The Gift Giving Question

Written by Irina Gallagher

Non-permanentIt’s Thanksgiving week here in the States, the official beginning to the holiday season. Finally, the weather has chilled delivering a festive feeling. Like every year, we’ll be celebrating all that we have to be thankful for by spending time with family. And then, if the biggest retailers have their way, we will be rushing out to spend all the money we have (or don’t have) on tons of useless clutter that we don’t really need on Black Friday. This afternoon I heard an advertisement on the radio that Toys R Us – which on a regular day is basically a sensory overload command station – will be opening their doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. So make sure you shove that turkey in your mouth very quickly so you don’t miss the deals. I would rather pay someone not to take part in any of this Black Friday shenanigans, especially at Toys R Us. But it’s all in the name of showing the people that we care about them with loads of stuff, right? The more stuff the better, they tell us.


Dear Sweet Little Lion

Written by Irina Gallagher

IMG_20141201_221529 (2)Dear sweet little Lion,

Somehow, two years have passed in the blink of an eye. You have made an astounding impression on our family. You have brought joy to every person who has met you with your exuberant and kind nature. We are so very, very happy that you chose us. There are a million things I have to thank you for, but here are just a few:

Thank you for teaching me to value time. I mean really. value. time.

Thank you for always making me feel wanted and needed.

Thank you for the 729 nights in a row (yes, that’s an exact number) that you let only me put you to sleep at night. Even the bedtimes that lasted for two and a half hours and caused me to storm out of the room in search of an alcoholic beverage (for myself, not for you – though that may have helped as well). I’m sure you remember some of these times, one was just last week.


How Uganda turned into France

written by Irina Gallagher

RouenThere was once a girl of 23 who felt a sudden urge to travel. It wasn’t that she was never interested in seeing the world before, but somehow, in some mysterious, overbearing way, the compulsion to dive into a far-flung location was all she could think about. It was that very summer, that the girl sent for a Ugandan visa, obtained a series of inoculations, paid a heaping amount of money to reserve a volunteer spot at a Ugandan animal rescue facility, and ended up going to France instead.

It was thanks to biology, really, that this trip took place at all. That yearning to explore ended up, which the girl later discovered, a call to sow the seeds of travel before a baby arrived nine months later. Uganda turned into France by sheer serendipity when the girl’s beloved uncle, who was a renowned physicist, invited his sister (the girl’s mother) to Rouen, France for a conference. The girl, feeling quite confused and unsure about her African adventures, invited herself along. Luckily, the mother and the uncle, welcomed her with open arms. Otherwise, there would be no story to tell.


Post-Vacation Situation – Part I

Preemptive preparation for the return home
Written by Irina Gallagher

Post-Vacation PupIt’s safe to say that we have all experienced the difficulty of post-vacation. It doesn’t much matter where you went or what you did – on vacation, away from the daily minutiae (no matter how much you love your life), you become a different you. You are freer, more apt to experience new things, more likely to try new foods, you see amazing things that open your eyes to an array of new possibilities. You don’t care about getting to bed on time, because you’re on vacation! Who cares? You drink a pina colada, or five. Vacation.

Then you come home. And like a slow, annoying punch to the throat, all your normal responsibilities trickle in. It’s not that the tasks themselves are so horrible, but after seeing more of life than you do on a regular basis, all the minor details seem so absolutely insignificant, mundane to the core. Grocery shopping and laundry, seriously? The onslaught of insignificant chores is enough to induce a minor (or not so minor) depressive state. Your mind starts to examine the idea of how seldom you can feasibly travel and at that point you just want to hide under a rock for a while.


Vacation School

Written by Irina Gallagher

Anna Maria Island SunsetI am a firm believer that experiences leave much bigger impression than do textbooks, so when we embarked on the homeschooling journey with our eldest kid a year ago, I told myself that field trips were a must. How much do you remember from textbooks or worksheets as opposed being “in the wild”? I’m guessing that the ratio is heavily weighted towards getting more memorable information from the real-life experiences of field trips.

My husband was lucky enough to live in Germany for a couple years as a kid. For his fifth grade trip, Dan’s teacher orchestrated a series of fundraisers so that her students could go to Holland for a week. Holland, people, HOLLAND. More than twenty years later, what do you think is one of Dan’s most prevalent school memories? It wasn’t his history textbooks that glorified Columbus, it wasn’t the hundreds of math worksheets, or any of the busy work. A school experience which he remembers more vividly than most was that fifth grade trip to Holland. Understandably so, how can a worksheet leave the same impression as stepping into Anne Frank’s hideaway? A weeklong field-trip to Holland is certainly not feasible for us currently, but we work with what we have and we savor the small field trips to parks, nature preserves, and science centers, because they absolutely still count.


Why do we Remember?

Written by Irina Gallgher

IvanToday, my grandfather Ivan would have been 101. More than 15 years have passed since he died, but his family still spends this day reaching out to one another and remembering him.

It’s been so long, why do we still get together in the familial circles available to us in our current cities all over the globe? Why do we still cook the meals that he cooked (superior to anything we could possibly put together)? Why do we pass along anecdotes containing his warmth, his kindness, and his generosity to our children, many of whom were born more than a decade after his passing? Why is it that we still care?

Maybe it’s so that we don’t forget a person so dear to our hearts. Maybe it’s because it brings us a twinge of pain that our children, his great-grandchildren, will never be able to be in the presence of his strength and valour, his encompassing warmth and kindness. Or maybe we hope that through these stories, we are passing onto our children little pieces of a person who we wish was still physically with us. Perhaps through these miniscule remembrances, we bestow upon our children things which Dedushka Vania cannot pass on himself. And more than anything, we hope that some of his greatest attributes will make their way into our children’s personalities.


Fifty Favorite Children’s Books

Picture Book Edition
Written by Irina Gallagher

Fifty Favorite Children's BooksMy kids and I love reading dozens of library books every week. We find books we like; sometimes books we disagree with – if characters are mean-spirited, the pictures are crude, or the words are impolite; books that we feel neutral about; and if we are lucky on a particular day, we find books that have the extraordinary juxtaposition of thoughtful, beautiful writing, and endearing illustrations. These books touch our hearts, remind us of something dear in our own lives, illuminate a spark of imagination, or just make us fall in love. This list is a partial collection of what we have found on the lucky days.

All the Way to AmericaAll the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
A true story of an immigrant who came to the United States from Italy bearing not much more than a shovel which is passed down through the family from generation to generation – each bearer using the shovel for completely different purposes, each generation encapsulating something of their heritage to pass down to their children. It’s a wonderful immigrant tale.

written by Eve Titus
illustrated by Paul Galdone

Paris. Charming, anthropomorphic mice. Typewriters. Delightful illustrations. Cheese. This book has it all. An absolutely lovely, lovely classic about a mouse who becomes the premier cheese connoisseur in Paris. Anatole is featured by Eve Titus in several sequels, but of course, read this one first.

BabyTreeThe Baby Tree
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
If your young child is starting to ask “Where do babies come from?” – read this book. The story about a curious boy who is waiting for a baby sibling to arrive, is a wonderful, age appropriate (around ages 5-8), introduction to human reproduction. There is also an appendix for older children which provides more specific information on the mechanics of, ahem, things.


The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Quest for Simple Happiness
Written by Irina Gallagher

My impression is that happiness is a very similar thing for most people no matter their background. After we wade through the nonsense that we think makes us happy – the stuff that we are tirelessly working for that just clutters our lives, I think most people come to a pretty similar conclusion. We want peace. We want to be with the people we love. We want everyone to be healthy and happy. It’s relatively simple. – Excerpt from Mortality Check and the Realization of Happiness

The Prisoner's DilemmaMy guest for this interview is not sitting in the same room with me while I ask him about his thoughts on his life and the room for happiness therein. He is not sitting quietly at his computer sipping a cup of tea as he leisurely answers my questions. His situation is the antithesis. The replies to my questions are coming through a contraband telephone. He is incarcerated for the third time in his forty-two years. For various crimes, he has spent more than a third of his life in prison. A bit over two years remain on his latest sentence.

Simplicity Sprouts: Tell me about your surroundings. Do you have windows?
Guest: My time is spent in a 10×4 meter (approximately 32×14 ft) room with forty other men. The room is filled with bunks. There is about 50 cm (20 in) of space between the beds. That’s our walkway. I have access to windows for most of the days. But the physical surroundings aren’t the scariest thing.


Q&A on Happiness with My Favorite 6-year-old

The Quest for Simple Happiness
Written by Irina Gallagher with F. Gallagher

Directing the wavesHave you ever had a conversation about happiness with a child? From my experience, what brings children happiness is entirely uncomplicated. Their unsullied spirits value experiences over “stuff,” unless we have taught them otherwise. They relish simplicity. Think about the moments of happiness that they keep reminding you about or the perfect days of which they dream; there is an innocence and a purity in their happiness, right? It’s so important to foster this simple happiness and, as adults, it’s invaluable to take their lead.

Part I

Q: Please tell me about your happiest memory.
A: My happiest memory is the first time of going to the Level 3 class [swimming] with my teacher Miss M.B. She’s now not teaching me, but that was my happiest, my favorite memory. I loved it so much.

Q: Why was it so happy?
A: It was the first time learning how to do stuff in Level 3.

Q: What kind of stuff?
A: We did elementary backstroke and just [regular] backstroke. It was my first time doing sidestroke, elementary backstroke, and breaststroke with my feet in frog kick. It’s just such a happy thought. When I remember it, my heart is bursting with happiness. I really like it when that happens when I’m thinking about it. I think about it often when I think about other things.

Q: Would you say that you love swimming?
A: I love being in the water. I love it very much, as much as I can.

Q: What is your favorite part of swimming??
A: I just like doing all the strokes even made up strokes, like upside-down stroke.