Stealing my grandmother


An Alaska cruise with Mamaw in 2009. She got up early during our vacation, saying she’d need more time to get ready in case her hair “doesn’t lay right” in the morning.

I’ve been in clean-out mode the past few weeks, rummaging through my closet, emptying out drawers and putting my life’s possessions in piles as I declutter. There’s the throwaway pile, the giveaway pile and the keep pile, and since I haven’t been feeling very sentimental lately, the last pile keeps getting smaller.

Part of my minimization efforts include tackling four shoeboxes full of cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, thank you cards and so on. I’m a words person and love reading what people have written to me, but after years and years of collecting cards, I decided it’s time to pare it down, keeping only the really special ones.


“I’m ready!” Headed to D.C. in 2011.

That’s how I came across a couple of letters from my grandmother, dating several years back.

As I read the first letter, I was caught off guard. I started crying just a few sentences in, and within a couple of minutes could hardly catch my breath, like someone punched me in the gut. It reminded me of what used to be and what never will be again.

I’m fortunate that both my grandparents on my mom’s side are still around and that I’ve always been close to them. But in the past several years, my grandmother’s mental health has declined.

At times I get angry—at this aging process, at the fact that she doesn’t try harder to take care of herself. Other times I’m amused—at her no-filter comments, at her quips about getting older. And sometimes I’m disheartened. It won’t get better. It won’t get easier. And it scares the bejesus out of me that I might find myself in the same boat someday.

Mamaw was valedictorian in high school. She was a math whiz and kept the books for my grandfather’s business for over 30 years. She taught Sunday school for what seems like forever and loved to write just like I do. She was a fantastic cook. I remember waking up to the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

Now I have to mentally prepare for our conversations. During one of our recent ones, she told me it was raining four times during our 30-minute chat. She’ll talk about all the things she has to do even though she doesn’t. Or the contest she’s about to win although we all know it’s a scam.

She doesn’t cook anymore or teach Sunday school. I can’t remember the last time she wrote me a note.

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A safety run pre-departure on our cruise ship to Alaska.

I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents and still do. I want to sit in their living room with no particular topic of conversation as the grandfather clock ticks in the background.

But it’s hard.

Reading her letters brought back memories of the Alaska cruise we took in 2009—just the two of us. She called it “the trip of a lifetime.” She wrote about the Sunday school lesson she had to prepare and the beans Papaw brought in from the garden that she needed to cook.

In a letter she sent while I was studying in Australia in 2007, she shared how happy she was that I was traveling but asked me not to make a habit of skydiving. She told me about her new Kodak camera and how she was learning to zoom. “I’m still trying to learn all the ins and outs and what all the different buttons are for,” she wrote. She told me about the creative writing class she was taking, too: “I’ve been working on my first short story. … If I have to shorten it much more it will lose some of the interesting parts and I don’t want it to be dull.”

She wrote about things that I’m thankful for, but that I’m sad are in the past. Dementia is stealing my grandmother away from me.


Taking a ferry in Charleston, S.C., in 2012.

Next week I’ll celebrate my birthday, which I’ve always loved. I know some people get depressed when they’re a year older, but so far, I’ve enjoyed it. What I don’t like about aging is that certain memories get farther and farther away.

Mamaw still knows who I am and is still happy when I call or visit. We carry on conversation and laugh. Over Thanksgiving, I showed her pictures from my trip to Ireland as she commented on how beautiful it was. She always wanted to travel more (Papaw is a homebody), so I’m beyond grateful for our trip to Alaska, as well as subsequent trips to D.C. and Charleston.

But it’s different.

And as much as I like to change things up, there are some things I wish could stay the same.

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“Sometimes yet, I am still awed at how everything just fell in place.”
—A Dec. 16, 2009, letter from Mamaw about our Alaska cruise.

The Gratitude Jar


In my last post, I talked about my one-word focus for the year: balance. One way I hope to achieve that balance is by staying focused on what’s most important in life. And one way to do that is to acknowledge all the little pluses that come along.

And so we have The Gratitude Jar.

Sometimes I can get so caught up in what isn’t going right that I completely overlook all the good things. Then I start complaining, which takes too much energy and sucks the life right out of me.

This year, I decided to make something tangible to encourage me to think about the positives in life—an actual place to put the things I’m grateful for. I knew I wanted to call it The Gratitude Jar, but browsed the internet for ideas of what it should look like. I came across this thankful jar tutorial, then copied the basic idea on my own.

First I got out an old (applesauce?) jar because it was the largest one I had on hand. I wrapped it with some leftover green and white polka dot material that I used to cover the gray panels of my cube at work, then dug out an old black ribbon to tape around it. I could’ve used glue or Mod Podge, but this way I can change it more easily if I want to.

Next I used Canva (I have a free account) to create a simple graphic that I printed out and taped on the front. I wish I had used card stock the first time around, but I might take some I have at home and print it out again so the pointy edges are more sturdy.

I was going to cut a slit in the jar lid, but it’s a little difficult since it’s metal, so for now, I’m leaving it as is. I didn’t want to leave it open, but that would be an option.

Originally, I was making the jar to leave at home, but ended up taking it to work so others could add things to it if they want to. I put it on the table behind my desk (sort of a community space), then put strips of construction paper in an old iPhone box with a pen. I put it out last week and already have a handful of papers in there—some from me, some from others.

I don’t know what others have written, but one thing I added was that I’m grateful for the man in Food Lion who let me go ahead of him when I only had two items. 🙂 This was a few days ago when everyone was calling for snow and people freaked out, buying up the whole store.

Anyway, the plan is to empty the jar and read all the entries at the end of the year!

New year, new word


For the past three years, I’ve picked a one-word focus for the 12 months ahead of me, and at the end of that time, I evaluate how it went.

I started off with the word “humility” in 2014, followed by “simplify” in 2015 and “calm” in 2016.

Throughout 2016 (it’s weird to talk about it in past tense already), I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job of sticking to my word. I would forget about it many days, despite it being taped next to my bathroom mirror, and there were many times I didn’t feel very calm, either on the inside or outside.

But today as I thought more about it, I decided there have been some changes.

  • There were several times I wanted to get upset about something but remembered my resolve to stay calm and let the upsetting thing pass.
  • I altered my work schedule a bit so I don’t get so crazy in traffic, which has helped me stay calmer on my commute.
  • When a couple of unexpected things came up last year, I tried not to freak out about them (in either a bad or good way), but slowed myself down to process it all and give a more level-headed response.
  • When people annoyed me, I made a more conscious effort to be patient and not get snippy.

I don’t know if I’d call 2016 a success as far as my word goes since I think I could’ve done much better, but at least I saw a little improvement, which is better than nothing.

By early fall, though, I’d already started thinking about my next word and was pretty positive what it should be. I actually thought about using the word last year, but I think 2017 will be a good time for it.

My new word is “balance.”

There are too many days that I feel like my free time just slips by. Too many times I feel like my priorities are out of whack or like I’m barely keeping afloat with all of life’s commitments. I did tackle a bit of this when I focused on simplifying a couple years ago, but now I need to round it out.

I again taped my word next to my mirror, and this time wrote out, in order, what my priorities should be to find that balance: God first, followed by marriage, then family and friends, then work and everything else.

Even though I work for a ministry that starts each day with devotions and prayer, it’s no substitute for my personal time with God—something I’ve gone back and forth with this past year. I’ll get into a routine of reading my Bible every day or praying regularly, then it tapers off, then I do it again, then it tapers off. There’s a huge difference between putting Him first in my life and not, so this year, I’m going to try my best to do it consistently.

Here’s an excerpt from a devotion I read just before Christmas:

The world has become too much a part of us, and we are afflicted with the idea that we are not accomplishing anything unless we are always busily running back and forth. … We believe in having “all our irons in the fire” and that all the time we spend away from the anvil or fire is wasted time. Yet our time is never more profitably spent than when we set aside time for quiet meditation, talking with God, and looking up to heaven. We can never have too many of these open spaces in life—hours set aside when our soul is completely open and accessible to any heavenly thought or influence that God may be pleased to send our way.

Someone once said, “Meditation is the Sunday of the mind.” In these hectic days, we should often give our mind a “Sunday,” a time in which it will do no work but instead will simply be still. …

Time spent in this way is not lost time. A fisherman does not say he is losing time when he is mending his nets, nor does a gardener feel he has wasted his time by taking a few minutes to sharpen the blades on his mower. …

—from Streams in the Desert

After God comes my marriage. I do devote a considerable amount of time to friends and work and other things here and there, but I need to be sure marriage comes before all that. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not, so again, I’m going for consistency here.

Here’s my game plan for achieving balance this year:

  • img_6679Pete and I are going to start reading YouVersion’s Verse of the Day as our devotional time together. We weren’t crazy about the devotional book we went through last year, and the verse will be good because we can access it on our phones no matter where we are.
  • I’m going to go through A Passion for Purpose, which gives you a one-page devotional each day. I started it once and really liked it, but never finished.
  • I want to create a Gratitude Jar. More on this later, but my hope is that it’ll keep me focused on all of life’s little blessings and remember what’s important.
  • I’d also like to finish reading Margin. Mom and Dad got me this book maybe two Christmases ago, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t finished it. I think I have 4 unfinished books at the moment, but this one is all about balance and I’ve already underlined lots of stuff in the parts I’ve read.
  • img_6676I want to be more diligent about praying for my friends and family. I just got a new planner that came with a small dry erase board where you can write down your prayer focus for each day of the week. I already wrote down friends’ names in each space for the first week of January.
  • And finally, to build on my goal of simplifying from 2015, I want to give more thought to things I say yes to. I can’t do it all, and I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I do nothing well.

Although I think all of these are good goals, I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a couple of days of devotional reading or forget to pray for so-and-so on Tuesday. I don’t want to be so lax that I’m not working toward balance, but I also know I’ll need grace now and then.

Let’s see how it goes!

What’s So Great About Marriage?


A single friend posed this question to me several weeks back, concluding after a few recent interactions with married couples that maybe she doesn’t want to get married after all. She’d witnessed a disagreement, a snarky remark behind one spouse’s back, some compromises in action, and perhaps rightly so began to wonder about the good parts of marriage.

I was taking the trash out at the time of our phone conversation and listed the first things that came to mind. Since then, I’ve had more time to think about it—while also experiencing my own marital hiccups—and came up with a top 10 list of reasons marriage can be wonderful.

I say can here because I’m not sure any marriage has ever reached its full potential—no one is perfect, you know—and it does take constant effort to make it work. I’ve known several marriages to come to an end and know it can be complicated. Nevertheless, I think there’s something beautiful about the husband-wife relationship that you can’t quite replicate with anyone else.

Here’s what’s great about it:

  1. A teammate for life. Friends are one of God’s most precious gifts, but a spouse takes it to the next level. Together, you tackle day-to-day affairs: grocery shopping, yard work, vet visits, parenting, car repairs and so on. You find out who’s good at what and split your couple duties. (He fixes things; I write thank you notes.) It’s someone to get into a rhythm with. Someone to complement. Someone to cheer on.
  2. Love despite the unlovely. When you’re dating, you try to put your best foot forward. Look your best, smell your nicest, be your most charming. But when you see someone every day, morning and night, year in and year out, things get real. You’re going to get moody, be childish, make mistakes, have bed head, get sick, say things you don’t mean and just be human. But eventually, you forgive, you laugh about it, you get through it and move on. Knowing someone can love you at your worst is not only incredible but makes you want to be a better spouse.
  3. Sharing breaking news. Whenever a new work trip comes up, Pete is typically the first one I tell. When there’s good news in the family, I can’t wait to tell him about it. When something exciting or unexpected comes up, I look forward to sharing it with him. He’s my go-to person for all things newsy.
  4. Sharing life’s ups and downs. This one piggybacks on the previous two. Your spouse gives you a shoulder to cry on and someone to share the joys of life with. Your spouse walks with you through all stages of life. Yes, friends can be there, too, but your husband or wife is typically closer—both physically and emotionally.
  5. Becoming less selfish. Being married means another schedule to consider. It means giving up some of your free time and preferences and emotional capacity to meet the other person’s needs. It means serving someone besides yourself. This is one of the hardest, but also one of the most rewarding because it slowly but surely whittles away your selfishness.
  6. A stand-in date. Want to go see that new movie? Try that restaurant? Finally visit that other country? Your spouse is probably the first person you think of having new experiences with. I don’t have to find someone to go with because Pete is usually around.
  7. Familiarity. The first time you hold hands with someone or kiss someone, it’s electrifying. (Assuming here that you like the person.) When you’re with one person over time, it can still be that way, but there’s also something comforting and familiar in the way you fit together. One of the best parts of my day is getting a hug when Pete gets home.
  8. Someone to care for and to take care of you. You and your spouse take care of each other and balance each other out. He’s my protector; I’m his encourager. He keeps my car safe; I pack his lunches.
  9. Knowing someone better than anyone. You know things about your spouse no one else knows, and your spouse knows things about you no one else does. You know each other’s likes, dislikes and pet peeves. You know what that person is thinking before the words are spoken. You can be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
  10. Understanding God’s divine love. You’re going to do stupid things. You’ll mess up over and over because you’re a flawed individual, but the up side is that your spouse isn’t going to walk away and disown you. You’ll (hopefully) ask forgiveness and (should) receive it because you’re in this together, linked for life. And God is the same way. He offers second, third and fourth chances. He hits the reset button and gives you a clean slate each time you come to Him, hanging your head because of something dumb you’ve done. He loves unconditionally and gives us the capacity to love the same way. What better way to test that love than in a marriage?

While friendships should never be taken for granted—I cherish my girlfriends beyond words—a marriage takes the one-on-one relationship even deeper. Pete is one of my best friends, but so much more than that.

The more we experience together, the more our flaws are exposed, the more I love him because he still loves me—despite the occasional crankiness and shrunken shirt.

Why Married Couples Should Attend More Weddings


In the past 30 years, I’ve been to 22 weddings (that I can remember), the most recent one just last weekend. Thirteen of those weddings came after my own.

As I sat through this latest ceremony, I thought about how good it is for married couples to attend weddings.

All I remember from my first wedding is how my white dress twirled at the reception. At another one a few years later, I remember eating too many creamy mints off the food table outside and feeling sick afterwards.

But as I got older, I started paying more attention to the actual service—what was said, the way the couple looked at each other, how excited everyone was for the start of their new life together.

Since my own wedding, the ceremony has come to mean even more. Every wedding after mine has served as a kind of refresher—a restart button on my commitment to my husband.

We attended quite a few weddings within our first year of marriage, and during each one of those, I was thinking something like, “Now they get to have what we have!” Or, “Now they can experience all the blessings of marriage themselves!”

Six-and-a-half years into marriage, I still have those thoughts, but I also look at the couple up front, all dressed up, holding each other’s hands and getting lost in each other’s eyes, and think, “There’s so much to come.”

Overall, Pete and I have had a smooth ride with no major catastrophes. But we have had our share of losses, disagreements, snags and failures. There’s a lot to learn in marriage, and I’d say I learn something new—or maybe relearn it—about every week.

The thing about attending weddings as a married couple is that it reminds you of your own.

For me, I start remembering why I got married. I remember how ready I was to walk down that aisle and give myself to another person. I remember how fortunate I felt that he wanted to marry me and how committed I was to be the best darn wife I could be. I’m reminded not to be selfish, but to love the man beside me in a visible, intentional way.

In the stress, fatigue and frustration that comes with everyday life, I’m not always that selfless, gung-ho person I want to be. Weddings, though, make me want to be that kind of bride. They challenge me to renew that commitment I made before God, family and friends.

The night before our wedding, Pete and I wrote our own vows to each other which were later framed and now sit in our living room. I read them from time to time and get the same feeling I do at weddings.

During each wedding Pete and I have attended together, I’ve noticed that we get a little reminiscent, a little sentimental and hold hands a little tighter than normal. (Especially this last time during an outdoor December wedding.)

I think it’s good for married couples to have those times of remembrance—to pull away from the demands of daily life for a moment and see your spouse as that man or woman you were so excited to marry—the one you chose to commit your life to.

I told you I’d go to Ireland


Next time I open my contact case, I’ll be in Ireland.

That’s what I was thinking as I switched my contacts for my glasses shortly before Pete and I boarded a plane for Ireland on Friday, Sept. 30.

I had similar thoughts the day before as I packed my suitcase: These shoes are going to touch Irish soil. … I’ll be wearing this scarf in pictures from Ireland.

If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any length of time, you know Ireland was on my bucket list for years. I estimate about 12 years, since college. (In fact, a blog post from this time 3 years ago was all about how adamant I was to visit. … And also mentions contacts.)

I knew I wouldn’t remember everything about my dream trip unless I wrote it down, so I diligently took notes on my phone throughout our five-day vacation. I plan to do the same when I return someday. 🙂

Day 1: Dublin to Kilkenny

My first glimpse of Ireland was around 10 a.m. Saturday morning, about 5 a.m. our time. The plane was quiet with most people still asleep on the overnight flight, but I couldn’t drift back off with Ireland coming into view. I smiled to myself as I watched the coastline become more pronounced—gray and rainy and perfect. Hello, Ireland.

Here are my random observations:

  • Everyone we met in Ireland was friendly with the exception of the rental car shuttle driver. He picked us up from the airport to take us to Sixt, the off-site rental car lot, and wasn’t much for chit chat. “American Woman” was playing in the background.
  • On the way to the rental car place, we passed a van that said Pigeon Supplies in big letters. Are Irish pigeons more high-maintenance than ours?
  • By the time we got to the rental car place, after a long day of work Friday and flying about 8 hours that night, the guy behind the counter told us we looked “subdued.” He was really friendly, but it took 45 minutes to get the car because of an insurance issue. I grilled him about parking options in Dublin while we waited and asked if he could make change for a 20. He pulled out his wallet and asked what I needed. Not exactly what I meant but OK.
  • The day we landed was also the day of the All Ireland Final replay between Dublin and Mayo (a rugby thing). We saw lots of blue (Dublin) and red and green (Mayo) across the city.
  • As the Sixt guy gave us directions to various parking decks that would avoid the rugby fans, he kept referring to the Liffey. What’s a liffey?, I wondered. I assumed it was a highway or something, but turns out it’s a river.
  • Once we got the rental car, we drove into Dublin to scope it out while we waited for a free walking tour to begin. We passed all kinds of restaurants—Asian, Italian, Dominos—and some double-decker buses. I was glad we had a tiny car because all the roads were narrow and kind of confusing. Pete drove the whole time.

Somewhere in the heart of Dublin

  • Despite the plethora of Irish restaurants, our first meal was German. Oktoberfest was going on near the river, so I got a turkey skewer and potatoes. We ate in a big tent with “Country Road” playing over the speakers. Not very German.
  • It was in the low-50s when we got there and I was thankful for my scarf and boots. At one point, though, we passed a bunch of girls in belly shirts and short skirts. If my grandfather had been there, he would’ve warned them about pneumonia.
  • Prior to the walking tour, we checked out Temple Bar (meaning we took pictures of the outside because it’s famous) and Trinity College, where the Book of Kells are kept. The Book of Kells is “an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament.” Yes, that’s from Wikipedia. I didn’t see it myself, so I can’t think of a better definition.

Trinity College

  • The walking tour was an hour-and-a-half or so and taught us a lot about the history of Dublin and Ireland in general. 2016 marks 100 years since their revolution, and we saw posters everywhere about it. I also learned from the tour guide that Bono was born in Rotunda Hospital, the world’s oldest, continuously running maternity hospital, right there in Dublin.

Rotunda Hospital, where Bono was born

  • Throughout the trip, I noticed plenty of Irish-sounding businesses: O’Malley’s, Paddy Wagon, Shannon, McThis and McThat. I also noticed that they say “toilets” instead of restrooms or bathrooms, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask where the toilets were. It just sounds less respectable or something.

  • That first night, we drove about an hour-and-a-half (well, two hours … I made Pete stop so I could photograph swans) to a town called Kilkenny. It ended up being one of my favorite places on the whole trip, but more on that in Day 2.

The swans

  • In Kilenny, we stayed at a bed and breakfast called Ashbrook House. We walked up to the front door that evening and just as I was about to knock, a balding, stone-faced man in glasses opened it. Me: “We have reservations?” Man: “Do I know you?” Pete: “Not yet.” Man: “What are your names?” Me: “I’m Tiffany and this is Peter.” Man: “Are you married?” Me: “Yes.” Man: “Are you sure?” Me: “Yes.” He let us in and introduced himself as Dermot. “Are you on your honeymoon?” Me: “No. We’ve been married six-and-a-half years.” Dermot: “Oh, well it must be going well if you’re still counting the halves. … Are you on holiday?” We learned that he’s a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Ashbrook House in Kilkenny, our first B&B experience

  • That night, we ate at a place called Kyteler’s Inn, a fancy pub with all kinds of cozy nooks and crannies. Our meal was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, partly because I was so hungry. Pete and I split beef sirloin with carrots, cabbage and potatoes, then got a slice of apple pie. It was good but more light and cakey than I’m used to. (Let’s be honest; I eat apple pie for the crust.)
  • I also took 10-second videos from each place we visited. Here’s the first one:

  • The next morning, after about 10 hours of sleep, we woke up to a window looking out onto a field of green with white laundry blowing on a clothesline in the backyard. Mountains rose out of the fog in the distance. I like waking up in Ireland, I thought. We went downstairs and sat in a dining room with other guests to await this thing called a “full Irish breakfast”—bacon, a fried egg, roasted tomato, “pudding” which looked like sausage patties, juice, tea and bread. Sure beats the apple slices I’ve been having for breakfast on the way to work.

Waking up to Ireland


A full Irish breakfast. This is actually from our B&B in Killarney a few days later, but it’s basically the same everywhere.

  • Before we left the B&B that morning, I signed the guest book and noticed others from places like Italy, Wisconsin, South Carolina and around Ireland. I also noticed a sort of certificate hanging in the hall where the Pope had blessed the owners’ marriage.
  • One downside of the trip for the first few days was that I was fighting a cold. I was ticked that I had one because I’d tried so hard to avoid sick people and had downed about 6 glasses of Emergen-C that week, but I had a cold nonetheless. It was more annoying than anything, and Pete ended up catching it at the end, but it didn’t keep us from exploring.

Day 2: Kilkenny to Cork

After a brief time in Kilkenny, I told Pete I wish we could’ve gotten married there. I told him it was one of my favorite places in Ireland and he reminded me I hadn’t seen much of the country yet. Even so, by the end of the trip, it was still one of my favorites.


A garden outside Kilkenny Castle

  • Kilkenny is like a glorified Blowing Rock with Irish accents and a castle. It was beautiful, laid back, had hills, water, gardens, street musicians and basically everything you could ask for in a town. I could have spent a lot more time there, but we had to keep moving to see all we wanted to see.


Kilkenny Castle

  • The most random thing I saw in Kilkenny was during a brief stroll through an outdoor mall. All of a sudden, I saw a Bassett hound walking around outside the shops, making its way into one store then popping back out a few seconds later.

A church in the distance, taken from beside Kilkenny Castle


Cute ice cream truck!

  • One of the most beautiful spots in Kilkenny was a garden we stumbled upon. It was just outside Butler House, a Georgian mansion and former home of the Earls of Ormonde. It’s now a hotel.

Butler House in the background

  • After spending a while in Kilkenny, we got back on the road for a couple of hours on the way to Cork. Pretty much every road sign we passed had words in both English and Gaelic. Our first stop in Cork was Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle

  • Everyone has asked me since we visited Ireland if we kissed the Blarney Stone. No, absolutely not. The Blarney Stone is at the top of Blarney Castle and the story is that people who kiss it are given the gift of gab (meaning eloquent speech). To kiss it, you have to lay on your back and reach your head backwards while someone holds onto you so you don’t fall down through this big open space below. No thanks, I’ll just take pictures. It’s dangerous enough going down the steep, narrow stairs to the bottom.

Atop Blarney Castle, with the Blarney Stone straight ahead where the red jacket is.

  • I didn’t realize before we were there that the grounds around Blarney Castle were so big and beautiful. There are different gardens and sites you can see besides the actual castle, and I wish we’d had a little more time there.

Trying to climb a giant tree outside Blarney Castle. If you can’t tell from the pic, I was unsuccessful.

  • That night in Cork, we walked around the city and ate dinner at Amicus where we had another not-very-Irish meal. I had chicken curry, bruschetta and a brownie sundae.
  • This night, we stayed at a hotel instead of a B&B, but overall I prefer the B&Bs. Not only do you get a great breakfast, but it’s more personal and unique. The hotel was beautiful, though—Fitzgeralds Vienna Woods Hotel. There was a sign on the bathroom door warning about using tanning products with their nice hotel towels. I guess that’s been a problem.

Fitzgeralds Vienna Woods Hotel

  • The next morning, we went to the cushy dining room for breakfast and listened to “Hey Ya” while drinking tea. It was pretty odd.

Day 3: Cork to Gougane Barra to Killarney

Day 3 may be my favorite day overall. I won’t lie—we had a couple of tense moments—but we also had a lot of fun and some uniquely Irish experiences.

  • The first stop was Cork’s city center. It was rainy that day, so we didn’t walk around a ton, but we did stop at the English Market, which sold everything from fresh meat and fish to chocolates in the shape of sheep. I bought a smoothie called Banana Republic.

The English Market in Cork

  • We also noticed that Ireland, and especially Cork, had a lot of Turkish barbers. I don’t know how they’re different from regular barbers.

  • After Cork, we headed for Gougane Barra. Dermot of Kilkenny told me there’s nowhere on the island of Ireland named that, and it WAS hard to find in the GPS, but alas, we found it! This was actually a place I saw a picture of a couple of years ago (in one of those “places to see before you die” type articles), and when I found out it was in Ireland, I thought, “I’m going there.”
  • But first, a detour! I mean, what’s an international road trip without a detour? On the way to Gougane Barra (another hour-and-a-half or so from Cork), we saw a sign advertising Ireland’s only toy soldier factory. At first, I thought, “Nah, skip it,” but as Pete neared the turn, I changed my mind. It turns out, the factory was so off course that they posted signs to encourage you to keep going. “Almost there! … 4 more minutes! 3 more minutes!” It was off some narrow, windy road up a hill where we passed only a few other cars. But finally, we made it, and it was pretty cool. We watched a lady pour pewter into a toy soldier mold, then browsed cases and cases of hand-painted soldiers, leprachauns and other figurines. I may have even purchased one for a Christmas gift. …

Encouragement on the way to the Toy Soldier Factory


Ireland’s only Toy Soldier Factory!

  • It was also just outside the factory that I found a cute post box to mail my postcards.

Where I mailed my postcards


Somewhere on our detour


A beautiful cemetery on the top of a hill

  • After the factory, we decided to keep going down the road we’d been on instead of heading back the way we came. It narrowed even more, then turned to dirt, then gravel. Pete said it was more of a hiking trail than a road, but somehow, it was on the GPS. We passed some sheep, cows, donkeys and a house here or there, but that was it. Where do these people go to the grocery store?

  • Finally, we started to descend the mountain (or hill or whatever it was) and in the clearing I could see Gougane Barra! (Pronounced Goo-gun Bear-uh.) It’s a tiny community with a hotel, restaurant and a church called St. Finbarr’s Oratory. The church is what I’d seen pictures of. I’d even put a picture of it on my phone’s lock screen. But now I have my own!

I made it! Pointing to a picture of St. Finbarr’s Oratory on my phone while standing in front of it.

  • After freaking out that I was actually in this place I’d seen pictures of, Pete and I ate at Cronin’s Café, overlooking the church. I had a delicious smoked salmon sandwich, then we walked back over to the church to go inside and take pictures. This was another favorite from the trip; I could’ve stayed there all day. It was the calm water surrounding the church, the beautiful stone building, the bright green grass, the brown-green mountains behind it. … Gorgeous. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.


Inside the church


I think I could live here.


Even a panorama just can’t capture the beauty of this place.

  • The next stop was Kate Kearney’s Cottage, another hour away. The cottage is a meeting point for people who want to see the Gap of Dunloe nearby. I originally thought we could bike it, or maybe take a horse and buggy, but it was so rainy and windy that day that we decided to drive it. This was Pete’s favorite part of the trip and one of mine, too.

On the way to the Gap of Dunloe


Curious sheep

  • The Gap of Dunloe reminded us of Alaska with the huge mountains and open space. It was incredibly windy, though, and I almost blew away having my picture taken. This place also had really curvy roads, and anytime another car was coming, someone had to pull off to the side wherever possible so the other car could pass.

I almost blew away getting this picture taken in the Gap.

  • It was also in the Gap of Dunloe that we finally saw wildlife cross the road. “Finally, something crossing the road!” I yelled, grabbing my camera. I feel like seeing a large animal cross the road is a legit Irish experience, so I had to snap a picture. At first, we thought it was a mule, which I named O’Malley the Mule, but then we realized it was a donkey. O’Malley the Donkey doesn’t flow, so it remained nameless.

Approaching O’Malley the Mule…


Then realizing he’s a donkey.

  • That night we stayed at the Woodlawn House, another B&B. The owner recommended Kayne’s for dinner, so we did that, then headed to The Grand for live music. First, we heard an Irish band, then J90 took the stage and sang Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, Tina Turner and Pharrell. Oh, and “Footloose.” (There was a lot of American music on this trip.) There were some locals around, but also lots of tourists—people from places like New Jersey and Ohio. (The J90 video is the only one on here over 10 seconds. I got carried away.)

Day 4: Killarney to Cliffs of Moher to Galway

By day 4, it was a little annoying not to have internet outside of Wi-fi, but it was also nice to unplug more than usual.

  • The morning we left Woodlawn House, we learned that the owner’s wife was 8 months pregnant. It was also her birthday the day before, so I left some Reese’s cups for her to celebrate.

Woodlawn House

  • This was the longest driving day as we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher a few hours away, but we also stopped at a couple of places on the way, so it wasn’t that bad. Our first stop was in Adare, which I’d read about in a travel magazine from the rental car place. Adare is known for its thatched roof cottages, although the one I kept seeing in the travel book had actually partially burned down shortly before our visit.

Cottages in Adare

  • We did have a nice stroll around Adare, where we visited a park, took pictures of a beautiful church, found some souvenirs and I bought a cappuccino.

Adare Park


Because why WOULDN’T you have chickens on an umbrella?


One of the many beautiful churches in Ireland

  • After Adare, we headed toward Limerick. On the way, we heard more American music on the radio, but with Irish and British announcers.
  • We didn’t stay in Limerick long because we wanted to get to the cliffs, but we did get to see King John’s Castle. It was too expensive to go in, and again, we were short on time, but I was happy just seeing the outside. The castle was built in the 1200s by the River Shannon.


Why can’t we have castles everywhere in the U.S.?


On one side of the River Shannon

  • As we got closer to the cliffs, I noticed some funny named things like the Mermaid House (a hotel or B&B maybe) and an injury clinic/Pilates place.

On the way to the cliffs

  • OK, so I know everything can’t be my favorite, but the Cliffs of Moher are definitely high on my list. This is what I think of when I think of Ireland. We spent quite a bit of time there and learned that lots of movie scenes have been filmed there, including a scene from “The Princess Bride.” I loved, loved, loved it. (Hence the jumping picture at the top of this blog.)

Cliffs of Moher, pure Ireland


I could look at the Irish coastline all day.


At the bottom of O’Brien’s Tower, overlooking the cliffs


That’s O’Brien’s Tower in the distance.

  • That evening, we drove another hour-and-a-half or so to Galway. The sun was setting on the way as we passed field after field of cows, separated by low stone fences. The fields framed the water, reflecting the red-orange of the sunset. It was breathtaking.

Sunset on the way to Galway

  • That night, we stayed at Anno Santo Hotel. The people were nice, but it was our least favorite place to stay. (And incidentally, the only one I forgot to take a picture of.) We weren’t there long anyway. At least the location was good. We walked a couple miles that night along Salthill Promenade to find dinner and passed a place called Leisure Land. We ate at Oslo which had a section on its menu called “Pimp My Burger.” There were a few friends sitting behind us and one girl was spilling her life story the whole time. It was annoying yet entertaining.

Day 5: Galway back to Dublin

Here, it takes just under 4 hours to drive to my parents’ house the next state over. In Ireland, it took under 3 hours to drive cross country from Galway to Dublin.

  • By Wednesday, I was getting that “I don’t want to leave yet!” feeling. But all trips come to an end, and the last full day in Ireland was a good one. We spent the morning on the Riverside Walk in Galway, peeking in shops and taking pictures. Then we got on the road to head back to Dublin, where we’d fly out the next morning.


  • In Dublin, we walked around the National Botanic Gardens, home to one of the calmest places I’ve ever been. There’s a bridge going over a big pond there, surrounded by trees and colorful plants. It reminded me of the forest in “Sleeping Beauty.”

National Botanic Gardens, Dublin


One of the most peaceful places on earth

  • For lunch, we ate at O’Neill’s, an enormous, multistory restaurant. Pete had Irish stew and I had shepherd’s pie. I made shepherd’s pie once from a healthy recipe book, but this was much better.
  • As we walked around Dublin some more, Pete stopped at a kiosk to look at souvenirs. A man selling hats said things like, “Here you go, laddy.”
  • This wasn’t just in Dublin, but I noticed in general that there are more red heads in Ireland than I normally see around here. I truly felt like I was in Ireland every time I saw one.
  • That night, we were hoping to find a dessert spot, but our final B&B turned out to be far from anything open that would sell dessert. We ended up going to the gas station where I bought a Cadbury Dairy Milk Golden Crisp and Baileys Truffle Bar. I paired a couple pieces of each with hot Kenyan tea from the B&B. We also got soft serve ice cream at the gas station, but I didn’t like it and threw it away. (The first time I’ve EVER thrown away ice cream.) It tasted like marshmallow.

Broadmeadow Country House, our final B&B

  • The B&B we stayed at was around a bunch of horses, and there was a sign on the staircase that said “No riding boots beyond this point.”

Thursday morning, we headed to the airport, where Pete flew back home and I flew on to Scotland to meet a coworker. There, we covered a work event in Peterhead, then went to London for a couple of days to train some of our UK partners on website and social media stuff. I was away from home for 12 days total and overall loved Europe.

Each place—Ireland, Scotland, London—had things I loved, but Ireland is still special to me. I know I spent the most time there, so it may be an unfair comparison, but there’s something about it that, as dorky as it sounds, calls to me. I really, really want to go back.


Sunset in Dublin

A case of post-election anxiety


In first grade, I drew a picture of Ross Perot, an independent presidential candidate with big ears. (Looking back, they weren’t that big, but they did stick out a little.) It was 1992, the year George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, and the world went on.

Eight years later, in the 2000 race between the younger Bush and Al Gore, I remember standing in line with my parents at a local church, waiting to vote in the kids’ election—basically a paper ballot that didn’t mean squat but got you a sticker. Bush won and the world went on.

This year is different.

Granted, I’m older now and pay more attention to the news, but never in my lifetime can I remember America feeling so divided. And not just divided, but on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Reading my Facebook feed 24 hours after the election was like listening to one of those commercials where a fast-talking announcer lists all the potential side effects of a certain pill.

May cause panic attacks, rage, relief, upset stomach, fear, tears of joy, heart burn, depression, pride, thrill, surprise, total contentment, complete disgust, indignation, hope, poor word choice and the desire to move to Canada.

People are all over the place with emotions. For many in my own circle of friends, anxiety is one of them, no matter who they voted for:

What’s next for our country? How will the next four years affect us and the next generation? What will happen to the economy, to education? Will we be safe?

I heard a local pastor say recently that no matter who’s in office, God is ruler over all: “You didn’t vote Him in, and you can’t vote Him out.”

He’s immovable, unshakable, and no matter how chaotic things get, He is constant. Whatever is on the horizon for America is no surprise to an all-powerful God who created this country and all the people in it.

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”
—2 Chronicles 20:6

The job of president is certainly important and its impact far reaching, but God is so much bigger than that. If we allow Him to penetrate our lives one by one, He can bring order where there’s chaos, peace where there’s restlessness—no matter who’s in the White House.

Maybe you were on cloud nine as Donald Trump emerged as our next president this time last week. Maybe his win over Hillary Clinton has been a hard pill to swallow. Maybe you’re still processing. Whatever the case, our response matters. Your response. My response.

Are we trusting in God’s sovereignty? Do we believe He has a plan in all this?

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
—Proverbs 19:21

On a more personal level, how are we treating others—fellow creations of God Himself—a week after the election?

Are we kind and compassionate toward the other side? Are we open to constructive, civil conversations, or are we busy unfriending those who don’t agree with us?

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
—James 1:19

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
—Proverbs 15:1

The future of America is a big question mark for all of us, but not for God. He knows what each day holds and tells us not to fear. He is God and we are not, and all the bickering and anxiety in between will get us nowhere.