Monday, December 26, 2011

Miles' Christmas "Program"

Last Wednesday Miles had his Christmas Program at school.  Below is the video.  If you can't understand anything, don't be alarmed....if you remember, he is going to an Irish-speaking school, so I can't understand anything they say either.  I've found that smiling a  nodding is a great alternative.

Here's a hint...he's the Korean one. ;)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Merry Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.
To our dear friends and family.
We may be miles from home
And hours apart.
But know that you are in our thoughts this Christmas.
And as we tuck ourselves in this Christmas Eve....
We love and miss every one of your beautiful faces.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' [Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."  - Linus, in Charlie Brown Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oh Christms Tree...

For weeks it hasn't really felt like Christmas here.  I realize now it's because we had no tree.
On Monday when we were undecorating the entire site for Christmas vacation we stole acquired the least dead of the five Christmas trees around the site.  The volunteers just carried it over decorations and all.

I love our Christmas tree. 
I've never had a real one before, the only reason being that I'm really cheap I mean, I really like my fake tree.  I never realized how much they really do smell like real trees (there goes the $5 I spent on an evergreen candle back in November). 
This one isn't perfect.  It's sparse, and crooked, and the ornaments are not at all spaced out, and it barely fits in our living room.
But I love it.
Ever since I was little I love getting up in early in the morning (while it's still dark) (which is until almost 9 here) and just sitting on the couch in the glow of twinkling white lights.  There is something so Christmasy about it.
And since we've had our tree I've watched it work it's magic on my boys.  In the early hours of the morning we sit on our couch and watch the twinkling lights....not having to say a word.
For twenty whole minutes there is no begging to watch tv.  No asking for candy.  No fighting.  No running.
Just cuddling and watching.
Twenty minutes people. 
That's like hours in little boy years.
And I will cherish it for as long as I possibly can.

Do you think they'll notice when the tree is still up in July?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Open Day

On Sunday we held our annual Christmas Open Day here at Corrymeela. 
I say "annual" because it happens every year.
I say "we" meaning I was in charge of planning it. 
If you add up the total amount of times I've been to the Christmas Open Day and multiply it by the number of Open Days that have actually existed, the number would still be 0. 
So although I questioned continuously whether I was the best person for the job, I did it. 
I planned the big huge event the best I could with little knowledge of what was expected.  I only came across a few hiccups along the way, and had to do some major convincing when a few ideas of change came up. 
It was frustrating, and at times a bit overwhelming.
But at 2:30 pm on Sunday afternoon when one of my little "elves" ran into the Main House foyer and began whispering that Santa was coming I held my breath.
When the parents and children came running to see Santa drive in on the back of a lawn mower, I smiled.
And when Santa walked in the front door tweaking cheeks and giving high-fives I felt all sorts of warm fuzzies in my heart.
But when one of the volunteers sporatically broke into song....and everyone joined in....and Santa began dancing....I wanted to cry.

Because after months of hard work and blood, sweat, and tears, I remembered why this event is so important. 

And I just hope that everyone there felt as blessed at that moment as I did.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christms Card Sneak Peek

I must give photo awesomeness credit where credit is due...the picture on the front of our card was taken by my friend Katie.  :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Captured during Liam's family day last week when we went out to eat to celebrate bringing him home two years ago.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cultural Identity

Today I worked with my first group. 
This isn't typical because I wasn't really hired to work with groups...I was hired to create resources and support for the people that work with groups.  However, today there was a shortage and so I got the rare opportunity to work with a group of high school students from the local school that came in to learn about identity.
Because that's what they do here when they're not working on world peace....they working on self-peace, self-respect, and loving things in general.
We started with a few ice-breakers.  I am a notorious hater of ice-breakers.  But that isn't allowed here.  Here I LOOOOOOVE me a good ice breaker.  I see the importance of them, and I've benefited from the effects of them, but I just can't be bothered with them in my normal everyday life.   GET OUT OF MY SEAT!?!?  You've gotta be kidding me.  FIND SOMEONE ELSE WHO LIKE SPAGHETTI AND CAN STAND ON ONE LEG WHILE RECITING THE ALPHABET BACKWARDS?!?!  No. Thanks.
But like I said.....that's not allowed here.  Because everyday is like a giant ice breaker.  Which has made me sort of love those things.  I think part of it is because a good ice breaker is about learning a bit about yourself, and a lot about the people standing around you. 
After our fair-share of ice breakers, the students were given a picture of a young man and asked to tell us what they can tell about him just from the picture.  What is his name? age? hobby? job? religion? nationality? etc.  Through the course of this and a variety of other games, it became clear that the students didn't know what their "cultural identity" was.
It sort of surprised me.  I mean, this is Northern Ireland.  They have SO MANY COOL THINGS to identify with.  People celebrate their culture that aren't even a part of it.  People are dying to be Irish or British - so much so that we walk around as children imitating their accents.  Let's face it, I come from America....where it often feels like I have no culture when I am surrounded by so much.  I'm surrounded by Mexicans, Asians, African-Americans, Irish, and Polish.  But I'm just hard-core plain jane midwestern misplaced farm girl.  And as I realized they had never taken the time to identify their surely rich cultural identity, I never had either. 
So today I watched 14-15 year olds figure out what their cultural identity is.  What their personal identity is.  And I watched as they took pride in the things that made them who they are - the things they had never before considered. 
It was a pretty cool day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nonstop entertainment

If you want to entertain your child for 72 hours straight here's what you do.
  1. Move to another house/country/planet and don't bring any of their toys with them.
  2. For nearly three months make them suffer through paper cars, cardboard boxes, and broken plastic bits as play-things.
  3. Then have a birthday in which they receive a magnitude of wonderfully delightful toys that they can then share.
I'm telling you....I always thought the minimalist parenting was the way to go....offer your kid little and their imaginations will soar.
Who am I kidding.  I almost cried for joy when the first birthday packages began to arrive in the mail filled with bright, plastic toys that I knew they'd love, and Miles and Liam have not had a minute of boredom since.
Here are some of the wonderful gifts Liam has received just for turning two.
This little Critter Clinic from my parents has been serious fun for the boys.  I heard Miles wake up super early and sneak into the living room the day after Liam opened it just so he could play with it by himself before Liam woke up.

A beautiful sweater knitted by one of the volunteers.  I can't wait to take his 2 year pictures in it.

I told the volunteers "no presents", but they showed up with some sweet little gifts, one of which had this adorable note to the birthday boy.

A tunnel from his Nana and Papa that has offered A LOT of entertainment, and not just for the little ones.
Liam's new trike!

And have you noticed that I'm blogging and it's not naptime or late at night?  Well I do, and I have the new toys to thank.  Not that I think this is a free ticket to ignore my kids and enjoy the internet with a nice chocolate biscuit and cup of tea while they're in the next room.......okay, kinda I do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Liam turns two.

My two year old

Dear Liam.
This morning when you wake up, you will be officially 2 years old.  I find this funny.  Mostly because my little baby can't possibly be that old, but also because the people that you meet think you have been 2 for quite some time.  You are talkative and kind.  You are funny.  I love you.
In fact, I love you A LOT.  More than I ever imagined loving someone.  You and your brother have burrowed your places deep in my heart, and not just because I'm your mom and I have to love you.
Things I love about you.
  • I love that you are a cuddler - especially first thing after you wake up.  And now you always ask for a blanket after you climb into my lap so that we can snuggle underneath it while you officially wake up.
  • I love that even after these two years of life you haven't lost your cough-cry.  That's how I know when it is you. :)
  • I love when you see people (like the volunteers) and you get this fake-serious look on your face like you're trying to act like your too cool for school.
  • I love that whenever your dad asks you something you say "huh?" at least five times and drive him crazy.
  • I love that you get excited everytime we walk into the room, or we mention any of your grandparents.
  • I love that you repeat everything you hear, no matter how long the phrase, or how complicated the word.
  • I love that you call the volunteer Daniella, "Corrymeela" because they sound the same to you.
  • I love that you have such a strong sense of humor.
  • I love that you constantly make me laugh with your "Chase me!" and tight neck hugs that come out of nowhere while I'm carrying you places.
  • And right now I love that you've decided to sleep past 5:30 am for a change. :)
  • And I love love LOVE that you just walked into the room and told me "I no more 1!"

    I love you. I love you. I love you.

    Monday, December 5, 2011


    This week I thought I'd start out simply.  Mostly because I have no idea where to start.
    So here we go.
    Why did we decide to come here?
    We had a lot going for us back home - things we miss now, so why change that?
    It began as a need to cleanse our lives of the things we had been justifying a need for, had accumulated, and continued to want.  It turned into a lot more.
    To make a really long story short, we chose Corrymeela to guide this journey.  It didn't come out of nowhere.  Eleven years ago I came here with another university to study peace and conflict resolution for a semester.  It sounds like I was super sophisticated and really into the scholarly idea of studying such things in a place that was still struggling with it (Northern Ireland had just signed the Good Friday Agreement two years before that, which was meant to end "The Troubles").  The truth is that I didn't know anything about Northern Ireland and I just thought it sounded like a cool trip.
    It was.
    I spent the second half of my semester at Corrymeela working with groups.  I was amazed.  I was wowed.  I was changed.
    Although it never occurred to me that I'd come back to live here.

    So why did we choose Corrymeela?  We tell everyone jokingly it was because we had such a hot summer, and the the choice was between here or Cambodia - which is always hot.

    The truth is that I grew tired of justifying peace, of talking about peace with my students, and of hanging up peace-minded bumper stickers in my classroom, when I couldn't honestly say I was doing anything about it.

    A lot of good things have changed in this region over the last 11 years. Army vehicles and men no longer man the city streets of Derry (the town I lived in) with their giant intimidated guns.  Belfast seems to be a much safer place.  And conversations are happening that would have never happened before.
    But a lot of hatred and violence is still there, and I'm reminded of it everyday.  In the last 10 years there have been police and civilians murdered, new cease fires put into place, and people run out of their homes.  New walls have been built around the city - named "Peace walls", that in reality invite violence between the two groups they divide.  There are still Catholic children who are taught to hate Protestants, and Protestant children who are still taught to hate Catholics.  This kind of stuff exists everywhere, and probably in every nation.  The thing about Corrymeela is that it is actively working to fix that problem, in young and old, in their nation and others, in many people and many belief systems.
    And I just feel lucky enough to be a part of it.

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Deck the Halls

    Hanging evergreen in the foyer.

    Last week we decorated the center for Christmas.  After a short tea with buns and mince pies, the group put on some Christmas music and got to work. :)

    Liam adding his own little touch to the tree.

    The dining hall

    Manger Scene

    "Merry Christmas" in many different languages.

    I had so much fun doing this, but was exhausted afterwards.  Since there are people on staff from all over the world, I'm also learning a lot about Christmas traditions in other countries, which has been a lot of fun.
    Tonight we're baking Christmas cookies and watching Elf on the big screen with some hot chocolate. Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday night in this cold cold season?

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Move me.

    So we have officially been here for 2.5 months.  I know I write a lot about silly things like dying my hair, things I miss, and going to see Breaking Dawn (which is only silly to people without personalities),  but the truth is that I/we are here for a reason.  People email me or send me messages asking me about what we're doing.  And I want to tell them about all of the awesome ways we are making the world a better place, but the truth is that more days than not I wonder if we actually are  making a difference being here.  Don't get me wrong...I love it here.  I'm having a great time and I believe in this place and what it stands for.  But there are also many days where it feels like all I do is plan fun activities and organize binders.  Sometimes it feels like I'm having way too much fun to be doing anything really productive.

    Sooooo...I'm here to tell you that this is going to change.  My goal is to start writing a post once a week completely dedicated to the work that needs to be done here/is being done here/has been done here/and why this work is even part of the landscape of Northern Ireland.  I'm going to call them "Move Me Mondays".  Not because I think any of you need to be moved, or motivated, or even nudged, but because I need to be moved, and motivated, and nudged. Although I adore all of you, I'm not doing this for you.  This is for me.  And my kids. To remind us why we're here. 

    Because, despite what I tell everyone, it isn't for the chocolate biscuits.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Top Ten Things I Didn't Know I'd Miss Until They Were Gone

    Or just completely inaccessible/hard to get in the UK
    1. Decaffeinated Constant Comment Tea
    2. Kraft Maccaroni and Cheese
    3. Tortilla Chips
    4. Canned Pumpkin Puree
    5. Flavored Coffee - preferably decaf and preferably in the Blend with good friends.
    6. The Schwans Man and his naughty chocolate almond ice cream.
    7. Cooper, my dog.
    8. Stations that play nothing but Christmas music at this time of year.
    9. Getting Christmas Cards (hint hint)
    10. Half my wardrobe. :)
    Don't get me wrong...there are plenty of new discoveries I've made since I've been here which will inevitably result in me missing things here even more once we're back on U.S. delicious Cadbury chocolate and chocolate biscuits that knock my socks off. 

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Two Little Turkeys

    and their bounty from a recent care package from their grandparents.  Today they are most definitey thankful for goldfish crackers. :)


    Today while my friends and family are gathered for their giant Thanksgiving feasts and are indulging in some of my favorite comfort foods on the planet I will be working.  Don't get me's not hard work I'm doing.  In fact, at one stage I get to help decorate the center for Christmas.  That's not all bad for this Christmas-loving girl.  I envision it like decorating my house...except bigger and better.
    Which makes me think of  my house, and all the warmth it exuded this time of it was my favorite place to be between now and January.  Which makes me think of my other home in Ohio...and my brothers on the east coast...and all the people back home that I love.  Which, in turn, makes me homesick.  For the first time since being here I am hopelessly homesick.
    How does one counteract the glorified thoughts of her family stuffing themselves and watching American football at her home while she ignores the holiday in Northern Ireland?
    By writing a list of things she is Thankful for of course.

    I am thankful for my job
    The other day I was talking about the affect this would someday have on my children, and someone told me they thought it was awesome that I "brought my kids over here to watch us work towards the peace process in Northern Ireland."  It reminded me why I'm here.  At times it feels like I get caught up in planning events and organizing folders...I forget what it all leads to.

    I am thankful for my kids
    Sometimes I have bad days and they remind me to laugh.  They're excited to see me every day.  And there are times when they follow me around whining for me to pick them up.  And even at moments when it isn't convenient, I will always pick them up.  Because I have friends that will never get to do that.  I do it for them.  And I do it for myself.  Because soon no one is going to ask me to "carry you!"

    I am thankful for my husband
    Who is pretty all-around awesome.  
    I'm also thankful for razors
    So that he can shave off that ugly thing growing on his lip at the end of "Movember"
    I'm thankful for my health.
    I take it for granted every day, yet I am so lucky to have such a healthy family.  And I have friends that have taught me that nothing should be taken for granted.

    I am thankful that I have people back home to miss.

    I'm thankful I have many places to call "home."
    I am thankful for the friends I've made here.

    I am thankful for the cliff I live on the edge of, and for the city that looks magical at the tip of dusk and dawn from this cliff.

    I am thankful for a warm house and delicious food that just shows up in my life 7 days a week.
    And finally, I am thankful that I can officially start streaming in Christmas music.
    Because I tried to do it yesterday, and it just felt unnatural.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Don't Hate.

    On Sunday night I went with some volunteers/friends to see Twilight's Breaking Dawn.  One of my first questions when we moved here was whether I'd be able to see the movie, and if I'd have anyone to see it with since Dustin has already promised me that he will never pay for a ticket to see it in the theater.  Luckily people all over the world love Twilight as much as I do.  And even luckier....people from other parts of the world know how to score VIP theater seats.
    The group in the Directors Lounge, getting our free cappuccinos and lattes before the movie.
    The best part of the whole experience was the seating.  We each got our own personal reclining overstuffed chair.  If the movie hadn't been so absolutely awesome, I would have fallen asleep because I was so comfortable. :)
    Aileen and Jack - the one "other half" that actually tolerated coming to the movie for the sake of his love.

    Anna and me getting ready for the movie to start with all of our terrible food.

    Kathleen and Andre practicing their elated facial expressions before the movie starts.
    I have to admit.  This was more comfortable than watching a movie in my own flat.  I even took my shoes off so I could get the full movie-watching experience. :)

    My view.

    I promise you I actually am working.  I just think these types of things are more fun to write about.  I promise the very soon I will fill you in on all of the awesome things we get to do for our jobs these days. :)

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    American Thanksgiving in Northern Ireland

     Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving at the Center.  I roast a proper turkey, made a million proper pies, and served it to people from all over the world.  Well, not just me...there are a number of Americans on staff and we all put our heads together to fix a fantastic Thanksgiving feast. 

    everyone pitched in.

    decorating the tables to look quite festive.

    my two little turkeys

     Once the food was prepared we all ate too much, laugh plenty, and then went around and all shared what we are thankful for. It may have been the most traditional Thanksgiving I've ever had.  And I had to travel halfway around the globe to find it.
    Breaking into the Christmas crackers early!

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    The Art of the [{Hug}]

    I am not a hugger.
    I wish I was.
    Of course, this isn't a blanket rule for me.  I would hug and cuddle my kids all day long if I could.  I hug Dustin (usually willingly) and when I moved away from home I started hugging my family when we said "hello" or "goodbye". 
    But as for everyone else...let's just say it isn't my first instinct to hug someone at the first flood of gratitude, or love, or even sadness. In fact, I've been known to stress out in certain situations over how others feel about the fact that I just can't bring myself to physically touch them when they are grieving.
    I'm not a germaphobe - actually quite the opposite.  (I don't think a germaphobe would share water glasses with a two year old or eat food that has fallen onto the ground in public places - both of which I am guilty of.)
    I'm not scared of people not wanting me to hug them.  If I'm honest, I'm more scared of them  wanting  me to.
    I don't really know why I'm like that, but I'm pretty certain I've been this way since I was a toddler.  My parents didn't hold back affections from me, and all my life I've been surrounded by friends that LOVE hugging.  In fact, I'm married to a man that would be surgically attached to me in a hugging position if I would just sign off on the forms. 
    I've tolerated it, and even appreciated it for what it is.  Yet some would joke that they can feel me physically cringe when they hug me. 

    I'm a master of the half-hug, and I'll sign on to a group hug any chance I get.  But the full-on embrace?
    I guess it's just not my love language - ya know?
    But that isn't an option here. 
    Let me just say that our Mondays start out here with "Happy Mondays", which involve going around the room and hugging everyone in it while saying "Happy Monday."  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  You are safe from no one.  And safe side-hugs are prohibited.  People here time their hugs in seconds rather than milliseconds.  They belong to the "wrap your arms around them while rubbing their back and squeezing tight" camp, instead of the "stiff back-patting" camp I've bought into.
    And every week gets easier.
    And better.
    And I think I might, by the end of these two years, become a hugger. 
    A real life, "put your sandwich down and give me a hug" hugger.
    Because if you allow it to, it does feel good.  And good things don't just grow on trees.  We are responsible for bringing them into our lives, and allowing them to flourish.
    So hide your women, children, cats, and dogs.....because no one is safe from what is sure to become my signature embrace.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Giant's Causeway and Bushmills

    Two weekends ago we took a short trip on a beautiful day to the natural mystery called Giants Causeway.  Not only did we have beautiful weather to travel by, but everyone was in a great mood, and fun was had by all.  To read more about the causeway click here.  

    The shortened, non factual version...they are a bunch of crazy rock formation on the northern coast. 

    Afterwards we decided to venture for a small snack/dinner in Bushmills, a small town near the causeway that also is home to Bushmills distillery.  It is also where I finally had my first proper pint since I've been here....2 months, can you believe it?

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Call me crazy.

    A few weeks ago I posted this blog post....mostly leaving people wondering if that was me, and if I was crazy.  Yes and yes.  I was convinced by the volunteers to participate in what is called co-steering - also known as "getting in ice cold water and beat up by giant waves while pretending to look dangerous."  It ended up being much more fun than I had anticipated, and I've got the pictures to prove it. 

    The whole group post-adventure....still smiling...still alive.

    At one point one of the guides was swimming backwards and talking to us when a seal popped its head right up behind him.  After the initial fear of being attacked by a seal (for reals) I could enjoy just how cool it was to be in that moment and at that place.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    The photograph

    Three years ago yesterday I wrote this blog post.  Later that day I got to see this picture:
    Yesterday - three years after the exact date of refferral - a copy of the above  picture arrived in my mailbox.  It was a copy I had ordered to hang up in my office, along with a bunch of other pictures.  The coincidence wasn't lost on me.  And tonight as we were reading stories to our little boys I studied their faces with extra supermom-power-intensity.  
    I can't believe they're mine.  I can't believe I've been so lucky.  I can't believe I love them so much. I can't believe that the above little boy came home to us and started what has turned out to be a pretty awesome little family.  

    I can't believe his cheeks were so darn chubby.
    ( them)

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    What did you do for Halloween?

    Carving Pumpkins with the volunteers

    Scooping out all the insides

    All done!

    Taking a break from serious pumpkin carving

    The finished product!

    Dressing up for school party - Hee haw!

    Alice in Wonderland....and a scary guy on the end.

    A bunny and mouse getting ready for the parade

    A big Halloween parade followed by fireworks!