Ireland: Dreams come true!

Ireland and heaven
Ireland and heaven

This is post #2 of a blog series I’m writing including pictures of the recent amazing trip I took with our precious, beautiful daughter Leah. Here is post #1. 

We took so many pictures with our phones that I need to break up the posts, to make it easier for you to read, as I know you live a busy, hectic life like mine and you don’t have lots of spare time!

I hope these blogs inspire and bless you. I thank my Lord Jesus Christ, who made this amazing opportunity and prayer possible.

“They say the clouds are lower in Ireland…I say Ireland is closer to Heaven.”–Michael Vatis

Tags for our luggage
Tags for our luggage

I’d been dreaming of and praying to go to Ireland for years. I was so excited that my youngest daughter Leah was going, too–thankful that her boss said yes to letting her get the time off work!

I found these cute purple tags, “Adventure Awaits,” to put on our black rollerboard luggage to help identify them on the plane. Since this was an international flight, I didn’t want to take a chance on checking our luggage and them getting lost! For the plane, you’re allowed one small piece of luggage and one personal item. I bought us the rollerboards and backpacks for our “personal item” for the plane. Leah was concerned that they wouldn’t allow us to take the backpacks on board (I packed light, but they were still stuffed!). But I used to be a flight attendant, so I knew how to push them under the seat good! They barely fit on a couple of flights, but they did!

our backpacks & rollerboards for plane
our backpacks & rollerboards for plane

There are some great videos on YouTube that teach you how to roll clothes for packing. You can choose to use the packing cubes or not. I learned as a flight attendant how to roll clothes and to pack “light and tight,” but I still packed too many clothes on this trip. You really don’t need as much as you think you do! And you might want to save room for souvenirs for family and friends!

When you’re going on a long, international trip like this, you really don’t want to be lugging around a bunch of suitcases with you wherever you go! We were staying at one hotel and various B & B’s (Bed and Breakfast places) throughout the southwestern part of Ireland, and renting a mid-size rental car with limited room, so I didn’t want to deal with heavy luggage for a week. As it was, our backpacks were heavy enough, straining our necks and backs a little. But I’d made the right decision to NOT check luggage.

 Best travel tip: pack light, take lots of pics, and have fun!

Pack light, take pics & have fun!
Pack light, take lots of pics & have fun!

I’m a very organized person. I researched a LOT for this trip, reading about traveling to Ireland on Trip Advisor, blogs, and articles. I printed out many things before the trip to be as prepared as possible:

  • vouchers for “Park, Ride and Fly” where we were parking Leah’s car while we were gone (a shuttle takes you to the airport nearby);
  • the Great Value Vacation itinerary for the week-long trip;
  • vouchers for our one hotel night at Bunratty Castle Hotel and each B & B where we’d be staying each night;
  • our plane flights’ schedule and e-tickets;
  • information about our car rental at Dan Dooley;
  • conversions of kilometers into miles for driving and Euros into American dollars;
  • the most common Ireland road signs’ meanings;
  • directions to some places;
  • and a list of suggested places to visit for each city.

I put everything that I printed out into this pretty floral folder. It was like my Ireland “Bible.”

my Ireland folder
my Ireland folder

I bought Leah and me the Kangaroo brand, waterproof, passport/money holders on Amazon. I loved them; they worked great and I highly recommend them. Just a warning, there’s lots of pickpockets and scam artists in Europe, so you have to be careful and alert. I highly recommend watching YouTube videos about pickpockets and crime in Ireland/Europe, as well as how to drive in Ireland. (There are so many round-abouts, and they can be scary with all the traffic!) I watched hours of these types of videos before traveling on our trip!

I didn’t wear any expensive jewelry traveling to Ireland, to avoid possibly being robbed. I bought a $1 ring and wore that as my fake “wedding band”!

fake wedding band
fake wedding band

The Kangaroo passport/money holders are a lot more secure because you wear them over your neck (and the length is adjustable). The RFID Blocking system will guard your personal data by protecting your cards and passport from unauthorized scanning. I loved all its pockets to keep different things inside. It also had a cute, little pouch to keep your phone earbuds in! Although flight attendants hand out sleeping masks and ear buds on the flights, you’ll want your own earbuds for the plane for your music, a podcast, or a movie to watch to pass the time when you’re not sleeping. 

passport-money holder
a great passport-money holder

Usually I fly Delta Airlines when I travel, but for this trip I had to fly both American and Delta. We had numerous flights going to Ireland and back. You can see how tired Leah was before we even got there in the last pic below!

One of my biggest concerns was her getting severe jet lag, as she had never been on an international flight before. Ours was six hours going there, plus all the other flights we took. While we both had jet lag, it wasn’t severe as I feared and we both adjusted to the six-hour time difference there pretty fast!

Travel tip: eat a light, good meal before flying, take snacks, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other liquids (try to avoid lots of caffeine, sodas, or alcohol, which can further dehydrate you!). Some tips for overcoming jet lag are to keep drinking lots of water, stay out in the daylight and active (like visiting the sites), stay on a regular meal schedule, and try not to take long naps, so you’re adjusting to the new time difference.

 

Leah Jones, her first international flight!
Leah Jones, her first international flight!

 

I'm so happy to be going to Ireland with Leah!
I’m so happy to be going to Ireland with Leah!

 

Leah & me before our international flight
Leah & me before our international flight

 

Leah exhausted after all the flights
Leah exhausted after all the flights

I felt so bad for Leah when she was so tired (in the pic below), before we went on the international flight. But I knew that after we arrived, drank some water and ate, and rested that she’d be okay and we’d have fun. And we did! I had prayed at home that she would sleep on the international flight and bought her a soft neck pillow, which really helped her.

I also bought her and me a warm hoodie (planes can get cold) and warm socks. Flight attendants no longer dole out blankets to keep passengers warm, as it’s unsanitary (germs spread). It’s important to get up and walk the aisles on long flights like this to avoid blot clots from sitting too long. I’m happy to say that Leah slept some on the international flight. (I did not!) I was just glad that Leah did.

But I love flying. During the flight, I prayed, thought about many things in my life, and journaled. As a flight attendant, it never ceased to amaze me when the plane took off or landed–the creativity and ingenuity of man, who is made in God’s creative image. Each time I fly and look out at the clouds, I can’t help but think of God who made the clouds, the sky, and everything.

I love flying
I love flying

When we arrived, the first thing I had to do was get more cash out of the ATM at the Shannon airport. I’d read that the ATM’s have a better conversion rate than the exchange place (also located in the airport). The Euro is stronger than the American Dollar (one Euro equals 1.16 American Dollars), but it’s pretty close. The Euros come in bills, such as 10’s, 20’s, and 50’s as well as in coins (1 Euro, 2 Euro, and there’s also cents like we have here). It reminds me a little of Monopoly money.

I did use my business Visa bank card a few times while there, but you will need to let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave. I had to fill out a short “Travel Advisory” form at the bank. You don’t want to take a ton of cash with you, any more than you would here in the States. Most business places take Visa bank cards and you see ATM’s frequently, but most places don’t traveler’s cheques.

Euros
Euros

Then I had to go to Dan Dooley’s car rental to pick up our rental car. This had all been taken care of for the most part by renting the car online, when I paid for the vacation package. Since most of Ireland has manual cars, I had to request an automatic car. You will need to ask if you want an automatic, or they give you a manual one!

This was my first time renting a car anywhere, so this made me very happy. It was a black, automatic, mid-size car that looked similar to the car I drive at home. At first, at the airport Leah and I thought it was a manual. It just looked different than American cars and it’s a little hard to get used to switching gears, especially to neutral or reverse. The rental car was almost brand-new and drove GREAT; Leah and I wished we could take it home! You can see it in the pic below with Leah on the ferry.

Our rental car and Leah on the ferry to Kerry
Our rental car and Leah on the ferry to Kerry

The car key was also a little odd-looking: like a small steak knife! It had a button to push for the key to come out, and two buttons to unlock or lock the door. It fit perfectly inside a small pocket in my passport/money holder!

Rental car key
Rental car key

I had to practice a little in the parking lot before driving, as in Ireland they drive on the left side of the road and in the right front seat. I was scared of driving on the left side and Leah was terrified of me driving, but I did it with God’s and Leah’s help and the GPS! It was weird, but I feel I did pretty good, having never done it before! I used an app called Waze on my iPhone, which I’d read about before going over there. It did great!

Leah wasn't too sure about me driving in Ireland!
Leah wasn’t too sure about me driving in Ireland!

I just decided to for it and drove out on the highway using Waze to get to Tesco, which is like Ireland’s Walmart. That was our first stop! But before that, we had our first coffee in Ireland at a restaurant in the airport, which Dooley’s staff recommended.

I wanted to get a pre-paid, basic cell phone at Tesco as a backup GPS, but the ones with Wifi were almost $90 (instead of $20 for the basic ones), so I decided not to do that, after all. Instead, I used my iPhone with the Waze app and it worked wonderfully the entire week! I’d read on Trip Advisor posts that this app does even better than Google Maps in Ireland.

After Tesco, we drove to Bunratty to the only hotel we stayed at during our week-long trip, Bunratty Castle Hotel. It is beautiful and the staff are so polite and welcoming. I loved the cute little, white window in our hotel room.

They served a full Irish breakfast the next morning in the dining room, and it was delicious. I’d been anticipating this from looking at videos of it on YouTube. It was a wonderful place to stay and I highly recommend. Five stars for me!

our first coffee in Shannon, Ireland!
our first coffee in Shannon, Ireland!

 

Tesco is like Ireland's Walmart--our first stop!
Tesco is like Ireland’s Walmart–our first stop!

 

Bunratty Castle hotel room
Bunratty Castle hotel room

 

Bunratty Castle hotel hall to dining room
Bunratty Castle hotel hall to dining room

 

cute window in hotel room
cute window in hotel room

 

Full Irish breakfast--yum!
Full Irish breakfast–yum!

 

yogurt with granola
yogurt with granola

 

hot, creamy coffee--oh, yes!
hot, creamy coffee–oh, yes!

Ireland has many castles and castle ruins. Bunratty Castle is right by Bunratty Castle hotel, where Leah and I stayed the first night in Ireland, and we toured that on our second day there. It isn’t for the faint of heart; there’s lots of steep, winding, narrow stairs! It was hard on my knees! But Leah and I made it to the top of the roof, which has an incredible view. In my next post in this Ireland Blog Series, I’ll share more about that!

Leah by Bunratty Castle
Leah by Bunratty Castle
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Canada Trip, Part 2: Divine Appointments

Canada Trip, Part 2: Divine Appointments

Recently I was invited to be one of the keynote speakers at Doreen Penner‘s women’s conference in Mitchell, Manitoba, Canada. So many exciting things happened that it’s hard to compress it into one blog post, so I am breaking it up into several posts for you.  Below is part 2 of my Canada Trip Blog Series. Click here to read Part 1.

Canada Trip, Part 2: Divine Appointments

After Doreen asked me to speak at one of the sessions at the conference, and I had talked to Ray about it, prayed and God spoke to my heart to go and said that He would provide all I needed, I compared prices online for round-trip flights. As I was searching, I heard God’s still, small voice, Delta.

Because I didn’t want to spend all my husband’s hard-earned money on air fare, I spent about two frustrating hours online bidding prices on Priceline to try to get a lower price, to no avail. I winded up booking a Delta flight, which is what God told me to do in the first place. See, even though I speak and write about prayer and obeying God’s voice, I am still learning to do it myself!

When I was looking at round trip air fare, though, God told me to take the train coming back, instead of flying. As my friend Doreen’s daughter Kirsten said at the women’s retreat, “It pays to obey God.” Out of the mouth of babes!

Rick’s and Doreen Penner’s daughter Kirsten

I’d been wanting to take a train ride anyway. I told Ray that all I wanted for my 2012 birthday present was to:

  • ride on a train
  • eat a nice dinner on the train
  • take pics for my blog on the train
  • write on the train.

God didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to obey on this one! This way I could go to Canada to speak and ride on a train, too – one of the things on my bucket list!

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

Several years ago, Ray and I saw the Steve Martin comedy movie Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. Steve Martin played the role of Neal Page, whose flight has been cancelled due to bad weather. All he wants to do after his trip is get home for Thanksgiving to be with his family. He winds up struggling to get home with an obnoxious slob of a shower ring salesman, Del Griffith (John Candy). A series of transportation mishaps – first the flight cancelling, then the train’s main engine blowing out, then a car catching on fire- leave you rolling laughing. When I was on the train coming home, I remembered the movie, giggling, and then this week Doreen reminded me of the movie, too.

Luckily, I didn’t experience any of those things – except maybe the night an obnoxious train passenger became drunk and was screaming profanities that he was married to a woman who beat him. (He was removed from the cab by cab attendants, after screaming this over and over to the other passengers, who probably felt like beating him, too.)

Other than this, the train rides were incredible. I rode the Canadian Via Railway train and the U.S. Amtrak train coming back home from Canada, traveling throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Rockies. The train trip was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.  But first, the flight into Canada.

Inside Canadian Via Railway train

The Jewish woman on the plane: the wedding cake was awful!

I had to fly from Kansas City, Missouri, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, then Minneapolis to Winnipeg, Canada. I was shocked how fast the flight was to Canada; I was on Canadian soil by 1:30 p.m. Central Time. On the flight from Minneapolis to Canada, the woman sitting next to me was pretty with blonde hair, bright eyes, and a contagious laugh. She was friendly and outgoing, and I couldn’t have slept even if I’d wanted to because she talked the whole way there.

But I enjoyed every minute of it. She was a political science major, highly intelligent, funny and interesting, and engaged for the first time in her life (she was in her 40’s). Also to my delight, I discovered that she was an Orthodox Jew….so her Jewish mama was very happy, helping her to plan her traditional Jewish wedding. (For those who don’t know, I LOVE Israel and the Jews!)

Jewish kosher wedding cake

She said that wedding cake tastings are common for Jewish weddings. The cake is as important, or maybe even more important, than the ring.  She, her mother, and her friends had been invited to a wedding cake tasting. You sample little pieces of different kinds of cakes and decide which one you like best.

She said the cakes were beautiful, but they tasted AWFUL. None of them had redeeming qualities. Laughing as she told me about this, she said, “But of course you have to be polite. We couldn’t TELL her they were awful!” They thanked the woman, sharing their appreciation of her time, but didn’t buy her cakes. She winded up choosing another cake somewhere else!

Do you have the gift of hospitality?

I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding in real life, but have read about them or seen them in movies (Fiddler On The Roof came to mind immediately; she laughed again). I asked her if they would have the traditional canopy at her wedding (the chuppah), and she said yes. It is open on all sides to represent having an open tent, welcoming all people in unconditional hospitality. Is your home like this? I was challenged by this thought.

I told her my favorite part of the wedding was when the groom broke the glass under his foot. At that moment, everyone seems to have so much joy. She said that is an important and a  joyous part of the ceremony, and has many different meanings.

Jewish groom breaking glass

One is that “this serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, identifying the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, is mindful of the Psalmist’s injunction to “set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” [Resource: Guide to the Jewish wedding, http://www.aish.com/jl/l/m/48969841.html.]

It’s also a reminder that relationships are as fragile as glass and must be treated with love and respect.

What are some important traditions you and your family have? What meaning do they have for you?

She showed me photos on her phone of her fiance’, her wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses, the lace she had chosen to add straps to the dress, and the table cloths. Beautiful!

A Jew’s different viewpoint: Empathy for the Palestinians

We also talked about Palestine and Israel. I am adamant that Israel belongs to the Jews because of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants, the Jews (Genesis 13:15), and was shocked that she was actually a little empathetic to the Palestinians.

She said of course she believes Israel, and especially Jerusalem, belongs to Israel and the Jews, but said you also have to consider the Palestinians’ point of view. She said many of them are just ordinary, loving families wanting to raise their children in a place they consider “home” and that perhaps some land could be conceded to them (though not Jerusalem).

While my viewpoint remains the same about this topic, I found hers eye-opening and surprising; not all Jews view Israel as solely “Jewish” land.

Eating kangaroo

She and her fiance’ have traveled to many different countries, including Russia, China, and Australia. In Australia, she tried kangaroo meat and said it is pretty good. I love good stories like these! Australia is also on my bucket list (although I’m not sure about eating kangaroo – I like kangaroos, and don’t think I want one for lunch!).

On the plane, she was wearing toe shoes, which fit the foot like a glove fits the hand. Toe shoes are gaining popularity with runners and walkers. They were made of kangaroo hide and she let me touch them. They are soft like suede, and she said they are very comfortable.

Before we landed in Canada, I told her “Shalom” and “The Lord bless you,” remembering God’s promise that whoever blesses Abraham (and his seed) is blessed. (Genesis 12:3)  She said, “Shalom,” to me, too, and we hugged.

This was my first divine appointment.

In my next post, I’ll share the story of the young man on the Canadian Via Railway train, who I shared the gospel with – and about the man who I wondered if he was an angel in disguise.

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