Happy First Birthday, Baby Boy!

Happy First Birthday, Baby Boy!

My doctor said it may have been the barometric pressure that caused you to come three weeks early. Apparently that’s a thing. I’m convinced I walked you out. And we’re not talking about a leisurely walk around the neighborhood; I was on a mission. The final puzzle piece to your nursery was a small side table to put next to your rocking chair. I must’ve waddled around to five different stores that afternoon after work trying to find the perfect one. I even thought to myself, “Please God, do not let my water break inside HomeGoods.” Although that would be fitting for your mom. But I figured, nah I’ll be fine. I still had three weeks to go. 

But you had other plans. That saying is so true… “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” The house wasn’t cleaned to perfection… I’d just had my call with my back-ups at work that afternoon, but I still needed to wrap things up… I still didn’t have that damn side table. But you were coming regardless of any trivial plans we thought were important. And just like that, everything changed. There you were, all squishy and quiet. You made small, sweet sounds but didn’t cry. Was this normal? Maybe we got one that didn’t cry! Ha! You checked us out and we did the same. We finally met this sweet boy in person and had no clue what was next… I couldn’t stop staring at you. Who are you going to be? 

This past year has been full of adjustments. We still haven’t gotten used to waking up early on weekends or not always having our own time… and we might never get there. But you manage to make those trivial habits of our past just that… trivial. Your personality has shown itself more and more as the months have passed and I continue to love you more and more with each passing day. You are hilarious, with your random outbursts and made-up language. You make a bad day disappear when I pick you up. When you look at me with your big brown eyes, I know your smile is just for me. I’m not used to that feeling and I never want it to go away. You need me but I need you even more. Sometimes you’ll put your face to mine, forehead to forehead and look at me like we have a secret only the two of us share. That’s my favorite thing in the world. You are an amazing, smart, FUNNY, verbal, silly little guy and I’m so proud I was chosen to be your mommy. 

Happy first birthday, Nicholas Lewis! You are truly the light of my life!

Love,

Mommy

The day I went into labor at 37 weeks and one year later. 


The day we met our sweet baby boy. 

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Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 9 & 10

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 9 & 10

After dominating Todd in archery, we hopped in the car and got on the road to Dublin. It was about three hours south of Ashford Castle but very scenic so I didn’t mind the drive. I took in all the green, sheep pastures, cottages and B&Bs. Todd, on the other hand was a little uneasy and understandably so due to the narrow roads and driving on the donut. In an effort to get the clipped tyre (the Irish spell it “tyre”) fixed, the castle staff was super accommodating and called several tyre shops along the route to Dublin to see if anyone would be able to patch the tyre. So I guess hardly anything is open on Sundays there… On the route there was one tyre shop that seemed like it would work and had Sunday hours. We detoured off our route to get to this place only to be greeted by two young mechanics standing around and told us they didn’t have the tyre fixing machine in house until the following day. So what are you doing all day then? You’re a tyre shop. It’s like Arby’s saying they’re out of roast beef. C’est la vie.

We finally made it to Dublin, after driving slowly the entire way since we were on the donut and letting all the other crazy Irish drivers pass us on the highway. We were staying at the Westin in Dublin (points) and it happened to be right next to the Temple Bar district. Nice. Lots of restaurants and of course, lots of pubs. We took a brief rest and then met Tessa and Anthony in the lobby to head out for the Guinness tour followed by dinner. They arrived the day before from Galway and had already spent some time in the city. The Guinness Brewery was super old and industrial as you would imagine it to be. Sadly the tour lacked in excitement as it wasn’t free, wasn’t guided and you walked through, watching screens of Guinness employees going over each step in the brewing process. So Budweiser > Guinness there. But at the end of the tour you go to the top floor to get your free beer. And what a view from the top! The all-windowed room overlooked all of Dublin, giving guests a view of the beautiful city at night. Good surprise for a mediocre tour! 

After Guinness we headed back to the district by our hotel. Our bellman gave us some recommendations of restaurants in the area and suggested one that served boxty. What is boxty, you ask? Think meat served wrapped inside a potato pancake… but not latke-like… it almost looked like a really thin piece of bread/tortilla. They love potatoes in Ireland. It didn’t disappoint. 

After that, I retired for the evening while Todd and Tessa stayed out and bar-hopped a little in the area. The next day, Todd took the tyre to a shop to get it repaired so Hertz didn’t try to charge us for way more than it should cost to fix. He got back and we wandered around the area for a bit… in the pub area there was a crazy drunk Irishman yelling to himself while wondering down the street and even though we were inside a store, we could hear him before we walked outside and saw him. People we watching him. I’m guessing this is normal. 

We had lunch at a kabab house called Abra-Kababra because we saw it had fountain sodas when walking by. We also really like gyros. So we ordered and the lone Eastern European woman on staff made our meal. Once served, our Diet Cokes were served warm, with no ice. Upon asking for ice we were told she didn’t have ice. Then Todd found a long black hair in his gyro. I thought I was going to be sick and lost my appetite but Todd thought it was pretty good (the gyro, not the hair). 

After that we made our way over to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The line was a mile long when we got there so we decided against it. We wandered around campus though and it was beautiful. 

I finished the day at the Aran Sweater Store looking for my family’s pattern. Each clan has their own specific weave and each weave means something different. 

“Each stitch carries its own unique meaning, a historic legacy from the lives of the Island community many years ago. The Cable Stitch is a depiction of the fisherman’s ropes, and represents a wish for a fruitful day at sea. The Diamond Stitch reflects the small fields of the islands. These diamonds are sometimes filled with Irish moss stitch, depicting the seaweed that was used to fertilise the barren fields and produce a good harvest. Hence the diamond stitch is a wish for success and wealth. The Zig Zag Stitch, a half diamond, is often used in the Aran Sweaters, and popularly represents the twisting cliff paths on the islands. The Tree of Life is one of the original stitches, and is unique to the earliest examples of the Aran knitwear. It again reflects the importance of the clan, and is an expression of a desire for clan unity, with long-lived parents and strong children.”
– History of Aran Sweaters, http://www.aransweatermarket.com/history-of-aran-sweaters

Farrell was pretty easy to find but I knew I wouldn’t wear a sweater or scarf with Texas being as warm as it is a majority of the year. We did find a throw blanket but with all the stuff we were already bringing home, we didn’t get it. It would be an awesome gift though, and that was hinted to Todd. 

Next Todd headed out to meet T&A for the Jameson tour. I bailed because I’m not a Jameson drinker, or a whiskey drinker at all for that matter. They said it was pretty cool but I didn’t feel I was missing much. You’ll have to ask Todd about that one!

We ended our last night of the trip out and about at the bars around our hotel. Most had live musicians playing and we had a few drinks before dinner. And then we got on the plane the next morning to come home. Sorry for the anti-climactic ending there, but I think it reflects our tiredness.

What was one of the first things I did when I got back to the good ol’ US of A?!? I went to RaceTrac and got a 32oz fountain soda with lots of ice, of course!

So, in summary…….

Favorite part of entire trip: Hands down, Ashford Castle… and the archery.

Favorite parts of Japan: Robot Restaurant, Kyoto steakhouse, people-watching and scenery in Kyoto

Favorite parts of Ireland: Listening to an Irish band play at an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day, archery, the people, Irish pride

What did I like better… Ireland or Japan? Ireland

One thing I wish I could bring back but can’t: The weather in Japan

Top 3 favorite cities visited to date (based on EuroTrip Part Une, Eurotrip Part Deux and this trip:

1. Galway

2. Prague

3. Barcelona


Guinness tour


Near Temple Bar District


Trinity College

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 7 & 8

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 7 & 8

[There’s not really a day 6… unless you want to hear about the longest travel day ever. I’ll spare you.]

…From the Land of the Rising Sun to the Land of the Lucky!

We arrived in Galway late on the 16th after the longest travel day of our lives. This includes a flight from Tokyo to London, followed by another flight from London to Ireland and then a two hour drive from Dublin to Galway. To say we were exhausted was an understatement. We arrived at the g Hotel around midnight and crashed. The g is a boutique hotel in Galway as there are no major name hotels Todd could’ve booked with points there. It was cool but the dirty carpet in our room deterred me a little… Galway is a cool city though, so I let that slide. 

Since we arrived in Galway so late at night, it was dark and hard to see any of the city while pulling up to the hotel. We saw a Petmania and a movie theater… so I figured Galway was like Plano, a suburban Irish city. In the light of day though, the town took on a whole different look. Very quaint and cute and along water, so a fishing town. There were daffodils growing wildly along the roads, which only added to its charm. We woke up on the 17th ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland but we opted for Galway, as opposed to Dublin, wanting to bypass any craziness and drunkenness in the streets. 

It was pouring rain in Galway on St Pat’s Day but we figured that was the norm in Ireland anyway so we trekked it out to the parade route with a huge golf umbrella and our rain gear. Before we left on this trip, I checked the weather and it was supposed to rain in Ireland every day we were there… Luckily we live by the outlets so I was able to run to the North Face outlet and pick up a rain trench at 60% off. Best money I’ve spent in awhile! I definitely needed it! Anywho, the parade was quaint like the town. Lots of youngsters marching as part of their club football (soccer) and hurling teams. They start them young there! There were more daffodils on the roads as well as a carousel along the parade route, with pubs flanking the streets on both sides. When the parade ended, we ducked into a pub nearby to dry off and have beers. It was everything I imagined in my head and hoped it would be! Your typical Irish pub but actually in Ireland with Irish music playing in the background. We went to another pub and then made our way back to the hotel to meet our friends, Tessa and Anthony who were meeting us in Ireland for the remainder of the trip. Anthony is Todd’s boss/friend and Tessa is his wife and our realtor who became a good friend. We ventured out and spent the evening listening to live music and trying to find a pub with seats for all. I got to hear an Irish band play Galway Girl in a Galway pub and my day was made. It was pretty crowded in the evening so we eventually ate and ended up going back to get some sleep. I did notice they like Papa John’s in Ireland… interesting. Lots of them around. 
The next day we woke up, did some shopping and I found Nick a newsboy cap and mini rugby jersey that was baby-size. We also found the jewelry store where the claddaugh ring got its start (Google claddaugh). Exciting stuff. 

Todd and I headed out from there to make our way to Ashford Castle in Cong (that’s the name of the town it’s in) and split up from T&A, who were heading to Dublin a day ahead of us as they had already spent time at the castle before meeting us in Galway. We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way out of Galway to get fountain sodas because again, McDonald’s is the only GD place outside of the US you can get a fountain soda with ice. ***Sidebar – I’m so proud to be an American… in the land where you can get a 44oz fountain Coke Zero with lots of ice almost anywhere. God bless the USA! (first world problems)*** Anyway, the only reason the part of this story is important is first to declare my love for fountain sodas and then also to mention this is when Todd clipped the car on a curb because they drive on the left (wrong) side of the road in Ireland and Americans have to deal with that in rentals. We put the donut on and proceeded onto Ashford Castle, navigating on tiny, narrow, two-lane country roads. At least the scenery was beautiful. More daffodils, sheep, stone walls and green land as far as the eye could see. They don’t call this the Emerald Isle for nothing. Despite the rain, this is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s all relative but I enjoy the country, and Ireland definitely lived up to all my expectations and more. 

Ashford Castle was the bomb.com (yep, just wrote that). We pulled up and immediately felt sadness that we were only staying one night but excitement to tour the grounds. We checked in and the staff took us on a brief tour and explained the activities they have on site. In the lobby we noticed several raincoats and pairs of wellies/Hunter boots for guests use while doing various activities. We checked in, checked out our room and immediately went back up front to borrow bikes so that we could ride around the grounds. We also borrowed some boots and raincoats but that’s really because I love wearing colorful Hunter boots. 

Bike riding was short-lived as we made it five minutes when Todd’s chain came off his bike. Todd must’ve been cursed that day because first the car and then this? But it was fine and we just walked the grounds after that. It was cold and rainy so we followed our walk with a trip to the castle’s bar. Todd had beer and I had afternoon tea. It was lovely. 

The next day we woke up, got ready, ate and then made our way to the activity area for archery. Hopefully no one’s thinking what dorks they as for doing activities (not that I care), but it’s the norm to take part in activities at this place just because they all sound awesome! We really needed more than a day there to enjoy everything but archery was fun. The instructor gave us a quick lesson and we did some challenges… in which I beat Todd. I’m a quick study. I asked the guy if archery was popular there and he said it was on the uptick due to The Hunger Games. Shocker. Next time we visit I want to pack in clay shooting, horseback riding and the school of falconry. Yep… sounds straight out of Harry Potter or something but really exists. 

Ashford was awesome… no, magical. 

So that sums up the first leg of Ireland. I’ll post about Dublin so this breaks things up a bit. 


Rental car… driving on the wrong side


St. Patrick’s Day parade in Galway


Ashford Castle


Archery… when I beat Todd. 

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 4 & 5

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 4 & 5

So many shrines, so little time. Kyoto is stuffed with temples and shrines, one more beautiful than the next. During our last day, we visited Tenryū-ji, a temple with grounds famous for zen gardens, koi fish and cherry blossoms. We didn’t go into the temple since we’d have to take our shoes off and my boots are hard to take on and off and Todd can’t really fit into the tiny slippers they offer you. They’re also hard to walk around in. At the end of the shrine, we walked into the Bamboo Forest with – surprise!… Bamboo trees! They were as tall as the eye could see and surrounded you on both sides. Neat.

Before the shrine and forest, I will have to back up and tell you about some pancakes I had that day. We found some hole in the wall breakfast place and I ordered strawberry pancakes. I guess I had to travel all the way to Kyoto to have the best pancakes of my life. The place was called Eggs & Things and it was actually Hawaiian-type food. Aloha.

Next we ventured over to Teramachi Street, which is a shopping arcade with lots of random goods: junk, foods, souvenirs, clothes, etc. Here is where I found my officially official Kimono (Yukata maybe?), but I still don’t know how to tie the obi. I’ll have to YouTube that one. Now Nick, Todd and I can go as a Japanese family for Halloween in all our Japanese wear. I’m pretty sure we’ll be the coolest family on the block.

Once finished at Teramachi, we walked to the Nishiki Market. It’s a fresh food market and we’ve gotten into a pattern of ending up in these places on our travels. But unlike the Naschmarkt in Vienna and Las Ramblas in Barcelona, I don’t know what the hell they were selling in this market. Fresh seafood definitely, but what, I couldn’t tell ya and I definitely wouldn’t try it. I’m not that adventurous. We saw lots of stuff with tentacles, and while the locals eat these things on sticks like kabobs, Todd and I passed on the blind taste test. We did stop in a sweet shop for some ice cream though, and tried the green tea flavor. Excuse my French but that sh*t is nasty!

We ended the day eating at a gastro pub. Yep… sometimes you just need to eat the familiar. Pizza. And it was delicious.

The next day we headed back to Tokyo as we had one day left in Japan and were flying out of Tokyo on Thursday. We made it to the Akihabara Electric City, which was somewhat of a disappointment. We expected it to be so suped up with lights and activity but instead all the businesses were closing down for the night around 8:30. So I guess you have to get there a little earlier to enjoy the crazy lights? It did redeem itself when we saw people dressed as Super Mario characters zooming down the street in go carts. Mind blown. Did I mention that Todd and I stopped into an arcade for some old school Sega Street Fighter II during this trip? Because we did. Brought me back to age nine when Jimmy would occasionally share his game console with me so I could learn the ways. Todd was Ken… does anyone else think Ken looks like Owen Wilson? Because he does. I was Vega. Then for another round I was E. Honda because the joystick jammed and that’s who it landed on for me. I wasn’t pleased.

So my overall take on Japan? It’s very different from the US. Tokyo is bustling and populated and Kyoto is its opposite. It’s very clean, with a lack of trash cans on the streets, and plenty of super toilets and face masks. People stand and walk to the left, whereas Americans tend to go to the right. Their food is different… mostly tasty but some a little too weird for me. Eggs tend to be orange-tinged and unnecessarily put in a lot of stuff. And they like tofu and tentacles. I’ve gotten used to eating with chopsticks so it will be an adjustment going back to forks and knives. Their language takes dominance on all marketing, maps, signs, etc… but hey, it’s their country! And if you look around on public transit, a lot of their posted ads are super weird and funny; Think large muppet monsters and cute Asian girls or robots tucking people in their beds at night. I’m not sure what was being advertised but they made me laugh.

Thursday (today) is a travel day so I’ll spare you the details. Nothing too exciting.

Now we head to the motherland to see if we can find any hearts, stars, horeshoes and clovers! Yes, that would be Ireland.

Sidenote: Japan followed by Ireland, you might ask? A little random, you think? Yes, we know… they are two pretty random countries to visit on one trip and have nothing in common. It was just on Todd’s bucket list to fly around the world, so we are literally flying around the world: east to west. We only have enough vacation time for two countries so these are the two that got picked!


Best pancakes in the world!


Tenryū-ji

Raked zen garden


Tons of koi


Bamboo Forest


Real life Mario Kart

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 2 & 3

Our [Abbreviated] Amazing Race – Days 2 & 3

We made it to Kyoto yesterday after a quick train ride. They don’t mess around with public transit here. Buses, subways and trains come and go right on time, with a very quick window to get on and off. If you’re not on when the train is scheduled to leave, too bad so sad. And everyone is very quiet during the rides. I felt like those loud Americans chatting with Todd while riding the bus today, even though I was speaking in a hushed tone. Again, everyone seems to keep to themselves here. I’m starting to feel akin to the quietness of their culture. I don’t like to talk to people either… unless I know them well… and sometimes not even then.
Anywho………

So back to Kyoto. I think it’s fair to call Kyoto the introverted little sister of Tokyo. Unlike the bustling streets of Tokyo, Kyoto is very quiet and runs at a slower pace… which I like. It’s very charming and old-world Japan with its cherry blossoms, shrines and kimono-clad women walking around town. It’s a very bike-friendly city and I’ve noticed less locals sport the protective face masks here than in Tokyo (I forgot to mention in my last post how many folks wear sickness-prevention masks in Tokyo.) If Tokyo is the future, Kyoto is the past.

Thanks to my crazy husband’s obsession with credit card points, we are staying at the Ritz in Kyoto. No, we are not rich… he just loves points that much. Once we arrived, I almost didn’t want to leave the hotel. With our zen garden view and origami swans to greet us in our room, it’s easy to understand why. We have another future-toilet and a traditional Japanese bathroom, with wooden slats instead of a shower floor. I won’t bore you with the rest of the hotel details but it’s pretty sweet.

So anyway, last night we Yelped where to eat and found a teeny tiny hole in the wall known for its fried gyoza (dumplings). Super tasty. I’ve had dumplings before but never fried. Two thumbs up for whatever this hole in the wall was called.

Yadda, yadda, yadda… Fast forward to today… We took the city bus around town. We visited Kinkaku-ji, a beautiful Buddhist temple and probably one of the most famous in the city. While there, we noticed people burning punks and tying paper to horizontally tied strings. All probably Buddhist traditions we were not knowledgeable of, but neat to watch nevertheless. It kind of smelled like incense mixed with the smell of a fireworks stand in summertime. Lots of ponds and serene scenery, followed by our first taste of sesame ice cream in a waffle cone. [Hey, Japan… you know where the waffle cone started?!] Sesame ice cream is gray and tasted like Butterfingers in my opinion. Definitely two thumbs up again.

Next we ventured to the Higashiyama district, near the Kiyomizudera temple. Lots of small restaurants and souvenirs shops along the main drag, starting from the top of the hill where you can find the temple. We are a little early for the cherry blossoms but some were in bloom by the temple and you could see several women in traditional Japanese kimonos posing for pictures in front of the shrine and the blossoms.  Very beautiful and old-world.

The day ended with a serendipitous discovery of a tiny Japanese steakhouse. I had to look it up but the style of dining is called Sukiyaki and you dine in private tatami rooms while being served by traditionally-clad servers. It was the first place that required us to remove our shoes upon entry and in exchange they provided slippers to wear to your private room; These slippers were to be removed outside the door of the room. Once inside, we sat on floor chairs at a low table and ordered saki and wagyu steak, which was cooked at our table and served with various vegetables, rice, miso soup and then dessert. Our room was flanked with paper walls and a view of what looked like a garden.  Super traditional and I’m so glad we ate there. Here’s the Yelp link in case anyone cares enough to check it out: https://www.yelp.com/biz/qtplM-MXwixDeDArZBCZKQ?uid=N4BbeIbQNgtUEEMutu9U3w&utm_source=ishare&utm_medium=s_nb_i_mg

So that’s it for now! I’ll post more as our trip continues.

Goodnight (or good Monday morning to all of you)!


Room view


Kinkaku-ji shrine


Sesame ice cream


Kiyomizudera and cherry blossoms


Japanese steakhouse

Testing… Testing… 1, 2, 3

Todd and I are heading out for another adventure today. For those who humor me by reading my biannual blog posts, I will do my best to capture all the highlights of our trip – most importantly the robot show in Tokyo. Because I know you’re all chomping at the bit to hear about robots fighting each other under neon lights… I will try to include some worldly information as well… but life-size Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots are at the top of my list. 

Stay tuned…