Expats in Ireland


Table peeps

As my fellow expat and friend Lily said during our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday evening, our friends are family to us as we don’t have our blood relatives nearby. Whether they know it or not, our mates play a very important role in our lives here – far away from our moms, dads, sisters and brothers back home.

This was the spirit behind what my friends Bill and Sharon dubbed Thanksgivingpolooza, a three-day weekend away in the midlands of Ireland to celebrate a very American holiday. The idea sprung about a couple of months ago, when Mountaineering Man considered who we could invite for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Every year we have to choose just a handful of friends, as our space in Dublin simply doesn’t allow for any more. A hunt for a bigger space was launched.

House

After some Google searches and Twitter queries I came across Bishopstown House, a beautifully-restored Georgian estate with multiple bedrooms, two sitting rooms, a roof deck and a massive kitchen. There’s also a private pub and more bedrooms next door in a converted stable house. There is some interesting history behind the building; Michael Jackson chose it to be his Irish estate but he passed away before the refurb was completed. It is now rented out as a holiday home. Sad for the King of Pop, but lucky for us! After a few group emails, I booked it and on Friday we all met up at the property with food, drink and supplies and hunkered down for the weekend. Thanksgivingpolooza 2013 was on!

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For the first year I lived in Ireland, I mainly worked from home. While I loved the freedom (making my own schedule, staying in my PJs, etc.) it wasn’t the best way to socialise myself in a new country.

Though I had a small group of friends in Drogheda (where I lived back when I first came here), I was starting to feel pretty lonely working at my dining room table most days with little to no interaction with other human beings. It was so depressing that at one point, I was putting on makeup and getting excited about a trip to Tesco for milk and eggs. At least I could talk to someone, even if the interaction was limited to a 3-minute chat with the check-out lady.

After relocating to Dublin and moving in with Mountaineering Man, I took a job at a digital creative agency in town. As with most agencies, the hours were long which meant that I spent more time with my 50-odd colleagues than I did with MM or anyone else in my personal life.

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The people who really became my family there was my workgroup – the Social Media team. There were four of us for most of my time there and I was the only female in the bunch. We were a scrappy lot, and I mean that in the best way. Philip – a long-haired thrash metal rocker with a sharp wit and a thick Northern accent – welcomed me into the fold with a typed-up list of recommendations and advice. “Don’t ever, EVER eat at the Bridge Café,” he wrote, referring to the greasy spoon deli and one of the only choices for food near the office.

To this day, I’ve never eaten there – despite the fact that Philip has gone against his own advice and eats there almost DAILY now (“I was wrong about it!” he claims, though I attribute his change of heart to sheer desperation thanks to a lack of decent eateries in the Ringsend area). Philip is the master of the hilarious yet thought-provoking quip (“Some day soon, somebody is going to print a 3D printer on a 3D printer and the universe is going to implode”) – and so-bad-they’re-good jokes.

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Even on the sunniest of days, when the sky and the ocean simultaneously reflect the most radiant shades of blue and the birds chirp away in the full, lush trees and everyone’s showing off their stems in rarely-worn shorts and exposing their bashful big toes in sandals; even on those rare, beautiful Spring days in Dublin, there’s something missing.

It was one of those days yesterday, and while Mountaineering Man toiled away at the office I decided to head out into town and get some much-needed Vitamin D, plus a few other things I’ve been meaning to purchase. My first stop was Fallon & Byrne, a place that has become almost a sacred place for me. Some people have churches; I have gourmet food shops and farmers’ markets. Even if I only need one item, I amble down every aisle and rest my eyes for at least a few seconds on every single item on every single shelf. From smoked salted almonds and squid ink lasagna sheets to sweet-smelling star fruit and whole wild rabbits, the selection is comprised of the most wonderful, mysterious things that never fail to inspire.

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For the first year after I moved to Ireland, I lived alone in a lovely upper-floor apartment in Drogheda. And for several years prior to my move to Ireland, I lived alone without any live-in beaus or roommates to speak of.

I don’t look back on this with any sadness or regret; in fact, when I finally decided to ditch the roommate situation and branch out on my own, I was beyond ready to go solo. My last roommate (in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time) was an actress who didn’t have a day-job, which meant she was in our apartment all the time. It got to the point where I’d pull into our driveway after a long day at work and groan when I saw her car there – just once I wanted it and her NOT to be there, laying about on the couch and nagging me about everything from whether I’d read her magazines without asking to when I’d planned to move the unwashed fork from the sink into the dishwasher.

Though for the first few weeks I was a bit chicken (one unfamiliar noise in the dark would almost make pine for the company of that lay-about actress) I settled into bachelorette living and embraced having my own space. It was nice to come home from work, fix myself dinner and not have to worry about whether someone else had already tuned the television to some stupid show I had no desire to watch. I could literally kick off my shoes, flip on the telly and eat cereal out of the box if I so pleased.

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When I first moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I was a wide-eyed American girl with sense of adventure and an open mind…or so I thought. After the initial excitement of living in a new country wore off, I started to realise that living in Ireland meant I would be getting a lot of practice working on something I wasn’t so good at: Patience.

I recall the first time I strolled down to the post office during lunch, just to find out many post offices are closed during the 1-2 PM lunch break. Seriously? How does this make any sense? Most people use their weekday lunch time to run errands, like go to the bank, drop off the dry cleaning and GO TO THE POST OFFICE. GROAN!

Particularly when I lived in Drogheda, a trip to the grocery store could take twice as long as planned thanks to the chatterboxes that work the cash registers. Oh Mary, you’re looking well! What are ye up to? Aw that’s a lovely restaurant, we love it. Make sure to get the steak and….oh sure treat yourself, you deserve it! This could go on for minutes…tens of minutes. Never mind there’s a half-dozen of us in line behind Mary, waiting to get back to work or back to the car that’s sitting in the pay-by-the-hour car park.

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Irish Curried Potatoes

As I sit here typing this blog post, I’m looking outside at the wind and rain and bracing myself for the sleet that is forecasted for this evening. If Irish people are buying that this is Spring, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The only thing that’s Spring-y about this weather is, well, nothing.

Still, it could be worse. And despite Mountaineering Man’s grumblings about the cruel and unrelenting Irish weather (and financial crisis and corrupt politicians), I still love it here. It’s funny how many times a day I get the OMG WHY DID YOU MOVE HERE FROM LOS ANGELES double-take from stunned Irish people. It’s typically followed by a statement about how bad things are here and how they can’t imagine why anyone would actually want to move to Ireland.

The sentiment I get from blog readers abroad is the complete opposite. I get a dozen emails every week from people all over the world who are dying to live here. They dream of the rolling green hills, the cosy pubs and great Irish craic and they ask me a lot of questions about how they can make that dream a reality. Their love and admiration for the country is palpable; they speak of Ireland with the kind of dreamy enthusiasm that many express about places like Paris, Tuscany and Manhattan.

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Exactly three years ago today, I landed in Ireland as a wide-eyed and optimistic American in search of a new adventure. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve found far more than adventure; in Ireland, I’ve found a new life.

It’s fun to look back on old blog posts to see what I went through in the early days. I can recall my surprise when I saw how dressy girls would get for a night out. I was from Los Angeles, where a typical Saturday night out meant a nice pair of jeans and a dressy top, and here girls were putting in hair extensions, spraying on the fake tan and slipping into their best dress for a night out. There were many lessons to be learned in those days…remember how I struggled with understanding the accent (in my case, the not-so-listener-friendly dialect of Drogheda, where I first settled) and how much fun I had upon discovering the charm of the good, old-fashioned country pub?

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Like anyone adjusting to living in a new country, I had major moments of frustration; what with the weather, the summer greenfly infestations and major lack of good customer service some days were trying to say the least. And I had some really low points too. I missed my family and friends, felt hopeless about dating here and at times wondered if moving to Ireland was the right decision.

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But the good outweighed the bad by overwhelming numbers and that’s what kept me going. Ireland, with all of its quirks and oddities, is an enAnne 2dless source of inspiration and I am always discovering something new and unique. I even learned to cope with the weather, though I will admit I still struggle with it at times. And while many Irish questioned why on earth anyone would want to move to their crippled country, I found many reasons why I wanted to stay and met many locals who felt the same.

In the last 36 months I’ve met so many incredible people, developed some amazing friendships and met & married the love of my life, Mountaineering Man. It’s wild to think that so much can happen in such a short time, but I suppose that’s the magic of Ireland.

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Smoked Mackerel Pizza

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This dish is a little Los Angeles and a little Ireland all in one. I discovered it when my sister made it for me on our recent trip to LA, but found it works great with the local smoked mackerel (she used trout in hers). It’s super easy and quick to throw together for a dinner party appetizer and you can find all the ingredients at your local market.

1 large pizza crust, baked & cooled. I found mine at Fresh market in the deli section; there is two per pack and bakes up in about 8 minutes.

5 tablespoons crème fraiche or plain yogurt

3 tablespoons horseradish cream

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

1 fillet smoked mackerel

3 tablespoons chopped chives

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the crème fraiche (or yogurt), horseradish cream, lemon juice and salt. Using a spoon or spatula, spread evenly over the baked and cooled pizza crust. Using your fingers, take small pieces of mackerel fillet and place the pieces evenly over the crème fraiche on the pizza. Sprinkle on the chives, slice and serve. Goes great with champagne!

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Resolutions – everyone has an opinion about them. Some friends of mine refuse to partake in this annual New Year tradition while others write entire lists of what they’d like to accomplish over the next year.

Me? Well I personally like to take advantage of that bright-eyed, optimistic feeling that comes with every new year. And I like to go big – I mean, why not? I think the last few years have taught me more than anything that aiming high and dreaming big can only lead to great things; less than three years ago I was a single gal living in LA, frustrated with dating and wondering where my life was going. Today I live in Dublin, an married to an amazing man and work in the digital creative agency business. I find myself smiling sometimes when I’m walking down the coast road, looking out at Howth from Bull Island and buttoning up my coat thinking, “Wow…this is my life.”

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I guess my point is that if you aim for the stars, you might just reach them – and even if you don’t, you may reach the treetops, a mountaintop and maybe some low-level clouds, and that’s higher than you were before.

With that in mind, I’m starting the new year off by aiming to shed the extra weight I’ve been carrying for a number of years. I’m not seriously overweight or have any weight-related health issues, but if I’m being honest I’d say I could stand to lose 20 lbs. (about 9 kilograms) and moreover could do with some toning and strength training. I have some back issues and tennis elbow problems (not from playing tennis but from repetitive typing) and getting into better shape will help alleviate those issues. I also desperately need to finish a book proposal I’ve been working on for far too long and get back to blogging on a regular basis.

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It’s been awhile, and I apologise for my absence but it’s that time of year when everything just seems to go batsh*t crazy all at once. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing; it’s just a very hectic time of year.

One reason I’m finding myself increasingly busy lately is because I’ve taken on a new role at work. I’m now managing the Social Media team as well as one of our largest accounts – a juggling act to say the least! I’m so wrecked at the end of the day I find it difficult to find the brain space to write blog posts, hence the long silence.

Another reason for the mad schedule of late is that this is the season of entertaining and gifting and meeting up with mates; all good but time-consuming endeavours. In the last few weeks I’ve gone to two work ‘dos, a friend’s housewarming/Christmas party, one wedding and have spent several hours Christmas shopping in between. In the next few weeks we have a brunch, an engagement party, Christmas drinks and Christmas Eve & Day at the in-laws before we’re off to Los Angeles for a warm and hopefully relaxing New Year’s holiday.

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Someone asked me the other day if I’m settling back into reality after the wedding and honeymoon. Though we’ve only been back to work for about a month, things have been so mad busy it feels like we’ve been back forever. The events of last month almost seem like a faint memory, like they happened a long, long time ago.

As we married in Tuscany, we decided to stay in Italy for our honeymoon. My sister and her husband joined us for the first part of it, and the four of us rented a house in Praiano, a small town which sits on the famed Amalfi Coast. And for the second half Mountaineering Man and I stayed at a hotel in Positano.

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Besides the incredible ocean views from our cliff side residences, the most memorable part of our honeymoon was the food. Italians have such a gift for creating the most flavourful, beautiful dishes out of very simple ingredients. One of our favourite meals was at a small family-run restaurant right by the sea in Praiano called Trattoria da Armandino; we loved it so much we ate there three times. I had a lovely handmade pasta dish made with beautiful, fresh-caught clams and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Though there’s no visible sauce, the pasta tasted of the sea – salty, briny and savoury. Everything was cooked perfectly; the pasta al dente, the clams juicy and bursting with flavour. MM devoured his simple fresh anchovies, which he deemed the best meal of the honeymoon.

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