Today is the first day of Spring.  This is usually cause for great celebration here in the Northeast but, since we had a winter so warm it was worrisome and the daffodils all bloomed last week, the change of season feels a bit anti-climactic compared to years past.  Even so, it’s time to change over the closets, do some spring cleaning and lighten up a bit — in spirit, in fashion and yes, even in diaper bags or however you define your tote of choice.
I’ve never really been a diaper bag kind of a gal myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent the past seven years of my life with an overstuffed satchel of sorts hanging off my shoulder and various kiddie items hanging out of that bag.  I tried the traditional diaper bags but none of them ever really worked for me — especially with triplets!  As I’m faced with a milestone that no one seems to mention (that being the end of the diaper bag!), I’m faced with a dilemma about what to take along to tote our necessities when we’re out and about.  I no longer need to pack up formula, bottles, diapers and onesies but when we’re headed out for a long day, I still need to lug along water bottles, juice boxes, a few Pull Ups and wipes — which thankfully are now used most often for sticky hands and faces rather than stinky bottoms!  The point is, I need a bag.  And I’m sure many of you do too so, for today’s “Tuesday Tip”, I thought I’d share a few that work for me… and, I’d love to hear any that work for you.  After all, spring is here and Mama needs a new bag!
The Lucky Girl Personal Shopper, by Bella Bags
This Bella Bag by Toss comes in eight pretty patterns and several sensible styles so whether you need a refrigerated compartment for milk and yogurt or a basic carry-all, there’s an option for you.  My sister got me this bag a few years ago and it’s one of my favorites.  It can be personalized with your initial and the bright colors and fun patterns are great at hiding the dirt and grime that are inevitable after a few trips to the park.
The “Lock It Pocket Rocket”, by Scout
This is not the first time I’ve extolled the virtues of the Pocket Rocket .  This bag has seen me through thick and thin and many a bottle — ranging from baby bottles to wine bottles, depending on the occasion!  As spring turns to summer and you migrate from the sandbox to a sandy beach, this will be a great bag to have in tow.  With six outside pockets, one inside pocket and an interior roomy enough for snacks and sunblock, this is one of my all-time faves.  As an added bonus, it’s water-resistant so it can easily be wiped clean and won’t damaged by splashes and spills.  Last but not least, the newest version (pictured above) has a lock-it feature so it can be easily strapped to your stroller for a handy hands-free option.
L.L. Bean Boat & Tote Bag
The LL Bean boat bag is a classic and has been a staple in our family for years.  We must have almost a dozen of them by now.  Each kid has one with their name on it which is their “go bag” for all our adventures; whether it’s a weekend visit to my parents or our annual week at the beach, each kid gets one bag and one bag only.  If it doesn’t fit in the “Bean Bag”, it gets left behind.  In addition to proving their worth for little road warriors, these bags are perfect for the pool or beach.  I have a large one that fits seven beach towels and enough sunblock to keep us covered until Labor Day.  If you’re not yet convinced that the Bean Bag is a must-have, consider this — they also make for great storage… one for blocks, one for trains and so on.  It’s an ideal way to tote playthings from room to room or up and down stairs.  My husband will occasionally wish we had those nifty new zip top tote bags so if he happens to take a turn too fast the beach towels don’t go flying but, for lugging loads to and fro, if you ask me, this is a bag that’s hard to beat.

Last but not least, there’s the basic backpack.  It served you well in school and will still do the trick now that you’re a busy mom — quite possibly with more kids than hands, making the hands-free nature of this one all the more appealing!  As you may know, we took the kids into the city for the St. Patrick’s Day parade last weekend and my trusty old backpack got us through the day.  It easily contained nine juice-boxes, fruit snacks, granola bars, clementines, wipes, tissues, and one complete change of clothes (and Pull Ups) in case a tired three-year old triplet piddled in his pants. Lest I should forget, there were a few items for me too: my phone, a few dollars, a credit card and lip gloss. On the downside, of the roughly twenty pounds strapped to my back that day, less than two were actually for me but, on the upside, I was able to meet every whining request for a snack and, best of all, never needed to pull out those Pull Ups!

It was dark as night with a thick fog swirling around the street lamps as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked out the window.  “Do we really need to get the kids up this early?” I asked my husband as he slowly awoke from his slumber.  “Of course we do, it’s St. Patrick’s Day!” he responded without hesitation.  And so it began. 
First Liam and Ciara were hustled out of bed, into their Sunday best and down the hill to the train with their Dad.  Why?  To make sure they got to church on time – and not just any old church, but St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I know what you’re thinking because I had the same thought, “Gee, nothing says fun for kids on St. Patrick’s Day like being dragged out of bed, stuffed into fancy clothes and squeezed into a church pew!” Fortunately for them, this was only the beginning.  And, I have to admit, it is a huge honor to be invited to Mass at St. Patrick’s on March 17th – a point which is lost on them now at five and seven years old but, I hope they will one day realize.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was hustling our three-year old triplets out of their cribs and into their Irish rugby jerseys.  Kevin, Declan and Cormac awoke with their typical cheer and joyful anticipation of the day ahead. “Is today the day?!”  “Today is St. Patrick’s Day, right Mama?”  “Today we go to the parade!”  These little Irish eyes were smiling up at me as I hurried them out of the house to catch the next train to the city.  That thick fog was just starting to lift as we headed south along the Hudson to Grand Central Station , eliciting some keen three year old commentary about “smoke on the water”  and cute questions like “Is it always smoky on St. Patrick’s Day, Mom?”
We arrived at Grand Central and did what any mom with a trio of three year olds would do next.  We rode the escalator.  That’s right, it caught their eye while we were waiting to meet my parents at the clock tower and I just couldn’t resist their amazing powers of persuasion.  The problem though, was that once we rode up, they were petrified to go back down.  After several failed attempts, I finally left my mom a message explaining that we’d been foiled by the escalator and were going to start marching toward the parade.
What a sight we were as we battled the growing crowds along Fifth Avenue and headed toward St. Pat’s.  I had one wide-eyed, fair-skinned, freckle-faced boy in each hand and one tagging along behind, clinging for dear life to the back of my green sweater. We paused a few times along the way, taking in the wonder of the windows of Build A Bear and American Girl.  Their excitement and enthusiasm were contagious as passers-by stopped to smile and wish us a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. 
We finally arrived on the steps of St. Pat’s where we met my husband, Liam and Ciara and were eventually joined by my parents, brother, sister-in-laws, niece, nephews and friends old and new.  As the pipers played and drummers drummed, I said a silent thank you to St. Patrick.  Not just for chasing the snakes out of Ireland but, for giving us one day a year to honor our heritage, tap our toes to the music, wear our green with pride and truly cherish our family; St. Patrick’s Day is a good reminder of just how blessed I am to look into smiling little Irish eyes and see the wonder of the world from their point of view – for it is a very nice view indeed.

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, the Lyons Den is abuzz with activity.  There is Irish Soda bread to be baked, a hearty stew to be made and, time permitting, a lovely Pot of Gold cake to be picked up at the Riviera Bakehouse – a gem of a bakeshop should you ever be in the neighborhood!

When I asked our seven-year old, Liam, what St. Patrick’s Day was all about, he responded without hesitation, “It’s about being together as a family and remembering Ireland” – which I thought was a pretty astute answer for a second-grader; after all, I’ve never shared the story of St. Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland so it’s only fitting that he thinks the day is about family, togetherness and remembering our Irish roots.
It’s worth noting that while Liam was having his moment in the spotlight, his little sister Ciara and little brothers Kevin, Declan and Cormac (identical triplets and a stroke of Irish luck if ever there was one!) were all nodding in accordance.  “Family.” “Together.” “Family.”  In a rare occurrence, we found a topic to which we all could agree.
Now, as you might have surmised from the impressive roster of Irish names for our brood, we’ve got a lot o’green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name was O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons.”  Needless to say, that didn’t work.  As a first generation Irish American whose Dad hailed from County Cork, my husband Des was far too proud to change his name – and, almost a decade later, I can’t say I blame him.
We had the privilege of our taking our clan (yes, we flew to Ireland with five children then six and under!) to Ireland this fall.  We caught up with friends in Dublin, visited family in Bray, drove through the rolling hills of Wicklow, kissed the  Blarney Stone and toured County Cork, sharing the magic of Kinsale and other seaside villages with our kids.  It was a whirlwind of a trip and at times a challenge to juggle five (jet-lagged!) children as we saw the sights but it was well worth it.  While I still recall the screaming banshee I became at the end of a few especially long days, the kids recall a magical, mystical fairy tale of a trip. 
The 2-year old triplets gave us some precious sound bites, one of my favorites of which was “If this is Barney Castle, where he at?” Ciara celebrated her fifth birthday at the Dublin Zoo, a must-see if ever you make the journey and Liam, the oldest of our crew, fell in love with the Emerald Isle. He is reading Yeats, seems to have absorbed the significance of the 1916 Easter Uprising and, in true seven year old form, naturally assumes that we’ll be heading back to Ireland this fall. 
For the record, we won’t – but, if time and money weren’t an issue, we’d go back in a heartbeat.  Ireland is truly the land of a hundred thousand welcomes; not everyone welcomes a family of seven (with a few of them possibly wet – from either the unpredictable weather or an “accident”!) but all over Ireland, we were welcomed with open arms. With big smiles.  With warm tea or a cold pint.  It is that spirit – that welcome, that zest for life, for story-telling, for music, for dance, that I hope our children embody as they grow up — on St. Patrick’s Day and every other day of the year.  I hope they embrace life experiences and the people they encounter along the way with Cead Mile Failte. A hundred thousand welcomes.

Twas the week before St. Patty’s Day

And the excitement is a’brewin’
For on the 17th of March,
We know just what we’ll be doin’.
We’ll be taking an early train,
Down to New York City
Where we’ll take in the Parade, 
With bands and dancers oh so pretty.
We’ll join family and friends 
As we sing the songs of old
And our Irish Eyes will be smilin’ 
Whether the weather’s warm or cold.
We’ll be wearing our green 
And our Irish sweaters too,
We’ll be bravin’ the crowds 
With our rather sizable crew.
On the Cathedral steps we will be
As the parade goes marching by
We’ll be burstin’ with our Irish pride
As the tri-color flag waves in the sky.
We’ll be missing our loved ones 
Who won’t be there to share the day,
They will be in our hearts 
As to the music we will sway.
We’ll be grateful for the family and friends 
With whom we’ll celebrate,
We’ll be on that train back home again
Before it gets too late.
We’ll smile down upon the freckled faces 
That bring us so much joy,
As we thank God that we are Irish
And have one sweet girl and four sweet boys.
For today’s tip, I thought I’d share a recent post from Irish Central, where I write routinely about the whimsy of parenting — or, more accurately put, the ups and downs of life here in the Lyons Den… or any other humble abode that happens to be crawling (at times, quite literally!) with little ones.

Last weekend, I took several of our tots to the zoo and was reminded once again of the joy of visiting the zoo in the off-season; there were no lines, no crowds, and easy access to the things that matter most to us… animals, bathrooms and snacks — not necessarily in that order!  In a nutshell, the morale of this story is to take your tykes out and about when other folks are lazing about inside.  Sure, it might be a bit brisk but that’s easily resolved with a cup of hot chocolate and I can assure you that the simple pleasures of zoos (and aquariums, museums, parks and playgrounds!) are all the better when you can enjoy them without a crowd… and, without the fear of losing your children in that crowd!  Should you wish to read on, here is a tale of two zoos as I recently told it to my pals over at Irish Central…

I am a zoo-lover.  To me, one of the gratifications of having children is the ability to share my love of animals and wildlife and create little zoo-lovers to follow in my footsteps.  With five tykes seven and under, we’ve been quite busy exploring every zoo within reasonable — and not so reasonable –distance from our home in the suburbs of New York City.  To date, we’ve been lucky enough to visit the   National Zoo in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Zoo

The Bronx Zoo (on numerous occasions) and, on one stellar day, the Dublin Zoo.

Our visit to the Dublin Zoo was last October, during a whirlwind family trip to visit our roots in Ireland.  Since then, we have visited our “local” zoo in the Bronx twice — once on New Year’s Eve (yes, I did choose to ring in the new year with all our children and the sights, sound and smells of zoo animals!) and once this past weekend.   On Sunday, my husband Des took our seven year old, Liam, to see the Ireland vs. France rugby match and, given the choice of staying home alone with our four other tykes or heading to the zoo, I did what any other sane, tired 40-year old mum would do, I took them to the zoo!  Again!  And, once again, I was reminded of a tale of two zoos… 

“Our” zoo, the Bronx Zoo, is the zoo of my childhood.  The zoo I visited on class trips.  The zoo I first shared with my children.  But “your” zoo, the Dublin Zoo, is truly a zoo of many wonders.  It is the zoo where my one and only little lady turned five.  It is the zoo where I could swear we experienced four seasons in a day as the wind blew and the weather turned from sunny to cloudy to rainy to frigid to sunny once again.  It is the only zoo (and, as I’ve now established, I’ve seen many a zoo!) where we saw an elephant take a bath, a herd of giraffes happily mingle with several zebras, and truly, more animals than people!  

Don’t get me wrong, I love our zoo here in the Bronx and am pleased to report that membership has its privileges; last Sunday, we parked, visited and rode the merry-go-round for free, thanks to our annual family membership.  We got up close and personal with tigers, gorillas, sea lions, a polar bear and more than a few “friendly” peacocks.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to say which zoo would win the battle of the zoos… personally, I just feel blessed to have visited them all and to have five fab kids to share them with.

This week I spent two nights away from home for business.  I only travel occasionally for work so, on the rare occasions I do, it’s a bit of a respite.  The preparation is brutal – leaving five kids, a dog and a sweet, tired husband behind for 48 hours is no easy task.  There are meals to be planned, playdates to be confirmed, backpack notes to be written and lists to be made.  But, when all is done and I find myself at 30,000 feet, I have to admit, it’s kind of nice to get away.  And the number one reason why is SLEEP.  Hours and hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The way I see it, I’ve been sleep deprived since I first found out I was pregnant in March 2004.  Back then I couldn’t sleep because my (extremely small, in fact, completely flat-chested!) boobs hurt.  A habitual stomach-sleeper, I was in total agony and truly stunned that at just a few weeks preggo, I was being robbed of one of my favorite pastimes.  Sleep.  As weeks turned to months, my formerly peaceful slumber was routinely interrupted by trips to the bathroom and extreme discomfort — between my sore boobs, full bladder and swollen belly, there was no rest for the weary.  And that, of course, was just the beginning.
Having Liam really threw me for a loop.  I’m not a night owl; I’m a morning person.  Liam was the opposite.  Like many newborns, he had his days and nights mixed up… and before I knew it, I did too.  I was a basket case, a walking zombie.  And it only got worse when Ciara was born.  I remember one morning, I went to pick up the dry cleaning and they asked for my phone number.  I stood there, racking my brain, searching in the deepest corners of my mind and could not for the life of me remember my phone number.  When I finally blurted something out, I had to rescind it as I proclaimed with embarrassment, “Oh wait, that’s my friend Steph’s number!”  
Then came the triplets. Believe me when I tell you, sleep is elusive when you have three babies growing in your belly and a one and three year old still routinely howling in the middle of the night.  As my belly grew bigger, the nights grew longer.  I would wait for sunrise, only to nod off as Liam and Ciara, active toddlers at the time, started clamoring for breakfast.  Perhaps not surprisingly, when the triplets were born, it only got worse.  We were feeding three babies every three hours around the clock while doing our best to provide Liam and Ciara with three square meals a day.  I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that I didn’t get more than 2-3 hours of sleep at a pop for at least three months.

That was three years ago.  Now the triplets are three, Ciara just turned five and Liam is on the verge of turning seven.  They are great kids.  They are great sleepers. But they are still kids.  And there are five of them.  The odds of at least two waking up in the night because “I have to pee,” “I lost my WaWa,” “My tummy hurts,” “I’m thirsty,” or “I had a bad dream.” is about 100%.  This is why my husband and I now play a little game in the middle of the night.  A little game called “Playing Dead.” We are both wide awake, listening to the cries, the sniffles, the coughing, the whining, whatever it may be.  And we lie very very still.  Pretending to sleep.  Keeping our breath shallow and low.  Hoping, praying, yearning for the other one to get up and tend to the tots.  Is this wrong?  This game of Playing Dead? I don’t know.  I suspect there are other overtired parents out there who play dead too.  Because they are tired.  Really, really tired.  And that is why, every once in a while, it is really nice to travel for work.  Because I don’t need to play dead in the middle of the night.  I am dead. Dead asleep! 

I recently had lunch with a friend who I last saw before our trip to Ireland.  She wanted to know how it was.  She really wanted to know how it was… not just the glorious green scenery and fabulous family time but the nitty gritty of how we managed to fly overseas and spend ten days in a hotel with five children aged six and under.  And so I told her.  It was HARD!
It was much harder and much more expensive than we anticipated. The logistics of navigating a city – not just Dublin, but any city – with two strollers and five jet-legged kids (not to mention two exhausted parents with short tempers!) was hard. She asked me how Liam, our six-year old, held up while the other four were pushed in strollers.  She assumed we had brought two double strollers with us which, if I had to do it all over again, I would.  But, we didn’t. We had a double and a single stroller, which enabled our trio of two-year olds to ride like kings and left our four and six year old whining, moaning and groaning in our wake. 
In sharing our adventures with my friend, I suddenly recalled a dark moment my mind must have blocked out:  the image of our four year old melting into the worst sort of “MY LEGS WON’T GO, I’M TOO TIRED” tantrum as the doors of Dublin looked down on us and the rains of Ireland fell upon us. 
We were at least a mile away from our hotel with no cab in sight and darkness moving in – in every sense of the word. The solution required our typical all hands on deck approach –  I pushed the double stroller, we put our overtired six year old in charge of the single stroller and my husband put our tired and tormented daughter on his shoulders as the rain poured down and the triplets cried “Rain on me!  Wanna go home NOW!” 
It was ugly.  It was about as far from a Kodak moment as you could possibly get. That said, we did have plenty of true Kodak moments that I will forever cherish and I learned a few things for the next time… if there is a next time!
1.     Rent an apartment; don’t stay in a hotel.  Aside from the cramped quarters, the downside of the hotel was, well, breakfast, lunch and dinner – all of which had to be consumed in a restaurant or the hotel lobby.  Neither is a great option with a jet-lagged clan of tots and, it gets very pricey very quickly. While the upside of a hotel is someone who makes your bed in the morning, there’s another significant downside: no washer and no dryer.  Let’s just say that with a trio of potty-training tots, one really needs to be able to do laundry!  So, the next time, the Lyons Den will be staying in a short –term rental with kitchen and laundry included!
2.     Kids under five needs strollers.  Heck, kids over five might even need strollers if your sight-seeing plans are as aggressive as ours! We literally covered miles each day.  My legs were tired.  In retrospect, it’s really no surprise that our four and six year old were exhausted and miserable… and really, when one thinks of a vacation, “exhausted and miserable” shouldn’t be the descriptors!  Poor kids!  Next time, strollers all around!
3.     Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  We tend to cram a lot in a day.  Sometimes it’s a fact of life with five kids.  Sometimes it’s just plain foolish.  We were looking at pictures from our trip the other night  and as we reminisced about the National History Museum, double decker bus tour and Guinness factory, we realized we had done it ALL in ONE day!  Now that is just plain crazy with five small tots in tow! No wonder they were exhausted and miserable… not mention, wet – from both the rain and the potty-training setbacks! I think “less is more” will be my approach for our next family adventure, wherever that may be.
In the meantime, I’m working on an album with hundreds of smiling Kodak moments that will forever be a reminder of our trip… it may not have been a typical vacation but it was still a pretty stellar trip!
We’ve been back from Ireland for two weeks.  I’m still tired.  I don’t know if jet lag gets harder to kick with age or if the whirlwind of returning to my demanding job and hectic routine have just worn me out.  I do know that when I look back at the pictures, all of the effort (and resulting exhaustion!) was totally worth it.  
As you may know, there was a lot of emotion tied up in our decision to take five relatively tiny tots to Ireland.  A big part of why we went was to honor the memory of my brother-in-law, Conor — a fine fella who died far too soon and we miss more than words can say.  I’m not quite ready to articulate and share the emotional aftermath of our experiences but I can’t resist sharing some of the highlights of our trip — the great times we had and sights we saw that absolutely should not be missed.  Here are a few of our personal favorites…

Playground at St. Stephen’s Green

In case you can’t tell by the five smiling faces (which is a rarity to catch on film!), the amazing playground at St. Stephen’s Green was a hit.  We visited on numerous occasions en route to or from our daily adventures.  I think this is a great tip for traveling with tots; if you can work a playground into your daily routine, you’ll be guaranteed some smiles — and, the added benefit of tuckering the little ones out!  Speaking of added benefits, another perk of this fantastic park in the center of Dublin is the opportunity to feed the ducks… and swans!  It’s just beautiful and a crowd pleaser for all ages.

The National Museum of Ireland, also known as the “Dead Zoo” was another top destination.  The first floor is full of Ireland’s four-footed and winged creatures of days past; they are beautifully stuffed and displayed with a few “hands on” opportunities for those who just can’t resist.  The second floor has a whole host of animals arranged in evolutionary sequence for those who are bright enough to notice; I admit, I was not! It  includes life-size rhinos and giraffes which our kids observed with that wide-eyed wonder I absolutely adore and would bottle if I could.

While the “Dead Zoo” had our kids enthralled and is a great way to spend an hour or two on an overcast day, it naturally pales in comparison to the real deal.  The Dublin Zoo is one of the best zoos I’ve ever been to… and I’ve been to a LOT of zoos!  We spent Ciara’s 5th birthday here, taking in the sights, sounds and yes, even the smells of Mother Nature’s most amazing creatures.  We laughed at the monkeys, pretended to be penguins, roared at the lions and got much closer to the elephants than we did on our honeymoon adventure to   Kruger National Park — we even got to see an elephant take a bath, which was a highlight not only of our trip to the zoo, but our entire ten days in Ireland.  If you’ve never seen an elephant submerge itself in a watering hole, kick up a leg and then shower himself with his mighty trunk, I’d highly recommend it.  I’d also recommend you do it with a trio of two year olds, who can’t help but make comments like “where his towel, mama?” and “I think his mom’s gonna get him some lotion and pajamas now.”  

In the weeks to come, I’ll share more of our adventures. For now, I’m just so glad for the time we had, the warm welcome we received and for the memories, which I know will last a lifetime.  

As many of you know, we recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Ireland with our five (relatively) tiny tots.  For those of you who are wondering why we embarked on this grand adventure, here’s the background — as initially published on the  New York Times Motherlode blog.

Ireland, You’ve Been Warned

While most folks are back to school, back to work and generally back in the swing of things, I’m gearing up for a vacation this fall, when we will embark on a ten day trip to Ireland.  When I say “we” I don’t mean my husband Des and I on a romantic trip to the Emerald Isle.  To the contrary, “we” includes me, Des, our six year old Liam, four year old Ciara and two year old triplets, Kevin, Declan and Cormac who, by the way, are identical and may or may not be accurately represented in their passport photos!
The very notion of lugging five relatively tiny tots across the big pond to our ancestral home raises several questions.  A few I’ve heard repeatedly include, “Why now? Why not wait until they will really appreciate it?”  “How will you survive that overnight flight?”  And my personal favorite, “are you crazy?!”  The short answers are “Why not?”  “Will they ever really appreciate it?” “By sleeping!” and “I don’t think so but I’m not totally sure.”
To provide some context, let me share our family history and how this trip came to fruition.  As you probably guessed from our impressive selection of “Top 100 Irish Baby Names”, we’ve got a lot of green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name is O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons” – needless to say, that didn’t work!
My great-grandparents hailed from County Clare and County Mayo.  Des’ Irish roots are more recent; his Dad was a “Corkman” – born, raised and educated in County Cork.  Des’ Mom was Scottish.  As a kid, Des spent many summers visiting aunts, uncles and cousins overseas.  He claims that kids flew free back then – a perk that I’d like the airlines to reconsider although, it’s too late for this adventure.  Our tickets are booked, our seats are confirmed and that brings me to the rest of my story.
Des’ brother Conor was a great jazz guitarist, a proud Irishman and a gentle soul with a giant heart.  His gifted musical hands never held a child of his own but often held ours, especially when the triplets came along and we were so dramatically outnumbered.  For those first few months, we had five kids under four.  During the long days and longer nights, Conor was a constant presence.  He could burp a baby with the best of them and though he drew the line at changing diapers, he was truly a Godsend. 
As we fed, rocked, burped and soothed three tiny tots late into the night, we’d talk about Ireland.  We discussed all going together one day — sooner rather than later so that the triplets could fly free (the airlines still don’t charge for kids under two) and the aging aunts and uncles would have the opportunity to meet our kids and hear Conor play.  We decided that we would buy Conor’s ticket and in return, he’d have the pleasure of cuddling Kevin, Declan or Cormac on his lap for that overnight flight.
Our plans were grand and our dreams were big but then everything changed. Conor was diagnosed with lung cancer last February and lost his valiant battle just five months later.  On July 13, 2010, the choirs in heaven received a great jazz guitarist and all around good guy; we know the music up there is sweeter since he arrived.
As for us, we’re still here.  With holes in hearts.  Until recently, the sound of the music Conor loved so much and gave us all such joy quite literally made me sick.  We never know how children digest the death of a loved one but we know that Liam in particular feels a keen loss; just a few months ago he started sobbing and when asked why responded, “Conor was going to teach me guitar and now he can’t.”
So why are we going to Ireland?  Why now?  I suppose because we have seen firsthand that life is just too short.  We could wait until the kids really “appreciate” it but what if that day never arrives? 
As for you Ireland, consider yourself warned.  The Lyons Den is coming to town and we’re going to make the most of it with five tots, four suitcases, three backpacks and two strollers in tow!  When we hear our first true Irish reel, we will know Conor is with us in spirit.  When we see the sights, we know he will be looking down upon us.  And, as we dwell on our heritage, we will be eternally grateful for the time that he dwelled here among us. 
As for me, I hope to come home with a sense of peace and renewal, not to mention a suitcase full of Irish knit sweaters and a lifetime full of fond memories… except perhaps for that overnight flight which I remain optimistic we will all sleep through!  

We’ve been in Ireland for almost a week.  I’m as tired now as I was when we arrived… I’m not sure if it’s getting harder to shake jet-lag with age (I never used to have a problem with it!) or if it’s traveling with five tots six and under that lends itself to a state of perpetual exhaustion.  I imagine the truth lies somewhere in between.  

We’ve had a stellar time thus far and I will save the bulk of our adventures for a later post.  For now, I just wanted to share some random observations before they slip my mind, as things are ever more prone to do… again, leaving me wondering, is the issue age or exhaustion?!  Without further ado…

  • There is no doubt that I have consumed more ham and bacon in the past week than I have in the past year.  Given this, I can’t help but be surprised that there hasn’t been even a single sighting of a pig.  There are cows and sheep aplenty but where oh where are they keeping the pigs that supply the bacon?!  Perhaps it’s better if I just don’t know…
  • The bathrooms here are universally slippery.  It may be because it’s always raining and the floors are slick and wet.  It may be because I’m usually in the bathroom with at least three tots who may slick the floors themselves with urine, soap, water or a combination of all three.  Regardless, the bathrooms are like slip and slides and should be treated with caution… especially after a pint of Guinness!
  • Which leads me to my next observation.  I love the Guinness here!  It’s great!  Why is this surprising?  Because at home, I wouldn’t touch a pint of Guinness with a ten-foot pole.  Here though, a pint at lunch is mighty tasty as it washes down and grilled ham and cheese… again, the ham!
  • I think I now know why the doors of Dublin are as lovely and colorful as they are… they break up the grey monotony of the drizzly days.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a newfound fan of the Irish mist… it is refreshing and I daresay, is already doing wonders for my skin.  But one must admit that it gets a bit dreary and the bright-colored doors are like a ray of sunshine… a ray that I hope will appear before we depart!

Last but not least, I have to admit, this adventure has been tougher than anticipated… the world at large is not prepared to cater to a family of seven so rental cars, hotel rooms, taxis, restaurants, pretty much anything you can think of is a bit more challenging.  Even so, we’re all enjoying ourselves, we haven’t lost anyone yet and we look forward to the days to come.  More to follow, to be sure… :)