Powerscourt Waterfall is just a short drive from the estate and definitely worth the trip. There’s a small entrance fee before you drive through the forest and are ultimately greeted with this view.Thankfully, there was a small kiosk with toilets because apparently the sight of a waterfall suddenly made everyone have the urge to tinkle. Luckily, Lena informed us of this before we put on her rainsuit.The massive amount of rain meant the waterfall was gushing and there was a low fog in the air. We also timed this trip just right as the fall colors were on full display. I’ll try to restrain myself from sharing every photo I took. Everywhere you looked, there was something to photograph. It was just gorgeous.Luckily, Jason is very supportive of my photography addiction, so he took the kids for a stroll while I ran around like maniac; snapping pictures left and right. I even had some fun playing around with long exposures in order to get that nice, whispy water effect. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my tripod with me so I was a bit limited.Aksel was totally in his element and would have gladly stayed out here the entire day. He definitely ate some grass and dirt and would have eaten this stick if only he had teeth.Speaking of sticks, here is Lena holding a troll hunting stick. If you were looking for a way to scar your children for life, you’ve come to the right place. As a child, I was subjected to troll trauma thanks to my mom and her Norwegian folklore (get the full story here). Not wanting to make the same mistake with my daughter, I’ve been careful to tell Lena how trolls can be nice and just want to hide from us. Every time she takes a shower, she pretends to be Fossegrimen, the waterfall troll, and it’s all fun and games. So when we pulled up to Powerscourt, we asked if she thought Fossegrimen might be here. It was all very fun and innocent and off I went to fill my SD card with photos.Satisfied with my landscape photographs, I wanted to try for a group shot. That was when Jason informed me our daughter refused to get out of the car because she was petrified Fossegrimen was going to get her. And that, my friends, is when it all came full circle and I realized I truly have become my mother. Luckily, having been through this same trauma as a child, I knew the solution: a troll hunting stick. It was slightly bent and had just the right amount of moss on it. In case you didn’t know, that’s a vital element on a proper troll hunting stick. What I lack in judgment I made up for in storytelling as we finally got Lena out of the car, stick gripped firmly in her little fist.Back to those group shots, I was hoping we could get at least one decent picture to use for our Christmas card. Between me nearly dropping two children and Aksel attempting to eat the troll stick, it was slim pickings.We still had a two hour drive to our hotel for the night so we stopped for a quick lunch and headed towards Waterford. Spoiler alert: the two hour drive turned into a five hour drive thanks to operator error with our new GPS. Luckily, our new car is comfy to ride in as we spent some real quality time in it this day. I’ll give you the full scoop on that in my next post as I’m still processing that nightmare.
On our way to Waterford, we decided to make a stop at Powerscourt Estate on the recommendation of a friend. The weather made us think we should be driving a boat rather than our car but luckily, we had packed raingear. A massive thank you to my cousin, Liv, for introducing me to this genius invention long before having kids. If you live in a place that rains, do yourself a favor and buy these. You can find great deals on Amazon and if you have a Prime membership, shipping is free (that’s your pro tip for the day)!Given the torrential rain, there was hardly anyone out and about which meant we got the entire estate and gardens to ourself. I think this may have been a once in a lifetime deal as everything online suggested booking advance tickets for this popular destination.The estate looks out onto the Sugar Loaf Mountain and thanks to the low lying clouds, there was a gorgeous blanket of fog in the distance. I was in photography heaven with all the gorgeous greenery and textured sculptures. Meanwhile, Lena was in heaven because she had this map and was bossing us around.We decided to do a quick loop as we still had a few hours of car travel ahead of us. I’m sure we could have spent an entire day here and not run out of things to see. This tower caused some major excitement as Lena informed us it was where “Mispunzel” lived. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a princess at the top but we were greeted with more beautiful views.And lest you think our family vacations are all princesses and magic, Lena had a massive meltdown when we tried to leave the tower. Luckily, sitting on a canon seemed to cheer her up along with this creepy worm. She insisted on the photo and then wanted to check and make sure I had taken it to her satisfaction. I don’t know where she gets this behavior.I am a sucker for symmetrical design so the Italianate Terraces had me giddy. You can see the stone inlay with the year 1875. This is a relatively new build by UK standards and was very ornate. It took over 12 years to build these terraces and the architect was apparently a bit eccentric; directing the design from a wheelbarrow while nursing a bottle of sherry.I’m not sure the architect planned on people throwing coins into his work but Lena was very insistent that she needed to make a wish at this particular spot. Initially, Jason couldn’t find any small coins so he told Lena she would need to wait as we didn’t really want to toss upwards of $3 into the abyss. But then she pulled out the puppy dog eyes and totally suckered him. The after picture here kills me because Lena is totally gloating while I judge Jason with my eyes. He stands no chance with this little girl. And nevermind me holding that coin for Aksel because that’s totally different…Could you deny a baby in a frogsuit? If so, you have no heart.This is Triton Lake and I wish I could live here. The variation in colors and textures of the foliage were unreal. It was just one beautiful picture after another.Knowing we had a long drive ahead of us, we wanted to let Aksel crawl around a bit so we headed up toward the walled garden. Little did we realize just how long of a day we had left but I’ll fill you in on that special story in my next post. Lena had been begging to take pictures so I finally let her try out my Canon. Considering the camera is about a quarter of her weight, she got some decent shots and even managed to keep them fairly straight. I love the close up of Aksel as it’s a fun little peek into how she sees her brother.As expected, the gardens were full of color and impeccably designed. Lena tried to sniff everything while Aksel was living large riding on his Daddy’s shoulders.Despite the rain, this was one of the highlights of our trip as everything was so incredibly stunning. And being able to tour the grounds in solitude was pretty special! After a quick perusal of the gift shop, we loaded up the car with our soggy kids and headed out for Powerscourt Waterfall. Photo overload to come!
Kilmainham Gaol: We decided to visit this former prison turned museum on the advice of Trip Advisor. You can only see the actual jail via guided tour and there is usually a substantial wait as it’s a popular tourist attraction in Dublin. Luckily, we came at a good time and only had to wait about 20 minutes for our tour to start.
There’s a great museum just past reception where we passed the time waiting for our tour to begin. It has everything from mock cells to propoganda posters and personal diaries and belongings of former prisoners. The jail was originally built in 1796 as a replacement for a dungeon that sat just a few meters away. Public hangings used to take place in front of the prison though that mostly subsided from the 1820’s.Our tour guide was ALL ABOUT the history of this place. He had definitely found his passion in life and we quickly realized that bringing along a small yet vocal baby may not have been the best plan. Our guide only thinly veiled his annoyance at Aksel’s random commentary so I did my best to stay in the back of the pack. However, as you can see by the photos, we were in an enclosed space with incredible acoustics. So no matter how hard I tried to muffle it, Aksel’s voice seemed to fill the room. So fun.Back to the history. This jail had no sense of discrimination – it housed men, women and children. Yes, children. The youngest prisoner was seven years old and likely arrested for petty theft. Prisoners weren’t segregated and up to five people were assigned to a cell that was just 28 meters. They had a single candle for light and heat and it had to last them two weeks. Just to add some perspective here – I was carrying a 20 pound baby up and down stairs which generally warms up the old core temperature due to physical exertion. In spite of that, I was absolutely freezing thanks to the damp and cold trapped in the stone walls. I can’t even begin to imagine the conditions (and smells) in this place at it’s peak. Kilmainham Gaol has a long history of corruption and violence. I thought this inscription over one of the doorways was incredibly powerful: “Beware of the risen people that have harried and held ye that have bullied and bribed.”The most impressive architectural section of the jail is definitely the East Wing. It opened in 1862 and it’s Victorian style was part of the belief at the time that prison architecture was crucial to inmate’s reform. Silence and separation were key so prisoners spent the majority of their time in their cells. Authorities hoped they would use this time to read the Bible, contemplate and repent. Since that time, this part of the prison has been used in various videos and films. You might recognize it from The Escapist or the U2 music video for “A Celebration.”I would love to tell you more about the history of this particular section but Aksel chose this setting for his prime performance. So the guide actually asked us to remove ourselves because he couldn’t hear himself speaking. And that’s how we ended up with the unique experience of actually being imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol. We huddled in a jail cell for the duration of the speech and yes, they are very small and very cold. This guy and his murse (man-purse) pretty much summed up how everyone felt about our presence. By this point, we were really sweaty from the embarrassment of having children who actually are alive and make noise so were incredibly relieved when the tour took us outside. This is me
giving up on life having fun. And this visitor’s guide is actually really informative and worth a look if this piqued your interest; just click here. After all that “fun,” we decided to just walk around and find a place for dinner. Don’t do this. There is nothing within a reasonable walking distance of the jail. Thankfully, we had brought Lena’s scooter with us and Aksel was content in the stroller. I would guess we did a solid 5k tour of Dublin without finding a single viable option for dinner. Also, it rained for our hour long jaunt through the city making it even more magical.
We finally gave up and ended up back at the hotel. Everyone was starving so we opted to just eat at the restaurant in the lobby. Such a sad, sad decision in hindsight. I spent the first half of dinner outside the restaurant trying to get Aksel to sleep while Jason and Lena enjoyed their food. Aksel wasn’t having it. So then Jason switched with me and as soon as I had my last bite, Lena said she needed to go potty. We ran to the bathroom as quick as we could. Apparently it wasn’t quick enough as she had explosive diarrhea that got all over the toilet, the seat, and of course, her pants and underwear. So the undies got thrown away and I did a make shift wash of the pants in the sink. So special.
To top if all off, we didn’t sleep very well because there was a cat dying in the alley all night. So it was a slow morning the next day. However, breakfast at the hotel was amazing. It was a full Irish breakfast buffet and I even tried white pudding which I can only describe as … interesting. After two days in Dublin, we were ready to leave the city behind and head south along the coast with our little road warriors.
After being separated for nearly seven months, Jason and I were keen to take a family vacation and spend some quality time with each other and the kids. We decided Ireland would be a good choice as we’d both been wanting to go and it’s not too far from home. With two kids in tow, driving is always our preference but we weren’t loving the idea of seven days on the road in a stick shift with no cruise control. So a week before we left, we found ourselves the proud new owners of a Volvo XC90 complete with a 15″ DVD player for the kids.
We loaded the car up the night before as we had a 4am departure time. Snacks were packed, new movies purchased, and all our travel paperwork was sorted. Jason went to warm up the car only to return with a look of panic on his face. The car wouldn’t start. Neat. Apparently, we didn’t fully shut the back door when packing the night before so the battery was drained. And since our shiny new car is a diesel, it needed an extra boost to get up and running. On top of the that, the DVD player wouldn’t even turn on despite it working the day before. It was shaping up to be a magnificent trip and we hadn’t even woken the kids up yet.
Finally, he got the car started and we were off. We had a rough idea of where we were headed but hadn’t really mapped out the best route. We suddenly found ourselves in the town of Betws-y-Coed where we had stayed two summers back when my mom visited. This caused us some concern as we hadn’t anticipated a scenic tour through Wales but we just kept trucking as our ferry departure time was looming. This particular route may have been shorter in miles but it was only because we drove straight through the mountains (and I use this term loosely as a former resident of Washington state). The roads wound all around in addition to up and down and poor Lena was ready to puke. Her face actually turned green at one point. We finally made it to the ferry and after four hours in the car, we were really glad we chose the speed boat.Once we docked in Dublin, we set out to find our hotel. Yet again, our fancy new in-car GPS system failed us miserably. Dublin is not a large city yet we managed to drive around for THREE hours in search of the Ashling Hotel. We even asked several people for directions and they either didn’t know where it was, couldn’t understand our English, or were far too drunk to even form a coherent sentence. By the time we finally reached our destination, we had spent nearly seven hours in the car and two hours on a boat. Needless to say, we were all a bit grumpy. Lena also managed to lock herself in the bathroom of the hotel approximately five minutes after walking through the door. So the first day of our trip ended with room service and a drink for Jason!The next day, we got our act together a bit more and made a trip to the Dublin Zoo. It was just a short walk from our hotel and Aksel fell asleep on the way over. I was in my element with all the pretty things to take pictures of and Lena was glowing from all the one-on-one attention she got from Jason.Jason got the giggles when he saw this “who dung it” sign and swore they were trying to pass off a human turd as coming from an animal. He could not get over the fact they had a display box of poop and then, of course, “who dung it” became our motto for the trip.Lena has always loved elephants and we were lucky enough to be there at feeding time. She has also assigned a favorite animal to the rest of us and isn’t bothered about whether it’s true or not. My favorite is a giraffe (this is true) while Jason apparently likes monkeys (who knew) and Aksel is obsessed with hippos (Lena fact). There was lots of squealing when we came across each of these animals as she wanted to be sure we saw our “flavorites.”Aksel decided to wake up for the tail end of our visit and seemed quite intrigued by everything. He really wanted to crawl on the ground and wasn’t very pleased when we didn’t accommodate his request.
Lena hijacked the stroller and decided she needed a nap so Aksel and Jason got some quality time with the baby carrier. This is probably one of my favorite pictures of the two of them and I’m not mad about those boots either. My guys are both pretty handsome.
Christmas break kicked off with a special visit from Lena’s class dinosaur, Dizzy. Each weekend, her teacher picks a different child to take home one of two dinosaurs. Come Monday, the dino returns to class with it’s diary of pictures and stories about everything he/she got up to over the course of two days. I’ve heard some rumors from the other parents about Lena being teacher’s pet but was a bit skeptical. However, when I realized we would have Dizzy for a full two weeks, I did have to wonder if there was some truth to the whispers. Lena, of course, was about to bounce out of her skin, she was so excited. And so, we began the grand adventures of Dizzy and Lena.
First up was a trip to the local pub as the real-life Father Christmas was handing out gifts. This same Father Christmas had come to Lena’s preschool the year prior and after an hour of being in the same room as him, she finally worked up the courage to glance in his direction. Not a big fan, this kid. However, this year, since she’s FOUR as she likes to remind us frequently, she was ready to do the dang thing. Up she went to have a little chat where she informed St. Nick that she “willy, willy, willy wants a Batman and Aksel wants a toy mouse.” This was news to us all as she had previously been begging for a “cinnagrella” (also known as an umbrella). Following in his big sister’s footsteps, Aksel vocally refused to even be in the same room as Santa and got utterly hysterical as soon as he caught a glimpse of the bearded giant.
The next day, Dizzy was treated to a park trip despite it being freezing cold. Lena was feeling mighty fancy in her new cap designed to look like a Christmas pudding. The great thing is that Aksel has the same size head as her so they can share headwear. Seriously, his dome piece is massive. Perhaps he’ll be a genius.
We did some cooking and baking with our triple-horned friend as well; making homemade pizza one night and loads of cookies the next. This is my friend Marleen and her sweet daughter, Cosi. She was one of the first friends I made when we moved here as the kids were in a baby yoga class together. Despite living far apart by English standards, we still manage to get together fairly often and I always leave feeling equally inspired and relaxed. I adore Marleen and in particular, her knack for making delicious food. She brought over two types of dough for the girls to bake and decorate – Ausstecherle and Vanillekipferln. The girls loved hearing how Marleen used to make these as a little girl in Germany and I am fairly certain they ate their weight in dough and frosting.
After everything was finished, we delivered some goodies to our friends in the village. I’m not sure if it was the sugar rush or the excitement of giving, but Lena was couldn’t stop bouncing around during this activity and nearly spilled all the plates of cookies several times. So it’s possible that we delivered a plate of fragments and crumbs but luckily, everyone was very gracious about it.
Christmas Eve we did our traditional Crib & Christingle service. Each year, the presentation is a bit different and this time around, they waited until the very end to call up all the children. Aksel managed to sit still for most of it and didn’t light anyone on fire with the Christingle so that was a success. Not quite a success was our attempt at a family photo afterwards. Lena is apparently incapable of just being natural in a photo.
Now on to something that still has me in complete shock and certain that the world must be coming to an end: I cooked our entire Christmas Eve dinner by myself.
Did you just pass out? Because I can hardly believe it either. And no one died of food poisoning!! It was, and is, a Christmas miracle.
I was dead set on having a traditional Norwegian meal and since Jason claimed he didn’t know how to do it, it was up to me. I secretly think he planned for it to fail and was fine with eating fish and chips for dinner because either way, he got out of cooking for the night. However, I would like to be a bit bold and brag on myself because I nailed it. And it was delicious! Special thanks to my mom for answering all my phone calls and ridiculous questions in the weeks leading up to it. I had to ask her how to boil potatoes and I am not ashamed to admit it. So you can see why this was an epic feat.
Our julemat menu: Ribber – salted ribs with sausage, peas and carrots, potatoes (cooked to perfection, I might add), gravy, Agurksalat – cucumber salad, Rødkål – red cabbage, and bread. Everybody ate it including Aksel who went all Viking on a piece of bone. And of course, Dizzy had a seat of honor at the table as well. It tasted like my childhood and it was glorious.
For dessert, I made Riskrem which is basically cooked rice and whipped cream with a berry compote drizzled on top. Lena and Jason didn’t like it but I thought it was delicious. It might be one of those things you have to grow up with; hence me feeding it my children starting now. Traditionally, there is an almond hidden in one of the bowls and whoever finds it wins a marzipan pig. They’re then in charge of handing out all the gifts (since you open presents on Christmas Eve). Big surprise, Lena won the pig and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. She also hasn’t stopped giggling about the pig’s “hiney crack” which makes for fun conversation in public.
With full bellies, it was on to the gifts. We try to just do one gift for each of us especially since our families always send a ton of stuff as well. Each of the kids got a Christmas-themed present. I can’t wait for next year when Aksel can use this advent calendar. I might steal it. And Lena was utterly enamored with her snow globe as it had all her favorite things inside – birch trees, a dog, and a red robin.
Earlier in the day, Jason had given me my gift as he apparently couldn’t contain his excitement anymore. It was an ergonomic ironing board and I can’t even begin to tell you how proud he was of this thing. I honestly thought he was joking and it wasn’t until several hours later that I realized he was serious. Lena made up for my lack of enthusiasm as she thought Daddy’s new surfboard was super cool. He’s a brave, brave man. Also, possibly a bit reckless.
However, he ended up surprising me with an iPhone and I was completely shocked, as you can see by my face. Tricky fella.
I mentioned earlier that Lena told Father Christmas she wanted a Batman. We have no idea where this came from but as Christmas got closer and closer, she kept talking about it. At the last minute, Jason decided to get one for her (sucker). I should have filmed her opening this as it was so over the top and ridiculous. Squeals, giggles, and full body shaking ensued. Good job, Daddy.
It was a very Merry Christmas indeed!
My favorite little boy in the whole world turned one and I’m not even sure how it happened. I remember the first year of Lena’s life went by at a snail’s pace and this little guy seems to have just rushed through the past twelve months at lightning speed. I suspect the fact that I am actually getting some sleep has a lot to do with it. When you’re awake for an entire year straight, it tends to feel a lot longer.
I had some mama guilt with this birthday as I did very little to prepare for it. In my defense, however, we had just returned from a weeklong trip to Malta and a week in Ireland a month before that. So life had been a bit busy.
Lena picked out the cake – a cheeky monkey – and from there, we had a loose circus theme going on. Animal cups, a circus tent, and loads of bunting and balloons.
Aksel wasn’t super thrilled about wearing his birthday crown that I made but I am determined to make this a tradition so he was forced to deal with it. Jason was equally unenthusiastic about wearing the birthday hats I bought but he, too, was forced to deal with it. Lucky guy. Also, that stray tooth peeking out the top gums is just about more than I can handle. Anybody want a Chiclet?
Our newly-one-year-old has also been flirting with walking and Jason captured my excited face when Aksel took a few steps. I think he could walk if he wanted to but he prefers watching me make a fool of myself when he teases me with baby steps. The sense of sarcasm is strong with this one. I think I am in for it.
Since we’d just returned home from a weeklong vacation, we had a small party with the next door neighbors. The upstairs looked like a clothing store had exploded with dirty laundry and before we left, Lena had broken a leg off the couch so it was squatting on the floor. This irked me way more than it should have but I felt like I had invited people over to a pigsty. Luckily, this group couldn’t have cared less and the kids threw all the toys everywhere within minutes of arriving so it was a moot point.
Being that Aksel was born in England, we had to honor his roots and play a game of Pass the Parcel. I’m definitely keeping this as a tradition even after we leave here as the kids love it. It’s basically like hot potato where you pass around a giant ball of wrapping paper and when the music stops, whoever has the ball opens up one layer. There’s a small gift inside each layer and you keep going until everyone has a present. We had brought home some glass butterflies from Malta for each of the girls and used that for our treat.
Then it was time for birthday cake; notice Jason restraining Aksel’s hands from grabbing the flame. The big girls nearly knocked the cake out of my hands they were so excited to help blow out the candles.
The girls also helped open presents and actually did pretty well at maintaining some composure. I could tell they wanted to rip into everything at once and the suspense was killing them. Aksel got completely spoiled with all sorts of new toys, clothes, and books. The blue journal in his hand is special to me and hopefully will be to Aksel, as well, once he’s older. On their first birthday, I’ve given each of our babies a journal that will be written in over the years. They include funny stories, hopes and dreams and different verses that we pray over the kids as they grow up. Jason and I both take turns writing in it when inspiration strikes and hopefully, when we are long gone, this will be a reminder of how much we loved them.
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that this little guy is no longer a baby. Aksel, you are an answer to your mama’s prayers in so many ways. You are an absolute joy to be around and the best little buddy to me. You have a knack for communicating with just a look or a gesture and your little smirk is going to be big trouble for me as it makes me melt. I love your open mouth kisses, your giant giggles when we go anywhere near your belly, and how you take everything in carefully before making a move. You’ve got an obsession with nipples (let’s hope that settles down a bit) and dancing to Missy Elliot or the Watoto Choir. You’re adored by your big sister and loved to pieces by your mama and daddy. Happy first birthday, Doo Doo Rod!! We love you so much.
Sending your baby to school can be a bit traumatic especially when said child is extremely stubborn, regularly refuses to eat, and is adamant about not using the toilet for up to 12 hours at a time. Luckily, Lena was assigned to the world’s most patient and clever teacher – Liia. We love Liia at our house. Lena has named nearly all her stuffed animals after her, I have bonded with her over our shared adventures in navigating Lena’s quirks, and Aksel has even acknowledged her presence with a smile and giggle from time to time. This is a pretty big deal coming from my little introvert.
Liia was pregnant with her first baby and since she hails from Estonia, it’s just her and her husband here in England. I asked if I could host a baby shower for her and she happily agreed. In case you’ve never heard of Estonia, it’s near Finland. For non-Scandinavians, this could still leave you confused so I suppose you could technically say it’s near Russia but you didn’t hear that from me. I’ve been told this is a faux pas when explaining Estonia’s geographic location.
Wanting to bring some Estonian flair to the party, I got to work looking up Estonian traditions. Imagine my surprise when I read that it’s considered bad luck to celebrate or gift anything before the baby is born. Oops. Apparently baby showers are only just gaining popularity in England as well so I was just all sorts of out of place with this idea. Luckily, I’m okay with that so I just went ahead. You can’t grow up wearing folk costumes, going to band camp, and having a strange name without gaining some thick skin. Thanks, parents!
Liia’s only request was nothing too girly which was fine by me. I came up with a simple invite and then got to work planning the games and decorations.
I apparently forgot that hosting a party means providing refreshments and had a minor moment of panic over this. Thankfully, my ever-reliable neighbor, Ellie, came to the rescue and basically saved the entire baby shower. You can safely assume that anything in these pictures that required prep work came from her. I was pretty proud of my cheese and meat selection until I remembered that pregnant ladies are meant to shy away from those things. I’m so smooth.
So we ate, we laughed, and we told horror stories about why you should never look in a full body mirror after giving birth. Lena and Evie were the self-designated assistants for the entire party and took their job very seriously. I think they were expecting Liia to actually have the baby at the shower and were confused as to why Baby H wasn’t there yet. I did offer my birthing suite to Liia in case she needed it – also known as the upstairs tub. Oddly, she declined my offer.
So perhaps it wasn’t the most traditional Estonian shower (since that doesn’t actually exist) but I think Liia enjoyed herself nonetheless!