Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmases Old and New

It's hard to believe that after weeks (months?) of anticipation, Christmas has come and gone.  It is my favourite holiday, without question.  I look forward to it each year with a childlike excitement and this year was certainly no exception.  With a three-year-old in the house, the arrival of Santa increased the excitement ten-fold - I'm not sure who was more excited, C or her parents!

I've been pondering on Christmas as we get older.  How it changes - how it has to.  I find myself longing to preserve my family's traditions of Christmases gone by, but that isn't always possible.  When you share a life with someone else, it's important not only to integrate their traditions but to create new traditions of your own.  It can take some time to find that balance and it's something I still struggle with.  I am thankful for a patient and understanding partner in life.

Christmas in America is starkly different to the Irish and English Christmases I grew up with.  Not just with the physical traditions, but in how it feels.  In Ireland (and the UK), Christmas is almost palpable in the air.  When I walk outside on an Irish December day, even the air feels festive - the smell of peat fires and crisp, icy air.  The short days force street lamps and buildings to glow with soft light in the early evenings, homes look so inviting with their Christmas trees twinkling in the windows and chimney's billowing smoke from the cozy fires below.  Christmas lights strung high give the streets a sparkling glow which makes Christmas shopping out in the cold a pleasure rather than a chore.  When your nose and cheeks become crimson with the cold, a dip into a snug little pub for a glass of mulled wine or hot port is just the thing to warm your shivering body from the inside out.
Grafton Street, Dublin - Christmas 2010
Then there's the food.  Mince pies and Christmas puddings are the Irish answer to Christmas cookies.  When Santa visits Ireland he indulges in a mince pie and a glass of sherry, and Christmas morning must begin with a full Irish breakfast to get the day off to a good start. 
Our Full Irish Breakfast from this Christmas morning.
A big, glorious turkey with stuffing, gravy, roasties, and all the sides is as essential and traditional to the Irish population as a turkey on an American Thanksgiving Day.  Christmas crackers are pulled before the feast is begun and paper crowns are donned with laughter.  Wine flows and plates empty, leaving their owners full and happy.  Tins of Roses and selection boxes are are cracked open and devoured.
Christmas morning at my parent's house in Galway - 2009.
The country as a whole seems to embrace Christmas.  Almost all businesses close their doors from Dec 24 - January 2, forcing stressed out employees to really take a break and enjoy the season.  St. Stephen's Day, or Boxing Day as it is more commonly referred to over there, is like another holiday.  My family traditionally eats a cold salad with leftovers - turkey, potato salad, pork pies, sausage rolls, you name it.  And it is delicious.
This year's Boxing Day (St. Stephen's Day) Feast!
I keep trying to figure out why I feel so strongly attached to my family and culture's traditions.  Perhaps it's because they never varied for the first 24 years of my life.  Perhaps it's because almost everyone has the same traditions over there - they all eat and drinks the same thing, so a Christmas without turkey and all the trimmings to me is like a Thanksgiving without turkey and the trimmings for most of you.  That's as good of an analogy as I can come up with.

This year, as they did last year, my in-laws indulged me by preparing turkey as part of their Christmas dinner, something I really appreciate, especially as I know it's certainly not their first choice for Christmas!  We had a very multi-cultural Christmas dinner this year:  turkey breast, Moroccan lamb stew, Panama Chicken Rice - but we had a multi-cultural gathering, too, and it was lovely to incorporate so many different culinary traditions.

Despite clinging to my childhood Christmas customs, there are many American traditions I have embraced - Christmas cookies being one!  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are master bakers, and chocolate peppermint cookies, butter balls, cranberry and white chocolate cookies, among others, are annual staples in their Christmas kitchens.  My husband spent many a Christmas Eve eating Curried Cream of Chicken Soup from the Silver Palate Cookbook, a tradition he loves and one I'd love to adopt as our own.  We've started to watch "The Shop Around The Corner" on Christmas Eve, as we did our first Christmas together, and P is most patient with the 10,000 Christmas movies I love to watch each year.
I re-introduced P to Raymond Briggs' The Snowman, an essential part of my Childhood Christmases, and in turn he introduced me to the hilarity of The Muppets Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story - all classics I missed out on growing up.
Like everything in a marriage, it's give and take - I have to let go of some of my old Christmas traditions and embrace new ones, and letting go is definitely not something that comes easy to me in any aspect of my life.  But in slowly letting go and embracing new traditions, I have found that our Christmases are even sweeter and more unique.  What I'm learning most, though, is that our little family being together is most important of all.  I missed being with my family as they were all together in Ireland, but being with my husband and daughter on Christmas morning and waking up, the three of us, to see C experience Santa's generous spirit was worth more than anything else put together.  I feel very blessed.

As this year draws to a close, I wish you all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013.   I'll leave you with a traditional Irish and UK New Year's tradition - as the clock strikes midnight and we welcome the new year, cross your arms, join hands with your neighbors and sing:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,

we'll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Flag Day!

One warm Friday morning last month, I woke up thinking "this time in 12 hours we will know where we're going to live for the next two years".  I was very excited but very nervous.  Our bid-list was long - over 100 jobs in almost as many locations throughout the world.  We were asked to rank each one 'high', 'medium' and 'low'.  We spent a lot of time on google maps.  We did our research, ranked our priorities, and began the challenging task of deciding where we'd prefer to live.

Granted, just because we decided where we wanted to live certainly didn't mean that we'd be assigned there.  State is good about taking your requests and priorities into consideration, but at the end of the day it's the needs of the FS that dictate where you reside.   Our first choice was a cushier European post that actually didn't get assigned to anyone at the end of the day.  Also in our top 10 were a couple of South American posts, a couple of other European cities, a frigidly cold Russian locale, and one African Island post that we added for good measure because it ticked almost all of our boxes.

I arrived with C and my in-laws to the FSI Visitors Center.  The room was already packed so we snatched 3 seats at the back, close to the exit in case my (often) rambunctious 2-year-old decided that Flag Day was definitely not at the top of her list.  The minutes seemed to drag by.  I glanced around, spotted my husband at the front with his classmates.  The lady beside me was clutching her bid-list in one hand, a pen in the other, poised to strike off posts off her list as they were claimed by others.  Having devoured almost every FS blog I could find, I knew that the printing of the bid-list was  common Flag-day practice, but I also knew that almost everyone abandoned them 10 posts in as it moved too quickly and became to exciting to continue.  And with a 2-year-old, I didn't even bother.

Suddenly the event was in full swing.  A flag flashes on the screen.  A city and country is announced, followed by the name of the lucky (or not so lucky) person who will call it home for 2 years.  There were over 80 people in P's class, and he was the third from last to be called - at that point I could hardly breathe!  C dropped something under her chair, and as I bent down to retrieve it, I distantly heard "Port Louis, Mauritius" and then they said his name.

I couldn't believe it!  P was cheering and walking up to retrieve his flag and shake hands with the Ambassador, all the while searching for me over the sea of faces.  Mauritius!

We still have a lot of things to learn about the country we'll call home next year.  P is furiously learning French and we still await our final scheudle and date of departure, though we do know it will be late Summer, 2013.  Until then, we keep pinching ourselves while our eyes are glued to images like these.....


Friday, November 2, 2012

A Brief Recap...

My decision to continue with this blog was not only to keep you all updated on our life, but also to chronicle our new 'life', as a reference for others who will follow us down this path in the future (as I did nothing but scour the blogosphere for information on what our future life might be like).  So, if you're not particularly interested in this part of our adventure I will beg your patience!  Here's a little update on life lately...

We've been back here in the States for just over a year.  We spent a lot of time in limbo and my in-laws were more than patient and generous with us in giving us a home for a huge chunk of time.  We had a sojourn in Columbus, Ohio for a few months due to husbands job.  We have some dear friends there so our time in the Buckeye state was brief but very enjoyable.  Said friends introduced us to Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream.  If you are ever in Columbus (or Nashville, apparently they have it there, too), do yourself a favor and experience Jeni's.  Apparently they carry a couple of flavors at our local Whole Foods; my waistline weeps at this news.
Someone LOOOVES Jeni's!
One day my husband received an offer for a job that fell into the "dream" category.  He was invited to join the US Foreign Service, with training beginning in September.  So, we packed up all our belongings (again) and made the move back to Northern Virginia.  We now reside in Falls Church (just outside of Washington, DC), in temporary housing provided by the Dept of State for Foreign Service (FS) families who are either beginning training in their A-100 course or for those FS families who are between assignments and in language training.  Our new home is lovingly referred to as "the dorms", partially because so many people here know each other (it's a small FS), as well as the fact that everyone has the same furniture, the same plates, glasses, linens.  Very uniform, but it does the job.

The wonderful thing is that State ships 700lbs of UAB (unaccompanied baggage) to your temporary apartment so we were able to bring some things that make it feel like the munchkin's toys, some of our own towels and linens, and - most importantly for moi - kitchen items.  I have missed my Le Creusets!  The rest of our things have been safely put away in storage to await our departure next August.
View of Georgetown from The Kennedy Center
But life here is great - we are a 10 minute drive from the District, a 10 minute walk from the metro, there's a convenience store, dry cleaners, playground, a pool (that, thanks to our very mild autumn so far, we have been able to enjoy), we have the space we need and the company of others who are sharing in the same adventure.  We have college friends, army friends and old friends nearby and my in-laws are a short drive away so we're able to enjoy time with people we hold near and dear before we head off next year.

It's Friday, I've had a crazy week and my brain craves some rest.  Next time I'll give you all the exciting details on where we're heading next!

Hope everyone had a spook-tacular Halloween.  Tinkerbell visited us...she was adorable.

Bon weekend, tout le monde!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


It’s my favourite time of year, again.  The time of year that bids farewell to the sweet, sticky heat of summer…to those long days and warm nights; to sun on your skin and chlorine in your hair; to swatting pesky mosquitos and donning large brimmed hats to prevent my pale Irish skin from becoming raw, red and blistered.  To popsicles and watermelons, burgers on the grill, iced tea and lemonade.

While I always welcome the warmth of summer after dark Winter days and Spring’s bright freshness, there is little that exhilirates me more than that first brisk autumn morning, the air thick with the smell of fallen leaves.  To that first Pumpkin Spice anything, to trees at their most magnificent: donning yellow, orange, and red.  To days that darken before dinner and hearty pots of soup on the stove.

My girl, loving those incredible red leaves.
In Ireland, the autumns were quite different.  They haven’t yet caught on to the pumpkin thing (how I missed pumpkin spice lattes, those four years), and the trees don’t sport incredible ombre coats like they do here in the States.  But to me, there is nothing like walking out into an Irish autumn afternoon and smelling the woody, sweet bonfire scent of smoke billowing from chimneys; the earthy scent of peat enveloping me like a warm blanket that I can't experience anywhere else in the world. The comforting smell of childhood autumns gone by and mother nature’s whisper that winter is just around the corner.  And I do miss it very much. 

And now, on All Hallows Eve, I sit here contemplating where this Autumn has gone.  Could it really be almost November?  In the shops, Christmas is already taking over and although I – truly - love Christmas, I find myself wishing that we could simply savour the season upon us before barreling toward the next.

To that end, I suppose I should practice what I preach and enjoy each moment as it comes.

"Moo"-at-the-Zoo.  Not so sure about that cow....
Our life has taken a drastic change of course in the last few weeks and in a few months time we will begin an entirely new life in an entirely new place.  You likely already know what the big change is, but I decided to dust off the old blog so that as the months progress, I can keep you you in the loop as you follow us on our (next) new adventure.

Happy Halloween!