This week, welcome guest blogger Melissa Quaal, or MQ as I love to call her, creator of A Happy Stitch. She’s all about sharing her love of sewing, being smitten with a beautiful fabric design and celebrating the joy of finding your creative self. She also travels and heads into the great outdoors with her family of boys. Recently, she returned from a family adventure visiting her husband’s native Ireland. Welcome, MQ!

Family Travels to Ireland

We set off on a grand adventure this summer.  Our little family traveled to Ireland for the first time.  It was an adventure that had been tugging at our hearts for a long time.

Wild Times in Ireland

My husband is Irish by blood and throughout his childhood he would spend summers with his cousins.  Together they ran free on the farmland his father had tilled as a child; soaking up the sun and sprinkled with Irish rain. When my husband is in Ireland the pieces of his complicated identity (living in America; raised in England by Irish immigrants) somehow form a whole.  We knew the time had come to introduce our wild, nature-loving boys to this segment of their heritage.  As it turns out, our grand adventure was slow, simple and quietly spectacular for all of us.  Truly grand in every way.

My husband and oldest son walking on the family farm

It is quite possible there is no better way to appreciate Ireland and being Irish than to take in the wildness of the island.  After all, Ireland’s geography as an isolated and harsh landscape has shaped its entire history. The wind really does whip you and the rain can come out of nowhere.  Plants grow everywhere in this climate. Tiny ferns pop out of every crack in a castle wall and the grass is covered in small dots of daisies and clover while untended gardens explode with fuschia.  It feels nearly tropical except, unlike other tropical places, all the growing things lays close to the ground or clinging to the side of a building or walkway.  It’s as if they know they will be ripped from their tropical home if they dare to climb out into the free air.  Sure there are historical castles to explore and landmark towns to be experienced but if you don’t stand still and feel the island whirling you about, then you have no context for all of Ireland’s past.  It is a wild place and there is endless beauty in submitting to that unpredictability and finding how to adjust, recalibrate and roll with it.

The grass outside our cottage

It just so happens that our children are much better at this than we are.  It didn’t take long for them to demand we throw out the itinerary and embrace a slower, more observant pace. As soon as we did the stress of travel eased and we ended up coming closer together as a family.

We traveled to Ireland thinking we were introducing the boys to Ireland and they ended up opening us up to see its true self.

What our kids taught us while traveling.

“Doing things” is overrated

Travel can make ‘doing things’ feel almost urgent.  As much as my brain wants to ease off and relax it also wants to see and do as much as possible.  The museums, the famous pubs, the historical buildings!  So much to do.  Sometimes this urgency can make it hard to enjoy whatever thing I worked so hard to get the chance to see or do!  The boys, on the other hand, they don’t tolerate lots of running around in our home life and they certainly didn’t while we were traveling.   Whenever we tried to do too much we all ended up cranky and disconnected.  As we found our rhythm together we noticed everyone was happier if the day centered around one main activity.  So what if we miss the garden tour, we are alone together at the top of a stunning hill!  We tried to work in a slow walk or exploration every day even if it was simple.  If we walked into town for dinner, we left a little early so we could look for shells at the seashore.

Walking into the town center

Walking into the town center

One of the most touristy things we did was visit Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney stone.  We arrived on a ridiculously busy day and the line to kiss the Blarney stone was an hour long.  We looked at each other, waited a little bit and then dropped out of the line and opted to explore the grounds instead.  Yes, we traveled to the Blarney castle and didn’t kiss the stone.  Doing that “thing” wasn’t worth it.  We did, however, explore the underground tunnels and take the trail around back and eat ice cream under a tree with a view of the castle itself.

Embrace the wildness

Life in Ireland is more akin to my free-rambling youth in the 70s than to the suburban rule-bound life we live in New Jersey.  There are no safety barriers at the top of the massive rock outcropping that drops straight down to the crashing ocean, for example.  Your only choice is to lay your stomach on top of the heather and stare down at the jagged rocks and soak up the immense power of the sea.

The chance to do that next to my five year old, content to ponder how the water transforms from blue ocean to white foam, is unforgettable. The boys ran wild and yet knew their limits.  They set themselves to the task of exploring and imagining and roaming immediately and we learned to follow their lead.

Embrace the wildness

Embrace the wildness

Have faith

To be honest, we should have visited Ireland years ago.  Our boys are seven and five years old and many of their Irish relatives had never met them. My husband was completely ready for the trip but I kept thinking it was going to be so difficult.  What if it disrupted our hard-won sleep patterns? What if they lost it on the airplane?  Would jet-lag forever scar their developing brain? What if I lost them in an ancient castle somewhere?  (That last one did actually happen, for the record, but we found them. Phew.  Lots of nooks and crannies in a castle though, let me tell you brother.)

At Blarney Castle

At Blarney Castle

Yet the harder I try to hold on, the more they want to wiggle away.  Traveling to a foreign land with these two boys taught me I have to let go.  I have to have faith and when I do they show me I can trust them.

It is about being together

A few days into our trip, we traveled down the Dingle Peninsula and stopped at Inch Beach.  If we hadn’t had our kids with us, we might have walked the beach for thirty minutes or so and headed to the cafe for coffee and a scone.  With the kids? It was a completely different story. We ran in and out of the water, found a stranded jellyfish, drew pictures in the sand, even salvaged a long-lost frisbee for use as a sand scooper.  It was just a beach, certainly a stunning one, but just wet sand and water. Hours later when we were indulging in hot chocolate and pastries it wasn’t about the food or the service at the cafe or our inconveniently wet shorts, we were overflowing with stories.  Retelling and telling each other things we already knew just because it was exciting to remember them together.  “Did you see the water come up to my knees?!!”

The boys meeting the sea at Inch Beach

The boys meeting the sea at Inch Beach

The same thing happened at a rocky beach near an auntie’s house. A beach my husband and I visited as a newly-dating couple twelve years ago.  This time, we were here with our boys who busied themselves collecting rocks and breaking them apart, poking at seaweed with sticks, discovering fish bones and dried up sea anemone.  I had been to this beach before and had admired the sea but the boys were doing something different altogether.  They were devouring this beach; consuming it.  It was under their fingernails and inside their lungs, it was planting itself in their memories at the same time as they were dissecting it for everything it had to teach them.  I watched them instinctively build themselves a classroom with lessons they were eager to learn.

As we bummed along, my oldest son called to all of us.  When we turned to look at him he said, “I just pulled my tooth out.”  And, there it was. He had lost a tooth right there by the sea in Ireland.

I realized that is how life happens, we are just bumbling along and it happens.  We don’t plan it or organize it. Not the real moments.  They come along when they come along.  It’s just about leaving the door open to experience them, having faith, embracing the wild unpredictability and doing it together.  My kids taught me that on our grand adventure.

Happiness and joy

Happiness and joy

Trip nitty-gritty

Given that much of our time would be spent visiting family in West Cork we flew into Shannon airport and booked a cozy cottage in Baltimore, a sweet boating town on the southern edge of Cork County.  This left us within driving distance of many family members but with our own space to explore and settle into.

The view from our cottage at sunset

The view from our cottage at sunset

Recommendations

  • Rent a cottage or something like it that can become a cozy, familiar home base
  • Go out of the way and off the track
  • Spend lots of time outdoors
  • Decide what is most important and only wait in line for that, nothing else

Get to know more about Melissa and her passion for sewing through her site, video, Instagram, Facebook, and her friendly, accessible sewing patterns on Etsy. You can also comment below to leave her any questions or thoughts.

If you are interested in guest blogging about your own family’s adventures, drop Sabrina a line here. Cheers!

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