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!

Think and Eat Yourself Smart


I’ve become very interested in nutrition in the last year and a half. After a fateful meeting with a nutritionist in April of 2015, it was suggested to me that the way to fix my gastrointestinal upset was a full-out elimination of all the things that could be causing my issues (wheat, dairy, and sugar) for 8 weeks.

8 weeks. Without wheat.  Or dairy.  Or sugar.

Terrible, right?

Short answer…. yes.

But it turned out that wheat and dairy, while I miss cheese, and pizza, and I miss donuts, aren’t something I’m missing because I feel way, way better than I did in April 2015.

This sent me on a bit of a journey of finding out theories and some research on food sensitivities.  Because I don’t have any allergies.

There are so many mixed opinions, theories, studies, whatever you want to call them… it’s hard to find which way is up in all of the science.

So when I had the chance to read this book, “Think and Eat Yourself Smart” by Dr. Caroline Leaf, I grabbed at it.

I have several thoughts, so readers, please bear with me.

My first is this.  It’s very scientific.  There were parts of it I skimmed through because they were a touch lost on me.  That said, if you didn’t expect that from a book with the tagline “a neuroscientific approach to a sharper mind and healthier life,” I’m not sure what you would have been expecting.  I find the science behind nutrition fascinating.

There were some interesting points on waste. There was a very interesting discussion on genetically modified and organic foods — where I’m not sure that I’m completely in that camp.  I’m not totally anti-GMO, and that might make me a terrible person, but having grown up with grandparents in farming, and having had discussions with them ~ I’ll leave that off the table here because it’s not really the purpose of this post.  But.  Take it for what you will.  If you’re full out anti-GMO, you’ll be right on board with that section.  There was also a bit on the antibiotics infused into our milk and dairy products….. which is illegal in Canada and if found in our milk, it has to be dumped down the drain.

What really got me were the parts about choices and mindset, and how the conscious mind — not the subconscious mind — has the power to change and overcome toxic eating habits.

If you struggle with emotional eating, hurry, weird dreams, anything you suspect might be related to your food intake… I recommend this book.  It’ll give you some ‘food’ for thought.

There are tips and recipes at the back of the book, so it’ll give you a good jump start at your healthier eating adventure.  I just caution you that if you’re not as willing to give up every comfort food you’ve ever found as Dr. Leaf is, perhaps take the book with a grain of salt.  But the book has great general ideas and tips if you’re looking for a deeper understanding of the connection between your brain, your mind, and your eating.

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

 

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Someone Like You


If you’re looking for a good, easy reading, cheesy love story…. look no further.  You’ve found one in Someone Like You!  Victoria Bylin does it again with a story of grace and redemption and forgiveness in this story of two college sweethearts finding each other again and starting over — in a very different place than the one they left each other in.

Victoria Bylin is praised for relatable characters — and she’s crafted them again in Zeke Monroe and Julia Dare, as well as in Hunter Adams.  The setting, the plot, the people — they’re all people I could easily know in real life.  I love it when an author is able to craft beautiful people like that.  I’ve read one other Victoria Bylin book before ~ Together With You ~ and Bylin did the same thing with Carly and Ryan in that book.

My only criticism would be (and it’s barely one at that) that people just don’t fall in love that easily in real life.  But if they did, who would want to read romance novels?  It would be too much like real life and we’d write books instead about how it took 15 years for Julia to finally settle down and find someone she liked enough to give up her independence😉

Here’s what the book’s back cover had to say:

Single mom Julia Dare has a lot on her plate. A brand new Christian, she’s busy trying to run her own business, spend time with her widowed mother, and raise her young son, Max, despite his father’s less-than-ideal influence on him. When a big account from her event-planning business sends her to the Caliente Springs resort, she’s shocked to come face-to-face with Zeke Monroe, the resort’s general manager and her college sweetheart.

With his faith in tatters, Zeke Monroe is determined to keep the historic Caliente Springs resort running despite financial difficulties. But when Julia walks back into his life, he can’t ignore the feelings she stirs up. As they work together on an important client’s dream wedding, the fate of the resort soon depends on their success. When Zeke and Julia are pushed to their limits both personally and professionally, will their history put up walls between them or bring them together?

So, just like I surmised at the end of Together With You, if you’re looking for a good, cheesy love story — you’ve come to the right place, and Victoria Bylin won’t disappoint.  If you’ve come looking for encouragement in your singleness — maybe not the right choice😉 …. trust me.

Overall I highly recommend this book.  It was such an easy read.  I read the latter half of it in an afternoon laying in my hammock in my backyard (…. not unlike the front cover art, I’m just realizing as I post the picture for you… except I was alone.) It was perfection.

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

The Inheritance


The death of clan patriarch Macgregor Tulloch has thrown the tiny Shetland Islands community of Whales Reef into turmoil. Everyone assumed Tulloch’s heir to be his much-loved grandnephew David. But when no will is discovered, David’s calculating cousin Hardy submits his own claim to the inheritance, an estate that controls most of the island’s land. And Hardy knows a North Sea oil investor who will pay dearly for that control.

While the competing claims are investigated, the courts have frozen the estate’s assets, leaving many of the locals in dire financial straits. The future of the island–and its traditional way of life–hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, Loni Ford enjoys a rising career in a large investment firm in Washington, D.C. Yet, in spite of outward success, she is privately plagued by questions of identity. Orphaned as a young child, she was raised by her grandparents, and while she loves them dearly, she feels completely detached from her roots. That is, until a mysterious letter arrives from a Scottish solicitor. . . .

Past and present collide in master storyteller Michael Phillips’ dramatic new saga of loss and discovery, of grasping and grace.

It’s been a long time since I haven’t liked a book I’ve reviewed.  In fact, I can’t remember the last one I didn’t enjoy.  But I just couldn’t get into this one.

It’s got some great points, so I’ll start with those, and I’ll explain where I’m coming from — because I’ve read others’ reviews for this book and it seems like I may be the anomaly here!

First — Michael Phillips has unbelievable skills at descriptive writing.  If you are someone who can take a very well-detailed written description and turn it into vivid scenery in your mind, diving head first right into the book, and almost feeling like you’re there…. well, then you’ll likely love this book.

But if you’re like me, and your brain just doesn’t do that, you may find this book to be a bit of a struggle.  I have always had a hard time turning written or verbal description into pictures in my brain.  When someone tries to explain to me how they’re redecorating their house, it means nothing to me unless they’re accompanying the description with actual pictures.  Something I can physically see with my eyeballs.  So when a book gets very descriptive, I get lost in the details.  I do better with more dialogue and fewer details.  So this book, I’ll admit, had me lost for good chunks of it.  I had to reread parts to make sure I was still tracking with the plot.

Second — the characters are endearing.  I did enjoy following along with the characters as they developed, and as Phillips gave you bit by bit, another glimpse into who they are.  There are stark contrasts in the two settings in this book, flipping (expertly, might I add) between Loni Ford’s life in the financial district of Washington, DC and David Tulloch’s life in a clan-type way of life in the Shetland Islands in the Atlantic north of Scotland.  The pieces all weave themselves together in a way I have to give the author credit for, because I know I’d NEVER be able to pull all those pieces together like that.  And it wasn’t confusing, which books that flip between plot lines can end up being.

Third — I loved the way the jargon and the way of life of the Shetland Islands came to life.  This is me over here, not being able to process the detail, but soaking in every ounce of the dialogue.  Helpful hint, though:  I found the Scottish accent dialogue easier to read out loud (and it gave me a semblance of a fun accent!), so you may want to read alone😉.

When it really came down to it, I think I’d recommend the book.  But if I knew the person was like me and was not focused on details, I likely wouldn’t.  So, like I said, please take my review with a grain of salt.  It’s important to me that readers know what I thought of a book, so I’m being honest, but I also would never want to ward you off of an otherwise good book, as long as you love the details.  I shared this revelation with my Mom, that I thought the book just had TOO MUCH detail, and she really wants to read it now because she loves that sort of thing.

Have you read it?  What did you think?  Am I the only one to have gotten buried in the details?

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

 

Like Never Before


I’m a sucker for a good love story.  And that’s exactly what this was.  Right from the beginning, I knew what was going to happen — I had a feeling that I knew who was going to finish the book in love with whom.  But the joy that came from reading through this book as characters fall in love with each other just never gets old.

I loved the way Melissa Tagg was able to weave in the need for the characters to go back to trusting in God and letting Him heal their hearts so that they could love again after they’d both suffered more heartache than any of us ever wants to in life.

I bonded so deeply with these characters — it was like I knew them personally by the end of the book!

Melissa Tagg’s writing style is light and airy, and this was a refreshingly, delightfully easy read.  Sometimes we see something referred to as an easy read, and we assume it’s simple or doesn’t pack a lot of literary punch, but as far as romance novels can go, this one did a very good job of holding my attention all the way through.  I had no trouble preferring to read over watching Netflix with this book!

I highly recommend you check this book out, but if my high praise of Tagg’s character development and beautiful love story with a thread of redemption and healing throughout don’t sell you, I’ll leave you with the description from the back of the book and a picture.

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley’s haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher…if only she new who he was.

After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime–a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he’s inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.

But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She’s scrappy, but wounded. He’s dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley’s quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.

I just can’t say enough.  Just…. be ready to get hit in the feels.  This book… let me tell you.  It’ll be well worth the hours it takes to get through it — because you won’t want to do anything else until it’s done.

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

What I Learned in the Quiet Zone — The Power of Speaking Without Words


Thursday and Friday of this past week, my colleagues and I headed to the big city for a conference on Celebrating Linguistic and Cultural Diversity.

Can I tell you how much my mind was blown during the two days of learning?  Unreal.

Ok, so not all of us are big city fans.  I do not enjoy trying to navigate Toronto in a car, and from where I live West of Toronto, the amount of traffic that would have been endured in order to arrive at OISE at 8 am, and then to leave Toronto at 3:45 pm the next day to return home… well… I’d likely have cried.

Naturally, then, we took the train.  We ventured from our homes, left our cars in Burlington, and took advantage of the wonderful transit system that we all wish would come farther West.  But that’s another topic entirely.

Throughout the two-day conference, I learned about things like respecting the voice of English Language Learners in our schools — letting them speak their own first languages, letting them show what they know in their language, and encouraging them not to lose that incredibly valuable and special piece of who they are.  I learned about social justice for refugees, and I got to listen to the fascinating linguistic research behind the developmental stages of our English Language Learners, and the linguistic research and data that drives the way we aim to help them best.

But to the point of this post, I was struck on the way home from the conference yesterday by the power of nonverbal communication — which is essential when a student enters my caseload, and therefore my care, and doesn’t speak any language at all.  When I don’t speak their language, and they don’t speak mine, how do we communicate?

It’s challenging.  It’s difficult, and I’m not here to minimize that.  On the train on the way home from Toronto yesterday, we entered a train car that was packed right full — we shouldn’t have been shocked, we boarded a 4:10 train at Union Station.  The lower level had no available seating, so those leading the way ahead of me continued on up to the upper level.  During rush hour, the upper levels of the GO trains are reserved as “The Quiet Zone.”  We knew this, and we were being quiet.  We were either whispering or talking very quietly, as some others on the train were.  Shortly after the train started moving, however, the passenger beside one of my coworkers removed her earbuds to say, rather snarkily, “hey guys?  This here is the quiet zone, so if you’re gonna talk, you need to go downstairs.”  She put her headphones back in and continued staring out the window.  Everyone around her looked at her like she had taken it a bit far (which I believe she had), but being the respectful individuals we are, we entered quiet mode.

If you know me, you know how much I hate having to be quiet.  I don’t mind quiet time, but I don’t like being told “you can’t talk.”  It stifles my process.  I tried to do yoga once — never again.  But I digress.

A couple of us pulled out books to read, one played on her phone for a bit, and the other sat quietly and looked out the window.  About ten minutes into the trip, the guy beside me answered a phone call.  I’m surprised the passenger who’d made her position on quiet VERY clear didn’t lose her mind.  I looked at one of my coworkers, who did nothing but wink at me, and I started to giggle… silently, of course, so I just looked like a smiling goof whose shoulders wouldn’t stop shaking.  Another coworker looked at me, raised her eyebrows, motioned at the guy on the phone, then motioned over her shoulder to the lady with the headphones sitting beside her.  I silently giggled again.  We all exchanged varying degrees of knowing glances, pointed nods, and hand gestures (all of them appropriate), before we got tired of not completely understanding each other and started to send text messages despite being seated right beside each other.

What struck me though was that before we gave up and moved to our phones, we were all able to communicate quite a bit with no words.  We just had to be observant enough.