Monday, September 7, 2015


How shall I best relate the events of our Saturday morning...  We had our breakfast (finishing the last precious drops of our Aldi smoothie) and then decided to head back to Aldi to pick up some fruit and crackers so we could have a picnic lunch for the day.  We returned to our hostel car park and attempted to leave, only to find out that we might not be able to get out.  I thought there was a possibility we could fit, so decided we should at least try.  Please excuse my diagram, but it is my only hope of you understanding what I'm trying to relay.
*not to scale*
We were parked in a walled-in carpark, of course, the most direct route out was a bust because the car beside us had not back into their space completely.  This entire story is about inches.  I couldn't make the left hand turn to get past them and with all my inching along and trying to get my car perpendicular to my original position made me afraid I wouldn't be able to get back into my spot to try and turn right.  I did manage to get back into the starting position so I could try to back out of the car park.  Poor Heather was not having much luck guiding me out, and thankfully a German couple saw our troubles through the window and told the manager.  They were at the very back of the car park and were afraid they would soon be in the same predicament.  Since we'd not registered our cars with the hostel, there was nothing the manager could do because he didn't know to whom all the cars belonged.  Thankfully the German man was excellent at guiding me and with an inch (no exaggeration) I managed to squeeze past car #2 so I could back out.  The German woman thought for sure I was going to hit car #2, and to be honest I'm rather surprised we didn't.  What an ordeal, but God sent that couple just in time.  With our daily dose of excitement out of the way we headed to The House of Waterford Crystal.

Heather had really wanted to visit, and to be honest, I would have been content to skip it and never give it another thought; but it was her trip, so we went.  I'm so glad we did, because it turned out to be an incredibly fascinating visit.  I was beyond impressed with the process, it is a true art to create the pieces they do: 95% are created completely by hand!  We did the factory tour, and our guide, Naomi, was lovely; she did a fantastic job explaining everything.  They have been manufacturing crystal for 200 years and are world famous for it.  The crystal is hand-blown and we were able to follow the process, watching every step (except the marking department, which wasn't operating that day).
Each of their craftsmen has trained for a minimum of
eight years to master their craft.
"Waterford Crystal is one of the few companies today, which still practises the ancient craft of mould making. Very little has changed in this craft over the centuries. Wooden moulds and hand tools are used by our Master Blowers to shape the molten crystal.  The wooden moulds and hand tools are made from beech and pear wood, which are a smooth wood, which has a high tolerance to heat. Even so, due to the searing heat of the crystal these moulds have a relatively short life span of approximately 7-10 days."
Their crystal is inspected after each stage of production, and if the crystal doesn't pass their quality standards at any one of the 6 stringent inspections it is rejected, smashed and sent back to the furnace for re-melting.
The majority of the patterns (i.e. non-specialty pieces) do not have
the pattern marked onto the pieces, just a grid, so the cutters
must have about 150 different patterns memorized!
 They make lots of the golf tournament trophies, the People's Choice Awards trophies, tennis awards, and special commission pieces as well.
9/11 Memorial Piece -- "In remembrance of Fr. Mychal Judge who
was one of the 343 FDNY, 37 PAPD & 23 NYPD officers who lost
their lives on September 11th 2001 while trying to save others.
This piece is dedicated to all the rescue workers."
When they make special commission pieces they usually make 5-6 copies, so many of the pieces we saw were the extra copies.  I'd really like to visit the 9/11 Memorial in NYC to see the original one, it's been awhile since I visited the memorial there.

Our next stop was Hook Lighthouse, the world's oldest operational lighthouse.  The lighthouse has been in place for over 800 years, and "according to tradition, the monks from Dubhán’s monastery erected the first fire beacon to warn seafarers to keep away from the dangerous rocks."  They have a list of the lighthouse keepers going all the way back to 1810, the year the tower was handed over to the Corporation for Preserving & Improving the Port of Dublin.  Don't be confused on the geography though, Hook Peninsula is almost 200 km south of Dublin.
We were able to take a tour, which allowed us to go up to the top.  Along the way we learned that the lantern has been lit using a coal fire, whale oil, gas, and eventually electricity.  The light and fog horn were automated in 1996 and the light keepers departed after almost 800 years.  We had a lovely day for our tour and were able to see quite far, with beautiful views of the water.

We'd enjoyed our picnic lunch on the tables they had out in the yard while waiting for our tour to start, so once the tour was finished we headed north on our way back to Dublin.  Since we had time, I decided we should stop in Bray on our way past.  We stopped, and I really didn't recognize anything.  If it weren't for the cross on top of the hill, I wouldn't have known for sure we were even in the correct town!  I asked a couple different people about Kate's (a pub we'd visited when I'd been in Bray back in 2007), but they didn't know.  The one girl, who seemed a bit young, said that many places went out of business with the economic downturn in 2008 and never reopened, so it's possible it had closed.  After wandering around town for a bit we decided we'd just finish the final drive on up to Dublin and call it a day.  And thus ended our journey. Sioban took good care of us, we drove nearly 1,000 km on our journey around Ireland.
lighthouse (noun)

1.  a  tower   or other structure displaying  or flashing a very bright light for the guidance  of ships  in avoiding  dangerous areas, in following certain routes, etc.

2.  Either of two cylindrical metal towers placed forward on the forecastle of the main deck of a sailing ship, to house the port and starboard running lights.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Needed: Goals

"It takes action to achieve excellence - deliberate, careful, relenteless action.  There are no shortcuts to quality."

Before we left on our trip to Ireland I'd been read a wonderful little book titled, "The Pursuit of Excellence" by Ted W. Engstrom.  I am now rereading it because I feel like I got so much out of it the first time around, and I know there's more I could soak up.  If you've been with my blog from the beginning, or even just read the "About" section, you'll know why I wrote this blog and you'll understand why I'm loving this book.  Decision making has definitely not been my strong point, but it's something I want to get better at doing - this excerpt from the book is exactly what I need:
"There are so many things to do.  How can I possibly decide what is really important for me and my life?  How can I be sure that what I choose to do is what I really ought to do?
Perhaps the simplest advice to you who face this dilemma is Do something. Choose a goal and work toward it.  Later you may modify it, expand it, or even eventually abandon it for a better one."

His book is obviously focused on excellence, but there have been so many little nuggets of wisdom that you can apply to life.  It's a tiny book, and less than 100 pages so you can easily read a chapter in about 5 minutes and I love starting my day some wisdom and Godly guidance.  It's so easy, as I've said before, to just float through life, but "that which is easy and non-demanding is seldom truly fulfilling."  I especially struggle with how my love of travel can relate to, and strengthen, my Christian walk.  How can my pursuit of traveling the world mesh with my pursuit of a Godly life?  Plus, sometimes I feel guilty for the amount of money I spend on travel, knowing how much good missionaries could do with the money - not to mention when I travel and it's NOT a missions trip specifically.  While the book doesn't necessarily speak to that specifically, I do think that personal excellence is a chance to worship God, because as my Pastor has stressed, worship is life. I'll leave you with this small bit of wisdom, which also happens to be a pretty good summary of the book:
"Now is the time to develop new habits, new goals, and new perspectives that will give your life a quality that will bring honor to the God who loved you so much that He gave His life for you."

excellence (noun)

1.  the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence
2. an excellent quality or feature

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Fairly Fabulous Friday

After our night at Anna Marie's house we headed south-east with our first stop being Cahir Castle (it's pronounced "care").  It was a very nice castle, not too big and not too small, plus it was on the water.  The staff were very helpful and informative as well.
Once the stronghold of the powerful Butler family, the castle retains its impressive keep, tower, and much of its original defensive structure. It is one of Ireland's largest and best preserved castles. It is situated on a rocky island on the River Suir. 
From there we hopped back into Sioban and were on the road for Kilkenny Castle. Kilkenny was a lovely town and the castle there was impeccable, quite possibly my favorite.  It has existed for over eight centuries, so with the many additions and alterations it has plenty of architectural variety.  They also have a huge park surrounding the castle, complete with a wall and gates!

 The castle has been refurbished in a faithful recreation of the furnishing style of the 1800's.  Sadly, we weren't able to take any photos inside.  They were able to exactly replicate or reuse a stunning amount of original materials, I found it all very impressive.  They found a fabric remnant behind a skirting board and the French silk poplin on the was was able to be reproduced in its original pattern and color by a firm in France.  They even found the original receipt for the carpet in the library, and they were able to trace the original company who had retained the design records!

For lunch we stumbled upon a place called Uncle Sam's.  They made the pizza fresh, in front of you, and the pizza maker had an Italian accent :)  Excellent pizza, so I would definitely recommend a visit (and according to TripAdvisor they also have great burgers and chips).  After our pizza we headed back through castle's park and then we were off to Waterford for a visit to the SS Dunbrody Emigrant Ship: "a unique insight into the bravery and fortitude with which Irish people faced up to a desperate situation".
an authentic reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel

Our tour guide Jason was really funny and made the tour very enjoyable, despite the sad information we'd come to learn.  It was a bit disheartening to see the conditions these people endured and to hear the stories that forced them into such a situation.  Many were basically kicked off the island and put on a ship by the owners of the land they farmed.  Most of them had never seen the ocean, nor heard of "America" and had no other choice but to leave.  "In 1845 potato blight killed the staple crop of the Irish tenant farmers. This economic blow was exacerbated by the disinterest, and outright hostility, towards Ireland by British politicians. Due to the inaction of Westminster, famine ensued. Within seven years, 1 million people had died and 1.5 million had emigrated. A new pattern of mass emigration was in place, and would continue for a century and a half."  Because JFK was the son of Irish immigrants, and Wexford County is where his family came from (you can also visit their former homestead), they love him here: his picture is all over the place, as is a life-size statue of him.

In addition to the ship tour they also have the Irish America Hall of Fame; since the attraction is located in Wexford County where JFK's family came from (he also visited), it seems fitting. "The Hall of Fame commemorates the critical contribution of Irish men and women to US history, as well as acknowledging the continuing contribution of contemporary Irish-Americans. Each year the Hall of Fame inducts new members; most recently Donald Keough, Michael Flatley and Maureen O'Hare."

After checking into our hostel in Waterford we wanted to find another activity, but apparently there's nothing to do in Waterford (or if there was, we didn't find it).  We walked around town a bit and then ended up in Aldi.  Call us crazy, but we kind of enjoyed our trip to the grocery store.  We bought Jive candy bars (they're kind of like a Twix), and I even found an off-brand of Weet-Bix (I was incredibly excited about that - I ate a similar breakfast cereal in Australia all the time).
Canned Hot Dogs, is that really what they think we eat?!
 We also got this fruit smoothie, it was incredible and we were both saddened that our Aldi back home doesn't carry such a treat.  We took our purchases down to the river and sat on a bench in the sun.  Some local kiddos were sitting not far from us and surely thought we were crazy - with our random purchases drinking smoothie from the carton...

Emigrate (verb – used without object)

1.  to leave one country or region to settle in another; migrate:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A bunch of blarney, I mean baloney...

Thursday dawned a bit dreary, which, considering our present location on the globe, was hardly surprising.  Although not surprising, it did not make it any more welcome.  Our first stop of the day was the world famous Blarney Castle.  As we arrived the sun was deceptive and misleading, and assuming it would come out I made a poor wardrobe choice.  As many of you know, I am not a fan of shoes, so I wore my Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers (Sanuk is Thai for "fun").
They are the closest shoe to not wearing shoes I have ever found, and their tag line is "They're not shoes, they're sandals" - so it's pretty accurate advertising from my point of view.  Possibly the best shoe purchase I've ever made, but anyway, enough on my love of Sanuks. Shortly after our entrance into the castle grounds it started to mist a bit, and eventually to rain.  We got some lovely photos of the outside and then decided we'd better go take our tour of the inside.

Your tour is basically just you waiting in line to get to the roof of the castle, where the Blarney Stone is located.  We made our trek up the tower and to the stone itself, which we did not kiss due to sanitary reasons (you should have seen the group of high school students in line in front of us), coupled with the rain; it was very disappointing to behold such a famous "stone".  To be honest, I feel as though it is a well concealed joke on the tourists. According to their brochure, "Its powers are unquestioned but its story still creates debate."  I guess Heather and I will never know if kissing the stone makes one grow eloquent, it was a risk we were both willing to take.
To kiss the stone you lie on your back and tilt your
head backwards, the gentleman in the corner of the
photo helps you.
 Personally, if kissing the Blarney Stone is on your bucket list, I would encourage you to re-think that one's presence on your list.  Despite the rain, there were some nice views from the roof, and I'm sure on a sunny day it's even more spectacular.  There are several gardens on the estate, including Ireland's only Poison Garden, so on a nice day there would be lots to see and do, as they also have several walks (some of which are over an hour long).
L: View from the castle roof.  R: Blarney House
 Blarney House, which is inhabited by the current owners of the castle & grounds, is incredibly lovely.  You can take a tour, but you have to pay extra and I didn't feel as though it would be as impressive inside (seeing as it is occupied).  In lieu of the tour we decided to head to the cafe to dry off a bit and wait out the rain burst.  We enjoyed some hot chocolate and a pastry in the stables (don't worry, the stables were unoccupied by animals).  I did get to try a scone with jam & cream, but it just didn't match the amazing ones I had with Lesley and the boys back in Adelaide.

We headed into Cork after finishing at Blarney, but couldn't seem to find any of the things on my list using our GPS.  I accidentally turned off the road down an alley that lead only into a parking garage, so despite the rain we decided to walk around and try to find some things on our own.  The Crawford Art Gallery was practically right next door (and was on my list of possible things to visit), so we did a quick walk through there and then got directions to the information center.  From there we visited the English Market (a roofed food market that has been trading since 1788; it is one of the oldest municipal markets of it’s kind in the world), and then attempted to find St. Fin Barre's Cathedral.  Unfortunately, we ended up at St. Fin Barre's church, which looks nothing like the cathedral.  By this point my feet were completely drenched and we were both hungry.  The woman at the information counter told us to visit Jack Lennox's chippy (I'd once again asked for a recommendation), she said it was famous in town and she claimed it was the best.  Not without issues, we found it and I got to try some fish 'n chips.  Although it was a crazy amount of chips (we would call them French Fries) the fish was pretty good.  Thankfully St. Finn Barre's Cathedral was nearby so we were able to visit (lack of food must have been clouding our directional skills - and mine are that good to begin with).  St. Fin Barre is the patron saint of Cork, and the site of the cathedral dates back tot he 7th century when a monastery was founded there.  The current cathedral was built in the 1860's, designed by William Burges, and interestingly, there are many links between Freemasonry and the cathedral (there is even a plaque in memory of the only Lady Freemason in Ireland).

We very much enjoyed our visit: Heather was incredibly impressed by the organ which has almost 4,000 pipes and is one of the biggest in Ireland, I loved that they had a mosaic floor made by craftsmen from Udine (a town very near where I lived in Italy - and I actually know a girl going to mosaic school there).  We killed some time wandering around town a bit (we tried to see a movie, but there wasn't anything playing that was interesting.  Our Irish AirBnB host Anne Marie was very nice, and we had a lovely little room.  We prepared a pretty good plan for our last two days, and the weather for the next day didn't call for any rain, so we crossed our fingers and went to bed.

blarney (noun)

1.  flattering or wheedling talk; cajolery.
2.  deceptive or misleading talk; nonsense; hooey

Read about Day 6 here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

By Car & By Boat

We had a delightful breakfast at The Maze Eatery on Wednesday morning.  Well, that might be overselling it a wee bit, but it was nice to go out for breakfast.  I had found a site, similar to Groupon, that had a 2 for 1 deal on a "Traditional Irish Breakfast" (which meant Heather only ate maybe 2 things on her plate.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it out since our hotel didn't provide breakfast for us.
 An Irish breakfast generally consists of the following: ham, beans, eggs, hashbrowns, sausages, blood pudding & white pudding.  I will admit that the "pudding" threw me off because it is not of a pudding consistency at all - more like a potato patty!  I tried the white pudding,  but it was not tasty at all so I didn't bother with the blood pudding because I just couldn't imagine it tasting any better.  As I'm sure Heather will tell you later - Irish coffee was not our favorite part of the trip: it was always too bitter for our tastes.

Anyway, we headed out and had a lovely walk along the River Shannon, heading towards King John's Castle.  We didn't have time to visit the castle however, because we had booked a boat tour in Killarney and needed to be there by noon.  We were soon back on the road heading towards Killarney and Ross Castle. Our Killarney Lake Tour left from behind the castle, so although we were right there we decided not to pay to go inside, it was too small.  Heather mentioned, in passing that there was no way we'd find someone we knew here, I quickly informed her that, on the contrary, we were quite likely to find someone from our "neck of the woods".  That's just the nature of travel, and as the song goes, "It's a small world, after all."

Although the boat tour was not quite what I had in mind, it was half-price (I love a good deal) and was also a nice break from driving. Our captain was the quintessential Irish man, and I loved listening to him talk.
  As we left the boat, I asked him if there was a good fish n' chips shop in town (he'd told us he'd lived in town his whole life so I knew he'd know the best spot and I really wanted some good fish n' chips).  He said that indeed there was an excellent one, located on High Street, called Quinlins.  And with that we set off to see if we could find it.  The streets were packed and we couldn't find a spot to park, and hadn't noticed it while driving trying to find a spot either.  We decided we'd just start along the Ring of Kerry, since it was already after 1:30pm, and find somewhere to eat along the way.  Naturally, we set off in the wrong direction around the ring, so we had to go back through Killarney anyway.  We checked again, and ended up deciding a picnic would be the perfect choice; we'd find a little spot along our scenic route and enjoy our meal then.  Murphy's Law would dictate that after buying our picnic lunch we would find Quinlins.  While that wasn't exactly true, we did find all the parking lots that we missed the first few drives around town!

The drive was lovely, we started out in the section through Killarney national Park, and we eventually found a fantastic lunch spot.  I'm not sure if the next turn of events qualifies as Murphy's Law, I'll leave that up to your judgement, but it was certainly timely.  We were looking for a good spot to sit when a gentleman asked if we'd like our picture taken.  There was a lovely view (it seemed to be a regular stop for all the tour buses), and we certainly couldn't pass up the opportunity, so we told him that would be lovely.  He asked where we were from and we told him Pennsylvania.  Moments after he walked away another man came over and asked where exactly in PA we were from, since he'd over-heard us telling his driver our home state.  As it turns out, his son had graduated in April from the same school as Heather!  Not only that, but the driver had apparently driven the Rooney family around and was a huge Steeler's fan.  It truly is a small world.

Although we didn't have enough time to drive the entire Ring of Kerry (it's 179km or about 111 miles), the portion we did drive was beautiful.  The road is extremely narrow - tour buses are required to all travel in a counter-clockwise direction - so you definitely had to be alert, so as not to get run over by one coming around a blind corner.  We also had some near run-ins with some sheep - but all-in-all it was great.

Heather did mention at one point that I drive like Paul Walker around all the curves, but I think that was just the difference between being a driver and being a passenger.  After visiting some tiny little towns with names like "Sneem" and "Castlecove" we turned around and headed back to Killarney for the evening.
After some souvenir shopping we topped off our evening with some amazing "Gaelic Gelato".
And that my friends, is how you end a day of vacation.

Read about Day 5 here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meeting Sioban

On our third day in the country we met up with our representative from Dan Dooley and went over everything on our car (which we decided to name Sioban), and then we were off.  Our first stop out of Galway was at Dunguaire Castle; although not very big it has a nice view.
 We were driving right past and decided we might as well stop before continuing on our way to the Cliffs of Mohr.  We were incredibly lucky, it was an amazing day for a visit to the cliffs: bright & clear.  We had lunch at the Puffin's Nest Cafe and then headed out to see the cliffs.  They have 2 "paths" you can choose, one has a rock wall protecting you from falling over the edge, and then you can also walk on the other side with nothing keeping you from the edge.  Heather definitely did not like the unfettered path, but it didn't bother me - the view was intoxicating.
I can definitely understand why they nick-named them the "Cliffs of Insanity" in "The Princess Bride" movie.  And to our credit, we did not use the term "inconceivable" at all during our visit.

From there we headed south-east for a visit to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park.  This was definitely my favorite castle, so far.  The Folk Park was similar to a replica village, they even had actors pretending they lived there and you could ask them questions and interact with them, so in a way it was a bit like visiting Williamsburg, PA.  According to their brochure, "Bunratty Folk Park is a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago.  Rural farmhouses, a village street complete with shops, and Bunratty House with its formal regency gardens are recreated and furnished as they would have appeared at the time."
The present castle, the last of a series on the same site, was built around 1425.  It was furnished with mainly 15th & 16th century furnishings in the style of the period of the Great Earl (not entirely sure who he is though).  The village street was adorable, and the little church was extremely picturesque -

After we finished up at Bunratty, we got back in the car and headed to Limerick.  Our plan was to tour St. John's Castle (which is quite large and sits right on the water), but we couldn't find anywhere to park (their parking lot closed at 5:30pm, even thought the Castle didn't close until 7pm).  We decided we'd just check into our hotel (our only hotel stay of the trip) and relax.  Overall, it was a really great day.  I found the driving to be quite easy actually.  We did go on a couple really narrow roads (if we'd have come across another car, one of us would have simply had to back up to the end of the road) which would have been tricky regardless of the side of the car you were driving on at the time.

Read about Day 4 here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gallivanting in Galway

Day 2 --

After a rushed breakfast we headed to the bus station and, of course, had plenty of time (because we'd rushed breakfast).  We caught our bus with no trouble and then dozed off the whole ride there.  We were almost to Galway when I decided I should look at my paperwork and find the address for our hostel.  I know the name was Kinlay Hostel, but with dread I read the address on the confirmation: 2-12 Lord Edward Street, Temple Bar, Dublin.  I checked at the information desk at the bus station and they confirmed that they do indeed have a Kinlay Hostel in Galway, it seems I'd just booked the wrong one.  We arrived and were able to get a room, but since they are not actually affiliated with each other, we ended up having to pay for two rooms (if I'd realized my mistake earlier I could have cancelled the night in Dublin).  Oh well, all part of the adventure.  We dropped off our bags and headed out to find some lunch.

The streets of Galway are so cute and we both liked it much better than Dublin. After wandering around for a bit, and getting distracted by some street performers, we stumbled upon an awesome placed called Finnegan's Corner.  They offered traditional Irish Food and it's located in the oldest medieval building in Galway (apparently).
We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good and priced well - we'd have definitely returned had we stayed in town longer.  The bread they served (not sure if it was just Irish Whole Wheat or Irish Soda bread) was amazing.

After lunch we wandered through town a bit more (and watched some more street performers - Galway is more of an artsy town) and then headed back to check in to our room.  One of the employees suggested doing a canal walk and since we didn't really have any plans, we decided to give that a try.  
It was a beautiful walk and it ended at Galway Cathedral.  It's not an old church, it is the most recently built of Europe's great stone cathedrals: construction began in 1958.  It's real name is actually Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas (or Ard-Eaglais Mhaighdean na Deastógála agus Naomh Nioclás if you speak Irish), but it's much easier to say Galway Cathedral.

On our way back into town we decided to sit in the grass, with our feet hanging over the edge of the canal and chat for a bit.  A bit turned into a couple hours - the sun was shining and it was so peaceful.  That's why you travel with people to have conversations and it was definitely a high-light of my day.  We then wandered back towards our hostel, finding some lovely buildings along the way.  It stays light for so long during the summer that we decided to try and find the cemetery and Lynch Castle before we called it a night.  Sadly, the cemetery, which dates back to the 1500's had closed at 7pm, and when we found the castle we realized it was now a bank and we'd already walked by it twice that day!  Oh well, the real adventure would start on the following day - we were picking up our rental car!!

canal (noun)

1.  an artificial waterway for navigation, irrigation, etc.
2.  a long narrow arm of the sea penetrating far inland.
3.  channel; watercourse.

Read about Day 3 here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dublin on Jet Lag

At long last, I'm getting around to blogging about our Irish road-trip!  Life has been so busy, but I've got some spare moments so I'll start with Day 1.  We arrived, exhausted, in Dublin on Sunday morning.  We'd had an overnight flight, so I had taken a sleeping pill on the plane, but that doesn't guarantee I sleep, just make it more likely.  I was able to doze on and off, but Heather didn't have the same luck (and she's usually able to sleep anytime).  Thankfully our Aer Lingus flight had in-seat entertainment so she could watch movies or listen to music.  We caught the shuttle to our hostel and were able to enjoy some breakfast (provided by the hostel) and drop off our bags before heading out to explore (we couldn't check in because it was too early).  We headed out to see Trinity College & their Library, St. Stephens Church, and Christ Church Cathedral.  Our hostel was very near Trinity College so we started there first.  After determining that you cannot gain access to the library with out paying to see the Book of Kells (which we didn't care that much to see), we decided (as was suggested to us) to come back a little after lunch to the tour as it was usually not as busy then.

Heather was definitely the navigator on this trip.  Obviously I am capable of figuring out where I'm going with a map, but it's certainly not my forte, and takes me quite awhile to do.  It was nice to just hand her the map and say, "ok how do we get there? "  We did manage to get to find Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral, but we decided we'd rather not pay to go inside either of them.

Dublin Castle

Since it was a Sunday there were evening services that we could attend which would get us into the churches for free (I learned that trick on one of my previous European trips).  We decided we'd go to the service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but had a few hours to kill before that happened.  A stop for coffee, we were in desperate need of caffeine by this point in the day, and then back to Trinity college for the tour.  It was 13€ for the tour and admission to the library, which seemed a bit steep, it was a great, albeit brief, tour.  The guides are all students at the college, and our guide was a soon to be graduate who majored in English Literature; he was quite funny which always make a tour more enjoyable.  The library was beautiful, but apparently the reason most people visit the library is because it houses the Book of Kells.  I'll admit I did not find it all the fascinating, or impressive, but it is neat to see how God preserves His Word down through the ages.  

With our tour finished we decided to head back to the hostel to check in and maybe get a quick power nap.  We then hurried back to St. Patrick's and although we were late they still let us in.   
 The choir was amazing and I wouldn't have enjoyed visiting near as much without them.  It just feels right to visit a church during a service and to hear a Gregorian chant or some type of song, sung by a choir, while taking in an old cathedral.  After the service, the rest of our evening was rather uneventful: a grocery store run, cooking dinner and then a wander along the river just chatting.

armor (noun)

1.  any covering worn as a defense against weapons.
2.  the outer, protective wrapping of metal, usually fine, braided steel wires, on a cable.

Read about Day 2 here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Off to the Emerald Isle

Hard to believe the time will soon be upon us - we're heading to Ireland!  This time when I say "we" I mean my cousin Heather and I.  She is amazing and just graduated with her Masters, so we're celebrating with our passports.  While this is not my first time to step foot on the Emerald Isle (it is for her), it will be my first time driving there (fingers crossed it goes well).  I did do some driving on the left side of the road while living in Australia, so at least that won't be a first.  It has been an interesting trip to plan since I've never planned a roadtrip before, and certainly not one overseas.  Actually, now that I typed that it might not be 100% true.  I did sort of do a roadtrip down the East Coast of Australia, but I didn't plan it and I did drive.  Georgie planned everything for me and it was a bus trip, so a bit different but I guess technically a roadtrip.  Anyway,  I was trying to use a new road trip builder website I recently found called RoadTrippers, but it seems suited more for the USA than for overseas.  Hopefully in time they get their other countries beefed up a bit.  After spending a decent amount of time trying to use their website for our trip I gave up.  Then, I stumbled upon a delightful new Google Maps feature that lets you do what I was trying to do with RoadTrippers - Kevin And Amanada's blog post explains it all.  So, as we prepare to leave (I haven't even started packing yet, which is a bit strange for me), I've still got to figure out how to download an Ireland road maps onto my GPS, among other things.  And if all else fails I guess we'll be kicking it old-school with a paper map.  Seeing as I'm "directionally challenged" that would certainly make the trip more interesting.

My last trip to Ireland was in 2007, on school break, while studying in Italy with Saints Bible Institute.  Six of us decided to do a quick tour of Paris, London, and Dublin during our week off school.  I'd already been to Paris, but it's such an awesome city that I didn't mind returning.  We didn't spend much time in Ireland, less than 2 days, but the most memorable part was the day we spent in Bray, a small coastal town south of Dublin.  It was incredibly charming, and I'm hoping to at least stop by on our drive up to Dublin before we go home, just for old-times sake.

Bray, Ireland - November 2007

Bray, Ireland - November 2007

road trip (noun)

a journey via automobile, sometimes unplanned or impromptu; a journey involving sporting game(s) away from home

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Birthday Cheesecake

Now along with my love of travel, crafts, and books, I also have a thing for making cheesecakes.  I rarely follow a recipe exactly, because you can do so much experimenting with cheesecakes.  My Dad is certainly not averse to cheesecake, so for his combined Father's Day & Birthday dinner I decided to make him one.  I asked him to tell me what kind and he said I could decide.  Of course once I told him we'd need to buy some cookies for me to make a crust (I rarely use the standard graham crackers - too boring), he decided he wanted Butter-Pecan Cookies as the base.

That gave me a starting point and from there I turned to Pinterest.  I chose Bake or Break's Pecan & Salted Caramel Cheesecake recipe to use as my guideline.  I was then going to use the Pecan Pie Layer portion from another recipe, but ended up leaving it out because I didn't have any pecans and didn't want the hassle of another step.

Caramel-Nut Shortbread Cheesecake


1 cup of pecan shortbread cookies, crumbled
3 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
½ cup crushed pecans or walnuts


4 packages (32oz total) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

40 caramels (I used about a bag of Kraft Caramel squares)
½ TBSP milk
1/3 cup of mini chocolate chips (or more)
½ cup crushed pecans or walnuts

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray or butter the sides of a 9" spring-form pan.  Mix the cookie crumbs and butter together until thoroughly combined.  Press into the bottom of the pan and bake for 12 -15 min.  Remove from oven and let sit until you've prepared the fillings.

To make the cheesecake:  Mix the cream cheese and sugar together with an electic mixer, until light, airy, and smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing completely after each addition.  Add the vanilla extract and mix until blended.

To make the filling: Add the carmels and milk to a heavy bottomed saucepan,  stir continuously over medium heat until completely melted.

Create your layers:  Pour half the cheesecake mixture into you pan, then top with the chocolate chips, nuts and carmel; finally, top with the remainder of the cheesecake mixture.  Bake for about 40 minutes (with or without a water bath), until the cheesecake is just set.  Turn off the oven, leave the oven door slightly ajar, and let the cheesecake cool completely.  Once cooled completely, top with any remaining nuts, chocolate, and/or carmel, as desired.  Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours (or overnight) before serving.

**Warning, if you cut this into 14 pieces, you're still looking at around 600 calories per slice...but hey, birthday's only come around once a year, right!?

Calorie (noun)


1.  a unit equal to the kilocalorie, used to express the heat output of an organism and the fuel or energy value of food.

2. a quantity of food capable of producing such an amount of energy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Whirlwind Trip To The Capitol

One of my lovely sisters (the youngest one) is currently interning with NCIS in Washington D.C. so the rest of us, along with one of our aunts decided we’d best go down and visit her.  Although I’ve been to D.C. many times it’s usually in January for the March for Life.  What a difference spring makes!!  When they told me we would be heading down to visit I was hoping that our visit would coincide with the Cherry Blossom Festival (or at the very least that I’d get to see them all).  Although that didn’t quite happen (most of them were gone already) I still got to see some of them.  There were plenty of other trees in bloom and there were tulips and other flowers everywhere you turned.

We left late in the afternoon on Saturday (because of work schedules) and managed to arrive at our lovely hotel by about 10:30pm.  When I went to check in I was informed that if I was willing to sign up for their rewards program we could be upgraded to a 2-bedroom suite.  I rarely stay in hotels, but what’s a few spam emails for a room upgrade?  The 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite was perfect because trying to get 6 women up, dressed, and ready for the day with just one bathroom would have taken a lot longer.  After a delicious breakfast (I was actually amazed at the breakfast, although when I checked in the night before the gentleman at the front desk had warned me that people go home and tell their friends about it) we headed into the city for the day.  We started at this cool little market (Eastern Market) in the Capitol Hill district.
I had to refrain from buying this beautiful batik from a lovely Kenyan gentleman named Owino Martin (you can visit his website here) – I figured there was no point in buying one now if I might visit Kenya some day and could bring one back as a souvenir. From the market we headed to a little second-hand bookstore called Capitol Hill Books.  It has floor to ceiling books, they’re stacked everywhere, with little hand-written labels for the “sections”.  One such sign said, “To find more Austen books go to the music room and check under the radio.”  It was like a scavenger hunt J.  We had far too many book lovers in our group, so we set a strict 10-minute time limit or else we might have ended up there all day long.  We then decided to head over to her apartment and park there and walk to all the rest of our destinations.  We made short pit-stops at the Botanic Gardens, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Tidal Basin (to see my almost gone cherry blossoms), the Korean War Memorial and the new MLK Jr. Memorial too.
"Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered
the call to defend a country they never knew and a people
they never met."
 By then we were starting to drag and needed some lunch, so we had headed to Potbelly Sandwich Works; it’s sort of like a Subway, just as tasty but with less options.  It would seem that no trip with 6 girls is complete without shopping, so we got on the metro (we had a bit of a mishap there, but we all had a good laugh over it) and headed to Georgetown to check out all the shops.  Despite all the shopping I think the only things purchased were ice cream and coffee, but hey, what good is a vacation if you don’t get to treat yourself?  With 6pm looming we had to finish our shopping, part with our local girl and get on the road heading home.  It was a crazy fast trip, but, as always, so much fun.  There’s pretty much no one in the world I’d rather travel with than those girls, because we’ve always got each other’s backs and there’s never a dull moment.

Hero (noun)

1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for hisbrave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regardedas a model or ideal:

3.  the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Home again, home again...

Jet lag...the reason I've been up for over 3 hours already and it's not even 5:30am!!  Home.  Such a crazy little word.  I spent my last night in Australia with my friend Hossein, the Iranian fellow I met in Adelaide when I first moved Down Under.  It seemed rather fitting that one of my first friends in the country was also the last friend I saw before leaving.  He'd moved to Sydney a few months ago (his cousin had moved to Sydney to study) and we decided we'd try to meet up while I was back in town waiting for my flight home.  Since I was there during the week and he had to work we couldn't meet for coffee, so he and his roommates decided to host a Persian BBQ dinner for me.
 He lives with his cousin Ali and his friend Mehdi, whom he met while in the refugee camp.  It was a fun evening, and was nice to catch up - he does finally have a visa, but only a one year visa, so he's not sure what will happen when his year is up. The food was good and it was a nice way to spend my last night in the country.

For my flight home, one of the longest flights in the world, I was blessed to find out that the plane wasn't full, it was in fact quite empty!  I had 2 empty seats beside me and was able to spread out and actually sleep in a horizontal position.
It made the 16+ hour flight feel surprisingly short.  While I didn't sleep very well, being able to actually lie down and doze off for 7 of the hours certainly took up a large chunk of time.  The beauty of technology of course is being able to watch your own movie, and I can definitely recommend "The Good Lie" for anyone searching for a movie to watch.  It's based on the story of the Lost Boys from the war in the Sudan, and although it's a bit heartbreaking when you think of all they had been through there were plenty of humorous and heartwarming moments throughout the movie.  I landed in Dallas and had a few hours to kill before my flight home.  No dramas, we all eventually boarded the plane - well there was some drama about the lack of overhead space for everyone traveling with big carry-on's (why they don't just gate check them for free I'll never know).  Once everyone we were on they informed us that someone doing a pre-flight check had found a dent in the airplane and since we had an FAA employee flying with us they were being extra careful to dot their i's and cross their t's. I have no idea how long we sat waiting for this documentation, but my seatmate Tom and I eventually struck up a conversation.  They eventually had everyone disembark because it was decided the dent was too close to a seam and would have to be fixed.  We all headed back to the waiting area and thankfully after maybe 15-20 minutes were told we had a new plane and we all headed to our new gate.  Through all of this, and the flight home, Tom and I continued to chat.  I'd guess him to be in his mid-50's and he works in sales, so he's used to talking a lot.  We talked quite a bit about Australia and traveling; he often travels for business and occasionally that business is overseas.  He seemed a bit surprised that I had been in Australia for a year by myself and that I'd visited so many other countries. Anyway, since we talked the entire flight home and through all the waiting, it certainly made the time go by faster.  By 11:30pm we had landed and I was greeted by my parents, Crickett, and an awesome couple from my church.  Sadly, they had been waiting since 8:30pm because they hadn't known my flight was delayed!  It was so nice of them to stick around and it was fantastic to see everyone.  As we had started our descent Tom had asked me what I was feeling about almost being home and what-not and I honestly couldn't say.  So far, having been home for 2 whole days now, it doesn't really feel like a left.  A few things have changed, and I did have to unpack everything, but nothing earth-shattering was different.  I'm glad it doesn't feel really different, I think it would make coming home that much harder - especially when I was so content to stay right where I was in Cairns.  I've promised myself that for however long I'm home I'm going to do my best to appreciate it; enjoy being around family, having a closet full of clothes, listening to country music on the radio, having a car - all the little things I didn't have while traveling.  It has been a wonderful year, a year full of adventures I never could have imagined.  A year Down Under.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why So Blue?

The final stop on my East Coast Adventure was the Blue Mountains.  Conveniently located just 2 hours by train from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are a World Heritage site.  After my overnight bus I arrived in Sydney and promptly hopped on a train to Katoomba, which is the main hub for visiting the Blue Moutains.  I stayed at the YHA in town which is an old historic building that they’ve restored.  It has a lovely lobby area with fireplaces and various couches and comfy chairs, plus a nice little balcony with a fountain.  Since I arrived too early in the day to check into my room, I headed back up the main street to visit the Cultural Centre.  They had an exhibition about the history of the area, the first explorers, and the environment – they have a vast variety of eucalyptus trees.  It was here where I first learned the reason why the mountains are blue.  In sunlight distant objects always look blue, but here the effect is increased by fine droplets of eucalypt oil from the trees, dispersed in the atmosphere.  The haze is said to result when sunlight illuminates floating particles of dust, water droplets, and air molecules that combine with the fine mist of oils.  The cultural center also houses the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery which was currently showcasing Peter Elfes’ photographs of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre in South Australia.  You weren’t allowed to take photos, but the exhibit was stunning – his photos were breathtaking.  Part of my package was a 7 day ticket on the Explorer Bus, a hop on, hop off double-decker tourist bus.
 I decided since it was a nice day and I had 7 days to use the ticket I might as well validate it and see some things.  The famous icon of the Blue Mountains is a rock formation called the Three Sisters, so I visited that first.
 Although it was beautiful and sunny when I validated my ticket, by the time I got on the bus it was getting cloudy and when we arrived at Echo Point Lookout it was starting to spit rain.  It was still a great view to the Three Sisters and it didn’t pour on me, so it was fine.  I made a stop at Leura Village because I spotted a tiny little flea market.  One of the stalls was full of this beautiful jewelry made from pieces of old china plates.  The gentleman makes the earrings and necklaces all by hand, which was pretty cool.

I awoke to a cold, overcast day on my second morning.  The first bus pickup wasn’t until 9:45am, and I was up early, so I called and chatted with my parents one last time; it was Monday after all, and that’s our regularly scheduled time.  I ended up missing the first bus, which changed my plans a bit, but it was fine.  I spent my time visiting several different spots, including some waterfalls.  I made a stop back in Leura Village again, I decided to check out the little shops and to visit Bygone Beautys which houses the “Treasured Teapot Collection”.  There are over 3,000 teapots on display as well as many other antiques and gifts.  It looked like it could rain at any point all day long, but never did, so I was lucky.  I was back at the hostel by 5pm, so my roommate Maeve and I decided we’d have a movie night – complete with hot chocolate and M&M’s.  It was hard to decide on a movie, but she had never seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop before and you can’t go wrong with a comedy.  There was another guy who joined us as well, so I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t pick a chick-flick.  On Tuesday morning it was bright and sunny so I decided it was the perfect day to attempt the hike to Wentworth Falls.  The falls are quite a ways from Katoomba and the bus only goes to the stop out that direction about 4 times a day, so I had to be sure not to miss the first bus this time.  It ended up being a very warm day (it had been cold all day on Monday, but I guess that’s not so surprising when you’re in the mountains) but thankfully the majority of the trail was in the shade of trees.  There are so many trails in that area that it was difficult sometimes to figure out which one I should take to get where I wanted to go.  There were lots of lookouts and quite a few waterfalls you could detour to visit on the way, but I wasn’t really in a detouring mood, so only did a few.  Wentworth Falls isn’t all that impressive in terms of the amount of water, but in the sheer drop the water takes over the edge it is pretty crazy.
It was an enjoyable hike though and the views at all the lookouts were stunning because it was so sunny; you couldn’t see much the day before because it was so cloudy.  Back at the hostel I met a nice young man from Guatemala; he’d heard me telling another gentleman I was from Pennsylvania, so he came over to ask where in PA I was from.  He’d actually studied in Lehigh and had also been hiking around Wentworth Falls that day.  Since the main thing to do in Katoomba is go hiking, once the sun goes down there’s not much to do so I figured I’d have another movie night.  Sadly, Maeve had already left, but the gentleman from the night before was just starting “Flight of the Phoenix” so I watched that with him and then watched a chick-flick; he declined to join me for it… I enjoyed my side-trip up to the Blue Mountains, it’s definitely a lovely place for hiking and would be fine for a day-trip from Sydney as well.  Only a few days left Down Under….