Free of Me

It’s not about you.

And how often do I make EVERYTHING about me?

“What about me?”  “Why didn’t I get…?” “Do they not like me?”  “Are they talking about me?”

So much of our insecurity is rooted in self-focus, in holding a mirror up to ourselves and trying to measure our circumstances around us in that light.

But what if it weren’t about you….

This book is about so much more than insecurity, though for me, that’s a big takeaway.  The idea that so much of my own insecurity could evaporate by focusing on God, and God’s plan in any given situation, is both comforting and incredibly challenging all at once.  I haven’t fully digested it yet, as I just finished the book, however, I’m sure there’s life application in it somewhere!

Sharon Hodde Miller talks about seven mirrors we use to reflect our lives, when we shouldn’t be using mirrors at all.  I promise the analogy will make piles of sense if you read the book for yourself, and for now you’ll just have to trust me.  But I was convicted and challenged about making church about me, making my friendships about me, making my appearance about me… and more.

Culminating in how loving God sets us free, and why we were designed to love and serve others… this book was so refreshing.

It’s no wonder Ann Voskamp has said that this book “may be one of the most important truths of our time.” (according to the front cover of the book… I don’t know Ann personally, though I wish I did, and I don’t think we live too terribly far from each other……. but I am not a stalker lol.)

I digress.  A lot, actually…. back on track here.

Our me-centered culture affects every area of our lives–our relationships, calling, self-image, even our faith–and it negatively impacts each one. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we get stuck in insecurity.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision–one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more. Drawing from personal experience and Scriptural insight, Sharon helps readers

· understand how self-focus sabotages seven areas of our lives
· learn four practical steps for focusing on God and others
· experience freedom from the burden of self-focus

If you’ve been yearning for more than a self-help faith, then this paradigm-shifting message of true fulfillment is for you.


What others say about Free of Me:

“One of the best things for a healthy marriage, workplace, parent situation, or any calling is to realize the world is not orbiting around our axis. True joy is found when we realize there is a bigger story to tell. In Free of Me, Sharon paints this picture more beautifully than anyone I know.”–Jefferson Bethke, author of Love That Lasts

“Sharon spotlights the crippling disease of self-focus and shows us how to break free from its entanglements. If you want to walk in God’s life-giving truth, this book will help you do just that!”–Lysa TerKeurstNew York Times bestselling author; president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

“In a culture captivated by self, this book is a must-read.”–Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

Sources:  All quotes came from the covers of the book.

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

free of me


2018 — An obligatory New Year’s Day post

It is 2018.  It is January 1st.  Actually, in the time zone I inhabit, by the time I’ve hit publish on this post, it’ll likely be January 2nd.  Thankfully, I’m currently chilling in the Rockies and Mountain Standard Time has gifted me with two whole extra hours — something I’m thankful for tonight, but was annoyed by at this time last night as I set myself a reminder alarm to remember to text my Ontario peeps at 10 pm to wish THEM a Happy New Year!

Anyway, I digress.  Where was I?  Yes; it’s 2018.  Nothing really feels like it’s changed from yesterday.  But yet, so much has, hasn’t it?  We do this yearly.  We wait til January 1st to start things.  We spend the last week of December eating all the junk food in our houses in hopes to start fresh January 1st.  I was a day late with this silly plan and made my last bag of chips my personal mission for today.



But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Futility doesn’t have to be our best friend as we launch into every single new year.  New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be a to-do list that extends no further than the first week of January.

In the fall of 2016, my dear friend Rachel sent me a link to this thing she’d heard of called Power Sheets.  Lara Casey and her team make them over at Cultivate What Matters.  It’s designed for intentional life planning.  Intentional goal setting.  Progress.  Not perfection.  Rachel and I dove right in.  We each ordered a set and split the shipping (since it has to come from the States and the shipping is steep), and we dug in.  (This year 6 of us ordered and split shipping — highly recommend this if you’re Canadian and want your hands on a set!)  We did the prep work while discussing all of our goals together, and we were ready over the course of about a month of intentional thinking, planning, and praying to meet 2017 head on.  For me, it felt like 2017 was going to be the year I finally got my act together and stopped making resolutions I couldn’t keep.  Resolutions I knew even as I made them I wouldn’t keep.  But it’s what we do, right?



I can’t say that my Power Sheets were overwhelmingly life-changing in 2017.  Though maybe I can — it’s hard to achieve perspective since I don’t have a 2017 without Power Sheets to compare it to.  I don’t know.  It certainly wasn’t the productive year I’d hoped it to be.  The entire point to Power Sheets is to set goals, track your tending lists, make progress, and cover yourself in grace when you fall short of your own expectations.  After all, we don’t keep pushing into what we want to change when we feel defeated and like it’s hopeless, do we?  Progress.  Not perfection.  But I know they made some difference.  I was able to measure growth in some areas.  Some were more stubborn than others, and I’ve had to re-evaluate what I really wanted to see change in this year to make sure that I was choosing the right goals.  But more importantly, I’ve had to evaluate the why for my goals.  Why am I choosing this?  Am I choosing “be healthier” because I think people will like me more?  Or am I choosing it because I actually want health and I want to be able to do things I’ve only ever dreamed of — like learn to surf.  The prep work at the beginning of the planner for each year asks big questions and makes you look deep into the whys, and I know I got to the root of some of my wishes for 2018.

I don’t have my 2017 book with me.  I don’t have the list of goals I chose for 2017 with me because they’re in my book, and they’re in Ontario, and I am not.  But I do have the goals I’ve chosen for 2018, and I’d like to share them with you.  I’d like to be a little bit vulnerable and put them out into the air for the blogosphere to read.  This year, I’ve chosen bigger, over-arching goals.  There’s a Facebook group dedicated to Power Sheets users where a couple people have referred to them as “umbrella goals.”  They’re more like a topic where I want to do some work in my life this year, and then the more specific goals (which I have a lot of for 2018) will work their way into my monthly, weekly, and daily check-lists for each month.

Without further ado, here are my umbrella goals for 2018:

  1. Finances ~ Saving and not spending needlessly.  Obviously each month will have specific targets for this.  I’d been working on it throughout 2017 as well, and with some careful planning and some good timing, I managed to pay off a pile of debt in May, and have been relishing in the freedom of that ever since.  Can I recommend You Need A Budget (YNAB) to you?  Seriously, it changed my life in March of 2016.  Jesse Mecham, the creator, has written a book and it just released last week.  It’s on my list of things to do in January.
  2. Spiritual Growth ~ Depth.  I want a relationship with Jesus that is marked by reliance, listening, and trust.  That doesn’t come from just thinking about it and hoping it comes.
  3. Fun ~ Responsible Fun; Not running to fun to escape uncomfortable emotions.  This felt like a funny goal, but through a lot of introspection this year I’ve discovered something I don’t really love about myself.  Where I’d perpetually thought I just liked to have fun, it dawned on me that I’m prone to running to fun as soon as I don’t want to deal with something that doesn’t seem fun.  Awkward relationship situation?  I run away.  Work sucks?  I want to switch jobs — it isn’t fun!  Pain?  No fun.  Let’s go on vacation instead.  Where I want to goal-set around fun this year is to make sure it’s not my escape, as much as it is something that is just necessary to live.
  4. Mental Health — This is something I began to take very seriously in 2017, as I battled some anxiety that it turned out had been simmering just beneath my surface for a long time, and I’d never dealt with it.  I’ve started seeing a counselor, and I honestly can’t recommend a professional therapist enough — seriously.  You get to talk about yourself for an hour, and you don’t have to do anyone the social courtesy of listening back to them.  My goals here revolve around leaning into stress and anxiety and the situations that cause them so that I continue to get better at managing and reducing both of these things.
  5. Leadership — I am a leader.  For better or for worse, I’m in leadership positions in my church and at work.  I’m not sure how this happened.  I’m honestly not sure how I got here.  But people see potential in me, and I’d like to harness it for good!
  6. Health — this one is so common.  How many of us set healthy lifestyle New Year’s resolutions?  This one could be a whole post for me, but it’s a very raw spot at the moment, so… nope!  That doesn’t sound fun!
  7. Creativity — Brene Brown once said in a podcast interview I was listening to her on (For the Love with Jen Hatmaker) that “Unused creativity is not benign.”  It hit me to my core.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to write but have been too afraid people wouldn’t buy it.  I’ve wanted to paint but have been self-conscious because I’m not as good as someone else.  I’ve wanted to be a better musician but again, compare myself to others and always fall short.  But if unused creativity is harmful to me, then this needs intentional work as well.
  8. Bravery.  It has occurred to me that I am not that brave.  I’m a pretty big chicken, actually.  So 2018 needs to hone in on some of those areas where I could use some bravery the most.  I read Annie F. Downs’ book “Let’s All Be Brave” (buy it on Amazon here) in November, and I cried through parts of it.  I’m so ready to be brave.  So ready.  I highly recommend the book, but if you’re determined to stay seated in. your comfort zone, it may not be for you.  I’m doing her 100 Days to Brave devotional starting as soon as I get home (as it’s arrived in Ontario before I have).
  9. Adventure — I thrive on this.  It’s linked to my fun, and it’s linked to my finances.  I found a lot of my goals are linked to each other — I actually created a very messy flow chart that reflects that!  But I will have adventure based goals.  Where will I travel next?  Europe is calling — Scandinavia?  The South of France?  Switzerland (the land of my ancestral people)?  Who knows?
  10. Relationships — This is not just the romantic kind — though that’s pretty intrinsically linked to bravery.  I want to be intentional.  I want to be present.  I want to be brave.  In all of my relationships.


And there you have it.  My over-arching umbrella goals.

Do you set goals?  Do you make resolutions?  Do you keep them?  If you’ve been a successful Power Sheets user, I’d love to hear from you!  I really want them to help me make big changes this year!

Even if you don’t use Power Sheets, I highly recommend both of Lara Casey’s books.  They’re less intensive than using Power Sheets, but still give you lots of great tips and encouragement for living a more intentional life.  Get Make It Happen on Amazon here, and get Cultivate on Amazon here.

Heart on the Line

Two years ago today, actually, I wrote a review on my first Karen Witemeyer book.  It was SO good!  Well, my second Karen Witemeyer book was no different.  I’m not usually a “devour a book in 30 hours” kind of reader.  Granted, it IS summer, and I AM on vacation, but I digress — it usually takes me at least a week to knock one off.

I loved this book.  So very much.

Witemeyer has a knack, as far as I can tell, for crafting beautifully spunky, independent, resourceful, and clever young female characters who don’t actually need the men they come across, but are sure glad to have found someone who complements their lives nicely.  Given that she’s writing books set in the late 1800s in Texas, it’s refreshing and I love it.  The characters are easy to relate to, and they draw you in almost instantly.

There’s enough suspense and “oh no!  Now what’s gonna happen!?” in this book that I honestly could not stop reading.  I read while walking with it a couple times if I had to switch rooms for something (I don’t recommend that, folks…. it’s a trip hazard), and on the second last night of my vacation, I told my mom “I’ll get up when I get up — I’m gonna finish this book!” with about 130 pages left.  I didn’t actually finish that night, as I didn’t want to sleep away my whole last beach day, but I was sad that I had to stop.

I think my favourite part of this book was the telegraph courtship — it’s like online dating before online dating was a thing!

Apparently this is the second “Ladies of Harper’s Station” novel, so I’ll have to check out number 1 and add it to my “wish list” on Amazon — which is where I go to grab one book at a time whenever I’m not quite there for free shipping.

Here’s the synopsis for this book:

Grace Mallory is tired of running, of hiding. But when an old friend sends an after-hours telegraph transmission warning Grace that the man who has hunted her for nearly a year has discovered her location, she fears she has no choice. She can’t let the villain she believes responsible for her father’s death release his wrath in Harper’s Station, the town that has sheltered her and blessed her with the dearest friends she’s ever known.

Amos Bledsoe prefers bicycles to horses and private conversations over the telegraph wire to social gatherings with young ladies who see him as nothing more than an oddity. His telegraph companion, the mysterious Miss G, listens eagerly to his ramblings every night and delights him with tales all her own. For months, their friendship–dare he believe, courtship?–has fed his hope that he has finally found the woman God intended for him. Yet when he takes the next step to meet her in person, he discovers her life is in peril, and Amos must decide if he can shed the cocoon of his quiet nature to become the hero Grace requires.

I highly, highly recommend this book, especially if you’re a fan of Westerns or historical fiction, but absolutely if you’re a fan of spunky, witty writing that’ll draw you in and won’t let go.


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


High as the Heavens

Oh my stars.  I know I start a lot of book reviews with the words “oh my stars” because I just don’t think a book can be topped, and then, sure enough, it is — but this one.  Oh my stars.

I confess, because I read a fair bit, and my books come at me for free, sometimes I forget who wrote what, and the lines between authors and book names blur.  That happened with this one.  I saw this book in a list of choices, and I saw Kate Breslin’s name, and, knowing that I’d read a book of hers before, but thinking it was a different book, and I got very excited.  Her other book I’ve read, “Not by Sight,” I found I didn’t fall in love with right away.  It definitely grew on me and I LOVED it by the end, but because of how long it had taken me to get into it, I was disappointed when I opened up High as the Heavens and saw that Kate Breslin and Sarah Sundin are not the same person.

But.  This book.  Like I said.  Oh my stars.  I couldn’t stop.  I read the first 2/3 of it in one sitting.  I was so hooked.  I don’t know if it was the time period, or if it was the World War 1 setting (World War historical fictional romance always gets me), but this book had me from page 1.  The drama and the story all built in with the intrigue and suspense and the secrets and the danger …. I don’t want to spoil any little tiny bit, but I want to tell you so much, all at the very same time!  I laid on a couch at my parents’ while on vacation and read this book for the majority of a chilly, rainy Alberta afternoon.  I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop, and I highly recommend that you pick it up for yourself and see why.

A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a café . . . or so it seems. Eve’s most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she’s en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to recognize the badly injured pilot as British RFC Captain Simon Forrester. She risks her life to conceal him from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?



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

To the Farthest Shores

I took this book everywhere with me while I was reading it.  I even got a kick out of taking some ironic pictures with the book in the basket of my bicycle with the river that’s nearly right behind my house in the background…. not exactly the farthest shore, but the book was always with me so that if I found a quiet bench in a park, I could read there, too.


I hadn’t read an Elizabeth Camden book before, though when I mentioned it to a friend, I was informed that Camden is an excellent author, and if you like historical fiction (which I do), I’d love all of her books.

I can’t say that To The Farthest Shores played out how I was expecting — in fact, it truly didn’t, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.  I never once knew what was coming, and right up until the end I couldn’t figure out how it was going to wrap up.  I have high levels of respect for an author who can not only create likeable characters, but also deliver an engaging plot line AND make it clear that she knows her historical stuff.  I’d hope that Camden does, given her credentials as a Research Librarian with Masters degrees in both History and Library Science.

It turns out to be a beautiful love story about reconciling past to present, forgiveness, and perseverance.  Camden weaves all of the elements together fluidly, and once I got into this book, I didn’t want to stop.

Naval officer Ryan Gallagher broke Jenny’s heart six years ago when he abruptly disappeared. Now he’s returned but refuses to discuss what happened. Furious, Jenny has no notion of the impossible situation Ryan is in. With lives still at risk, he can’t tell Jenny the truth about his overseas mission-but he can’t bear to lose her again either.

I highly recommend this book, and now I’m off to add some Elizabeth Camden to my Amazon “saved for later” cart 🙂



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

(re)union ~ by Bruxy Cavey

Because I am a book fiend, and because I have a source that hooks me up with books already, I was overjoyed to discover that I had the chance to receive an Advance Reader Copy of Bruxy Cavey’s latest book, (re)union — The good news of Jesus for seekers, saints, and sinners.  I’ve read Bruxy’s other book, The End of Religion, and I loved it, but this takes everything to a whole new level.

I go to the church that Bruxy is the teaching pastor at, The Meeting House, so I can assure you that this book reads very authentically like he’s just speaking to you.  He’s so passionate about spreading the Gospel, and about making sure it’s clearly understood, and that certainly comes across in this book.  Bruxy succeeds at epic levels in making the Gospel clear.  I’ve grown up in the church.  I’ve grown up in this denomination.  But it’s never been laid out more clearly to me than in this book, and it’ll be one I read again (which doesn’t happen often).

What I love most about this book, apart from it being so abundantly clear, is how warm and inviting the call to follow Jesus is from start to finish.  But even while laying out theology, at times fairly heavy theology, Bruxy makes it feel like he’s having a casual conversation that is very easy to understand.  It’s light, it’s funny — It felt like having coffee with Bruxy.  I’ve never done that, so I can’t 100% compare it, but it was a very easy read despite how much it made me think.  My walk with Jesus, even though it’s been a 28ish year walk already, has deepened after reading this book.

I found an almost eerie personal connection while I was reading.  There’s a part in the book that talks about Jesus understanding whatever we’ll go through on this earth, because He came to earth to be human, to be one of us, even though he was also God.  There’s empathy there that I don’t see being possible to claim in any other worldview or religion.  As I was reading, you know how sometimes your eyes dart across to the next page and you’re disappointed because your eyes have skipped chunks?  Well, this book came into my life at a time when I desperately needed it.  If you know me, you get it.  If you don’t, well, you’ll have to trust me, cuz that’s a post for another time.  But I digress.  When Bruxy’s explaining that Jesus empathizes with us, He gets us, and He knows what we’re going through, because He’s experienced it here on earth, he starts to illustrate his point with a story about a woman named Laura.  He says as he’s explaining the story, “You know, Laura, I get you.”  Now, I know that Bruxy was writing, and that he was writing about a different woman named Laura, but I wept.  That Jesus gets me was one of those theological things that I knew, but I didn’t know it.  It hadn’t sunk in past head knowledge and made it to heart knowledge.  (I regret that the English language doesn’t have two different words for knowing, like French does — I wrote a post on that earlier, check it out here — When English Fails ( … or why I got baptized twice)).

In short, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Whether you’re seeking and wonder if Jesus might be the answer, whether you think He’s the answer but you’re not sure you’re good enough, or whether you’ve been walking the road with Jesus for years… or any scenario in between — this book will find you where you’re at and show you the Good News of Jesus in a way that is both concise and informative, and easy to understand, but also innately relational and personal, even though it was written for an audience of many.

Pick up your copy on Amazon, at Chapters, at other bookstores (I’m sure), or, come find us at a Meeting House site, where since it’s just been released, we’ll likely have copies.  We’d love to have you check us out.



Book has been provided courtesy of Menno Media and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

If I Could… (this book lover’s dream book conference)

If I could choose a panel of my favourite authors, and I got to invite them to speak at a conference that I designed, oh the fun that I could have…


I had to mull this one over, because there are a few ways I could spin this, but I think I’ve nailed it down….

My ideal book conference would be two days long, and there would be vendors and publishers everywhere at the conference centre for the two days.  We’d be at some big, fancy hotel in Toronto, or even somewhere nicer (which wouldn’t be hard).  During each day of the conference, there would be workshops that you could sign up for in advance, on many, many topics.

Some such topics might include:  Publishing your first novel; How to create meaningful character arcs; Narrative nonfiction; How to Write an Engaging Travel Essay; Blogging; Creative Writing; The Autobiography; The Biography; Editing; Self Publishing; Networking and Making Good Contacts; What To Do When Someone Says No; Poetry… and the opportunities here are endless.

It would likely have to be marketed as a women’s conference, as you’ll find when I get to the end of this day-dreamy post that all the authors are women, and gear their writing toward women, but if men wanted to join, they’d be more than welcome.

Mixed in with the vendors, there would also be publishers kicking around who are looking for fresh talent.  They’d be at booths, accepting manuscripts for review.  There would be contests to enter manuscripts into, in all sorts of genres.  Book lovers would be in their glory.

Scattered around the Conference Grounds would be “Reading Nooks” where you could take one of the many books you’d bought at the conference, and curl up in a big, comfy chair that enveloped your entire body, and read for an hour or two.  Meals would even have a brown bag option, so that you could take it to go, and go curl up with a book while you ate.

Keynote conference panels would happen on Friday night, and on Saturday night.  And the vendors and publishers’ booths, which were open Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and until noon on Sunday, would all close down to encourage people to go listen.

My two panels would be these:

  1. Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Ann Voskamp, Lysa TerKeurst, Holley Gerth would all unite to talk about being women in the church.  Each woman has a unique twist and spin to their views, but they all have very valuable things to say, and an audience of Christian women who needs to be encouraged.  Especially by Sarah Bessey.  In fact, I might let her speak on being a woman in the church on Sunday morning, before I sent everyone back to their homes, their lives, and their families.
  2. Irene Hannon, Sarah Sundin, Lisa Harris, Dani Pettrey, Dee Henderson, Lynette Eason, and Sandra Orchard would each explain their path to being successful romantic suspense writers, and they’d talk about the elements necessary in a suspenseful novel that keeps you craving the end of the book, but yet hooked enough on the journey that you would never DARE look to the end of the book to find out what happens.  They would talk about how to research your characters and your storylines well, particularly in the context of historical fiction like Sarah Sundin’s, so that a reader with knowledge on the time period or the topic, even on the setting, wouldn’t be able to find major holes in your story.  Attendees would be able to submit questions online ahead of time, maybe via Twitter, or something a little less instantaneous like a Google Form.  It would be included in the registration process — if you had a question, you could ask it, and it might be answered by one of the panel members.

Finally, and we mustn’t forget this…… the Meet and Greets!  Each author from each of the two panels would have booths, and upon registration you could select your top 4 authors, and be scheduled a meet and greet with two of them at some point during the conference.  To pick the brain of Ann Voskamp and find out what it really means to be living a life full of thankfulness… or of Jen Hatmaker, and talk about what it really means to live out love in your community… or of Sarah Bessey, to find out more about the journey this fellow Canadian took on the road to embracing her Biblical womanhood.  In the sense that it was intended.  You could chat with Dee Henderson, and find out how to weave a character’s story through several novels, without that character being the primary focus of a book.  Or you could have coffee with Irene Hannon, and discover how to switch from straight up romance to romantic suspense, without leaving your readers wishing you’d just stuck to what you were really good at.

OH!  And the conference would be small-ish, because in order to guarantee the meet and greet schedule it would have to be.  It would probably be outlandishly expensive, and not profitable for all those vendors and publishers, but hey…. a girl can dream, right?



I was approached to write this post by a contact from Eventbrite, “the largest self-service ticketing platform in the world that helps people find and plan events and conferences.”  (Her description).  I was asked who my favourite author was.  If I could choose a few to put on a panel and have them talk to a crowd, who would I choose?  What would we talk about?

I was given free rein over the post, and all ideas are my own.

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.”

Image Source

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?


Book was 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).


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…
    • 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!