Shopping in Ireland

Living in the UK is really expensive.  I forget sometimes, since we’ve been here over a year and a half and you just get used to things costing what they cost.

Then we travel somewhere and I look at price tags and I’m like SO CHEAP! BUY ALL THE THINGS!

There were tons of gorgeous cool shops in Ireland and items seemed so reasonably priced.  I had a hard time not going on a full shopping spree!  If I had more room in my luggage to get things home, I probably would have succumbed to the temptation.  I was really impressed everywhere we went with how many great options there were for clothes and home goods and shoes. 

There was one shop, though, that I absolutely, positively wanted to visit while we were there.  I don’t even remember where I first heard of it, but Avoca was high on my To-Do-In-Ireland list, and on our very first night in Dublin we happened to walk right by it!  Thankfully my family was on board with a little shopping.  In fact, it was such a cool shop with so many amazing items that I actually had to DRAG my boys out when we were ready to go! 

Avoca is an Irish-run business with their own mill where they create amazing and gorgeous blankets, scarves, gloves, shawls and more.  They also have an in-house design studio where they create clothing, home goods, ceramics…you name it.  It is a seriously cool company and the store was visually just beautiful.  Avoca goods are available in shops around the world, so keep an eye out for them.

I’ve said before how I have a bit of a throw blanket addiction, so this shop with stacks of wool, mohair, cashmere, herringbone, and Irish knit throws was like my own personal heaven.  I couldn’t fit one in my suitcase, though, so they were sadly not an option on this trip.

The other thing that really caught my eye was the stack of cashmere/wool stoles.  They’re bigger than a normal scarf, smaller than a full wrap, and soft as buttah.  There were some gorgeous neutrals, and I try to be sensible and get items I can wear with lots of stuff, but the one that I could not resist was actually neon orange.  It came home with me and I wore it like 4 out of 5 days in Ireland and almost every day since I got home.  Best. Purchase. Ever.

If you’re going to Ireland, I would add this shop to your must-see list.  And leave space in your suitcase for all the treasures you’ll want to take home.

Family Trip to Ireland, Part One: Dublin

Our trip to Ireland last week was one for the ages — we traveled with my parents, drove the entire breadth of the country in a 9-passenger van, and visited the farm where my grandfather grew up and where my mom’s cousins still live.  It was a multi-generational experience that we’ll never forget.

We started out in Dublin, which is where my Dad’s Dad was born.  Rather than go our normal Airbnb route, we found that hotel rooms were actually a better fit for this part of the trip.  Since we had four adults traveling, we could get two rooms and split the kids up.  We knew we’d be spending very little time in our rooms because the two days in Dublin were PACKED with activity, so having a kitchen wasn’t a necessity.  We stayed at the Jurys Inn Christchurch and the location was super convenient to everything.  And it included breakfast, which is always a bonus with my children who wake up starving every day.

We arrived in Dublin mid-afternoon and got lunch at a cool restaurant called Bull and Castle near our hotel.  We walked around a bit, strolled along the Liffey River that runs through the city, walked across the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, and did a bit of shopping on Grafton Street (which Bridget was super excited about because it’s mentioned in her new favorite song, Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran).  Then we headed to Croke Park, a huge 80,000-seat stadium in Dublin, to watch a Gaelic football match!  This was the first time in all our travels that we’ve gone to a sporting event, but I don’t think it will be the last.  It was so much fun!  My Mom’s Dad played Gaelic football in the 1940s for a team in Galway called the Tuam Stars and he used to play in Croke Park — it was absolutely amazing to see the stadium and know my grandfather played there when he was young.  Gaelic football is also really exciting to watch; it’s fast and requires a level of athleticism and agility that is incredible to watch.  Everyone was totally into it — we had a great time.

The next day, which was actually my Dad’s birthday, we did a Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour.  We’ve done these in a few places, and although it’s definitely tourist-y and a bit cliched, I think it’s one of the best ways to get an overview of a city, learn some history, and be able to choose which sites you want to see in more depth.  Dublin is not a huge place, so we were able to see the entire city and get off at a bunch of cool stops to explore. 

The first place we went was to Phoenix Park, which is 7x the size of Central Park in Manhattan, and home to the Dublin Zoo and the Irish White House.  In the park is a herd of “wild” Fallow Deer that was originally established in 1660.  They roam the park at will, but because they are so used to people, they’re not skittish and we were able to walk right up to the herd.  Another family there had a bag of carrots with them which they shared with us and we were able to hand-feed the deer — it was like being in a Disney movie! 

We got lunch at a tea room in the park, then hopped back on the bus and headed to Trinity College, where we walked through the gorgeous library and saw the Book of Kells.  Somehow the boys had all learned about the process by which scribes created books like the Book of Kells and they were all excited to see it and were telling me how it was created and decorated before we even got inside.  Any time my kids get excited by history and start teaching me what they’ve learned, I consider it a win.  The library itself is just breath-taking.  I totally had ceiling envy the whole time.

Then we hopped back on the bus and took it to the Guinness Storehouse where we had a tour of the brewery and a pint in the Gravity Bar, a 360-degree glass room at the top of the factory tower overlooking the whole city.  The tour was really cool and even the kids loved it — it was really visually interesting, full of cool facts and information, and the perfect birthday outing for my Dad.

Dublin was a really cool city — it felt very international and we heard tons of different accents and languages being spoken as we walked around.  Because it’s fairly small, I think you could get to know it really well pretty quickly. And there were so many fantastic shops and restaurants that we saw and wanted to explore but just couldn’t fit them in just two days.  I would love to go back again.  I think we all would!

For the next part of our Ireland adventure, we picked up a 9-passenger van and headed west to Killarney, Galway, and Connemara!  Coming soon!

Walking

People in England walk way more than people in America walk.  Most of the people in my village “take walks” for no other reason but to walk.  And they don’t walk on sidewalks, cause there aren’t any, or on the roads even – they walk on public footpaths.  There are signs all over the place pointing out public footpaths, which wind their way across the country.  But we have been here over 18 months and I am still scared to try it.  

My American fear of walking on someone else’s land makes me nervous.  The footpath signs show you where the paths begin off the side of the road, but they’re not clearly marked once you’re on them.  There are also public bridleways, which are not just for pedestrians, but also cyclists and people on horseback.  They all wind across open fields, through back yards, across roads, and although there are signs at junctions, I am just never sure where, exactly, I’m supposed to walk.  So I stay on the road for fear of doing it wrong.

I’m determined to give it a try though.  There are over 140,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales and we’re only here for so long!

I set out last week on a walk, hoping to get the nerve up to venture off the road and onto the path.  As a warm-up, I walked on the grass along the road to where the footpath signs mark the junction near my house, rather than on the pavement.  Walking on grass changes your speed.  It also changes your ability to pay attention to other things — you’ve gotta keep an eye on the ground or you might trip.  It slowed me down, but made me more aware.  I think maybe that’s the point of walking those footpaths — it is not to make sure you get x-number of miles in, but that you enjoy and pay attention to the miles you do walk.

When I got to the beginning of the footpath, though, I chickened out.  I looked along the edge of the field where the sign pointed and it just was not clear to me where I was supposed to go.  So I stayed on the road.  I walked, but I’m not getting the full English-walking-footpath experience that way.  I’m going to ask my neighbor to meet me a few times and show me “the way” I think, so I can get a few accompanied walks under my belt and get brave enough to try a solo.

While in Rome, they say, do as the Romans do.  And so, while in England, I shall walk.  Off the beaten track.  Because that’s how it’s done.  I just have to find someone to teach me how.

A Woman’s Work: Samantha

Samantha is my baby sister, but she’s not a baby anymore.  She is thirty, a new mom, and an entrepreneur, although she probably hates that term.  Sam was born when I was just shy of my 8th birthday, so I’ve always thought of her as little.  She’s not though, she’s a full-fledged grown up.  (She probably also hates that term!)  It’s really amazing from my perspective as the big sister to look at how she’s made these unexpected and really cool decisions about what she’s going to do and how she’s going to do it.  She just impresses me. 

She’s not necessarily doing something she expected to do, but she’s doing something she loves — which is way more important.

1) What is your job?

I am a new mom, and also one of the owners of a restaurant called Dillon’s Local in downtown Plymouth, MA.

2) How did you wind up in that job — was it something you always wanted to do, a career change, etc?

I double majored in history and political science at Umass Amherst — and I have the student loans to prove it — but after college I worked for years as a bartender and waitress.  I was employed at so many different places, and always thought I would eventually leave the service industry, but I was having fun and not ready to stop doing what I was doing and look for a 9-5 job.  I figured I would use my degree eventually, but the longer I worked in restaurants and the more I learned the intricacies of the business, the more I fell in love with it. I did not, however, love working for absentee owners or in huge restaurants with way too many employees. While working at a nearby bar & grille, I met my now-fiance, Colin.  Together we decided to try this whole restaurant thing for ourselves. For years we essentially ran bars and restaurants for other people…so we figured, why not do it our way?! 

3) What other jobs have you done in the past?  What was the path that brought you where you are now?

In high school I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts, then during and immediately after college I worked at low-paying or volunteer internships and I substitute taught for a while.  But I always had the bar industry as a fall back — it’s hard to walk away from leaving work with cash in hand and switch to waiting for a paycheck!  I worked at small bars, huge restaurants, dives, fine dining establishments, and everything in between. One year I worked at at least five different places. I was sick of bouncing around, and so was Colin. So we worked together and saved up all our money and took the risk!  We are now co-owners of our own place (along with our Head Chef), and we work for ourselves and do things the way we think they should be done.  But, just to complicate our venture, I found out I was pregnant about one month after we opened our restaurant.  Surprise!  Colin and I had to shift gears a bit — we went from opening a business and a follow-your-dreams mentality to working for something even more important: our son.

4) What do you love about your job?

I love everything about my job — both jobs!  I love being a mom, even though it’s still new to me. John Francis is only 7 months old so I am definitely still learning.  My outside job is the most rewarding one I could have ever imagined for myself.  I never thought I would be a business owner, but it suits me (and Colin) well.  I get to socialize and talk to my friends and strangers all day.  I get to run a restaurant with my partner how we think it should be run.  It’s nice not to have to follow someone else’s rules.  We get to be creative and we get to set the standards ourselves.

5) Have you faced any challenges/struggles to get where you are today?

I was broke for years after college! I’m still broke, but it’s for a good reason now. Money is always a struggle, but when you do something you love it doesn’t seem to matter as much. Bouncing from job to job was torturous. Working for someone else was never what I wanted. I do not like to be bossed around!  So now that I get to make the decisions, I am much happier.

6) Has becoming a parent changed your perspective on work?

Becoming a parent has changed my perspective on everything in life!  Gone are the days when I came first.  Now everything I do is for my little guy.  I’m still up all night, but it’s a much different scene.  I went from a pretty carefree existence to one that is way more worthwhile and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

7) What advice or inspiration can you give to other women — about anything — jobs, work, family, parenting, life in general — what do you want other women to know?

I’m new to the whole mom thing, but so far I think the best advice I’ve received is to RELAX.  I’m going to mess stuff up in work and at home, and it’s going to be okay.  I’m still struggling to balance my schedule, so I’ll take any advice I can get on that!  I’m pretty much winging it…but so far it’s going pretty well!

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Sam is managing a crazy new life in a pretty chill way — in the course of a single year, she became a self-employed business owner AND a new mother.  But she is happy and content and confident and it’s so clear that she loves her life.  Even when things get stressful, she gets over any momentary freak-outs, straightens up, and moves on to make things work.  And you know things can get stressful when you’re running a business and taking care of an infant!  (In my highly unbiased opinion, though, John Francis is basically one of the sweetest and cutest babies ever to grace the face of the earth, so that has to make things easier!)

The thing that makes me happiest reading Sam’s words is this: “Money is always a struggle, but when you do something you love it doesn’t seem to matter as much.”  It is absolutely true that doing something you truly enjoy makes all the hardships worthwhile.  And I love seeing my sister so happy and so fulfilled. 

And you guys, Dillon’s Local is seriously awesome — right on the water in Plymouth, MA, it’s a cool, cozy, unpretentious place and the food and drinks are seriously AMAZING.  They’ve already won awards for best local bar and been featured in the Boston Globe and at the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival at Fenway Park in Boston.  So not only are Sam and Colin happy, they’re also killing it in a very competitive industry.  I’m so proud of them both.  If you’re ever in Plymouth, MA, you should totally go eat there.

Thank you Sam for taking the time in what I know is an insanely busy life to answer these questions!

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Do you know someone I should interview for “A Woman’s Work”? Shoot me an email at

jessica@littlenestingdoll.com and let me know.

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