A Year of Thanks

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Christmas Blitz January 14, 2015

Filed under: family fun — courtsbrogno @ 9:53 am

After getting back from Ireland, I was in full mode Christmas planning. After all, I only had three days to finish up some shopping (fortunately I had already bought 90% of my gifts), wrap everything, clean the house, bake cookies, and do this all while keeping the kids busy and suffering from total jet lag.

This year I had made the decision to go “light” on presents. Last year was such a total overload that I can’t even remember what each kid received. So I really didn’t buy the kids anything but one or two gifts–and things they really wanted or needed. My sister and I made the same decision about the entire family. We all got gifts, but small gifts–nothing that cost too much and something we actually needed.

So everything worked out great. Except my present wrapping. That was just a hot mess.

Christmas Eve we went to my parent’s house for dinner and family time. We ate, talked, tracked Santa, and generally everyone got super annoyed at Luke because he could not contain his enthusiasm for Santa which made him behave like a bat-shit crazy person. Other than that, though, we had a good time.


(First decent family photo in a long time)

cl3(Cate and Luke. Their cuteness kills me.)

ben(Me and baby Ben. He is just so adorable.)

brit(I know I dressed Luke, but I didn’t realize I made him look like a British rock star.)

cookies(Finally getting kicked out of my parent’s house–ahem, I mean going home–and putting out cookies and milk for Santa)

My head hit the pillow and before I knew it, I opened my eyes to Luke’s huge face directly in front of mine, asking “Can I open presents? Is it time? Can I? Can I? Mommy. Mommy. Listen to me.” I looked at my phone and the time was 6:30 am. I have one Christmas rule and that is NO OPENING PRESENTS UNTIL 7 AM. So I told Luke to wait another half hour and I got up, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and made some coffee.

But let me tell you, that 1/2 hour was the longest of my life because Luke kept pestering me for the time (“It’s 6:38, Luke. Now it’s 6:40, Luke. It’s 6:41, Luke”) and having to wake up the ultimate teenage girl, Maddie, who would have slept until 10 if she had her way and even though she had presents waiting for her, grumbled as she tried to get out of bed.

Finally, it was time.

santa(Santa gifts first! Luke got what he wanted:  My Little Ponies and Frozen figurines sets. Maddie got slippers: I swear that’s what she asked for.)


(How Luke acted every time he opened a gift that contained clothes. The exact opposite of his sister.)

family(The mess of toys and clothes, but most importantly, sharing the morning with family)

fav(Probably Luke’s favorite gift that came from my parents–a 26 foot, 4 car, track that lights up in the dark)

birk(Probably Maddie’s favorite gift–a pair of Birkenstocks. And Lord help me if I swore that Birkenstocks would never cross the threshold of MY house. If this doesn’t prove how much I truly love Maddie, then I don’t know what does)

pins(My favorite gift came from my sister: 2 buttons that read #READ and All you need is BOOKS. I wear them with pride on my denim jacket)

necklace(A good friend also gave me this beautiful necklace that I love, love, love)

cl(Christmas playtime with Cate and Luke–I took them to the movies)

cl2(The they created an entire town from Luke’s new play-doh set.)

I think this was my favorite Christmas yet because we really just enjoyed each other as a family and there wasn’t an over-abundance of toys everywhere. It felt like what the season should be about–playing with new toys/outfits, for sure, but also just hanging around with family and savoring that crazy/loving/anticipatory feeling of Christmas.


I left my heart and soul in Ireland January 7, 2015

Filed under: adult fun — courtsbrogno @ 10:51 am

It’s true, I left it all in Ireland. the country captured me. It’s the first country I can say with full authority that “I would live here.” Despite the weather and the rain, the horrible food, and the pale, white people, I would happily live in Ireland because the people are the nicest I’ve ever met, the culture is one of inclusivity, and  there is always something to do for all ages.

So back to my trip. i made it to Galway. I found the right bus, didn’t get lost, and loved this city. My friend, Kelly, lived in Ireland for two years and she lived in Galway. I never understood why she didn’t live in Dublin but now I totally get it. Galway is much more bohemian, more laid back. It’s a much smaller city with less historical sights to visit, but there’s just something there that made it amazing.


(I stayed at the Eyre Square Hotel, which i solely picked because of the “Eyre” part, which reminded me of Jane Eyre. It was a good choice too. It was right in the middle of Eyre Square, the hub of downtown Galway and the price was within my small budget.)

Galway has beautiful streets and shops and people and because it’s a college town it seems much more liberal and less cosmopolitan than Dublin.


(This was in the middle of Eyre square: A Christmas Market. From what i was told it’s set up by a German company. but they had a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and lots of little shops. It was cute, I have to admit.)

g 2

(The main shopping area, pedestrian only. And although there were little mom and pop shops, they also had Prada, Top Shop, and other high priced fancy shops that i didn’t dare go into).

g 1

(I took this picture just because I loved this corner and I would sit at a cafe every morning, having coffee and staring at this building)

g 3

(I loved the old and the new buildings side by side.)

I also took a tour. I know, me. I’m not a tour person, but i really wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher and although i had offers from people I met to take me, i decided it might be more interesting to go on a bus and hear a professional talk about it. I wasn’t disappointed.


(We first visited the Burren region, which is 125 square miles of limestone landscape on the Western seaboard of Ireland. It was interesting and beautiful, but mostly just rolling green hills with sheep and cows and tons of limestone. the limestone is cool, though, because the Irish use it to make the most beautiful stone walls I’ve ever seen.)

stone wall

(See: beautiful stone walls everywhere. I really, really wish we did something like this in California instead of just using concrete barriers.)


(The Burren region with beautiful stone walls)


(How Irish is this? I saw a rainbow!)

Then we went to Aillwee Cave, which is an underground cavern with bridged chasms and waterfalls. I must say, I really wasn’t that impressed.


cave 5caves 2

Finally we made it to the Cliffs of Moher and even though it was so windy and cold and rainy, it was beautiful. My pictures do NOT do this place justice.

cliffs 3


cliffs 2


(O’Briens tower)


(I was so interested in who could possibly have lived here–in the past, before it was a tourist attraction–because all I kept thinking while I was there was “The Cliffs of Insanity” from The Princess Bride. This is because the cliffs are so treacherous looking. I wondered how many ships had crashed among them. But then I learned that this was a great fishing area and the Irish used (and still some do) a small bay a few miles up the coast. Regardless, I learned a lot).

There was this great pub across the street from my hotel that I went to every night in Galway and I made a friend who took me in his car to visit the Wild Atlantic Way, which is basically a scenic drive just like our Highway 1. It was gorgeous.




We also visited some small towns on the Western coast and there’s only one word to describe these towns: bucolic.


(A typical town)


(Houses with THATCHED ROOFS! Adorable)



(Just a few of the quaint houses)

Finally we visited Dunguaire castle. In the summer you can take tours, but it was closed for the winter, yet it was still beautiful.

castlecastle 3

castle 2

And that was my end of Galway. I had such a great time in this city. I can’t recommend it enough.

Then it was another bus ride back to Dublin (that I didn’t get lost or confused by! I’m actually so proud of myself).

I checked into my hotel and was put in the smallest hotel room ever, but it was fine because I was in the Temple Bar area, the price was affordable, and I didn’t spend much time in my hotel anyway.

d small hotel

(Smallest hotel room EVER)

d hotel

(But my hotel room did have a cute view)

I spent some time wandering around the city some more:

d river

(The river. This is how the Vikings got into Ireland and defeated them)

The streets were just beautiful. So many little, curvy side-streets and cobblestone paths:

d street 2

d street

Because I already visited most of the “hot spots” in Dublin, I want to focus on the more mundane, but exciting part of Dublin, like the nightlife, which was amazing. Every night, I would wander into a pub and at every pub I saw, there was always someone playing music (American, British, Irish covers) and the best part was that everyone would sing along, and I HAD THE BEST TIME. Here in America, you go to a bar/pub and you meet friends and sit with them and kind of keep to yourself, but in Ireland, everyone is talking to everyone and putting their arms around each other and just singing. It was incredible.

best music

(These two guys were my favorite. they could sing anything from Johnny Cash to Aretha Franklin to Oasis to, of course, Ed Sheeran)

And no matter where I went, I couldn’t escape these two songs, which were sung at least three times at each bar with everyone singing at the top of their lungs:


(I finally tried the beer Kilkenny and LOVED it. hate to admit it, but I liked it more than Guinness)

But even I have to admit that I got tired of beer and for one night I actually had a glass of wine:

d wine

And I actually made it one night to Temple Bar, the most popular and most expensive bar in Ireland. It’s a complete tourist trap, but it was fun:

temple bar

And no matter where I went, almost everyone was wearing an ugly sweater because that’s what you do during Christmas in Ireland. They do this without a hint of irony either.

ugly sweater

And I made some great friends:


And then it was time to go home. And, ohhhh, I didn’t want to. Sure I missed my kids, but I wanted to stay longer. To keep going to pubs and singing. To meet nice and new people. To wander around at my own whim. But, Christmas was coming and I had a plane to catch.

I must say, the Dublin airport has US Precustoms (where you go through US customs in Ireland instead of the US), which I had never done before, and it was a bit confusing, and I had stayed out until 4 am and got to the airport at 6:45 am and was seriously hung over. As proof, this is how I looked:

coming home

But on both flights home, I was in economy plus–only because not enough people bought into these seats, so the airline randomly just puts passengers in them–and it was such a better flight experience. So much more leg room, working TV/Movies. I felt so spoiled.

coming home 2

I got home around 10;30 p.m. on December 22nd, and went immediately to bed. And I was extremely happy to wake up to this:

coming home 3

Until I was bombarded with: “Mommy, I’m hungry. Mommy I want a donut for breakfast. Mommy I want to go to the park. When is Santa coming?” And from Maddie: “Hi Mom. I need to go do this…and can Lily come over tonight? And I have to make sure this gets done….and, and, and..”