Collins Ups The Price 

Since Brian and I moved to Paraguay just over four years ago, six of my siblings have gotten married, the most recent of which was my brother Kevin to a darling girl named Matty last weekend.  Other weddings include my brother Patrick marrying Amy in April of this year, my sister Maureen marrying Jonah in June 2014, my sister Sheila marrying Mike in July 2015, my sister Nora marrying her college sweetheart Dan in November 2015, and my brother Matt marrying Noura.  The Collins family is continuing to grow and we were thrilled to celebrate the marriage of Kevin and Matty.

The happy couple met two years ago through a dating website called Bumble.  For their first date they went to a whiskey bar in Lakeview called The Barrelhouse Flat.  Kevin later said it was the best first date he’d ever had.  Matty and Kevin soon started dating and got engaged in December 2016 during a “staycation” at Chicago’s Langham Hotel.   

This good looking, well-dressed couple could have walked right of the pages of a Ralph Lauren or J.Crew catalog.

The night before the big day, the wedding party gathered at the church for a rehearsal.

The rehearsal dinner was held at Glen Rowan House, on the campus of Lake Forest College.  

It was a beautiful old building.

The passed appetizers were great – shrimp cocktail, tomato caprese crustini, bacon wrapped scallops, and a raspberry brie tart.

In honor of the fact that the bride and groom met on the Bumble dating website, all my other brothers (the three co-best men) wore ties with a bumblebee on them.  And my brother Matt wore a pin left over from the bachelor party featuring a picture of Kevin, “looking like a predator” according to my other brothers and wearing a baseball jersey from his “Bumble Bees” baseball team.  The pins marked his “last priceless night,” a play on words with the bride’s maiden name, Price.

We had a fun cocktail hour on the patio.

Here are the parents of the happy couple!

Dinner was delicious – a great salad, and then an entree of filet and crab cake served with potatoes, green beans, and carrots.

The bride gave beautiful blue stone Kate Spade earrings to me and my seven sisters.

There were many fun toasts and roasts throughout the night.  Siblings and friends of the bride and groom had funny stories, jokes and even songs to share with the group.

Father Patrick Dorsey, the priest who married me and Brian and baptized all our kids and who would be the co-celebrant at Kevin and Matty’s wedding, was present at the rehearsal dinner and gave a blessing.

One of the cutest and most creative toasts was from my sister Nora who wrote a parody song to the tune of “Jack and Diane” changing the words to fit the happy couple and their hashtag of #CollinsUpsThePrice!  Here’s a clip of the video with Nora teasing them for marrying someone who looks like their siblings:

My mom gave the bride a sugar and creamer set that had belonged to her own mom, my late maternal grandmother.

Speeches continued while guests enjoyed an amazing dessert buffet.

The bride and groom participated in the traditional exploding of the Collins family cannon, with the bride doing the honors using a hockey stick.

The evening continued with a few more toasts and for some reason my brother Patrick thought it would be a good idea to partially disrobe and get in the small pond on the patio.

There was an after party at The Lantern in Lake Forest.

The next morning everyone set about getting ready for the wedding.  I had time for a quick stop at Clark Street Dog for a gyro and cheese fries for lunch.

We were all excited for the wedding!

Once we were all ready for the big event, my family and I all met at the Deer Path Inn for pictures before the ceremony.

Everyone looked great in their fancy dresses and tuxedos and my sister Nora’s baby boy Barrett looked particularly darling in his special outfit.

Danny was adorable in his mini tuxedo and loved being a big kid with his uncles and my dad.  I’m disappointed I didn’t get any pictures of me and Danny together but I know the photographer did, so I’ll have to wait for those!

Annie was running a bit behind schedule for pictures!

As soon as she arrived, we took a few family pictures with the siblings and then added in the spouses and grandkids who were present.

We loaded onto the trolley and headed to the First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest for the wedding ceremony.

Danny had lots of questions before and during the ceremony.  “When are they going to kiss? Are they going to kiss on the mouth? Are they in love? What color dress do you think Matty will wear? I think it’s going to be dark green.” When I told him I thought it would be white, he said, “We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

The program for the event, as did many of thoughtfully orchestrated details throughout the day, featured the couple’s monogram and the colors blue and green.

The ceremony began with the procession of the mothers, escorted by their sons.  The mothers then lit candles on the altar, escorted by the head usher.

Next came the bridesmaids and two very cute but rather unwilling two-year old twin sister flower girls.  One sprinted down the aisle to her dad (a groomsman, brother of the bride) and the other was carried up the aisle by her mom (matron of honor, married to bride’s brother).

As a string quartet played the Elvis song “Can’t Help Falling In Love” Matty walked down the aisle with her dad.  As soon as Danny saw her, he told me, “You were right, Mom, her dress IS white!”

It was a nice ceremony, with both a Presbyterian pastor and a Catholic priest, a reading by a friend of the couple, and singing by sisters Nora and Sheila.  Matty was a gorgeous bride.  The couple exchanged rings and vows and lit a unity candle using the taper candles lit by their mothers.

And then it was official!

As the new Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Collins walked out of the church, my sisters and I sang Mairi’s Wedding, an Irish song.

We took more pictures outside of the church.  Matty and Kevin were so happy!

We boarded the bus and headed to the reception.

The reception was held at Conway Farms Golf Club.

Cocktails and appetizers were served on the patio.   

There were many delicious appetizers – candied bacon, shrimp cocktail, chicken flatbread, seared ahi tuna, and my favorite: fried macaroni and cheese. 

A table on the patio featured pictures of Kevin and Matty’s parents and grandparents on their wedding day.

With a light rain falling a bagpiper played, signaling that guests should move to the dining room for dinner.

The golf course leader board listed seating assignments for the wedding guests.

Dinner and dancing were held upstairs in large tent erected for the BMW Championship (formerly known as the Western Open) golf tournament to be held at the club a few weeks later.

It was a huge two-story tent.  We saw a beautiful sunset on the 18th green.

Inside the tent was beautifully decorated with lovely floral arrangements and a large head table.

The bride and groom entered the tent and cut the wedding cake

We heard funny and touching speeches from father of the bride, the maid of honor, the matron of honor, my brother Matt.

Dinner was great. 

I sat at a table with some of my cousins and siblings next to a very powerful air conditioning vent which made for a few funny “Marilyn Monroe moments” for unsuspecting wedding guests in flowing dresses, or funny guests like Annie and Rita who continued to walk over the vent knowing exactly what would happen.

Matty and her dad shared a dance.

Kevin and my mom next danced together.

Matty and Kev danced to “Make You Feel My Love” sung by my sister Katie who joined the band for the number.

The dance floor was declared open for everyone!

The groomsmen and ushers all wore tuxedo shirts Kevin had given them, featuring their monogram on the cuff.

My great aunt Mary Edith- 98 years old, older sister of my late paternal grandma, was one of the most impressive guests.  She chatted away at the cocktail reception and then danced up a storm after dinner.

Guests were treated to party favors of beer coozies, flip flops, and sunglasses with the couple’s hashtag of #CollinsUpsThePrice.

There were some entertaining dance floor shenanigans. Kevin and some of his friends build an impressive tower of men, some of the bridesmaids tied their dresses together for the limbo, and oddly some of the guys danced with a chair around the dance floor.

Waiters served guests a late night snack of mini burgers and fries.

The band, who was amazing and didn’t take a single break, played until 12:15.

Wedding guests then gathered outside lining the path with sparklers for a fun send off for Kevin and Matty.

Kevin and Matty left in a Bentley driven by a friend of Matty’s dad who owns a nearby dealership.  Rather than entrust the car to a hired driver, he bought a chauffeur hat and drove the car himself.  

The next morning Danny, who had gone to the hotel with a babysitter after the ceremony, was excited to go swimming with Mike and Sheila.

As we checked out of the hotel, Danny performed his La Bamba dance for my aunt Mary.  He also requested I take a picture of his room at the hotel (one of two bedrooms in a two bedroom suite) which had its own tv.  Danny thought that was pretty cool.

We left the hotel and headed to brunch to rehash the wonderful night before.  Matty’s diamond wedding band is below her engagement ring.  Above is a diamond and sapphire ring Kevin gave to her as a wedding gift.

Danny was happy to see his aunts and uncles, and especially enjoyed “playing” the Pac-Man arcade game.  Even though we put no money in the machine and the screen flashed “game over” Danny told us he won “so many times!”

We were all happy to see my sister Maureen’s son Pierce who conveniently sat in front of a fire truck with the same name.

The happy couple then left for Tahiti for two weeks to enjoy the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea.  We had a wonderful wedding weekend celebration!

And in case you are keeping track, there are now eight married siblings leaving just four single siblings.  Applications are now being accepted for those who think they might like to marry into this large Irish family.  Act quickly though, at least three are already dating someone!

Back to Ireland 

After leaving Belleek in Northern Ireland, we headed south back into Ireland and towards Innisfree.

The boys were excited to see the land feature known as the “Sleeping Giant.”

We continued on our drive south and instead of listening to a variety of songs, Patrick and Danny only wanted to listen to one of two songs- either “La Bamba” from Danny’s recent school concert or “That’s When I Love You” the song Brian and I danced to at our wedding.  The boys also asked if we would dance to our wedding song while they watch and clap.

We drove through Westport.

We drove past Croagh Patrick, a 2,500 foot mountain nicknamed “the Reek”.  Every year in July, on what is known as Reek Sunday, pilgrims flock to the mountain peak in honor of Saint Patrick who, according to tradition, fasted and prayed on the summit for 40 days in the year 441.

Poor Kev, who had been a little sick for the preceding few days, was rather crabby on our drive and screamed most of the day.  We were all happy to reach the town of Louisburgh and spend some time at the playground.

Louisburgh is a small town and did not have many dinner options.  Cronin’s pub serves Guinness, apparently even to fish, but offers no food.  The nicest restaurant in town was small and booked for the evening, or so they told the family with three rambunctious little boys.  A casual restaurant in the town had a fire in the kitchen earlier that day and was only serving a limited menu which thankfully included chicken for the boys.  The town also had a well-stocked grocery store, so we bought a few things to enjoy back at the house as well.

Our house for the night was a great waterfront home with a view of Clare Island.  The boys were fascinated by the whale bones outside the house, recovered from the homeowners who had found them on the shore.

The house had lots of windows and great views, and the sunset so late, that we were able to enjoy the views until nearly 11 PM.

Danny and Patrick were thrilled to run around in front of the house the next morning before we hit the road. 

Our drive down towards Dingle, along what’s known as the Wild Atlantic Way, was stunning.  We enjoyed beautiful landscape, green mountains and cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, and of course sheep.  

Kev was feeling much better and sat happily in his car seat for the day’s drive.  We stopped to visit Ballynahinch Castle and had fun hiking the trails on the property before lunch in the castle pub.

Danny tripped and fell on one of the trails, cutting his hand and he was a little sad for a bit.

Lunch was great.  I had the best mussels of the trip, with warm crusty bread and a Guinness.

From Ballynahinch, we drove south to catch a ferry.  The boys were very curious about a boat that could hold cars on it!

We spent a lot of time in the car that day.  Patrick and Danny again only wanted to hear two songs – La Bamba and the song we danced to at our wedding.  Brian and I had to veto that after awhile.  As we headed toward Dingle, the boys had lots of questions, and they all started with, “Right that…”  For example, Danny asked a lot of questions about numbers.  “Right that six is more than two?  Right that three is more than one?”  There are of course endless possibilities to this line of questioning and Danny even made up a song about this, with various combinations of numbers and pointing out which one is more than another.  He also started to branch out on his questions, asking silly things like “Right that pinky is better than thumb?” Or “Right that four is more than house?”  Patrick and Danny also asked about whether various words rhyme with each other or are opposites of each other.  There was also lots of talk from Danny about his imaginary baby animals which are usually birds, dinosaurs, and dragons but had expanded now to cows and sheep.  We fueled up the car in the rain at a Collins gas station.

As we approached Dingle, we drove over the mountains through the Connor Pass.  There was heavy fog rolling down the mountains and reducing visibility and Danny and Patrick were mesmerized.  

We stopped the car so they could get out and run around a little in the low fog.  Danny said, “I’ve never been in a cloud before!” After finding the rural men’s room, Patrick said, “I have never peed in a cloud before!”  They were very happy!

We stopped for dinner at Paudie O’Shea’s pub just outside of Dingle.  The boys wanted to sit at bar and order Guinness.

We drove through the town of Dingle heading out to the peninsula and the cottage we had rented for the next two nights. 

Our rental house had stunning views, especially of sunset and the many sheep right outside the front door.

The next day we all slept in a bit and then enjoyed running around in front of the house.

The boys liked watching the sheep, especially this little lamb and his mom. 

Danny and Patrick found long reeds they pretended were burning torches which they held high to lead the way on our walk.

We had a great morning hike!

We drove into the town of Dingle, along a stunning costal route and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day with views of dramatic cliffs and crashing waves.  Kev fell right asleep in the car.

We visited Dingle’s aquarium and the boys were excited to see sharks, watch otters eat lunch, and pet a snake and a manta ray. 

Everyone had fun playing with nets in the gift shop. 

We took a boat ride around Dingle’s harbor to see the town’s most famous resident, a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie.

The tour company guarantees a Fungie sighting, or the boat ride, normally about 45 to 60 minutes, is free. 

Finally, after nearly 90 minutes of searching, we saw saw Fungie.  A local couple (see pictures below, in the orange raft) spends a lot of time tracking Fungie and his movements and once they had spotted Fungie we came over to watch as well.  Strangely, the woman seemed to also enjoy attracting birds, even letting them land (and also defecate) on her head.  She also had bird droppings down the back of her jacket.

With our mission accomplished, the boat captain let Danny and Patrick help drive the boat back to the dock. 

We saw a rainbow as we disembarked.

We had a nice dinner in town and I enjoyed fresh, delicious scallops.  We had time for a quick stop at a nearby playground before heading back home for the night.

It was a beautiful drive back to the house.

We slept in until about 8:30 and then hit the road for Galway where we would meet up with the rest of my family for a week together at Ross Castle.

Northern Ireland 

As we drove from Dublin towards Belfast, it was rainy and overcast.

By the time we reached the town of Drogheda, about an hour away from Dublin, the sun was out again.  We saw a pub named “Darby O’Gill’s” sharing its name with a movie we had watched before our trip.  A castle tower was in the middle of the main street.  Danny asked if the castle broke down and that’s why it’s in the middle of the street.

We visited the town’s church, famous as the home of Oliver Plunkett’s severed head, on display in a glass case.  Some of his bones are on display in a separate case.

From Drogheda we headed to Carlingford.  Some of us enjoyed the beautiful water views and some of us napped. 

We spent the night in Belfast, at a gorgeous house, rented through Air B&B.

The boys especially loved trying on a helmet the friendly homeowner had purchased last year in Rome.

While we were out for dinner that night and waiting for our food to arrive, I read to the boys from the guidebook about how volcanoes had formed the Giant’s Causeway.  A nearby diner interrupted to say, “That’s not the real story though.  Would you like to know how it was really formed?”  And of course the boys did.  He told us the story of Finn MacCool, an Irish giant who had built a causeway between Northern Ireland and southern Scotland so he could walk across without getting his feet wet.  

Finn then walked across the causeway and saw, up close for the first time, his rival Benandonner.  Seeing that Benandonner was a larger-than-expected hulking giant, Finn was afraid and ran back across the causeway towards home, losing a boot on the way (more on that boot later) as Benandonner chased him.  Finn arrived home and asked his wife Oonagh to quickly hide him before Benandonner arrived.  Oonagh cleverly disguised Finn as a sleeping baby and put him in a giant crib.  When Benandonner saw the size of the giant “baby” he immediately fled in terror, scared of the size of whatever massive creature had sired such gigantic offspring.  As Benandonner ran back to Scotland, he destroyed the causeway to prevent anyone from following him.  

Danny and Patrick loved the story and couldn’t wait to see the causeway and look for giant babies and a giant boot!

For dinner I had seafood chowder and crab claws (which the boys thought were witches’ fingernails).  Poor Kev was feeling a bit sick and slept in my arms while the rest of us ate.

The next morning we drove around downtown Belfast.  We saw where the Titanic had been built and although we did see the famous murals painted on the sides of Belfast buildings, there was too much fighting and screaming from the back seat, so I don’t have any mural pictures!

We left Belfast and stopped at Carrickfergus castle where we found even more rain.  

We continued our drive and visited the famous Bushmills Distillery.  Brian and I split a small taste of 12-year old single malt whiskey, sold only at the distillery.  The boys had apple juice, sold everywhere. 

Patrick and Danny had fun playing in the British phone booth.

Bushmills is so famous it’s even on the money!

That night we stayed in Portrush, right on the water, in an apartment with a view of an amusement park.  We had a nice dinner and I made the stellar decision to order a slice of cheesecake to go which I enjoyed with wine and Brian after the boys went to bed. 

The next morning, after much anticipation, we headed to the Giant’s Causeway.  Although it rained before and after our visit, it was thankfully dry while we were actually there. 

The Giant’s Causeway is made up of about 40,000 interlocking pentagonal and hexagonal stone columns formed from an ancient volcanic eruption or a legendary giant, depending which story you believe.

The boys were happy to see Finn MacCool’s lost boot on the shore.  This boot-shaped rock feature is aptly named “The Giant’s Boot” and in the proportions of a modern adult male, the boot would be a size 93 1/2.  Danny found a snail in the grass and asked me to take a picture of it.

Another famous feature of the Giant’s Causeway is “the organ” – a peninsula of interlocking rock pillars that resemble a church pipe organ.

Although the boys spent a fair amount of time looking for a giant dressed like a baby, they didn’t find one. 

All three boys enjoyed playing with the handheld audio guide.

After walking all around the Giant’s Causeway, we had lunch at the hotel restaurant on the property.  The menu featured a few things we couldn’t decipher (goujons, camps, floury bap) and Brian joked that we would probably understand the menu better if it had been written in Spanish.  Brian and I went with what we knew – Guinness and Irish stew.  Goujons, it turns out, are panko-breaded chicken pieces, and they soon became a staple of the boys’ diet on our trip.  Baby Kev was finally starting to feel a bit better and he ate two sugar cubes before his lunch arrived. 

After lunch we continued our drive along the Antrim Coast.  

Patrick and Danny spent a lot of road time arguing over whose side of the car had more cows and then regularly tried to change the rules of the game to their own favor.  “Windmills count as 10,000 cows.” “Sheep count as twenty-nineteen-ten cows.”  “Plants and flowers count as thirty-one hundred-million cows.”  This went on for hours.  Weeks, actually.

Our next stop was Dunluce Castle, a dramatic seaside estate perched high on cliffs.  Danny, knowing that at some point on our trip we’d be staying at a castle with my parents and siblings, asked us, “Is this the castle where we are going to stay with our cousins? This place doesn’t even have a roof!”  Patrick saw the castle ruins said, “This place is so, so, so cool!”  Finally, it was sunny and gorgeous after a fair amount of rain the previous few days.

Danny and Patrick had fun with the dress-up and pretending to do a little excavation in the welcome center.

It was a stunning property and in pretty good shape considering it was built around the year 1500.

The windows in the castle, especially the large two-story bay window, were really impressive.

Kevin was dead-set against us taking a nice family picture here.

Patrick and Danny were particularly interested in the remains of the old fireplaces.

We continued our drive and stopped at the Drumskinny Stone Circle for everyone to stretch their legs a bit.  All three boys enjoyed running around and climbing.

We spent the night at a B&B fishing lodge owned by an older couple who had four adult sons, one of whom died last year when a tree fell on him.  The B&B owners are now raising his kids.  The owners work all day on their farm and B&B, and then at night head to town to work at the restaurant/pub they own.  They sure work hard all day, every day.

We had dinner at the family’s pub.  Patrick and Danny were interested in Guinness.  Don’t worry- they didn’t actually drink any!  I had delicious salmon.

The next morning, we visited the Belleek Factory.  It is in Northern Ireland, just across the river from Ireland.  Do you see the Irish flag on the other side of the river?

Incredibly the boys touched and broke nothing in the Belleek store.  Patrick and Danny were both happy to be photographed next to a large Belleek statue of St. Patrick (only minor complaints from Danny about the lack of things named Daniel in the store).

Stay tuned as we continue on our journey heading back south to Ireland, towards Westport.

Our European Adventure Begins!

After planning for months, Brian and the kids and I were excited to finally kick off our 19-day European vacation.

We got our bags all packed and ready before leaving on our early morning flight to São Paulo a few days before Memorial Day weekend.  

We were right on time leaving Paraguay and had about six hours at the airport in São Paolo waiting for our next flight to Madrid.  We walked around the terminals, getting something to eat (at about four different restaurants), watching the planes, and visiting the shops.  The time passed quicker than we thought it would, which was great.

We boarded our flight to Madrid and the pilots shared some interesting statistics with the passengers before takeoff:  the 11-hour flight to Madrid would average a speed of five seconds per mile, the plane weighed 231 tons, and would consume nearly 100,000 liters of fuel on its flight to Madrid or almost 372 liters for each of the 269 passengers.  

The flight was long but the kids did well, spending much of the time on the overnight flight sleeping or watching movies.  

We arrived in Madrid around 7am and with our luggage checked straight to Dublin, we took a taxi to a hostel near the Plaza Mayor.  We had reserved a family room with three sets of bunk beds and a crib.  We left our carry-on bags in our room and headed out to explore the neighborhood a bit.  

We walked around the plaza stopping for breakfast at a place I had visited during my time in Madrid after hiking the Camino de Santiago last year.  I ordered churros and chocolate and no one but me seemed interested in eating them.  I was fine with that!

We returned to the hostel for family nap time which we all enjoyed.  Our room overlooked a courtyard with an interesting hanging garden.

We woke up in time to head to lunch at a cafe in the plaza.  We had Spanish wine, octopus, and tortilla Española while enjoying the people watching.  

There was a lot of activity in the plaza.  The boys especially liked seeing the colorful goat that excitedly danced every time he received a coin from a visitor.  Danny and Patrick were both thrilled to give the goat a few coins and watch him dance!

One of the plaza highlights was “Gordo” or “Fat” Spider-Man who encouraged plaza visitors to do a bit of play acting with him, alternating between bad guys who Spider-Man had apprehended and good guys who aspired to be just like Spider-Man pretending to shoot webs and climb buildings.

After lunch, we took a taxi to the airport for our quick flight to Dublin.  The Madrid airport even had a playground not far from our gate and the boys loved it.

Once in Dublin, we picked up our rental car and drove to the Westbury Hotel.  

The kids were all exhausted and by the time we arrived at the hotel, all three were asleep in the back seat.  It was dinner time in Ireland and about 38 hours after we had left our house in Paraguay.  We checked into our rooms and the boys were excited to find gifts from the hotel of teddy bears and fresh cookies in our rooms.  We ditched our bags and enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Brian and I each had a delicious and well-deserved Guinness with dinner.  

With the kids exhausted and Brian getting a cold, everyone went right to bed after dinner and I had to drag them all out of bed the next morning at 10:20 so we could make it to breakfast before the restaurant closed ten minutes later.  The boys, in their matching monster jammies, loved riding in the elevator with its mirrors and leather bench.

After breakfast, we did a Viking-themed duck boat tour around Dublin.  Boarding for the duck is in the order in which the tickets were purchased.  Since we only bought our tickets the night before, we were the last to board and the only ones sitting in uncovered seats.  It was pretty wet and rainy.  We got drenched!

Kev was all smiles at first but quickly fell asleep and took a nice nap under a rain poncho and curled up on my lap.

We saw the highlights of Dublin.

Patrick and Danny had been very excited about traveling in a vehicle that can go on both land and water and they loved watching the duck head down the ramp and enter the water.

On the boat ride we went past U2’s recording studio and saw the new one they’re building.

After we got off the duck boat tour we were all cold and wet and went back to the hotel to change into dry clothes.  Once we were warm and dry, we went to a pub for lunch where Brian and I enjoyed Guinness and beef stew.  The boys love chicken but since there was no chicken on the menu, we ordered them fish and chips.  The breaded fish looked just like the breaded chicken that the boys eat all the time in Paraguay.  After Danny and Patrick sampled the fish they said it tasted funny.  We told them it was “special chicken” and encouraged them to eat the rest.  

This We walked around the city and did a little shopping. 

Do you see the towel on Kevin’s stroller?  It was so wet from the rainy duck boat tour that we had to put the towel down to keep Kevin dry!

At the end of the day after having toured all over the city, Patrick’s main observation was, “Why does everyone here speak English?”  That night we got Burger King for the kids and left them with a babysitter.  Joanne – the niece of Rita who works for my parents – watched the boys so Brian and I could go out alone without the little darlings.  Leaving the boys in the capable hands of “Aunt Joanne” as they called her (confusing the babysitter’s name with that of my mom’s sister, my Aunt Joanne), Brian and I went to McDaid’s for a Guinness, to a Mediterranean restaurant for dinner, and then to O’Donoghue’s for some Irish music and one more Guinness.

On Sunday morning we headed to Dublin’s Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells is an incredible Latin manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament along with related texts.  It was created in a monastery in Ireland around the year 800 A.D.

Danny and Patrick both insisted on having Spanish language brochures about “El Libro de Kells”.  

We visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Danny had a bit of a meltdown perhaps caused by jet lag combined with frustration over the large number of things named Patrick (everywhere we looked!) and the lack of things named Daniel.

On the grounds of the church we saw a marker reputedly near the well where Saint Patrick had baptized local inhabitants in the fifth century.  Baby Kevin took a good stroller nap as we walked around.

We visited the Molly Malone statue.  We heard her referred to as “The Tart With The Cart.”

We went back to the hotel, checked out, and loaded up the car.  We drove past Guinness brewery and saw more stuff named Patrick (don’t tell Dan).

We started our drive to Northern Ireland, which Kevin was really excited about. 

Up next: our adventures in Northern Ireland!

Family Day

Patrick’s school recently hosted a family day to show off student projects.  Festivities for his class began with a short play called Stone Soup featuring a few cute songs performed by the kindergarten kids who had been divided into five groups – three groups of soldiers (red regiment, white watch, and blue brigade), a group of adults, and a group of children.  Patrick was in the group of adults (because he’s so mature?).  The kids sang about hungry soldiers dreaming of food to eat and asking villagers – both adults and children – for food.  The soldiers end up eating Stone Soup made with rocks and other items from the villagers.

Patrick took his role very seriously and was quite dramatic with his expressions.

Next to Patrick is his best friend Tommy.  Keep reading to learn about the nicknames the two have for each other!

After their play, the kindergarteners gave their parents a book they had illustrated and written in English and Spanish.  Patrick was very proud of his work and was excited to read it to us. 

The English version of Patrick’s book is called “My Famuli” (or family).  The kindergarten students, most of whom are bilingual, are encouraged to spell phonetically and their writing is often full of spelling mistakes, Spanish pronunciations and spellings of English words, or direct translations from Spanish that are not quite correct in English.  Some of the writing is hard to decipher so I have written below what he was trying to say, correcting spelling errors. 

Above, lower right: I have six years old and my name is Patrick.  I am scared of toads.

Above, top left: I like to play with Thomas. I really call him Tomate (which means “Tomato”, and by the way Tommy calls Patrick “Pepino” which means “Cucumber”).  And it is fun.  And I like track.  Top right: I have five people in my family.  My dad, my mom, and my brothers.  Above, lower left: My mom’s name is Eileen and I like to play with my mom at the Embassy.  Lower right: My dad’s name is Brian.  I like to play with my dad’s iPad.  He is 40.

Above left: My brothers are Danny and Kevin.  I like to tease Kevin and I like to play with my brother Danny.  Above right: My family is special because my mom and my dad loves me.

Here is the Spanish version of his book:

Above, lower right: Yo tengo seis años y soy Patrick (“I am six years old and I am Patrick”).

Above, top left: A mi me gusta comer helado y es rico (“I like to eat ice cream and it’s good”).  Top right: Mi familia tiene cinco personas en mi familia (“My family has five people in my family”).  Lower left: A mi no me gusta cuando tengo que esperar en el avión (“I don’t like when I have to wait on an airplane”).  Lower right:  A mi me gusta nadar en la piscina (“I like to swim in the pool”).  

It’s a very cute book and Danny has especially enjoyed us reading this book to him at bedtime.  

In addition to the play and Patrick’s book, Family Day also included an art show displaying a musical instrument and a family picture both made by Patrick.

The text in the lower left picture says, “I love my family because they love me.”

Coming soon: kindergarten graduation!  

Danny’s concert 

Starting in about March, Danny came home from school every day for weeks talking about a concert that would take place at his school.  He was so excited about it.  He alternated between inviting us all to attend the show and selectively disinviting those of us who had upset him in some way (Patrick who didn’t share with Danny or Brian and I for punishing Dan).  After about three weeks of incessant concert talk from Danny and no news about the event from his school, I called his teacher who told me the date of the concert had not been set but would take place in about two months.  

Over the next few weeks Danny did lots of practicing and gave us a few previews of the show.  His over-the-top excitement was really cute.  He told us about his classmates and their different roles in the show.  And he constantly begged us to play “La Bamba” for him since he had a full choreographed dance for the song.

When the night of the concert finally arrived, Danny was thrilled.  His preschool courtyard was beautifully decorated displaying artwork from the kids and snacks for the visitors.

The evening’s program began with introductions and brief remarks from the teachers.

For their first song, the kids wore rabbit ears and sang in Spanish about bunnies that hop forward and back and eat carrots and blow kisses.

The highlight of the show was the performance of the song La Bamba.  


The kids recited a Mother’s Day poem comparing their moms to flowers that had been picked by their dads.  

The kids also sang a song about the Paraguayan flag and sang in English about hugs and kisses, but with a heavy Spanish accent it sounded more like “hoogs een keeses”!  

The whole show was darling.  Kevin had fun at the concert too.  The Paraguayans were entranced by his beautiful blue eyes! 

At the end of the show, Danny gave me a bag decorated with his handprints arranged as flowers.  

It was a really fun, cute night. 

Mother’s Day 

This year we celebrated Mother’s Day with a picnic on the Embassy grounds.  The boys were very excited about it and beforehand spent much time talking about what to bring to a picnic, what to do at a picnic, and what to put in a picnic basket.  When they realized we didn’t own a picnic basket, they were very cute and secretive about an idea they suddenly had for a gift.  On Mother’s Day morning, they were very excited to give me a picnic basket which we loaded up with all our picnic food.  We packed roast beef sandwiches made from a beef tenderloin I had cooked the night before and sliced with our meat slicer.  The boys also asked for yogurt, pretzels, chips, cupcakes, and juice boxes.  We packed a few kites and two picnic blankets too.

We broke into our stash of California wine for the occasion, enjoying a bottle of Benessere Phenomenon.  The boys, happy to be picnicking, were a bit silly.

After we ate, Patrick and Danny ran around the Embassy grounds with their kites.  Rather than fly the kites in an open area, the boys insisted on flying them next to the playground in a area with many trees.  Not surprisingly we had to rescue the kites from trees a few times.

Kevin, eager to be just like his big brothers, ran around with a big leaf pretending it was his “kite”.

The kids, especially Kev, had fun on the swings and slide at the playground.

Patrick and Danny made strange faces while they ate their cupcakes.

The boys spent time in the afternoon giving Kev bike rides on the back patio.

The boys gave me cute homemade gifts and cards.

Danny and Patrick gave me a framed picture they had drawn.  They had lots to say about it.  Patrick was quick to point out that he drew the two pictures on top and the one on the right is me.  He noted that after his friend Ricardo showed him how to draw hearts, he got good at doing it himself.  Patrick said he wanted his drawing to include hearts and smiley faces, because we love each other and we are happy.  At Danny’s request Brian drew a heart on the lower half of the page, Danny’s half of the drawing.  Danny also asked Brian to write, “I love you so much, I made a picture frame.”  This upset Patrick who noted Danny did not make a picture frame, he only made a picture.  The picture on the lower left Danny said, is me on a windy day so my hair is standing up.  The picture on the lower right he said, started out as Aconcagua (a mountain in Argentina, the tallest in the hemisphere, where we visited with my parents in January of this year) but then he changed his mind and instead drew Machu Picchu (which we visited last year).  We had a nice Mother’s Day together, but we forgot to take a picture of me with the kids! 


Easter Bunny Visit

A couple weeks after Easter, the Embassy hosted a “spring” party with an Easter egg hunt for kids.  Since it’s fall here, it didn’t really make sense to call it a spring party.  Brian suggested a better name would have been “come to a fall party where a rabbit will hide eggs for some unknown reason that is totally not related to a religious holiday, even though we all know that it is.”  That’s a mouthful though and didn’t catch on.

On the morning of the party, I couldn’t find large Easter baskets in the house for the kids, so I let them use Halloween trick or treat pumpkins which they loved.  (Surprisingly, I was not the only mom to do this.)

Kev liked playing with the eggs but wasn’t very good at finding the hidden ones.

The Marine security guards on the compound tracked down the Easter Bunny and the kids all got a chance to talk to him on the radio before he made an appearance at the party.

While the big kids chased after the Easter Bunny, Kev was happy to have the bouncy house to himself.

(Side note: lately Kev loves taking his pants off every chance he gets but since he hasn’t yet cracked the code of overalls, he’s been wearing overalls everyday.)
Once he arrived, the Easter bunny was a little creepy but the kids (other than Kev) had fun with him.

To round out the weekend, we went out for lunch the next day at Johnny Rockets, a new restaurant in Asuncion.  The boys had fun with the hats they got from the waiters!

They liked the statue in the park of the kids sharing a drink, and Patrick disgustingly put the straw in his mouth.  But they had fun!

God Save the Queen!

Sometimes for work I get to go to fun and fancy events.  I recently attended a lunch with the visiting Acting Assistant Secretary of State and high-ranking Paraguayan government officials.  We used the Embassy’s fancy dishes, glasses, and place cards, all with the seal of the United States.

Later that week, I attended a fun party to celebrate the 91st birthday of England’s Queen Elizabeth.

In front of the party venue there were a few iconic British things like a red double decker bus, and British motorcycles and jeeps.

Decorations inside featured portraits of the Queen and flowers in vases that look like the signature red British phone booths.

Outside was a spacious patio with a stage and backdrop made of large fabric woven into the British flag.  There were little flag banners and cutouts of British palace guards. 

Waiters served British drinks including beers, stouts, and ales.

There were also gin and tonics (which I tried and loved) and lots of whiskey (which I didn’t touch).

The formal program of the evening began with British military drummers, two of whom were female.

The military officials raised the British flag and posed for a picture with the Ambassador.

The musical entertainment for the night was a British pop cover band. They were great!  

Brian and I ended the night by taking a stroll across Abbey Road.

We had fun at the birthday party!

Easter 2017

The boys were excited for Easter this year!  Patrick’s school was closed for fall break during Holy Week off school, though he completed this “Easter Bunny Application” the week before.  (At the bottom he wrote, “I like the chakulet” – or chocolate.)

Danny had school for three days during Holy Week and came home with this bunny.

Danny and his classmates made chipa one day at school.  Chipa, an artisanal Paraguayan bread that looks like a bagel, is enjoyed year-round in Paraguay though making chipa is a traditional Holy Week activity.  In addition to the typical circle shape, Danny also created a chipa in the shape of an alligator.

The Embassy was closed Thursday and Friday since they are national holidays in Paraguay.  To keep the kids entertained over the four-day weekend with no nannies, we made big plans filled with lots of activities for the kids.  Unfortunately poor Kev woke up a little sick on Saturday.  He had thrown up in his crib during the night and then fallen back asleep.  He had bits of dried vomit on his face and in his hair when we went to get him from his crib Saturday morning.

Poor Kev just wanted to snuggle with mama all day.

Danny and Patrick invented something called “apple sandwiches” which they ate for a snack.

One of the most anticipated activities of the weekend for the boys was watching the movie “Hop” about a human who wants to be the Easter Bunny and a rabbit – slated to be the next Easter Bunny – who would rather be a drummer.

While watching the movie, we enjoyed eating popcorn cooked in the popcorn machine my aunt Mary had given us for Christmas.

My friend Ellen stayed over at our house on Saturday night and helped us dye Easter eggs that afternoon.

We made a bunny cake to share for dessert with our friends on Easter Sunday.  Using two circle pans, we made the head, two ears, and a bow tie.  At the request of Danny and Patrick, we used chocolate instead of vanilla frosting for the bunny.

We used pretzel M&Ms (picked up in the international terminal at O’Hare airport on our way home from Paudh’s wedding) to decorate the bunny.

The boys were really happy to be having homemade pizzas for dinner on Saturday night.  Kev was feeling a little better by dinner time so we gave him some bread which he happily ate.  Danny and Patrick had cheese pizzas they made themselves.

Brian and Ellen and I added onions, peppers, prosciutto, Jimmy Dean sausage, and arugula to our pizzas which we enjoyed after the little darlings had gone to bed.

On Easter morning, Patrick and Danny were eager to start our backyard Easter egg hunt.

On the back patio, the Easter Bunny had left a note for the boys in chalk letting them know where to look for their eggs.

After finding their Easter eggs (but leaving sleeping Kev’s eggs in place), Patrick and Danny tore into their Easter baskets.

They were excited to eat the candy they received.  Danny was happy to get a “fruit by the foot” but was confused about the name and kept saying, “I’m eating a big foot!”  

The Easter Bunny gave the boys a book in Spanish about Noah’s ark and a small ceramic figurine (from an artisan market in Buenos Aires) of the ark full of animals.

Kev, who was still not feeling great, slept past 10am and missed the fun of the Easter baskets and egg hunt.  Once he woke up, we got everyone dressed and ready for Mass.  Danny and Patrick each wanted to be an “Easter Elf on a Shelf” and asked to be photographed while perched on our headboard.  Kev was not having it.

It’s tough to get a good picture of three active boys and this is the best we could do.

I guess Patrick and Danny are starting to get too tall for little kid clip-on ties.

We had a fun dinner with friends and the bunny cake was quickly devoured at dessert.  Danny was thrilled to snuggle a bit with Roxy, a dog that had temporarily stayed at our house.

We were home early, and got our tired little bunnies in bed by seven!  

We had a fun Easter weekend home together!