Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Tweet-A-Thon 2014

Greetings! We're back on the grid here at Narc Ex HQ after a week in warm, sunny Morocco. Just in time for some cold, frosty Dublin nights, too...

Anyway, it's the final day of 2014, and we're celebrating with another holiday Twitter event! Stay tuned and check back to this post throughout the day or follow us on Twitter as we kick out the old year and welcome the new year in style!

Cory and Sara in Essaouira, Morocco

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

It's Christmas Day, for those who celebrate. It's our second holiday season away from the States, and boy how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that we were spending a quiet (and cold) Christmas in Cork, Ireland's other capital.

But looking back, so much has happened since that little holiday away. We've checked off a number of other travel destinations, like Belgium, Derry, Munich, Prague, and Scotland. If it counts as a travel destination, we visited our families back in Iowa and New York.

Family has come from America to see us in Galway, Mayo, and County Clare (writings of those trips coming soon).

I've accomplished a number of personal goals, finally pushing "publish" on my free eBook, and it's been very successful so far. The downloads creep up slowly each day, and as it becomes available on more platforms, I know it will grow. I hope to continue promoting and updating the book as the new year begins.

I'm well into writing my second book, pumping out my daily writing quota without much trouble. Instead of spending those hours every day on new blog content, I feel like I'm getting a better product with longform, pictureless, personal essays. Hopefully the new year will see another book on my e-bookshelf.

We hope you are kickin' it with someone you love this holiday season, whichever holidays you celebrate. If you are away from your close family and friends like we are, we feel you. Try to spend some time connecting with them with this amazing world wide web through which you're reading my words now.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season and new year to all!

Cory and Sara

Cory and Sara in Cong, Co. Mayo
Cong, Co. Mayo
(Photo: Keri Hanson)

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Ride on the Grand Canal

It's rare in Ireland to have a dry, warm day in December. Whenever I've tried to get out and about, it's been clear, cold, and windy--or warm, wet, and dark.

Not so at the end of last week as the sun came out and pushed Dublin to a tolerable temperature. I decided to get out and make the most of it--exploring farther west along the Grand Canal than I've ever gone before. Sadly, the wind was still a-blowin' this day, limiting my western progress a bit.

From the Suir Luas stop, I hopped on the canal towpath--formerly used to pull heavy barges but now a nice canalside walking trail. The low sun should be evident from the photos, it was almost exactly midday as I pedaled through the long shadows.

Grand Canal from Suir Luas Stop
Grand Canal from Suir Luas Stop

I kept running into not-very-cycle-friendly gates. I never actually saw a NO CYCLES sign, but I had to navigate through a number of narrow gates designed to keep either bicycles or motor vehicles off the trail.

I ran into another one at the Blackhorse Luas stop, where I saw the following sign:

Lansdowne Nature Park Trailhead
Lansdowne Nature Park Trailhead

I wanted to check out this little suburban park. It seemed to have everything I needed: a small creek (called a river here), trees, and a trail winding through it all.

Sadly, after fighting through a tricky traffic-and-Luas intersection, I ran into a closed gate, keeping me and my bicycle out. I had to settle for a photo through the iron gate.

Lansdowne Nature Park Trail
Well, That Would have been Fun!

Sticking to the canal, I noticed that the water has finally returned to normal levels. After a very dry November, we've finally had some rain to refill the rivers, lakes, and canals.

Water Flowing over a Lock
Water Flowing over a Lock

Going farther along the canal, I knew that I was getting out of the city when I rode past a grazing horse.

Chillin' on the Canal
Chillin' on the Canal

I was in the Bluebell village, and saw the following sign with canal fishing tips.

Bluebell Angling Club Fishing Tips
Bluebell Angling Club Fishing Tips

Just like the Portobello Angling Club closer to the city, this club seems to maintain a stretch of the canal for recreational angling. The waters of the canal seemed to be (just a little bit) cleaner and more accessible out here in the suburbs. Maybe there could be fishing potential out here, less than an hour's ride away on a windy day.

Once I reached Ballyfermot, near Dublin's round-town motorway M50, I decided to turn around. I was faced with more annoying gates and tricky intersections, and the wind was just a bit chilly in my face as I pushed up the hill into west Co. Dublin. Looking at the map, it seems I was very close to entering farm fields and pasture rural Ireland territory. Good to know that the country is closer than I had thought.

That does it: next summer, I'm going to try a bike trip on the canal to the Dublin/Kildare county line and back. Maybe I'll take my fishing pole with me.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Visit to the GPO Museum

The General Post Office museum, normally two euros, is open for free from now until Christmas 2014. I paid a visit to the museum for an article for Five Suitcases and to update my museum entry in the book.

See the article over on Five Suitcases or read on below.

This post is a little late in coming, but I wanted to pay a visit to the General Post Office museum, called Letters, Lives, and Liberty, before reporting the happy news. Normally, this small collection of exhibits charges a small entrance fee, but they occasionally open the museum for free.

This year, the museum is free (during GPO opening hours) until Christmas. I paid a visit to the museum this week to see what I could see.

In The Frugal Guide: Dublin I only include information I could find about the museum on their website because I was avoiding the admittedly small admission and because the museum does occasionally open their doors for free.

The museum is interesting, but quite small. Without the admission fee, I would highly recommend a visit in the book. The first collection is dedicated to the art of the postage stamp. Pull-out collections and blown-up art highlight various stamp designs used throughout the history of the Irish postal service.

Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising 50-Year Anniversary Stamp Design
Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising 50-Year Anniversary Stamp Design

A few text, video, and physical displays show the evolution of services offered by the postal service and its role in the history and development of the city and Ireland.

During what I assume were the "Wild West" days of Ireland, mail was carried by horse-drawn carriage and protected by armed guards packing short-barreled blunderbusses -- small musket rifles.

The post office used to run more than hard-copy communications in Ireland. Telegraph wireless services operated from radio rooms on the upper floors of the O'Connell Street Post Office. A switchboard with all of the accessories used by teams of operators is on display.

GPO Radio Switchboard
GPO Radio Switchboard

The O'Connell Street location of the Post Office was, of course, the headquarters of the 1916 Easter Rising. On Easter Monday of that year, armed revolutionaries (or terrorists, depending on who is telling the story) stormed the GPO and took it by force. The Irish Proclamation -- their Declaration of Independence -- was read aloud by Patrick Pearse (of Pearse Street fame) from the front steps before the rebels holed up for a siege.

The 1916 Rising Exhibit
The 1916 Rising Exhibit

One corner of the GPO museum is dedicated to the building's role in this rebellion. A hologram projection plays out a scenario re-enactment told by some possible witnesses to the events of the day.

I smiled as an armed rebel burst into the radio room on the screen, shooting the guard on his way in. The heroic ladies operating the switchboards jump in to help the injured man, begging the rebels to allow the wounded British soldier to go to a nearby hospital.

The always honorable (?) rebels graciously and respectfully allow the British soldier (who they had just shot in the gut) to go to a hospital to be patched up. I've never seen such honorable armed rebels! I wonder what a video presentation about the events would look like in a museum in London...

Visiting the Museum

The GPO Museum is open 10:00-17:00 Mon-Sat. Museum admission is 2 euros -- EXCEPT during certain holidays when it is free. 

The museum website has a thorough virtual tour and much more information about the exhibits and displays.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Five Suitcases Article: War Memorial Gardens

I published a new essay over on Five Suitcases yesterday, covering Ireland's National War Memorial Gardens on the south side of the Liffey near Phoenix Park in West Dublin. It has a different tone than a regular blog post, because it doesn't describe my visit there, but rather highlights and encourages others to visit.

You can read the article on Five Suitcases here, or you can check out the full text of the article below.

Beautiful Even When the Roses Aren't in Bloom

A somewhat hidden free treasure on Dublin's west side, the National War Memorial Gardens are a quiet, peaceful, and meaningful outdoor retreat from the busy city at any time of year.

The National War Memorial Gardens are dedicated to the Irish-born soldiers who died in World War I from 1914-1918. Ireland had an official stance of neutrality in World War II, but nearly 50,000 Irish soldiers died serving the British crown (and protecting their Catholic brothers and sisters in the Low Countries of Belgium and Holland) in various World War I campaigns. It is a complex and dark time in Ireland's history.

The Gardens have two entrances, the easiest to find is on South Circular Road (R111) -- between Kilmainham Gaol and the River Liffey. This entrance is on the east side of the property and leads to the parking lot and the east pedestrian gate.

There is another (pedestrian-only) entrance on Con Colbert Road on the southern border of the park. This entrance is nearest the Rose Gardens and the other central monuments.

The River Liffey flows between the Gardens and Phoenix Park. Up here, beyond the tidal zone, the Liffey resembles the stream that it is for most of its surprisingly short length. The parking lot and picnic area allow unrestricted access to the shallow, cold waters. 

If you look carefully, you might see the native brown trout that live in the upper stretches of the river -- or a swan aggressively begging for food. 

The Liffey from War Memorial Gardens
The River Liffey from the Gardens

Between the river and the Central Lawn, several straight avenues come together at a small Temple; the focal point of the northern edge of the Gardens proper.

War Memorial Gardens Temple
War Memorial Gardens Temple

Locally, the Gardens might be most famous for the twin circular Sunken Rose Gardens. On either edge of the Central Lawn, large, round rose gardens "sink" down to a central fountain. In summer, the concentric circles burst with the color and aroma of roses; but their tone is quite different -- but not inappropriate -- in winter when the blossoms have fallen.

The rose rings are lined with plantings of yew trees -- an ancient symbol of death and rebirth.

Rose Garden in Winter
Rose Garden in Winter

Rose Garden Looking to Central Lawn
Rose Garden Looking to Central Lawn

Between the two Rose Gardens, the large Central Lawn houses the defining features of the Gardens. The granite War Stone -- representing an altar -- sits at the very center, and is flanked by white stone obelisks and fountains -- representing candles. Massive War Stones like this stand at various World War I memorials around Europe.

The Granite War Stone
The Granite War Stone

Flanking Obelisk "Candle"
Flanking Obelisk "Candle"

The four corners of the Central Lawn are marked with small granite buildings, the Bookrooms. These four shrines contain the Books of Remembrance -- listing the names of all 49,400 Irish soldiers who died throughout Europe in World War I.

Visiting the Gardens

A visit to the War Memorial Gardens can be a quick walkthrough tied to a visit to Kilmainham Gaol and Phoenix Park or a longer, more contemplative look at a dark twentieth-century memory for this small country. The picnic grounds on the bank of the river allow visitors to spread out on the grass or sit on a bench facing the river and the park. Neighborhood locals use this quiet green space for jogging, dog-walking, and afternoon and weekend strolls.

Gardens open Mon-Fri 08:00, Sat-Sun 10:00, closes at sunset.

Gardens Website
PDF Map and Guide

Monday, December 15, 2014

At Day at the Smithfield Christmas Market

Disappointed with St. Stephen's Green Christmas Market this year, we decided to take another stab at the Christmas shopping scene when we saw a notice in this week's Dublin Event Guide for a big, indoor Christmas and flea market in the north Dublin neighborhood of Smithfield.

We got underway after breakfast on what looked to be the last warm day of the year -- or for about a decade if current weather predictions are to be believed

As we neared City Centre, I found some new beer glass gems on the streets. It's been a quiet few months for my collecting hobby as I've begun to ignore common glasses (like Heineken and the older Guinness glasses) because I have so many already. Now I'm looking for new brands and collecting matching pairs for single glasses I already have. Of course, the new design of Guinness glasses (with the raised harp logo) are always valuable, as I give them away as gifts whenever I run into American friends and family.

By the end of the day, I had a pretty good haul.

When we made it to Smithfield, the market did not disappoint. One hundred different stalls offered antiques, crafts, books, soap, food, music, and anything else one might find at a Christmas or flea market.

With so much to do, it was not surprising that the market was jammed with holiday shoppers. It was forced to close down for a while when the power was lost. Eventually they gave up waiting, lit every candle they could find (there were several craft candle and aromatherapy stands) and continued.

We pushed our way through just as power was returning to the crowded hall.

Crowded Smithfield Christmas and Flea Market 2014
Crowded Smithfield Christmas and Flea Market 2014

We poked through the crowds, looking at the old silverware, vintage clothes, and used books. If we had more time, more money, and more room in our apartment, we might have been much more loaded down with cool kitsch and retro treasures.

I [Heart] Curry Chips Tote Bag
I [Heart] Curry Chips Tote Bag

As it was, we settled for a few snacks and a large tea towel with a stylized "map" of Dublin design.

Map of Dublin Tea Towel
Map of Dublin Tea Towel

This will be one of the few Dublin souvenirs we bring home with us. We are viewing our three-odd years in Ireland as a kind of extended vacation, and thus, we need some physical reminders. We've decided to ignore most of the standard tourist charms for a few unique and special pieces like this.

Sadly, the Smithfield market ran only one weekend, but we'll keep our eyes open for it next year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

First Frugal Guide: Dublin Update

The first revision of the book is already live! Things are always changing, so frequent updates were inevitable, and... as it happens... necessary.

The full announcement from Five Suitcases is posted below if you missed the announcement yesterday.

One of the grooviest perks of the e-self-publishing world is the ability to revise, correct, and update publications instantly and for free. This is especially important for a book like The Frugal Guide: Dublin, as travel information changes all the time. Hours and admission prices fluctuate, things open, things close, things just...change.

Most 2015 paper travel books were printed and distributed months ago, so their travel advice is already outdated. Not to blame or put down paper travel books -- they are great -- but they fight the same fight geography books have been since the dawn of the twentieth century. 

Did anyone else have geography books featuring the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Zaire, and Yugoslavia?

Today, I uploaded a revised edition of the eBook with some updates I collected just today. The Little Museum of Dublin is a small, private museum near St. Stephen's Green. In the first edition of the book, I only recommended visiting the museum on Wednesday afternoons, when a local sponsorship allowed the museum to waive its admission fee (7 euro normally). 

It was a great program, supporting the museum and allowing people to see the collection without paying, but I found out that the sponsorship has sadly ended. Now, I only recommend the museum if you have specific historical interest or a ticket included with a package deal like the Dublin Bus Green Bus hop on hop off tour.

I also stopped by the brand-new Irish Whiskey Museum on College Green. They were just opening their doors as the first edition went to e-press, so I could find very little information about the museum or the tour packages. Today, I picked up a brochure and talked to the staff about the tour, and added the update to the College Green blurb in the book.  

Later under the College Green heading, I fleshed out the Trinity College Library Long Room displays, in case someone wanted to see a surviving copy of the Irish Proclamation or the fourteenth-century harp that served as the model for Ireland's iconic harp symbol. 

These changes, updates, and fixes will be critical to the success of this book. Expect many more changes in the coming year as I continue my research and reviews.

If you care to, check out the new revision over on Smashwords!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Evening with Marian Keyes

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you a guest post from that other, quieter Narcissistic Expat...

That's right, folks, this is Sara coming at you to share one of my year's (lifetime's?) highlights: meeting Marian Keyes. Few events in my life will force me to poke my head out my mole-hole (where I do science and knit a whole bunch) and share with people outside of my immediate family, but this one certainly qualifies. That, and Cory understandably had no interest in coming with me for this one, so he can't give his (always outstanding) recap. 

I guess that's enough preamble. On to the main event! 

Before moving to Dublin, I was a big fan of the works of a certain Irish writer named Marian Keyes. By big fan, I mean I have read all of her terrific novels. They are funny and warm, the characters are vivid and interesting, and she often presents themes on mental health that I find fascinating and extremely important. Seriously, reading Marian's books (or the work of Allie Brosh, while I'm at it) is like taking a crash course in empathy.

When moving to Ireland, I would be lying if I said the fact that I would be living in the same city as Marian hadn't crossed my mind. Dublin isn't a huge city...would I by chance ever be in line behind her at the supermarket? Sit next to her on a bus? Walk by her on Grafton Street? Would I even recognize her from her dust jacket photo? 

I knew my best chance to meet her would be if she published a new novel while I live here. As luck would have it, she did! Last month, in fact! Her new book is called The Woman who Stole my Life, which I sadly have not had time to read yet (but I think it will tag along with me over the Christmas holidays). 

As I hoped, Marian scheduled a couple of events to promote her new book. One was a reading and Q&A at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. Although I was at first wait-listed for a ticket because it sold out rather quickly, as luck would have it, a ticket opened up on the day of the event! And it ended up being a front-row ticket, no less! See how close I was?

Marian Keyes (left) reading an excerpt from her new book, The Woman who Stole my Life
Marian Keyes (left) reading an excerpt from her new book, The Woman who Stole my Life
The Q&A session with Marian was really fun and insightful. Although I have read all of her books, I am not super-familiar with her public persona. She is very active on Twitter (unlike me) and is a bit of an Irish personality, so people more familiar with Irish television and other media know a lot more about her than I do.

Aside from reading out of her book, Marian talked about her writing process, about how Twitter helped restore her confidence in writing during a period of self-doubt. She shared her collection of "prize knobs" with the audience (for real, she passed around a box full of knobs of various shapes, sizes, and textures), and told a hilarious story about pushing the 46A bus up the hill by her house during the great snowstorm of 2010. She discussed her pessimism about any of her books ever getting made into movies, and what her next book might be about (it could be another book Walsh family book about Claire!). She was unable to pick a favorite among the books she has written, but, to the dismay of the crowd, said that Sushi for Beginners is her least favorite. Sushi for Beginners was for me, and I'm sure many others, my entry into the world of Marian Keyes, but as it's not my own personal favorite, I was able to recover from the shock--Rachel's Holiday is my absolute favorite, for anyone who's interested.

To cap off a great evening, Marian stayed to sign books. When it was my turn, my introversion and shyness reared their ugly heads to prevent me from gushing at her, but I now own a signed copy of her new book.

A souvenir from Ireland that can never EVER be topped
A souvenir from Ireland that can never EVER be topped
For the record, had I my wits about me, I would have told her how important her books are to me and how her characters are so real they almost leap off the page and how I can't wait to meet Stella from the new book, and how her books are even better now that I live in Dublin and can picture all of the settings in her stories. Just saying...

And that was it! A pretty significant check off the old bucket list, to be sure. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

First Frugal Guide Dublin Supplement

The first-of-many supplemental posts for The Frugal Guide: Dublin is now available on Five Suitcases. In it, I explore Moore Street, one of Dublin's little seedy (but relatively safe) secrets near the busy shopping district of Henry Street.

Dubliners know Moore Street's reputation well, and I've seen many a "respectable" person buying the smuggled tobacco from the unscrupulous crooks patrolling the cobbled street. In the article, I comment,
If you are wondering why the police don't monitor this infamous corner of small-time crooks, you clearly don't live in Ireland.
And I mean that sincerely. Clearly there is crime (small-time, of course) happening at all hours of the day and night here, but I've seen Gardai (Irish police officers) actively avoid walking near Moore Street as they patrol Henry Street. Are they more concerned with the heavy rate of shoplifting and crowd control on Henry Street? Maybe.

But the small-time crooks have always left us alone when we've visited Moore Street during the day. We love visiting the seriously-cheap fruit and veg stands, especially when making applesauce, where bruised, mealy apples really shine. I also recommend a daytime walk through Moore Street in my book as a free (and safer) look at the grittier side of the city without aimlessly poking around Sheriff Street at midnight.


Just so you know I'm not farming for your clicks, the full text of the Moore Street supplement article is below, but feel free to visit Five Suitcases, share the link, comment, etc.

Moore Street: Dublin's Shady-but-Beautiful Market

Dublin's near-the-river north side is known for three things: history, petty crime, and shopping. O'Connell Street and Parnell Square just about corner the market on the history front; the General Post Office and O'Connell Statue are riddled with bullet holes from previous conflicts, including the unsuccessful-but-pivotal 1916 Easter Rising, and the Garden of Remembrance pays tribute to those who fought for Irish freedom.

Henry Street -- the packed, pedestrian-only passage heading west from the Spire of Dublin -- is the beating heart of Dublin's retail economy. Move over, Grafton and the Creative Quarter, Henry has it by a mile. Huge shopping centers and small storefronts battle for business amid costumed characters (like local favorites Super Mario Busker and Spider-Man), and the consumers just can't get enough.

Just off of the busy Henry scene, the shopping and petty crime collide on Moore Street, one of Dublin's most unique (and infamous) little markets.

Moore Street Fruit and Veg Market
Moore Street Fruit and Veg Market

Every day, local merchants set up carts and stalls selling a range of foods and household goods. I like to check out the almost-suspiciously-cheap fruits and vegetables, but vendors do a good business selling cleaning products, paper towels, and hardware, too.

Occasionally, a fish stall emits a certain pungency into the street (and the hapless indoor Ilac Shopping Centre, which has an entrance nearby). Seen at this stall one hot summer day: A seagull grabbed a particularly nice-looking salmon fillet when the barker was busy. The happy bird dropped the fillet on the street and began to pick away at the soft, delicious meat. Upon discovering this thievery of an expensive cut of fish, the barker shooed away the gull, picked up the fillet, and put it right back on display.

This is just some of the, um, folksy charm of Moore Street. Every day, trench-coated figures call out, "Cigarettes, tobacco! Cigarettes, tobacco!" as they sell illegal tobacco, usually from Eastern Europe or Central Asia, to canny smokers looking to skirt the tobacco tax. Some bold crooks try to unload stolen smartphones, a warning to Dublin visitors and residents alike to hold on to their valuables.

If you are wondering why the police don't monitor this infamous corner of small-time crooks, you clearly don't live in Ireland.

But should you visit Moore Street? Absolutely! Daytime visits are a great way to see some of the "real" city without venturing too far away from City Centre into the rough neighborhoods of Dublin, which I don't recommend doing.

If cheap fruit and vegetables don't tickle your fancy, the brick-and-mortar shops on the street might. A number of international markets representing Asia, Africa, and the Middle East line the street on both sides, right next to the big discount supermarket chain Lidl. The famous butcher F.X. Buckley sells high-quality meats, conventional and unusual, from its brightly-lit shop near the Henry Street intersection.

If you are strolling on the north side, take a few minutes to explore this little slice of decidedly-non-touristy Dublin. Enjoy some cheap fruit, but check your fish fillets for beak marks!

For Moore more on Moore Street, Henry Street, and the rest of the Northside Shopping District, check out City Centre North in my free eBook, The Frugal Guide: Dublin.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Celebration Fry-up

Two days after the release of The Frugal Guide: Dublin 2015, more than 100 copies have been downloaded, and the hype continues to grow. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded it and helped share it with others. Your help is necessary and greatly appreciated.

To celebrate the book release and rapid success, I decided to make something very special for dinner the next night -- fried chicken.

But not just any fried chicken! I had saved all the duck fat from our Thanksgiving feast, both from the roast duck drippings and the skimmed fat from boiling the carcass for stock the next day.

Collected Duck Fat
Collected Duck Fat

All in all, I had almost a pound of the stuff in two jars in the fridge. I had looked online for uses of duck fat and found ideas from very tempting to very curious. One such tip:
"If you think popcorn is good with melted butter... wait 'till you've had it with duck fat!"
Hmmm. Probably wasn't going to make that happen, but I had heard of the French using duck fat to fry potatoes, and that sounded interesting. I thought, if I'm frying potatoes, why not fry something else while the duck fat is still hot? I couldn't think of a reason not to fry one kind of bird in the fat of another kind of bird, so I got to work.

I was inspired by one of my Grandma's favorites, beer battered chicken. This wet, bubbly batter expands and gets cracker-crisp like tempura when done properly. I had never tried it with chicken, but I had made it work with onion rings, so I was confident that I could make it happen again.

Of course, I used homebrew lager to make my batter.

The chicken and the chips both fried up beautifully in the duck fat/vegetable oil mix. It had been so long since either of us had tasted a real American-style crispy fried chicken, and I have to say, it was pretty amazing.

Beer Battered Chicken and Fries
Beer Battered Chicken and Fries

...I should publish books more often! Thanks for the inspiration, Grandma!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Frugal Guide: Dublin 2015 Now Available

At long last, the time has come. For the last month, I've been hammering away at my book. Research, writing, editing, self-publishing, and website building have been my life. I'm finally proud to announce the official launch of the book and the supporting website,

Five Suitcases will be the home for my more "professional" travel and book writing. For now, it is mostly the supporting site for The Frugal Guide: Dublin but it hopefully will be home for all of my future publishing projects. Personal stories and opinions will still appear over here at Narc Ex HQ, but I'll also be publishing Dublin event news and book updates over at Five Suitcases. Whenever I publish a news update or book supplement over there, I'll make an announcement and cross-post here.

I'm also announcing my next book, Five Suitcases, a non-free humorous memoir about my expat experience so far. After keeping a daily blog for 1.5 years, I've really grown to love sharing stories. I think I can really make them shine with the luxury of extra time, so the book's chapters will really read like longer, more polished blog posts.

Thanks to all of my blog readers and those who've sent me feedback and encouragement. You are all amazing and keep me motivated to be better every day.

Below, I have cross-posted the announcement article from Five Suitcases. If you care to, download a free copy of The Frugal Guide: Dublin 2015 from the links below, leave a review, like it on Facebook, and all the good stuff.


My first book, The Frugal Guide: Dublin 2015 is now available at Smashwords. After a long process involving countless hours of research, exploration, writing, and editing, the book is finally ready for the eyes of the public.

This has been the main focus of my life for the last month as I learned the ins and outs of the self-publishing world all while finishing this book. My daily blogging routine was completely derailed as I poured everything I had into this book... a book that I am happily giving away for free.

For now, the book is only available as a direct download at Smashwords. The most popular eBook formats are all available, and all free. In the near future, the book should be available from iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and other online eBook retailers.

I must again thank my volunteer editors: Sara Hanson, Carolla B, Karl, Jason L. Baker, Rosebud, Anne Reiva, Jen Reiva, Matt Haxton, Anne Canaveera, Trevor O’Brien, Rita Lupkes, Kent Eiler, and Keri Hanson. With their help and advice, I was able to clarify some of the content and fix mistakes. They were much more valuable than maybe they even know. Their comments inspired more ideas for things to include. From the first crowd-editor edition, I added about 5000 words of brand-new content - all because of you!

Now that this book is published and available, I'd like to announce my future writing plans:

  1. Produce additional Frugal Guide: Dublin content like an audiobook, fully-illustrated walks, additional audio video content to enhance the book, and periodic news updates that will be published as posts here.
  2. Continue research and updates of the FG:D book for this and future editions. There are tours I have yet to take and attractions that I have yet to visit. In future editions, I hope to include personal reviews of everything that I mention in the book.
  3. Begin Continue work on my next book, a (not free) personal memoir about my expat experience from finding out about our move through our first two years in Dublin. In case you haven't guessed, the working title of this book is Five Suitcases. Thanks to Mary Reiva for suggesting the great title for the book and my website.
  4. Improve the website of both Five Suitcases and my personal blog, The Narcissistic Expat Diaries, possibly even integrate the two. I'm running into the ceiling of my own web design abilities, so I'll have to either learn more or hire someone to do it for me. I think you know which I'll choose.
For now, download and enjoy The Frugal Guide: Dublin 2015 and please let me know what you think. Rate and review the book on Smashwords (and other retailers, when it becomes available), like it on Facebook (, and feel free to send me a private message through the Contact page above.

Visit my personal blog via the tab above or directly ( for a huge backlog of my expat moving experience and for regular personal updates from me.

Thanks again, to EVERYONE for all your support and encouragement. This is a huge achievement for me, and I'll always be proud of it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dublin Christmas Markets 2014

Last year, we had a great day out visiting the Christmas Markets around town. We found all kinds of great local food and drinks in relaxed markets. Sadly, the city has pushed this year to condense the various scattered markets into City Centre, particularly the new St. Stephen's Green market. This weekend, we went out to explore some of the new-look markets.

The weather was great, and our first stop was an impulse visit to Donnybrook Fair, our local fancy food market. They were having a Christmas festival with samples of mulled wine, meats, cheeses, cakes, mince pies, and whiskey. We made a note to stop by on our way home in case we didn't find amazing snackies at the markets in City Centre.

We did find some Pabst Blue Ribbon, a classic American cheap lager. Here, of course, it's a fancy import. Nice.

Cory Found some PBR
Cory Found some PBR

The low, late-November sun was shining on the Grand Canal as we neared City Centre. We stopped on near some weeping willow trees to enjoy cupcakes from The Natural Bakery, our favorite sweet shop in Donnybrook.

Rare Sara-Looking-at-the-Water Shot
Rare Sara-Looking-at-the-Water Shot

Cupcakes on the Canal
Cupcakes on the Canal

The first market was the Lidl market on Custom House Quay. This multipurpose space is used for a number of festivals and events, including Dublin's Oktoberfest celebration. This weekend, supermarket chain Lidl was hosting a market to sell their holiday treats. We sampled some (more) mulled wine and picked up some spiced windmill cookies. This was a one-weekend-only show, so if you missed it, you missed it.

Lidl Christmas Market 2014
Lidl Christmas Market 2014

After Lidl's market, we went to check out the new, official market in Dublin at St. Stephen's Green. A row of stalls was set up along the entire length of St. Stephen's Green North - and it was packed. We entered the throng from the south end - away from Grafton Street. The narrow sidewalk was jammed with shoppers, and the ever-ongoing construction on the road created bottlenecks at different points throughout. Barriers kept people from spreading into the street, but also cut off room to escape and breathe!

As for the shopping, many of our favorite vendors from last year weren't at the market. Keogh's craft potato crisps, artisan cheesemakers, and cured meats by the slice were nowhere to be found. We picked up some roasted nuts and gummi candy, but most of the stalls were selling crafts and non-food gifts at who-knows-what prices. Bit of a bummer.

At the top end of the market, we saw a huge, gated line (queue) of people waiting just to enter the market. We had popped in on the wrong end without knowing it, skipping this half-hour line in the process. We felt bad for skipping the line, but glad we didn't have to wait for the chance to shuffle through the disappointing selection of stalls.

Good as our word, we stopped in Donnybrook Fair on the way home to get everything that we couldn't get at the markets. Keogh's crisps, parmesan-covered salami, chorizo links, nice cheeses, and mulled wine supplies were all procured. We enjoyed this fat-and-salt-and-alcohol fest while watching some Christmas movies on the couch.

...So it wasn't a total bust.

Meats and Cheeses
Meats and Cheeses

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 Live Twitter Bash

It's that time of year again, turkey and football fans! Thanksgiving is upon us again here in Dublin. While the rest of the country goes about their regular pre-Christmas routine, we'll be cooking up a traditional (ish) Thanksgiving feast for two in our tiny Dublin kitchen. Follow the action all day on Twitter ( and or right here on this blog post. All new tweets will be embedded (with pictures) on this page as the day goes on.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


It's Thanksgiving week, and I've been blogless for more and a full week. Putting together a book is a lot of work in the final stages.

Right now, the text of the book is very close to being ready to ship. Thanks to the hard work and contributions of my volunteer editors, it's looking great!

Most of my effort this week has been focused on building a website to support the book beyond what I have here. My vision is to one day have a website devoted to my travel writing specifically, including my Dublin book and any future travel-specific writing projects.

Hopefully, the website will be home for additional book content like audio, video, and fully-illustrated walking tours (like my old versions of the Urban Park Scramble). It will be a little bit more... commercial than the site here, with a focus on specific travel tips and articles for serious travel planners.

The lighthearted personal blog material will still be available and coming in one form or another, just not sure where. Rest assured, I'll keep the iowa2ireland URL pointed to wherever my personal blog content ends up, but it may have a different home and different look soon.

We'll be back here on Thanksgiving with another special live Twitter event!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finishing the eBook, Not Too Late to Jump in!

The blog will be dark this week while I finish up my eBook. It's so close yet so far away from final publication, and I haven't been able to really focus on anything else. Blog posts written now would be hurried and forced. Heck, I haven't even picked up a video game controller in more than a week!

For the last 2 weeks, I've been pouring 10+ hours/day into the book, and I still have some labor-intensive finalizing work to do. Making images and maps work on the variety of e-reader screens will be a big challenge, and I have never designed anything like a book cover before, so I have lots of work to do.

I am also making decisions about publishing platforms and styles, all while making final tweaks to the text, thanks to my volunteer editors.

You can still be a part of those text tweaks! I've had 20+ volunteers jump in to read a portion of the book draft, and the feedback has been great so far. People are finding undefined local words (like publican and An Post) and sneaky typos that my eyes would miss. With this extra bit of polish, the book can really shine.

If you haven't volunteered and would like to take a look at a piece of the book, let me know with a comment or Contact form submission. All editors who submit feedback will be credited in the acknowledgements of this and all future editions of the book! More information about the volunteer editing process in the previous post.

Thanks for all the support and encouragement! When the book is finally published and available, look for announcements here.