone might cut out the inner part of the book and store something dangerous in it. It made sense. I've seen this in movies but the thought never occurred to me, especially in a carry-on.

On the entire flight to New York I watched the Food Network channel. I watched the last three or four episodes of the Chopped Teen Tournament. I was astounded at the dedication and focus the teenagers exhibited in addition to the meals they created. One 16-year old girl stood out as I heard her describe her difficult life growing up in a split family - her parents having divorced when she was 3 years of age. She went on to explain having to spend alternating weeks with each parent. It reminded me of my children and their having to go through a similar experience.

Most memorable of what the girl said in regards to her life growing up was about never having seen how love in a relationship works. This is what I hope is different in my children's case. My hope is that with the new relationships of both us parents my children will learn about love. As a young teen, Sequoia was wise beyond her years. She went on to say we are not a product of our circumstances and life is what you make it. 'Take any obstacle that you get, get over it, and move on' - wise words from Sequoia.

I am aboard the Aer LIngus flight now getting ready to take off. There are no power cords for my laptop albeit Wi-Fi is available for purchase. As I entered the plane, I was confused as to why I had to show my boarding pass again seeing how I just had it checked by the agent. The attendant looked on the pass and informed me of the location of my seat. Once again I was confused as I can clearly see the letters and numbers and 13A was close to the entrance. No worries as I am on my way to Shannon - only 5 1/2 hours away.

ELEVENTH HOUR

hugging siblings

'Let me understand you...you want red but not red' asked the hairdresser as I sat in the chair wondering if I should keep attempting to get the red I want without having to go to extremes. Trying to recreate the red I had a dozen years ago has been unsuccessful but not at the fault of any hairdresser.

My mistake last year was to choose a dark chocolate brown as the first colour to touch my hair which had not been coloured for over ten years and then request red the next time and the next several times after that. The fact red fades ever so quickly also solidified my choice today of something different. In a way it is red but not red. Mostly not red though. I'd say more of a chocolate brown with red showing through. Regardless, I'm happy with it.

I spent an hour in traffic this morning going to the hair salon where it ordinarily would have taken 15 minutes. I have encountered traffic in Austin several times but try to avoid it if at all possible. And it is getting worse as the years move on albeit nowhere near as bad as the traffic on 405 and 110 in Southern California. As such, I spent the greater part of the day driving around, sitting in traffic, and hoping nobody hit my car as the few sprinkles of water from above seems to wreak havoc to residents of this state.

After the colour and cut, I was on my way to do all those little things which needed doing - those things left undone until the eleventh hour. Such as packing. The act of placing items in a suitcase or backpack take no longer than half an hour. It is the thinking of what to take which might take a while longer.

A list is helpful in such cases - if one takes the time to write one. As long as I have my camera, laptop, pens, journal, a book, and iDevices, I reason all else is simply a matter of tossing in a pair of black leggings, two sweaters, and the essential underclothing. And a warm coat. Not much else is needed.

seena girl

I had one more stop to make after the children came home on the bus. But not before making a few photos of them. Sage pretended his sister was a horse. She gladly obliged as they walked around the front yard whilst Sage held onto her shoulders. It is precisely these moments we tend to forget - unless we take a moment to preserve them on camera.

playing horsey

After a few minutes of play, they climbed into the minivan and we drove to the gym where I signed them up for three days of holiday camp during their winter break. They were overjoyed to get to go this time as they will have other children to play with. I plan on taking time to read whilst they play and bake some cookies for them to enjoy when they return home in the evening.

Sometimes waiting until the eleventh hour to do something can result in more being done under the sense of urgency. It might not be the case in every situation as this 'technique' works for some but not others. That surge of adrenaline can be pretty persuasive.

Sleep can wait a little while longer as it is something I will do once I arrive in Ennis on Saturday. For now, I look forward to getting to the airport tomorrow morning without incident.

PRESUMPTION

seena haircut towel

I heard music coming from the locker next to mine. At least it is how it appeared to me as the music overhead was competing with the faint sounds I heard coming from elsewhere. As I placed my zippered jacket on the hook and took the water out of my purse, I couldn't help wonder where exactly the source of the other music was. 

A conversation then ensued between what I thought were two people - a mother and her young daughter perhaps. The mother instructing the daughter to be quiet. The music I heard once again. It was not coming from the locker next to mine, rather from the dressing room behind me where I heard talking.

A lady opened the dressing room door, her hair still wet from the shower she took after her workout. She was still talking whilst holding a device playing music. The headphones were nowhere in sight. I looked for the other person but could not see anyone else emerge from the dressing room.

She must have sensed my confusion and promptly apologised. 'I'm sorry for my speech impediment', she said. I didn't know what to say but felt a desire to connect with her somehow - to engage in conversation. 'My son also has a speech impediment' I heard myself saying. He does, it was not a lie, and he is getting help at school for it.

'Oh, does he also have ADHD with Aspergers?' she continued. I wasn't sure I'd ever heard of both conditions applying to a person at the same time. I went on to explain my son has trouble speaking words clearly, most likely due to the confusion of sounds from having grown up with three different languages. At least that is what I believe is the case. She told me I should have it checked out.

'My oldest has dyslexia' I offered further, wanting to continue talking with her. It is true. She was diagnosed with dyslexia in Germany in the past month. The lady informed me that her 30-year old brother was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was younger but got help and has graduated college. She went on to instruct me to get help for my daughter as well.

I found myself fascinated with this lady's story and wanted to know more. However, I did not wish to appear rude or nosy. I am guessing she has had her share of people presuming something which was far from the truth based solely on the initial encounter. I closed my locker and grabbed the bottle of water I brought with me along with my headphones attached to my little iPod shuffle. 'It was nice to meet you' I stated as I walked away. And it really was.

sage haircut diptych

Such is the case with humans in general. We make assumptions based on someone's look - how they dress, how they style their hair, and how they choose to accessorize - if at all. Rarely do we stop to put ourselves in their shoes and wonder how or what they think. We all have a story, some perhaps more interesting than others but each unique nonetheless.

All three of my children are unique in their own way. Saffron is great at drawing but not math, Cinnamon excels at math and reading, and Sage is the builder with his focus on precision. One is in no way better than the others as they are each their own person - something which could be seen today during their time at the hair salon for long overdue haircuts. Sage insisted Lauren cut his hair shorter. 'More', he kept saying. Seena as was happy to have her hair straightened and smooth but wishes to have her hair longer.

Encouraging their strengths, instead of focusing on their shortcomings, should be our goal as parents without presumptions of any kind. It is something we should be doing every day and not waiting for that 'perfect' moment in the future.

seena haircut diptych

The future is a gift and one we should cherish when it arrives in the form of the present day. When we learn to appreciate today instead of always longing for tomorrow, our lives will be more fulfilled.

REBUILDING

seena fox

'Are you going to marry [him]?'. The words which came out of my son's mouth as I lay next to him tonight surprised me.

'Why do you ask?' I responded.

'Why are you asking me that?' Sage replied. I then asked him if he wanted me to marry my boyfriend. I heard an enthusiastic 'yes' coming from a short distance away as Seena voiced her answer. A few seconds later I looked at my son nodding with approval with his eyes so big and a smile on his face before his answer of 'yes!'.

The two younger children have been introduced to my boyfriend over the past few weeks via Skype in a slow manner. At first it was a brief 'hello'. Later they would walk into my room, seemingly as an excuse, to catch a glance at the person who was responsible for the laughter coming from within. It will be Saffron's turn on Saturday to meet him via Skype when I arrive in Ireland.

Tonight was somewhat different. The children lingered a while longer and expressed their desire to teach him things. Seena wants to teach him how to draw a fox and an owl whilst Sage wants to teach him how to build large puzzles. The fairy puzzle, to be exact - a 1000-piece Ravensburger puzzle entitled 'Sanctuary of Knowledge', with books and tiny fairies throughout and one we have yet to open.

sage 500 puzzle

This talk of marriage came up a few weeks ago when my oldest informed me her father told her I would marry my boyfriend. Although I did mention to him it was serious, I never mentioned marriage nor had a desire at that time to get remarried again. Neither did my boyfriend. And if I did, I would have preferred Saffron to hear it from me first. But that was then and I am sensing the children's desire for a whole family. Perhaps the third time's the charm.

Sage again mentioned tonight his desire to go to Ireland to see him. When I asked my son 'why', he replied 'I told you before'. Before, his answer had to do with having 'two grownups' to be around. He then asked me if my boyfriend has puzzles and toys at his place. He went on to clarify he didn't want a lot of toys. He simply wanted a new puzzle, one he had never seen before.

The discussion tonight, as I lingered longer than usual at their beds, became interesting. Seena went on to list the roles of the members of our blended families. She listed me and her father as her parents, her father's girlfriend as her stepmother, my boyfriend as her stepfather, and the two boys of the girlfriend as her stepbrothers. She inquired as to any children my boyfriend has and I informed her they were already teenagers. She seemed a bit disappointed as she stated she wished they were her age so she could play with them.

I cannot begin to imagine what goes on in the minds of my three children in regards to this rebuilding of families. I tell them they now have more people to love them. I remember coming across an article saying it is better for children to grow up in a home where parents are no longer together than to live with the constant stress of parents fighting and staying solely for the sake of keeping a family together.

Children sense when something is wrong. We as parents are models to our children. As such, if they grow up seeing us constantly fighting, angry, and unhappy then they will believe it is a normal part of life, of relationships. It affects their future ability to form healthy relationships both in personal and business environments. Whilst some couples might wish to stay together for the sake of the children, this decision can come back to haunt them in later years.

I recall a friend telling me a story of someone she knew who stayed together with her husband in an unhappy marriage until the children were old enough. When the children were finally told the truth, they felt betrayed and hurt, having been lied to for all their lives. Sometimes moving on and rebuilding a family into something which brings happiness to the forefront for both parents is much better than living a lie.

I can almost envision the look on my boyfriend's face and hear the ensuing 'what?!' as he reads these words in the morning as part of his daily routine. Words which came directly from my children as they expressed their desire to accept this man into their lives. It warms my soul and touches my heart to see such acceptance towards someone they have not yet met in person. It also gives me hope that they will grow up knowing how to have loving relationships of their own.

december hearth

ARCTIC DECEMBER

sage cold by pool

December greeted us with a chilling cold this morning. In mere hours, temperatures dropped several degrees. It is as if the weather gods heard my pleas for winter and granted me my wish. From last night's temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) to this morning's 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit), the change was quite surprising. 

The children adjusted quite well, donning their winter coats as we walked to the bus stop. After having a week off from school, they seemed happy to return to the normal schedule and see their friends. During the break, Sage kept asking 'Are we going to school today?'. I had to tell him 'no' but was glad he looked forward to going.

Having once again slept fewer than five hours, I intended to return to bed after seeing the children off on the bus. Instead, I reminded myself of the benefits of consistency and put on my gym clothes and drove to the gym. After my debilitating back injury of the past week, I had to be careful to take it easy lest I risk another injury. We do not realise how much we rely on our backs until problems arise to where we are unable to not only walk but shift from side to side in bed.

Once home, and after a warm shower, I made myself a healthy breakfast. Two sunny side up eggs, baby tomatoes with feta, avocado, green bell peppers, cheese, and the bread I made a few days ago - the one which is near gone. I wonder if I should make another loaf tomorrow or live without bread for the next few days before my trip. Something tells me the children would love some more bread for breakfast. Freshly baked bread is near impossible to turn down.

I had intended to stay home and catch up on some ironing but then thought it could wait another day. I made a trip to Whole Foods for a few items for dinner and a shortened trip to The Domain. Tomorrow requires a return to The Domain as I ran out of time today. I needed to be back at the bus stop by 15:00.

As the children descended the steps of the bus, I asked Seena if she would like to go to swimming. She was reluctant but went anyway. The pool was heated but I would prefer an indoor pool for her lessons. Sage and I waited inside the van as our initial decision to wait by the pool was met with a pole swinging and hitting Sage in the head. It was windy and the mesh screen, held down by poles, became a danger to us both.

Sage took the time in the van to read his book for homework. I asked him what he did today and he went on to explain a game he played with squares and leaves - one requiring a partner, 'two people...not three, only two', he went on to clarify. I realised it was the first time I heard him talk for so long and in depth. I recorded his explanation on my iPhone and he smiled as he watched the video.

seena december pool

As soon as she entered the house, Seena ran upstairs and enjoyed a long hot shower and sang in the meantime. Sage played with some game before turning to a new 500-piece puzzle. He wanted to work on it with me alone - when Seena was at Papa's. However, it appeared he could not wait and I found him with the box open and already sorting the pieces.

sage new puzzle

Dinner was welcomed by the children tonight. Soft tacos which consisted of flour tortillas, refried black beans, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and avocado. Seena requested a third taco, but ended up eating that one much slower than the first two. I was glad their bellies were full this evening.

Tonight's bedtime story was Sage's choice - How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I'm not yet convinced they understood the true meaning, but they enjoyed it nonetheless. After tucking the children in bed, I had time to Skype with my boyfriend. It was already well past midnight his time, but didn't seem to mind. I'm sure it will be easier when I am there in a few days and we do not have the time difference to contend with.

December started out with a great chill just in time for the holidays. I guess it would be too much to ask for snow in Texas though.

NOVEMBER'S END

herb boy spice girl

The last day of November. Another 31 days and the end of the year will soon be upon us. This time of year tends to go by quickly and before we know it, the year's cycle starts once again with the renewal of the spring season.

We made it to the gym this morning after 9am. From the choices available to them, the children chose to spend most of their time in the outside play area. After all, with the temperature at 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit), one would hardly know it was November's end today. I wonder when winter will appear this year, if at all.

On the way back home we stopped by HEB for some baby tomatoes I was craving for breakfast. As we walked around, the children started arguing about some colouring pages they received from a lady at a stand outside the store. I told Cinnamon to take her brother to get some more papers (as the ones he had did not appeal to him) whilst I finished gathering a few more vegetables. I pointed towards the entrance and they were on their way.

After I paid for the grocery items, I noticed the children had still not returned. I searched the aisles but did not see them so I enlisted the help of two store employees who had someone page the children on the store intercom. Without doubt I got that 'look', followed by a smile, when I stated my children's names. The look which says 'those are really their names?'. Within minutes, my little ones were discovered and brought to the checkout section of the store. Cinnamon informed me they were still looking for the entrance door.

Once out the door, we stopped by the stand where a lady handed both children three different colouring papers. Sage was not quick enough to make his last choice so he left unsatisfied and kept insisting we return for another choice. And insist he did as we continued to drive. I put on some music on the way home and eventually he relented.

The children requested Special K cereal for breakfast whilst I enjoyed a plateful of veggies, cheese, and bread. The cereal I bought for a vegetarian casserole (a meatless loaf) I make and one which nobody but Saffron and I eat. Cereal is not something I usually let the children eat - and never the coloured and sugary kind most American children indulge in on a daily basis. On a typical weekday morning, they eat yogurt or bread with almond or peanut butter and honey.

Sunday is normally a day where I would hope we relax and not go anywhere but today was not a normal day. There was no special breakfast and it was a Sunday where the children had scouts. At least they were supposed to have it. Only after having driven half an hour to the place the scouts are held did we find out the leader was ill and there would be no meeting today. I felt we had wasted a perfectly good Sunday waiting for something where we could have better spent the time at home or elsewhere.

I decided we would simply go to the Cherrywood Coffeehouse - a place I usually sit and wait for the children to finish with scouts - and enjoy a coffee and some sort of cake. We sat outside and shared a slice of carrot cake as that was the last slice left. A cortado was my coffee of choice today. On the stage outside, various young children played guitars and sang. The last set was the 'Let It Go' song - with which almost every parent is familiar - sung by two children not much older than my oldest who is eight years old. They played on kid size guitars and played beautifully.

children guitars

We went home shortly thereafter. I went upstairs to grab my camera and asked Cinnamon and Sage to let me make a photo of them. This time Cinnamon had no problem embracing her brother and even kissing him - on the eye at one point. They seemed to be enjoying this silly and fun moment.

kissing

The two played outdoors for a long while until a bee decided to interrupt them. At one point the bee made its way into the house but I managed to catch it in a hat which I threw out the door. Playtime resumed indoors whilst I finally found the time to Skype with my boyfriend. He let me know it was cold there and advised me to bring a warm coat. I told him how warm it was here and wished I was there enjoying a real winter. Five more days.

Dinner was simply fruit and mini pretzels tonight since the children expressed their dislike of any cooked meal I wanted to make. 'Eat what's on the table' is something which will take a while to enforce as I realized too many options existed in previous years. It seems most of us parents these days find it is easier to acquiesce and give them pasta most nights than to enforce a rule most of us grew up with decades ago. Having children experiment with different foods is a better option. How to do that at this point in time is a challenge for both parent and child and something I hope gets easier as the children get older. Nobody ever said parenting was easy, yet somehow we figure things out along the way.