Three Years

danishamericanirishIt’s not exactly a tale like Brad Pitt’s ‘Seven Years in Tibet”, but I can’t believe it has been three years since we arrived to the US and were greeted by the gorgeous Lady of Liberty.  Greeted by 36 degrees celsius (95+ F) as we disembarked the plane.  Not too sure why we had to get off the plane a mile from the terminal, but I suppose Aer Lingus was either late on arrival or hadn’t paid its fees.  I’m sure it was just due to the delay, and we had enjoyed our first flight ever on business class.  It makes travelling so much more comfortable :-)

The first 18 months had many ups and a few downs.  I suppose that’s what to be expected when you rip up your life as you know it and move lock stock and barrels to another country.  You don’t realise how comfortable you were until you start over.  And, the US has so much to offer, but sweet lord, it has so many interesting challenges for a new family.

It’s amazing how quickly our kids settled into their new life, gained new friends and improved confidence in the speed of light.

My oldest girl amazed us by quickly adopting the American life style and accent.  She no longer has her Irish twang, other than when she says bollocks, Dublin, Tayto, deadly and a few other expressions.  But, as soon as we meet up with our new friends (from Ireland) in the US, she reverts back to her cute Irish words.

My son has jumped leaps since arriving here.  Born with Down Syndrome was not ideal in Ireland.  Although the Irish health system tried to do as much as possible, resources are fairly limited, and what he received in services in a year in Ireland, he receives in a few days in the US.  For that alone the move was well worth it.

My youngest adventurer is American.  She was born in Ireland, but learned how to talk and walk here, so for her Ireland is just a distant memory.  I doubt she would even recognise the homeland if we went home to visit.

We love it here!

The home of the free, the brave and other amazing folks have truly made our life better and helped us along this journey.  We have met so many wonderful people in this country, and they have mostly been welcoming us with open arms.

We have our green cards, which are actually green, and look forward to when we can apply for citizenship.  This is absolutely our home and country.  We are prod being residents in this wonderful land of opportunities.

I still haven’t adopted NFL, MBL and MSL – I still support my might Chelsea and love the fact that I can see most games … KTBFFH (keep the blue flag flying high).

Thank you America, for taking us in and making our move feel easy – we love you!

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The curse of my mother-in-law

MotherInLawThis is not a post about my mother-in-law per say.  To be fully transparent, I actually like my mother-in-law.  This might sound surprising to other husbands out there, but the myth that mother-in-laws are evil is not entirely true.  Well, we do have our differences when it comes to who can mind the kids and how to raise kids, as she claims she’s the only person in the universe capable of minding her grand-kids and that kids should be allowed to do whatever they want.  And, most things that I attempt to cook for the kids, how to approach homework, getting clothes and selecting after-school activities are not approved by her!

No, this post is the curse that has been placed on our family whenever she visits from the homeland, and stays in our house for 3-5 weeks at a time.  I wonder if she actually placed the curse on the family as she was clearly unhappy that we moved far away and that her ability to be with her grandkids have been severely curtailed.  During every visit, something has broken, and she not-so-secretly rolls her eyes at her failing son-in-law aka me.

In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the major things that have caused her eyes to each for the heavens, doing the “hail Mary” and throw a few Spanish curse words at me.  I’m sure she does it to show her appreciation for me and has no ill intend.

  • Heater stopped working; shortly after the visit of one of the major North-Eastern storms that hit the area, the furnace decided to give up its spirit.  It would kick in, but not heat the house, which unfortunately resulted in me handing out fleeces and sweaters + extra blankets to all family members.  I would’ve offered to place most family members in the same beds, but felt it might have been slightly inappropriate :-)  To make matter worse, our lovely landlord wasn’t overly concerned fixing it, and made me shop around.  This also meant that we had no heat for almost 2 weeks!  Talk about being out in the cold.
  • Fridge stopped working; during the recent summer months, I noticed the overused fridge refusing to cool the much-needed water, drinks and foods, resulting in some food being spoiled and the kids drinking lukewarm water/drinks.  It turned out the motor had decided to go on summer holidays, left me (the-not-so-great-DIY-guy) in charge of getting the darn thing repaired.  Thankfully it only took 6 days for the engineer to assess and repair the unit.
  • Oven caught fire; my dear 4 year-old daughter wanted to make a special dog food with Gold Fish pie for her imaginary friends, and decided to fill up the gas oven with said ingredients.  The ovens wasn’t overly pleased and took the opportunity to char these ingredients and this created unnecessary heat, flames and smoke.  So, we couldn’t rely on the oven for food, but thankfully the BBQ unit was more than happy to accommodate our cooking requests.  Read more here.
  • Shower leaking; one morning, while taking my mandatory morning shower, I noticed the shower was dripping – even while turned off.  I called in plumping reinforcement who were not comfortable with tightening the valves – even if it was obvious that was all it would take to fix it.  Instead they wanted to charge us $1200 for a new shower, which I kindly rejected and tightened the valve myself.
  • Washing machine floods; lastly, and by no means less important, the washing machine was sick and got sick all over the floor.  This meant we couldn’t wash clothes and my mother-in-law had to show us how she washed clothes when she was growing up.  No, we didn’t go to the local river or lake to wash, but filled a bucket with water and worked through the piles of clothes left by the kids.  It’s amazing how many blisters one gets when washing clothes.  In the end, the landlord agreed to replace the washer and we were saved.

showerAs you can see, we’ve had our fair share of unfortunate events, all while my lovely mother-in-law were staying with us.  Is it just me, or does it not seem as if a curse is placed upon our residence?

I know my wife’s family can trace their roots back to Mayan indians, but something tells me my mother-in-law has retained highly powerful shaman skills, casting curses at her awesome son-in-law.

Thankfully each of the events were resolved without too much pain, but I could’ve been without these challenges while she was visiting!

In case she’s ready this, this post is written full of love and appreciation :-)

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Ice Bucket Madness

I have for the past month been watching the viral explosion of the ice bucket challenges, initially wondering what the hell ALS is and why people would even contemplate pouring cold (ice) water over themselves.  Surely there are better ways for using water, especially as California is preparing themselves for Mad Max revival and water wars.

ice_bucketIt was amusing to watch, and yet with awe, people supporting such a valid cause.  But, it was even more wonderful to see how quickly this ice storm spread across the inter web.

Suddenly friends of old and new started to join the ice wagon.  Deep inside I feared that some innocent friend would nominate me for this challenge.  But given we had recently immigrated to the US, and were out of sight by most friends, I hoped that I would be overlooked.

Then very recently, a good friend and his family did the challenge, and my name was mentioned.  The echoed in my ears as I heard my name, and my supportive wife screamed of laughter.

Would I do it?  Would I support ALS given our son has Down Syndrome?

Well, I’m a person that keep his promises and I’m not yellow / chicken for those not familiar with the ‘yellow’ term.  However, I decided to change the game slightly and supported both causes, but my donation went to Down Syndrome instead.

Here’s the evidence :-)

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Jump in My Time Machine

deep purpleA few days ago I had the gnarly opportunity to go see some serious old rockers – and I do mean old, but yet legends and ancient rock heroes.  It was none other than Deep Purple playing at a local venue, or rather small theatre with room for about 500 people.  It was nothing compared to the arenas they were able to fill in the past, but nevertheless, the place was packed full of an equally aging rock following, with me one of the younger fans.

Well, fan is probably slightly overstated as I actually only know one track, which I’ve listened to many times while a young kid and it was also the first tune I managed to learn rather quick on my electric guitar back in the days.  I was even able to play this awesome tune at a college event, much to the amusement of my inner-child … my first rock concert.

The tune is of course “Smoke on the water“, which is a classic by all standards and many boys have played air-guitar, raised their hands in the heavy metal tribute and headbanged quietly along to the rhythms.  Steve Morse has mastered it well, but Ritchie Blackmore is the true artist behind this track.

Anyway, back to the time machine.

I knew that this legendary concert would be well attended, primarily by middle-aged men around the same ago as the band members.  So, the average age of the audience was around mid 50′s, leaving me to drag down the average.  The village was funnily packed with all types of middle aged rockers, all wearing their ageing metal t-shirts supporting Tesla, Motorhead, Toto, Black Sabbath and I might have spotted a single Poison shirt too, much to the amusement of the gathering crowds.

dio metal saluteIt was amazing to witness how all these people have transformed back into what they were back in the 70s and 80′s, wearing their tough gear, bandanas and several women were trying to fit into their Hooters tops and tight worn jeans shorts – with bits hanging out from various spots.  They all must have fuelled their DeLorean, raced back in time, stolen some of their old gear from their younger self, and then rushed back to the future pretending they were young again.  I’m sure they even forgot they had kids and jobs, and would have to return to civilisation from planet rock the next morning.

The concert was kicked off when advertised, and there was no messing with warm-up bands, as Deep Purple headed to stage with a big bang.  The first seven tracks were one after another – no break and no prisoners – full on heavy metal tunes vibrating through the theatre.  Men in their mid 50s stood up, saluted the ageing Deep Purple guys with the sign of awesomeness (some might say devil worship), head-banging and mumbling along to the iconic voice of Ian Gillan.

A few mature rock ladies started dancing in the isles, much to the amusement of the equally mature rock dudes – who still managed to shout encouraging words to their dancing skills.  Some of their skills would in a normal world include a dancing pole, but these totally cool women pulled off such moves with ease.

weeman metal salute

Borrowed from Rick Kosick’s web site

Suddenly the theatre was filled with the awesome cords of Smoke on the Water, and I will admit the hairs on my arms stood up in anticipation of the upcoming track.  It something else hearing this decade old tune.  The reaction from the crowd was immense.  I swear some of the rockers were silently weeping and were enforcing their admiration with a double heavy metal salute.

2 hours later, the concert was over and the audience dispersed heading back to the future to attend their normal life, secretly waiting for the next gig to port them back.  Perhaps Toto or Iron Maiden?

I had a blast and it was great (and very impressive) that these guys can still rock hard!

Rock hard my fellow headbangers!
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firestarterAs we were preparing dinner, oven roasted salmon with new potatoes, I turned on the amazing gas oven.  Cooking with gas somehow makes food much nicer, or perhaps it’s just us thinking it’s a nicer flavour than more conventional electric ovens.

The LED display on the oven shows the temperature and how it slowly climbs to the destination altitude, but for some reason the oven went from cold to warm very fast.  Much faster than usual, and  some smoke started to develop from the vent.

I opened the door, which most backdraft experienced people would warn you against, only to be greeted with a ginormeous ball of thick smoke, quickly covering the kitchen ceiling.  It was a nasty smell and clearly something was burning and I wondered if we had left an old pizza box in the oven or if food had dripped on oven floor.  Either way, I decided to quickly turn off the oven and cool it off so I could examine it.

To my utter surprise, the flames did not die.  On the contrary.  They kept going, but from below the oven floor, where the gas flames live!

I had to act quickly now and jumped to get the fire extinguisher, pointed it at the flames and let the dust/foam kill the flames.  Thankfully this killed the flames of Udun, and put the fire breather back in its cage.

BackdraftI can calmly say that our smoke detectors work.  They were screaming / beeping while I was frantically trying to get the smoke out of the house, using all the fans in the house and all windows/doors wide open.

After the oven had cooled off significantly, I decided to put on my daddy DIY hat and see if I could somehow fix the oven.  First step was clearly washing down the entire unit inside as the foam / powder had left a thin layer all over.

Please note, I'm not a natural born DIY genius!

As I had removed the worst of the dust, I gently unscrewed the vent fan cover and removed the oven floor tray to expose the gas pipes, trying to use my best fire investigator skills.  Low and behold, I found the cause of the unnatural fire.

Someone, who shall remain nameless, had carefully inserted ‘gold fish‘ crackers and dog food into the little vents in the oven floor tray, which in turn created small piles of perfectly stacked fire sources, and once they got hot enough they simply kept burning.

When I asked the potential fire starter, she blankly refuted the accusations and instead blamed her stuffed rabbit in a pink tutu dress.  She even rolled her eyes and seriously questioned my motive for asking her if she had done such a heinous crime.  Btw, she’s four years old!

I removed a large bowl full of burned ‘gold fresh’ and charcoal dog food, and spent the next two hours scrubbing down the oven.  To make it worse, the ben was still warm and it was probably early 80′s outside, so the sweat was starting to drip off my forehead and masculine chest.

The oven was shinning as if new.  I was actually proud of my cleaning skills, but it was time to see if the oven would even work.

I selected the oven temperature, clicked start and stepped back a few steps – just in case.

To my surprise, the oven seemed to work fine, although it was steaming a fair bit, but that was to be expected as I had just cleaned it with water.

Step 6 in my cleaning process was to do what I had never done before.  Use the self-clean function on the oven.   I had no idea what to expect or how long it would take, but it had to be done.

As I kicked off the automated process, the oven door locked and timer started.  Four hours!

What I didn’t know or expect was that the cleaning process actually involves extreme temperatures in the oven to convert old food into ashes, which in turn causes increased smoke … again!  And again my smoke detectors passed the test.

Now I just have to wait another 3 hours until the process is cleaning, so might as well put on Lord of the Rings.

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House hunting games

If you have ever gone Christmas shopping with your kids, or just normal grocery shopping, you will easily agree that it can be a most trying challenge, testing the boundaries of your sanity and many times the sanity of your fellow shoppers.

The most common scenario is when your kid drops to the ground screaming, just because you refuse to get another brand of cereal or ice creams.  All nearby shoppers are instantly froze, all staring at you to determine what your decisive super parent skill is to calm this bundle of horror down.  Many probably wishing you would just leave the shopping area, and you wishing you could hide in a box of Mac ‘n Cheese.

Now, imagine going shopping with three kids!  AND shopping for a house.

Well, that’s exactly what we did recently.

Like so many families, we want to make sure our kids participate in major family changing events, and choosing your future family homestead certainly qualifies for such an event.  So, we found a few tempting places on Trulia and Zillow, engaged a realtor and planned to meet the following weekend.

Trulia and Zillow are excellent property search engines

We had to inspect six potential houses that warm summer afternoon, and packed the car with snacks and plenty to drink, and set off on yet another family adventure in the trusty old family tank.

I had carefully planned the route with the realtor, preventing a zig zag tour de New York experience, as that would be absolutely killer on the kids’ mood.  The last thing we need in a confined space is a revolution.

HouseHuntingWe pulled in at the first house, and the kids were in shock – positive shock.  They thought it was absolutely stunning and immediately jumped out of the truck to explore (in their opinion) the new stomping ground.  They ran up/down the stairs.  I could hear voices in the attic and the basement.  Then suddenly all three kids had to use the bathroom.  All while the realtor stood silently with an awkward smile and not too what she had witnessed.

My wife and I had very little time to explore the houses as we were too busy running after the kids, making sure they didn’t jump into the pool, started to play with the house owner’s pet or picked up toys.

On to house two – a beautiful house that the kids fell in love with.  And, same strange wild behaviour from the kids; running around like if possessed, and insisting on using the bathroom.  We hadn’t even driven for more than 10 minutes, and no beverages, so how could their tiny bladder be full already?

Toilet Stories; shitter and in the wild

On to house three.  Again, this was the new dream house according to the gang of three.  They ran riots in the garden.  Up/down the stairs.  Suddenly I heard voices from the hallway closet, only to discover the two youngest laughing as I opened the closet.  They had been playing in the darkness.  And, the mandatory toilet visit.

House four and five were pretty much the same as the previous three houses, expect house five had no running water, so couldn’t visit the toilet.  I fully appreciate that a working toilet is essential for any household, but there’s no need to test every single toilet until we actually move in.

House six was a wash out – none of really liked it, so we didn’t even bother testing the toilet.  That said, the garden was phenomenal; massive potential for a personal maze, with  wilderness trails we could practice our survival skills.  Plenty to offer for the outdoor family and even more for the adventurous DIY dude … not us then!

All in all we saw six houses, but I have still very little recollection of what each house looked at, and have to visit Trulia or Zillow to see pictures.  Perhaps bringing the kids weren’t the best of ideas.  We do love exploring with the kids, but this is one of those adventures were kids might just make you buy something, just because it had an awesome pee experience.

The poor realtor never knew what actually happened.  She was completely bewildered as we left her standing at the last house, probably looking for a bottle of Jack D while downing a few Prozac’s and crying softly and yet anxiously.  Funnily enough, she hasn’t returned my calls or emails!

It’s safe to say that we’ll inspect the next future family homestead without kids :-)

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Balloon Wars

Summer just got serious with this amazing invention “Bunch O Balloons” over on Kickstarter.  From looking at the profile, it seems like we might be able to get our hands on these suckers in the coming weeks, just in time for the summer and before school ends.  Josh Malone was only asking for $10K, but clearly many people thought it is a fantastic idea and have pledged $250K.

Balloon fight was just brought to the next level – I can’t wait to dominate my block’s water balloon war.

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Not the Wilderness Family

Although we love being outside and walking in the forest, hiking with the kids has only been a quarterly event at best, with a few small treks into the wilderness with the family St Bernard.  We are not the most avid trekkers, but do our best to be one with nature … blend in with the wildlife and pretend we know how to survive.  We watch “Naked & Afraid“, “Bear Grylls” and of course the awesome “Dual Survival“.  The latter makes me laugh just looking at the dude pretending to be a native indian.  I’m sure he can survive any environment, but not sure he needs to have braids!

It has to be said, the family dog is rarely impressed being dragged through the wide forest paths, shrieking at any strange sound or movement from the forest.  A squirrel runs across the path and one would think the dog would be flying after it, but not our dog!  When doing her business, her lazy gaze scouts the perimeter making sure no evil chipmunk or other animal with teeth is ready to attack.

Now, let’s talk about the family and how we “blend in” and become one with Mother Nature.  Let’s be clear, we are not the Wilderness Family!

Pale Alien Toes

Pale Alien Toes

I for one is probably 30lbs overweight, pale as chalk, dehydrated within the first mile and tend to forget my actual walking shoes and end up walking the entire trek in my flip-flops, plus sweating a fair bit which makes my clothes look like patchwork.  I’m a true tourist in this wast scenic country that’s build for proper explorations and not the back garden of a Dublin (Ireland) estate where the meanest animal is a black crow.

My wife, aka Amazing Gordita, tend to wear her runners, jeans and a designer t-shirt … you gotta look sharp in the wilderness.  She will often start humming and singing, pretending she’s in some sort of Disney movie, explore the berry bushes, snap some cool pictures and help our song along.

Our oldest daughter who one would think that, based on her eager involvement with the Girl Scouts, she would be naturalist in the family … and she is, but only through her obsessive iPhone photo lens or surfing National Geographic.  Well, most times she might be watching some strange Disney show.

My son hates walking in the forest, especially because the roads are uneven, there are way too many flying buzzers of all sorts, he dislikes the shrubs, sweats profoundly and he is determined to find the quickest way back to the starting point.

Then you have Xena the Warrior, our youngest girl, who is natural-born predator.  She hunts around in the forest, with stealth like tactics, sneaking up on wild life and various berries, exploring the undergrowth of the forest – and ninja punches mosquitos.  I’m sure if she got stung by any insect, she would pee on it to reduce the itching.

brixwitch projectDespite our in abilities to blend in with nature, we love exploring the wild.  At least from the safety of the Costa Rican tour bus or Six Flags Safari tour.  We do love spending time in the camp where we are members and have plenty of battles with the aggressive mosquitos when trying to visit the outhouse.  Any bug that might swoosh by will send shivers down our spines and cause uncontrollable arm movements, while trying to get the spray or zapper.

We are NOT the Wilderness Family, but we enjoy life :-)

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The evolution of cave drawings

cave drawingsIn the beginning there were walls that looked innocent and clean.  Man (and women I presume) decided to use these blank canvasses to express emotions and tell stories.  Bingo, we have wonderful ancient graffiti sharing their daily adventures, from killing animals, chatting with aliens, hands, animals and many more amazing drawings.

Just to be clear, this is not an archeology lecture or some other elaborate tale to explain how cave drawings appeared and what they might mean.  No, this is to illustrate that even in today’s technology driven society, cave drawings still haunts us – especially us parents as our kids evolve.

As you know, we have three beautiful kids; two girls and one boy.  Each child have unique skills and various levels of energy, and we fully support our kids in growing their skills further – unless it’s their ability to watch endless TV shows on Netflix about annoying ponies or playing ‘Temple Run‘.

But one of the kids is much more creative than her siblings.  And, she has hell of a lot more energy than the others which is most likely because she’s the youngest and wants to keep up with the older siblings.

The older siblings also expressed their artistic skills, but only on the paper they we using.  Yes, it did happen that they drew on the table, but nothing remotely as severe as the tiny artist.

She has taken drawing to a new level, which includes selecting new canvasses and expressing her emotions on walls and furniture.  Nothing beats coming home seeing a new creation on the family sofa, bathroom wall, dinning table or stairs.  Most times these can be “easily” removed with water and soap, but since she has moved from water colours to permanent markers, it has become increasingly impossible.

She has also taken her skills on the road, and we have now some drawings in the car and on her clothes.

When I catch her in the act, and demands she stops, I get the 1000 yards stare and being told that she hasn’t done anything.  It was her brother!  That is despite her standing with the marker, on the wall, drawing a long line.  Even the CSI team would support my accusations!

Although it is rather frustrating, it can be covered up with wall paint, which we will do once she stops using the walls as her canvas – if she stops!

From an artistic perspective, you have to applaud her skills and if you study her drawings in more detail, you can see how she is enhancing her abilities.  The earlier stages are simple lines, then X’s, faces and people.  I would perhaps go as far to state that some of her art works are more impressive than some of the new modern artists who pains a black dot on a white canvas … or nothing on the white canvas!

Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, and other artists of the ancient World would most likely look at my daughters paintings and discover her hidden talents.  In the eyes of (in my opinion) VERY suprematism artists, our kids are completely wasting their time actually learning the craft of painting or splash paint about like the great Pollock, or painting three stripes endlessly like Rothko.

Long story short, as a parent and house owner, I dread seeing my house covered in cave drawings, but I cannot spend too much time getting upset about it.  It’s only a few lines and we’ll be pairing the walls soon.  Anyway, judge for yourself :-)

How are your kids expressing themselves?

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Celebrating Independence

4 july small…or properly more accurately, the US is celebrating kicking out the British while holding hands with the Irish who also kicked out the British.  In reality, the British are most likely not too happy about being reminded about this every year, but tough!

Normally 4th of July is celebrated across the US using amazing fireworks, mouth dripping BBQ, loud music and family reunions.  It’s a time were neighbours reach out and get together for food and kids playing.

And this year would be no different if it hadn’t been for the arrival of Hurricane Arthur, who decided to kick off the hurricane season a little early by battering the East Coast.

We use 4th of July to celebrate our arrival to the US three years ago and a new chapter in our family adventures.  We still have many more chapters to write, but it has been a wonderful journey to date.

We can proudly say “Happy 4th of July” to all of our American friends, family, brothers and colleagues.  It has truly been a pleasure to get to know you and thank you for greeting us with open arms … especially after a few sips of the local moonshine :-)

Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own, and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it” – Andrew Jackson (American 7th US President1767-1845)

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