A Sunday Horse


A Sunday Horse is a movie based on the true story of a girl who just wanted to be with horses.  She’s an accomplished competitive horse jumper, but doesn’t have the money to get into the sport, so to be around the sport and the animals, she’ll do anything — muck stalls, exercise horses, she doesn’t care.  I was given the opportunity to review it by Mongrel Media Inc. in conjunction with Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

When she’s given the opportunity to take a chance on a horse that is worthless to everyone around her, she jumps at it and goes on to surprise everyone with how well she and her horse perform!  She says “if I’d seen a burning bush, I’d have been more inclined to reach for a hose than the voice of God.”  But she found God in a whole new way when she started on her show jumping journey.

A tragic accident leaves her fighting for her life, and unsure of whether she’ll ever be able to ride again, let alone compete.  This is a beautiful story of perseverance, determination, willpower, and the drive to succeed.  Debi Walden believed it was God’s plan for her to compete in horse jumping with second-chance horses, and she pursued that plan with everything in her.  It was heartbreaking through the movie to watch most of the people around her tell her she couldn’t do it, even after she begins to prove them wrong.

She overcomes many obstacles in this movie, and I think it’s an anthem for women everywhere who need to prove that they can do things that only men are supposed to be able to do.

I love movies that are based on a true story.  I love movies with animals, and movies about sports where the underdog rises up to prove everyone wrong.  Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to accomplish your dreams is an admirable trait, and Debi Walden possessed it in hordes.

I recommend this movie!  The plot was solid (hard not to be when based on real life), and most of the acting was excellent.  The lessons of perseverance, determination, and faith were well portrayed without being over-done and in your face.  William Shatner was weird as usual — I don’t really understand him, or his continuing to be cast in things… but that’s a totally separate issue here.  Nikki Reed and Ryan Merriman did a great job in their roles, Ving Rhames stole the show as Mr. Valentine in my opinion — I loved what he brought to the story — and Linda Hamilton did a beautiful job of showing that the support of a loving mother is deeply impacting in our lives.

Check out the trailer below.  Have you seen it?  What did you think?

Wheat and Dairy Free Adventures — comfort food edition


It’s been a long while since I posted about food finds.  This is mostly due to the fact that it is summer, and it is so hot that I have not wanted to turn on my oven or use any heat of any kind, so I’ve been living off of wraps with lunch meat, hot dogs on the barbecue (I love hot dogs…. please don’t judge me… I know… I get it.  Just…. forget you read it, lol you won’t change my mind.)

I have stored up a few for you over the last few weeks… only two of which actually requires using an actual oven.  Which, if it’s as hot where you are as it has been here in Southern Ontario, I beseech you — keep the oven use to a minimum.  More actual recipes, rather than just products, will come in the fall.

First of all — pizza.

Almost two weeks ago now, I was at a friend’s house, and there was vodka involved, and I ate pizza.  Real, delicious pizza.  With real wheat and real cheese.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time……… It wasn’t.  I’ve vowed that I will not be that foolish again, and finally caved and tried Daiya’s pizza.  I haven’t tried it yet because it’s typically fairly expensive, and they only have a few varieties.  Since I’m one of the pickiest people I’ve ever met, the idea of having to eat Supreme, Spinach and Mushroom, Margherita, Fire Roasted Vegetable, or Mushroom and Roasted Garlic pizza… just to get pizza… makes me sad.

So I bought a cheese lovers pizza.  And I put chicken on it.  I would have also put bell peppers and bacon on it, because to me — that’s a pizza.  But we didn’t have either of those options while I was at my parents’ house.  So I put chicken on it.  I’ll try it again, and I’ll dress it up exactly how I want it, but I will not try one of their ready-made flavour options because there’s just too much mushroom, onion, and tomato involved.  No thanks.

Anyway, here’s my cheese lovers + chicken.
Know what’d be awesome??  If Daiya made a Hawaiian!  All you haters of pineapple on pizza… your comments will be deleted😉

Verdict:  It was tasty.  I’ll buy it again — and I’ll put ham and pineapple on it!

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Daiya Cheeze Lover’s Pizza
Purchased at:  Sobey’s
Price: 8.99 (on sale)     *note:  I find this expensive.  However, since my alternative anywhere else is ordering a pizza on a cardboard-like gluten-free crust with no cheese, I’ll take it.  It’s a good special occasion type deal.

For Dessert — Peach Crisp

I love peaches.  I know I shouldn’t love inanimate objects, and there’s something deeply disturbing about overthinking the concept of loving something you’re about to destroy.  Death by chewing sounds like love to me.  But at any rate… I love peaches. But out of season, I do not love peaches.  I get that other regions in other countries can grow them for longer than a month.  I understand that thanks to modern transportation and shipping techniques, I can get peaches most months of the year.  But I don’t buy them, because there is NOTHING on this Earth like a fresh, juicy, local, in-season, Niagara Region peach.  Thank you, Lord, for Vineland.  Concord Grapes and peaches arrive in grocery stores and farmers markets at the same time, and I am in fruit oasis.  My two favourites, all at once.  Pretty much all I eat for a month is peaches and concord grapes.  And then they go away in early September and I’m left to hope for August to come around once again.

Since it is that time, I am currently on a mission to do everything I could do with other fruit with peaches instead.  That leads me to peach crisp.

This is my mother’s recipe, adapted from an apple crisp, and I made it dairy free.  To do so, I used Becel Vegan margarine.  Now — hear me clearly, I don’t love margarine.  I don’t find it tastes amazing, and when cooking or baking, I typically substitute coconut oil instead.  However, for ease for everyone, I have left a tub of vegan margarine at my mother’s, and at my grandmother’s, and that way whenever they would use butter in a recipe, they just grab my margarine and no one is afflicted by my being complicated.

Please note the addition at the top of the recipe — I found I needed to bake this way longer than my Mom did.  I’m not sure if it was that I used more peaches than she did, or that the vegan margarine didn’t crisp as well as the butter that she used when she made it the first time.  Either are possible.  Just check on it at the 25 minute mark, then go 5 more minutes at a time until it looks crisp and crunchy and golden, like any good crisp should.

If you’re completely gluten free, make sure you get gluten free oats.  I am more of what we’d call “gluten conscious.”  Sometimes I’m conscious that it’s in my food, and then there are consequences, but I’m not as much of a stickler as I likely should be.

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I went to a friend’s house two days after making my own peach crisp, and it turns out she loves local peaches as much as I do, and she also made us a peach crisp.  She used cinnamon instead of brown sugar in the oat topping, but she added a delightful addition.  She bought me So Delicious Vanilla Bean Coconut Milk Ice Cream.

Now, it’s expensive, but not really any more so than a similar-sized tub of Haagen Daaz so I guess it’s all about perspective😉

What a NICE touch!

Please note:  The coconut milk ice creams (as well as the cashew ones, I’ve found) tend to freeze REALLY solid.  Even running the ice cream scoop repeatedly under hot water, I was still getting more ice cream slices and shavings than scoops.  I recommend pulling it out of the freezer in advance of serving it to let it thaw a bit so you can actually get the scoop into it.  But it’s delicious.

I’m not sure where my friend got hers, but I have found it at Sobeys, Metro, and Zehrs.

If you’d prefer to use whipped cream rather than ice cream on your crisp, I recommend Gay Lea’s Coconut Cream whipped cream.  Completely dairy free as well.  It has more of a coconutty taste than the ice cream does though, so I’m not sure I’d prefer that on peach crisp.  I didn’t try it, but I did have it on just plain peaches the other day and it was tasty.

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I bought mine at FreshCo, but I’ve seen it pretty much everywhere.

For Another Dinner… Meatball Subs!

Something I’ve missed dearly since going wheat and dairy free are meatball subs.  They were the ultimate comfort food for me.  Crappy day?  Stop at Subway.  Don’t want to cook?  Stop at Subway.  It’s probably for the best that I can’t do that anymore, but the fact remains that I have missed them.  Determined to make them on my own, I made them twice in the last couple days and have some tips to ensure your success.

You will need…..

  1. Gluten Free Sandwich Buns.  I prefer the ones by Promise because they don’t fall apart.

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I’ve only found them at Metro.  They aren’t cheap — 3.99 for 3 buns.  But they’re tasty.  I’m over it.

Tip:  You’ll want to toast the bun a little first.  My initial attempt left me with a soggy seam along the edge of the bun because I put meatballs, sauce, peppers, and “cheese” on the bun then put it in the broiler, and the moisture from the sauce soaked into the bread.  If you toast your bread first, and put your sauce in the microwave to get it warm first so all the broiler has to do is melt the cheese, you’ll have a much more successful and much less messy sub.

2. Meatballs — I have a bunch of pins on my Pinterest board for how to make my own Gluten Free meatballs — but why?  PC Blue Menu has done the work for me.  These are my favourite meatballs since going gluten free, and they cook reheat in the microwave in like a minute and a half.  How do you argue that?

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Note:  I know they’re PC, so that would make you think “sweet, I can get them at No Frills!”  I have not found this to be true.  I have only ever seen them at Zehrs.

3. Spaghetti Sauce.  This is really up to you, it doesn’t matter what kind you use.  This is my favourite, because it’s cheap and delicious.

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4.  Green peppers — diced, not sliced.  Trust me, the chunks of pepper stay in the sub way better than slices.  I didn’t take pictures of the peppers.

5. Cheese.  I used Daiya’s mozzarella style shreds.  I’ve used the cheddar shreds before and I don’t like them, but I have no issue with the mozzarella.  Maybe I will have to give the Monterrey jack a try as well!

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Found at:  Farm Boy or Goodness Me.  I haven’t found it in any mainstream grocery stores.

So here are the steps I used:

  • cut open the bun and toast it (I have a toaster oven — I imagine you could use your oven’s broiler if you don’t)
  • heat the meatballs in the microwave from frozen (about a minute and a half, rotating half way through).  NOTE:  Do not stuff this bun with meatballs.  It WILL fall apart.
  • Put about 5 meatballs on the toasted sub.
  • Heat the sauce in the microwave in a bowl for about 45 seconds (make sure you cover the bowl with paper towel or something to save yourself the splatters)
  • spoon sauce over the meatballs
  • add diced green peppers on top of the sauce
  • cover with mozzarella shreds and put in the broiler until the cheese is melty.  Everything else was cooked and warm, so that is the only thing it needs to be in there for.  If you leave it in for too long with the sauce sitting on the seam of the bun, it will get soggy.
  • Make sure you have napkins ready.
  • If you’re looking a wine pairing for any of my recipes, I hate wine.  I have paired with Jack Daniel’s Watermelon Punch cooler, and with Cherry Coke.  Both are excellent options😉

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And ….. I found……. VEGAN BAILEY’S

It’s here.  It’s arrived in Canada!  Words can’t describe my excitement to be able to drink Bailey’s again.  Gosh, this post makes me sound like an alcoholic… I promise I’m not.

But…. the possibilities here are endless.

I haven’t opened it yet, I haven’t tried it.  It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, I’m trying to contain myself.  But…. Irish Coffee?  yes, please!

On shelves at your local LCBO now.  Check out The LCBO website to check store availability and see if it’s close to you.  I know it’s just arrived in the last two weeks because I asked about it a couple weeks ago, having seen it in an American blog post, and the staff had no idea what I was talking about.

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Alright!  That’s all I have for you today!  What are your favourite comfort foods?  Can I help you make them gluten or dairy free?  I’m getting really good at that! 🙂

Check out So Delicious, Daiya, and Promise for other products in the same vein as these.

God’s Not Dead 2 ~ a Review


I was recently given the opportunity to watch and review God’s Not Dead 2.  In preparation for watching it, I decided to watch God’s Not Dead, because I hadn’t seen it yet.  If you haven’t seen the first, and you’re deciding whether you’d like to see God’s Not Dead 2 anyway, I encourage you that there isn’t anything in the first that you couldn’t glean from reading the IMDB synopsis that is necessary to the plot of the second.

God’s Not Dead 2 focuses on the same issue — people being asked to deny the existence of God — only this time it’s a high school history teacher whose answer to a question about Jesus lands her in trouble with her school board, and ultimately the ACLU.

Repeat characters include Martin, Reverend Dave, Reverend Jude, Amy, and The Newsboys have all come back for this sequel, and I have to say that I absolutely LOVE Martin.  I’m so glad the writers worked him back in.  Further, I haven’t seen Melissa Joan Hart (Grace) in anything since Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and while I thoroughly enjoyed that when it was running, I’m pleased to say she’s grown up a lot and she was an excellent choice for this role.  Another excellent choice was Jesse Metcalfe as Tom.  He plays a lawyer who, while not a believer, will NOT give up on his fight to make sure Grace keeps her right to believe in Jesus.

The movie rang a little close to home for me, as a public elementary school teacher.  I’m reminded often (in my own thoughts) of the need to be careful and not be proselytizing, but just like in this film, there’s a line.  I’m careful not to cross it, but this film made me wonder if I shouldn’t be as careful?  That’s something I need to think through on my own, for sure.

I recommend the movie.  It will give you food for thought, as it did for me.

Here are some quotes I found pretty powerful — but you’ll have to watch the movie for context and to understand them😉

“The thing about atheism is it doesn’t take away the pain; it just takes away the hope.”

“If we stand by and do nothing, the pressure that we feel today will be persecution tomorrow.”

“You of all people should realize, when you’re going through something really hard, the teacher is always quiet during the test.”

What Matters Most


If you like politics, suspense, and a dose of some scandal, this book will be a great fit for you.  The whole thing read like an episode of the TV show Scandal, which I’m hooked on, except it was far more appropriate and less actually scandalous than Scandal tends to be.  It didn’t make me feel like I was doing something wrong like sometimes Scandal does….. but that’s a song for another time.

Kellie Coates Gilbert delivers a page-turner that had me unwilling as well as unable to stop reading from cover to cover because I just needed to know what happened next.  Case in point, I didn’t need to have this book finished and reviewed until the end of September…. and it’s August 10th.  I read it in like 2 days.  It was great.

Leta Breckenridge thinks she’s finally caught a break from the pressures of working 2 jobs that don’t pay enough to cover her expenses plus the long-term care costs of supporting her mother who suffers from dementia.  She finds a high-paying job at an Austin, Texas PR firm, and it seems like it’s too good to be true!  She can’t believe her good fortune.  “But her seemingly ideal job turns into a nightmare when she learns the firm is a front for a political opposition organization–and that the research she’s been collecting will be used against Nathan Emerson, the handsome senator she’s swiftly falling in love with.”

With a story line that clips along at an excellent pace, protagonists with integrity and passion, and antagonists that will boil your blood, Kellie Coates Gilbert has delivered one punch of a political suspense romance — which may be my new favourite genre.  I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, and if you do, please let me know what you thought!  Did you love it as much as I did?

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Her One and Only


I have a friend who’s been telling me to grab hold of one of Becky Wade’s books for a long time, because she highly suspected that I’d love her work.  I haven’t had a chance until now, because I value the review program I’m part of, and until summer hits, I don’t have time to read more than what I’ve committed to.

As luck would have it, one of my books for this month happened to be a Becky Wade book, so I was fortunate to get to try this great author out!

Becky Wade is a brilliant writer.  Can I be her when I grow up?  My friend was right.  I love Becky Wade.  I have another of her books in my Kindle, waiting for the month of August when my plan is to do little else but read🙂

Her One and Only is a bit of an unconventional, but great nonetheless, love story featuring an NFL player (Gray Fowler) and an executive protection agent, as Dru Porter would call herself.  Bodyguard – to the rest of us.  Apparently this is Porter Family Book # 4 — I can assure you that you don’t need to have read the others to understand this book, though I plan to read them at some point for sure!

After ten years in the NFL, super star Gray Fowler is accustomed to obsessive fans. But when Gray starts receiving death threats from a stalker, his team hires an executive protection agency to guard him until the culprit is caught. Dealing with bodyguards 24/7 is a headache, especially when one of them is a young, beautiful woman. How can a female half his size possibly protect him better than he can protect himself?

Dru Porter is a former Marine, an expert markswoman, and a black belt–none of which saved her from disaster on her last assignment. In order to rebuild her tarnished reputation, she’s determined to find Gray’s stalker and, since relationships between agents and clients are forbidden, avoid a romantic attachment between herself and the rugged football player with the mysterious past.

Yet every secret that leads Dru closer to the stalker also draws her closer to Gray. As the danger escalates, they’ll survive only if they can learn to trust their lives — and their hearts — to one another.

Wade writes with beautiful detail — but not overwhelming detail — about the saga that Dru and Gray go through to keep Gray safe and alive.  There are shots of humour mixed in as their personalities work together, and also good helpings of suspense as the reader wonders what will happen next!  It also really got me thinking about forgiveness, grace, and letting people past the walls we put up to stop ourselves from getting hurt.

The only arguments that I can make against this book are as follows:

  1. I didn’t understand all of the NFL jargon — I don’t understand football, and to be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever made it through an entire game.  This did not, however, interfere with my understanding of the story.
  2. I’ve read a few books lately where the female lead character is a bodyguard for a big, strapping guy who feels like he should be able to take care of himself and certainly doesn’t need a woman to do it.  I can’t say that I love the opposite end of the spectrum, where the female lead is completely helpless and dependent on the male lead for her happiness, support, etc…. but I wonder if there’s anything out there where there’s a balance.  A book with a strong female lead, who just has a strong personality, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a butt-kicking black-belt former-Marine bodyguard to do it.

Any suggestions?

All in all though, I LOVED this book, and I highly recommend both it and, if this is any indication, Becky Wade in general.

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Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

How (not) to Road Trip a Foreign Country


I’ve had a week to process my way through this post.  I returned from 11 days in Ireland last Saturday (July 16th), and since I’ve waited long enough to be objective (read: I let the jet lag finally wear off), I feel I can give a pretty comprehensive list of things to do (and NOT to do) while one road trips across a foreign country.

Advice and Tips

The most important piece of advice I could give you would be to research everything — there were details we missed because we just didn’t think about them, and I’ll outline a few while I write.  I think other than research though, my best advice would be to not hold too tightly to your expectations in a country you’ve never been in.  Things may not work out like you hope, and that has great potential to ruin what could have been a great day if your brain can just convince itself to be flexible.

My basic recommendations are these:

  1. unless you are used to it, Youth Hostels may not be the best option for you.  I will be the first to admit that I am quite spoiled, and I normally stay in hotels.  Not the swankiest of hotels, to be sure, but there is a big gap between hostels and hotels.  I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since I was 15, and when I did so, all of us in the room were from the same group travelling together, and we were chaperoned, and our chaperones told us when to be in the room, when to have the lights out, and when to be quiet.  This was not the case, and didn’t fit with what I had remembered.  Especially in Dublin when I was in a room with 9 other people, all working on their own schedules, it was very challenging to fall asleep, all while fighting some pretty wicked jet lag.  More on hostels in a bit, as I’ll let you know where I stayed and give a review of each, BUT this to say:  This is a good place to check your expectations.  Budget accommodations are wonderful.  I can’t complain too much, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford the trip if I hadn’t stayed in hostels, or at least — not for as long as I went.  But remember to check your expectations🙂
  2. Things to remember to take with you if you’re staying in hostels:
    1. cheap flip flops to shower in.
    2. a lock for lockers if the hostels have them.
  3. Read every last piece of fine print and check for any possible hidden fees if you’re renting a car.  We booked a car through Sixt Ireland.  The reason we went with Sixt and not with Budget or Enterprise was that you could waive the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with them as long as you had written proof of it that you were covered from somewhere else.  My VISA card offered this protection, as long as the rental was booked entirely onto my VISA.  I got the letter I needed, emailed back and forth multiple times with customer service to the company to make sure there would be no hidden fees or charges when we arrived to pick up the car.  What no one ever bothered to mention in the exchange of almost 20 emails back and forth, was that if you opt to waive Sixt’s coverage and provide your own, regardless of the documentation you provide stating that you’re covered, they will place a hold of 5,000 Euros on your credit card while you’re away.  Having a 7,500 dollar limit on my VISA, that was my entire card availability and so naturally I couldn’t afford to have a hold on that for 8 days — I needed to access my money.

    We ended up paying separately for their coverage, which cost us almost 500.00 Canadian more for the period of the rental.  We should have gone with Budget, because while they didn’t give the option to waive the CDW coverage, their fee for the rental including their own coverage was far cheaper than the 1,100 dollars Canadian it ended up costing us to rent a car for a week.

  4. On the driving note, look up the specific road signs of the country you’re going to, and be aware that some of them may not make sense to you.  Don’t be like me and wait til you’re driving to go “huh, I wonder what that means…..”

    Also please note that if you’re following a GPS, pretty much none of the roads are labeled on the signs what the GPS tells you it’s called.  For example, the GPS will tell you to enter onto “South Ring Road” but the road will be called like R528 or something else like that.  Nowhere on any signs will it say South Ring Road, and you’ll be in the middle lane of a 4-lane roundabout with traffic lights (WHY do you need traffic lights in a roundabout??!  Roundabouts are supposed to make it so you don’t NEED traffic lights!!!)

  5. This brings me to number 4 — Roundabouts.  They’re crazy.  I knew they were there, and I knew they’d be different from ours here in Canada, but no one told me that they’d be every 30 metres, that they’d be 4 lanes across, and that you’d just have to kind of point the car and hope for the best that you end up in the right spot….. for real.  Insane.  And as I mentioned in point 3, the TRAFFIC LIGHTS!  oy.
  6. Along with looking up road signs, familiarize yourself with what the new country’s roads are like.  I looked up enough to know that any road in Ireland that has an M in front of it is a motorway.  The speed limit will be 120 km/h.  Any road that has an N will be a National road, and the speed limit will be 100 km/h.  Any road that has an R in front of it will be a regional road, and any road that has an L in front of it is a Local road.  I don’t remember if there were consistent speed limits for those or if they varied by road.  What I didn’t realize when I looked up that information was that just because a road is called N62, for example, and the speed limit is 100 km/h., does NOT mean it’s safe to drive 100, or that I want to be on it.  I drove from Killarney to the Cliffs of Moher, and then from the Cliffs of Moher to Galway, and I ended up on N62 which, while a National Road, is also part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and I often felt comfortable going NO FASTER than 28 km/h., and even that was a stretch.  I parked the car in a parking garage in Galway, turned it off, put my hands on the steering wheel and my head in my hands and cried.  That drive was the most stressful thing I think I’ve ever done in my life.  It may have been worse than the ridiculous snow storm I got stuck in one year on my way to my Grandparents’ where all I could see was the tail lights of the car in front of me and nothing else.  I have never been so certain I was not going to make it out of something alive.  Corkscrew Hill?  With a little research I could have avoided it.  However, I’ve lived to tell the tale, and I might be a stronger person for it?  Time will tell.

    This is not my video, but this accurately captures the terror that was my drive down from the Cliffs.  Driving on narrow, winding, cliff-side roads on the other side of the road is not something I’m itching to do again.  Ever.

  7. Embrace the bus tour — some of my most relaxing days were spent not driving, but on bus tours out on some crazy crazy roads (We did the Ring of Kerry and the Giant’s Causeway on buses — and should have done the Cliffs of Moher as well).

Pictures

If you’ve tracked with me this far, here are a couple of my favourite pictures from my trip — the ones that made the driving worth it!

 

The Road Trip

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We did two days in Dublin using Hop-on-Hop-Off bus passes as our transit around the city before we picked up our rental car.  I had NO desire to drive in Dublin, and the second we got into the city this was confirmed as a great decision.

In Dublin, we stayed at the Dublin International Youth Hostel for two nights.

From Dublin we drove to Cork via the Rock of Cashel. (I highly recommend renting from the Swords Airport business park — it’s right near the airport and North of the city, and to get anywhere other than downtown Dublin, all you have to do is jump on the M50 ring road.  There are tolls for this road, and they’re electronic — ask your rental company if they deduct the tolls automatically from your card or if you have to pay them.  Ours were deducted automatically.)  The Rock of Cashel was a great stop!  I highly enjoyed the village of Cashel, and while Cork was a total bust (more on that in a second), it was still worth it to go through Cashel to get to Cork instead of having gone straight on to Killarney.

In Cork, we stayed at Bru Bar and Hostel.  More on the hostels near the end of this write-up, but I don’t recommend it.  Also, it was pouring when we arrived in Cork, and the parking was expensive!  We had a hard time finding somewhere to eat (I’m gluten and dairy free), and my umbrella broke the first time I opened it.  Combined with not having slept more than 5 hours in the previous 72, Cork was kind of a wash.  I’ve heard it’s lovely though, so it’s worth a fair shake of your time if you’re not jet lagged beyond recognition I would think.  And embrace the rain — it’s Ireland, after all!

The next morning, we drove on to Killarney and experienced our first slightly narrow roads.  Nothing like what was to come, but it was interesting to say the least.  Killarney is a lovely town with a great feel to it.  We ate at Cathleen’s Country Kitchen and at Roost while in Killarney, as well as at Caragh Restaurant.  Cathleen’s was AWESOME!  So was Roost.  And so was Caragh.  I loved Killarney, and have nothing bad to say about it.  We stayed at Neptune’s Town Hostel.

While in Killarney, we did a bus tour of the city and surrounding areas (Muckross House, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle…), as well as a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry.  Totally worth it, and I’d recommend doing it by bus instead of driving if you’re the least bit scared of the drive.  It took way longer than I figured it would have, so I was really glad we bused it.  I was disappointed that we didn’t manage to fit in a tour to the Dingle Peninsula and a boat ride to see Fungi the dolphin.  I guess I’ll have to go back!

From Killarney, we drove to Galway via the Cliffs of Moher.  The trip up to the Cliffs wasn’t terrible, but the rest of the journey to get to Galway was terrifying, prompting me to tell you that if you value your sanity, take a bus tour.  For real.  Unless adventure, cliff-side winding roads, and near-death experiences at the hands of trucks and tour buses that are just bigger than the lanes they’re in sounds exciting to you…. then, by all means, lol, try it….. But me?  Never again.

Once we finally arrived in Galway in one piece, I was quite shaken from the drive and felt sick to my stomach at the prospect of driving to Sligo the next day, because once I’d realized what the roads could be like, I looked at a map and wondered if the drive to Sligo and then on to Belfast wouldn’t just be more of the same.  The staff, particularly the manager, Ewa, at Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel in Galway were amazing.  They helped me look at a map and decide that in fact I did NOT want to do that drive to Sligo, and since it was just a place to crash for the night they helped us cancel our hostel in Sligo and switched us into a room we could stay in for two nights.  We were encouraged to just go straight to Belfast because it’s all motorway and it’s an easy, straight-forward drive. I loved Galway as well, and am going to have to go back to see the things I missed out on, like The Burren and Connemarra National Park.  While in Galway we ate at Quay Street Kitchen, where I had a gluten free pineapple chicken sandwich that was heavenly, and then the next night we ate at …. Fat Freddy’s I think it was called?  It was right next door.  The atmosphere in Galway is incredible — live music just kickin it in the streets, authentic Irish music coming from pubs all up and down the pedestrian walkway through the center of town…. I left part of my heart in the beautiful seaside town of Galway, and I’m going to have to return to get it.

We did a bus tour of Galway, but I’d not do that if I were making recommendations — the things there are to see are walkable within half an hour to an hour of each other, and we didn’t see much on the tour that we hadn’t already seen by walking around.

We were going to go to Sligo after Galway, because I heard the beaches were amazing, and then on to Belfast via Enniskillen, which looked super cute in the pictures I saw, but after the harrowing drive…….

After two not-long-enough days in Galway, we completed the indeed very easy drive to Belfast via Dublin, and arrived at the Belfast International Youth Hostel where we’d make our home at our last real destination city.  My only caution when driving to Belfast from the Republic is that you pay close attention to where you cross into the UK (just north of Dundalk if memory serves correctly), as the speed limit drops from 120 km/h to 70 mph (about 113 kph) and I found it challenging to keep myself from speeding like a crazy person after 3 hours at 120-130 kph. There is a sign, and it tells you, but you’ll miss it if you’re not conscious of the change.

We did a bus tour of Belfast, but it was unfortunately one of the last of the day so we couldn’t really get out and explore anything, but it was VERY informative and I learned a lot about Belfast that I didn’t know going into the tour.  I didn’t research Northern Ireland nearly as thoroughly as I did the Republic before booking all the trips, so learning things was sweet.  If I ever get back to Belfast, I’d spend a whole day doing that tour so that I could take in things like the Titanic Museum.  We also did a bus tour out to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.  That in itself was worth the drive to Belfast (though I’m sure you can do them from Dublin if you’ve found yourself a great place to stay there — it would just be a much longer day I would think).  In Belfast we ate at a great Italian place called Fratelli’s.  It was expensive, but delicious.  Try the duck salad, and their pizza (gluten free) is great!  We also ate at McDonald’s the last night after spending so much the night before, haha…. #balance

From Belfast we traveled back to Dublin where we stayed at a Travelodge HOTEL (yes!  Back into my comfort zone!) by the airport so that we had easy access the following morning to head back to Toronto.  We walked into the village of Swords to a restaurant called The Old School House (a little hard to find, but totally worth it!) and had a fabulous steak dinner to commemorate our final night.  Spectacular.  They garnished our food with shamrocks.

 

Accommodation Reviews

  • Dublin International Youth Hostel, 61 Mountjoy St., Dublin — 10 bed female dorm

    Disclaimer:  I was jet lagged and hadn’t slept much if at all the whole time we were in Dublin, and as I mentioned earlier…. I prefer hotels.  Take this with a grain of salt.

    • This place was LOUD.  Doors slammed until well into the night.  Like 2 and 3 am.
    • There was a decent breakfast of toast and cereal — but nothing if you’re gluten or dairy free.  Luckily, I’d thought this aspect out and I brought oatmeal with me that I could eat.  I just needed hot water every morning.
    • the lockers provided in the dorm rooms were not big enough to hold my suitcase.  Perhaps this says more about my suitcase than the lockers, but still… I wasn’t super comfortable leaving my suitcase under my bed when sharing a room with 9 strangers, but it was what had to happen.
    • there were either no hooks or very poorly placed hooks in the showers, and the women’s showers on the lower level were gross.  The ones on the 3rd floor where I was staying were ok, but stall doors or at least something to prevent your clothes from getting wet while you were showering would be nice.
    • Parking:  Not sure about this, as we didn’t have our car yet, but they did have a sign that pointed to a car park so I’m not sure if it was free or not, but they appeared to have parking.
    • no elevator
    • There was not a single outlet in our 10-bed dorm.  We charged our phones in the dining hall before we went to bed, but wouldn’t have been able to plug anything in in the room
    • The wifi was spotty in the room and worked better in the common areas, but it would have been nice to have it from bed.
    • They don’t wash the comforters when they change the bedding — just the sheets they provide you.  But if you’re used to hostels, you’re probably aware of and used to that…. I wasn’t prepared for that.

We ended up cancelling our last night and staying in a hotel near the airport instead because if it was as loud and hard to sleep as it had been on a Wednesday and Thursday night, we did NOT want to try it on a Friday.

  • Bru Bar and Hostel, 57 MacCurtain St., Cork. — 3 bed private room (which was actually one bunk bed but the bottom bunk was a double) with private bathroom
    • You have to go through a bar to get to the reception area of the hostel and to get to the stairs to the rooms (no elevator)
    • The whole place smelled kinda smoky even though there was no smoking in the bar and there were stern no smoking signs throughout the hostel.
    • We were two floors above the bar, and there was no live music the night we were there, but you could still hear the dull thump of the bass from the music at the bar.
      • what was louder though was the slamming of doors that lasted well into the night as well.
    • no parking was provided.  It cost us nearly 20 Euros to park in a lot that wasn’t even super close.
    • We had a private bathroom, which was nice — we had our own key for it.  But there were no towels of any kind — not even to dry your hands after you went to the bathroom, which was bizarre to me.
    • on the up side, there were plugs close enough to our beds that we could charge our phones while we slept and have access to Facebook and such while trying to fall asleep.

 

  • Neptune’s Town Hostel, New Street, Killarney — 4 bed mixed dorm.
    • the common area was LOUD our first night (Saturday).  There was a bachelorette party going on where girls were yelling chug at each other in Spanish….
    • The wifi didn’t work great in our room, and there was only one outlet for four people…
      HOWEVER
    • once 11 pm hit, the hostel staff shut down all the common areas and patrolled the hallways to make sure people were quiet as they were coming in from wherever they were
    • the front desk staff, especially Peter, were VERY helpful
      • when I told him how poorly I’d slept in Dublin and Cork, he made mention to the night security to make sure it was quiet in the hallway by my room, AND he made a point of asking me how I’d slept the next morning
      • they’ll arrange activities at the front desk
    • there was free parking, even though it was a bit far away — when you’re staying for two days it’s worth a walk to not have to pay.
    • the showers and bathrooms were insufficient for an entire floor of people — only two showers and two toilets for the whole floor.
      • there were no hooks to put anything on and the shower was small, so my clothes got wet while I showered
      • if you were using the toilet while someone else used the shower, your shoes and pants may get wet as the water comes under the floor
    • no lockers in the rooms.
    • no sheets on the beds, and they only appeared to change the pillow cases and the bottom sheets — not the comforters — when they cleaned the rooms.

 

  • Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel, Merchants Road, Eyre Square, Galway — 4 bed mixed dorm
    • The staff were so friendly and helpful.  As you read in my description of our route, the manager Ewa, as well as a guy at the front desk, Evan — were amazing.  After I arrived shaking at the front desk they provided nothing but great service.
    • The place is very well decorated.  Posters, fish tanks — very inviting.  The common area isn’t scuzzy…. very nice.
    • They’ll arrange activities for you at the front desk
    • They’ll give you directions to places, let you use the phone
    • the breakfast was great — they even had gluten free options and fruit, which we hadn’t seen in a week!
    • there were plugs AND lights in the beds.
    • our beds had curtains.  Curtains!  So nice in a room that you’re sharing with strangers.
    • there were lockers under the bed big enough for my mammoth suitcase AND some other items, as well as shelving by the beds for things that didn’t necessarily need to be locked up.
    • They had good security, and they were also conscious of making sure the atmosphere was quiet and conducive to sleeping between 11 pm and 7 am.
    • They validated our parking so that it was 8 Euros per 24 hours, which is excellent because it otherwise would have been quite expensive.
    • The bathroom was pretty great, at least the women’s — my travel companion said the men’s wasn’t awesome, but I didn’t see it.  There was a separate curtain separating the shower area itself from where I’d hung my clothes.  That’s a win in my book.
    • Unfortunately there were no sheets on the bed — just a comforter.  It got quite warm in our room the second night, and disregarding the cleanliness issue, I would have much preferred a sheet to sleep under than a comforter when it was warm.
    • The dinner recommendation we received on our first night was top notch!  We almost went back the second night but decided to be adventurous.

I can’t say enough great things about this place and the people who work here.  Hands down, the nicest place we stayed in Ireland — maybe even nicer than the hotel, though my jury is out on that.  I was very ready for a hotel by that point.  As far as budget accommodations go, there is definitely good reason that this place has won awards multiple times for being the best hostel in Ireland.

 

  • Belfast International Youth Hostel, 22-32 Donegall Rd., Belfast — private room (one bunk bed with a weird, random sink….)
    • small, lacklustre room
    • we arrived the day after Orangemen’s Day (July 12th), which I learned on our tour is a very big deal.  The bar across the street was still blasting music that had to do with it, but thankfully that stopped by bed time.  The people in the streets did not, and so it was noisy the first night, but that’s not really the hostel’s fault.
    • Our window in our room didn’t seal properly.  Even when closed, I could feel air coming in, which made everything quite damp while it was raining, and I certainly would not have wanted to stay in that room in the winter time.
    • The online pictures of the rooms were pretty misleading, unless the dorms were nicer looking than the private room
    • Wifi barely worked in the room, and was spotty in the cafe and common areas.
    • Weird showers — the water lasted about 20 seconds (I’m not exaggerating) before you had to push the button again
    • Weird bathrooms — they’re gross, for one.  Like…. the worst of all the places we stayed.  They could use a good coat of paint to cover some of the dirty hand prints on the doors and some of the gunge growing in the corners.  They are poorly ventilated to be sure.  Some of them on our floor (3) didn’t even have sinks!  One was a toilet and a shower but no sink, and one was just a toilet.  None of them had anything to dry your hands with.
    • The cafe on site was great, but it meant that unlike the rest of the places we’d stayed on our trip, our breakfast wasn’t free.
      • They did have a great take-out lunch option though, which we opted to take on our Giant’s Causeway tour
    • They have a tour company that has an office right in the main level of the hostel, so you don’t have to worry about getting to the pickup and drop-off points as you’re right there to leave
    • no locker in our room — it was a private room though, so there may have been in bigger rooms, but I don’t know
    • There was a duvet cover on the comforter, which I assume they wash when guests leave… I hope so anyway, but I still would have enjoyed a sheet for when it got warm in our room because we had to close the window because it was pouring our second night.
    • parking was free, on-site, and secured.  That was awesome!

 

  • Travelodge Dublin Airport North Swords – Pinnock Hill Roundabout, Swords — 2 bed room
    • Yay!  TV!
    • Yay!  Hot shower!  Long shower!
    • Nice restaurant on-site with all you can eat breakfast
    • short walk to Swords village for shopping and dining
    • they appeared to have parking on site, but we’d returned our car by then so it didn’t apply
    • 2 Euro each direction airport shuttle — but we had a hard time finding info about that on the website ahead of time (they said at the desk that the website is out of date), and so we paid 15 Euros for a taxi from the airport to the hotel when we wouldn’t have had to if the website were up to date.
    • No elevators

 

Well, that’s it!  I’ve been typing for hours, so I imagine you all have more than enough information to plan an Irish road trip if the need ever arises for you!

Sea Rose Lane


This is not my first Irene Hannon book.  This is not my first Hope Harbour series book.  In fact, if I’m being honest, the plot line of this book didn’t truly appeal to me when I read the synopsis, but knowing that I’d loved Hope Harbour — the first book in this series — so much, I thought I’d best give it a shot.  I hoped that the main characters from the first book, Tracy and Michael, would make appearances in this installment and I’d get to catch up with them a little bit, too.

I have to say, as much as I wasn’t thrilled with the plot synopsis, I did end up loving the book.  It’s a beautiful story, crafted expertly by Irene Hannon, about two people who need to start their lives over, and both end up doing so in the tiny town of Hope Harbour on the Pacific Coast.

Two people starting over . . . in a town known for second chances

After a devastating layoff, attorney Eric Nash heads back to Hope Harbor–only to discover that his childhood home is being transformed into a bed and breakfast. Instead of plotting his next career move in peace, he’s constantly distracted by noise, chaos–and BJ Stevens, the attractive but prickly blonde architect who’s invaded the house with her motley crew. As for BJ, her client’s son might be handsome, but after a disastrous romance, dating isn’t high on her agenda. Yet when they join forces for to help Hope Harbor seniors, might they also find healing, hope, and a new beginning themselves?

Come home to Hope Harbor–where hearts heal . . . and love blooms

If you’ve read the first Hope Harbour book, you’ll know that Charley is always an endearing character as well, and I was thrilled to find that he’d returned to continue to offer his pearls of wisdom to those who didn’t even know they needed them.

In this book, you’ll love the way Eric and BJ meet, and you’ll love the transformation they go through, learning to lean into God’s plan and trust their hearts to lead them again.

I read this book while bouncing from youth hostel to youth hostel on a road trip of Ireland in the last week and a half, and I have to say that it was an excellent distraction from the annoyance that Youth Hostels apparently provide non-stop.  But that’s another post😉

I highly recommend this book, and if a 2-book streak is to be believed, I also highly recommend Irene Hannon!  Have you read any other of her books?  What do you think?

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Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Miracles From Heaven


Recently I was provided the opportunity to review the movie Miracles from Heaven.  It’s a movie I’d wanted to see in theatres but haven’t gotten the chance, so to be provided the opportunity on the sole condition that I tell you, the people who diligently read what I write, what I think — I’m down with that.  Thank you Graf-Martin Communications and Sony for this chance!

It’s a heartfelt movie, based on a true story, that tackles some hard issues of faith, belief in God even in the hard times (and what hard times they were!), and miracles.  Not everyone believes in miracles.  Sometimes I have a hard time deciding whether I do or not… deeply, and truly… I mean, I have to on some level because I know that they happen.  But like in this movie, there’ve been many times I’ve prayed for one, and nothing has come of it.  There have also been times I’ve witnessed prayers go up for miracles, and they’re delivered, so I have to believe that they still occur even in this day and age.

Miracles from Heaven was an emotional ride, and it was very well done by all of the actors involved.  I don’t know about the faith of any of the members of the cast, though I have to believe that they would be impacted by portraying such a powerful and moving story, especially since it’s true.

I found that the movie was tastefully done — none of it seemed to me like it was sensationalized for Blockbuster value, which is always something I’m a bit leery of when something is “based on a true story.”  The fact that they used the real Annabelle Beam as a consultant to make sure the story was told properly really speaks to that — the writers, directors, producers — they all wanted to make sure this story was told well, not just that it sold tickets.

It was a beautiful story about faith, hope, and belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ.  I believe that the events of the movie really happened, and that Annabelle Beam really was cured from her disease miraculously.

But as Annabelle herself says in the movie “They may not all believe me, but they’ll come around when they come around.”

I think my favourite part (other than the couple of Third Day appearances — love their new songs!!) was how raw and real Jennifer Garner portrayed the struggle of a mother watching her baby girl suffer, and not even feeling like she could pray any more… not feeling like anything she was doing was working.  That, contrasted by Annabelle’s faith, was a beautiful reminder that God stays with us — right with us — even when we have a hard time seeing it through our pain and struggles.

I highly recommend the movie, though I warn you — grab the Kleenex!

Sins of the Past


I’ve arrived at the conclusion that Novellas are my new favourite way to read.  Probably not really, but I loved the short bursts of intense, suspenseful stories compiled into “Sins of the Past.”

I’d already read other books by Lynette Eason and Dani Pettrey, but Dee Henderson was a new author for me.  I own a couple of her books, but I haven’t gotten a chance to read them yet.  I will get to them as soon as I’m done this month’s review commitments though, that’s for sure.

In Dee Henderson’s “Missing,” a Wyoming sheriff is called to Chicago when his elderly mother goes missing. Paired with a savvy Chicago cop, the two realize her disappearance is no accident, and a race against the clock begins.

Dani Pettrey returns to Alaska with “Shadowed,” introducing readers to the parents of her beloved McKenna clan. Adventure, romance, and danger collide when a young fisherman nets the body of an open-water swimming competitor who may actually be a possible Russian defector.

Lynette Eason’s “Blackout” delivers the story of a woman once implicated in a robbery gone wrong. The loot has never been found–but her memory of that night has always been unreliable. Can she remember enough to find her way to safety when the true culprit comes after her?

I would have a very hard time deciding which of the three I liked the best.  What I liked most about “Missing” was that the romantic theme to it was so subtle.  The bulk of the plot had to do with the sheriff’s missing mother, and the quest to find her.  I did not predict the story unfolding the way that it did, and that always makes me happy!

“Shadowed” was interesting.  Set in early post-war Alaska, quite close to the Russian border, the suspense was thrilling.

“Blackout” comes with one bump in the road after another, after another, after another.  A woman who desperately needs to remember details, when the key to solving the problem is locked up inside her head when her brain has closed the details off.

I highly recommend that you check out this collection!  I blew through it in about 30 hours, and was sad when I finished it.

Have you read anything by any of these authors?  What did you think?

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

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Wheat and Dairy Free Adventures


I’ve been (mostly) off of wheat and dairy for well over a year now.  What started as a desperate attempt to figure out why I was not feeling awesome… turned into an elimination of wheat, dairy, and sugar (and onions which I already knew I couldn’t eat).  After 8 weeks I got the sugar back, but the wheat and dairy I left out because of how much better I felt.

But that has started a year-long quest to find food that is GOOD, that also doesn’t have any wheat or dairy in it.  For me, I’m not worried about cross-contamination and actual gluten, and I cheat from time to time (though there are consequences).
I’ve decided in that quest, I should share my findings with anyone who will listen/read.  With anyone who wants wheat free and dairy free food that still tastes like food as much as I do.

I’ve found three things to start with in the last couple of days.  Disclaimer:  I’m a terrible food photographer.  I hope that this improves as I go along.  Also — I’d opened the food already when I decided to do this.  And some of it is gone.  So…. you get packages.

1.    Sandwich buns, which I used as hot dog buns.  Promise Gluten Free comes all the way from Ireland!  Since I’m going there for vacation in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS, I can’t tell you how excited I am that they have a company that is successful enough at making gluten free food that they export to Canada.  It means I’ll be able to eat!  I hope.

Overall:  The buns were not bad.  If you’re looking for a bun that still has that chewy, gluten-y texture…. well, I’ve yet to find one.  Let me know if you do!  But this tastes pretty good, it was soft (despite having been frozen and then flown across the ocean, thawed, and then sold to me), and the biggest accomplishment I find with gluten free food…. it didn’t fall apart!  They held together through the whole meal, and did not crumble.  I can’t tell you how many brands of Gluten Free hamburger and hot dog buns I’ve tried, only to be left with one very happy dog, because they’ve crumbled around the meat and I’ve finished my meal with a knife and fork.  Plus one for Promise!  The dog lost out a little bit on that deal, though…

If you’re also soy free or nut free, Promise can meet that demand, too!

Price:  3.99 (Canadian) for 3 buns.
Found at:  Metro

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Also — pro tip!  When you’re used to eating hot dogs and hamburgers bun-less, you fill up a lot faster with the buns on.

2.  Promise Gluten Free Lemon Loaf.

This I could take or leave.  I love lemon cake, so the bar was high.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit too dry.  Again, this was made in Ireland, frozen, shipped across the ocean, thawed, and sold to me.  It didn’t hold up to that journey quite as well as the buns did.  I did enjoy the crunchy sugar bits on top!  I probably won’t buy it again, because for the price I’m sure I could make my own, and it would likely be moist.

Price: 4.99 for one loaf
Found at: Metro

3. So Delicious Coconut Milk “Frozen Dessert” — chocolate chip cookie dough flavour.
The closest I can get to ice cream.  So Delicious also makes a spectacular cashew milk dark chocolate fudge flavour, but I was in the mood for cookie dough.  There’s something special about the sweet and salty combination that I have always loved!  It’s perfect for these hot, sticky summer days!

And as an added bonus, the cookie dough bits are also gluten free!

Price:  5.99 (on sale — regular 6.99)
Found at: Metro

Stay tuned for more finds!  I hope to be able to share my favourites out of the Canadian Gluten and Dairy Free market🙂

 

Find Promise Gluten Free products at a store near you!