My Best of 2016 Awards

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As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed today I noticed a recurring theme of “2016 has been the WORST year ever…” in my friends’ posts. Venerated celebrities have died. A controversial presidential election took place. The worldwide refugee crisis and slavery have reached historical highs. Brexit. Just a lot of weird, terrible, confusing, heartbreaking things went down over the past 365 1/4 days.

It hasn’t all been bad, though. In the midst of the crazy town that has been 2016, there have been many rays of light. This year has taught me to be grateful for what I have and to embrace the blessings in my life. So, let’s turn that frown upside down! Here are some of the highlights from my year:

Best Loss:
Excess Busyness.
This year I made a point of not over-scheduling our family. We had been running into a lot of burn out, and I decided that enough was enough. I limited the boys’ extra-curricular activities to one activity at a time, that they could both do together. No more shuttling kids back and forth and back and forth. I said no to some invitations that I would have liked to say yes to. We cut back on our travel and adventure-making. We just needed some time to chill out, and it’s been good for all of us.

Best Addition:
Hannah!
Oh my goodness, I can not say enough wonderful things about this child. Born in February of this year, she has changed our family for the better–she’s taught us to be more loving, more generous, more protective (and more lenient…third child problems, I guess). The boys care for Hannah and teach her. Jon and I love cuddling her and hearing those sweet baby giggles in our home again. Even the dog loves licking the floor under her high chair.

Best Academic Surprise:
David’s kindergarten success!
I have struggled with making school decisions for our kids every. Single. Year. It’s complicated, and I just want what’s best for them. The problem is, sometimes I don’t know what’s best for them and we just have to make a decision and pray for the best. That’s kind of what happened this year with David starting Kindergarten, and we’ve all been blown away (in the best way). He is thriving like I never expected could happen in my wildest dreams. The kid loves school so much that he cries when it’s the weekend BECAUSE HE WANTS TO STAY AT SCHOOL. When this year is over, I’m sure I’ll also be crying BECAUSE I’LL WANT HIM TO STAY AT SCHOOL.

Best Over-coming:
Jacob starting preschool.
Poor little Jacob had literally never been away from me or his brother until this year, and it was a rough start for him. When he first started preschool he was nervous and timid, but all of that has changed. He’s making new friends and learning new things. He’s brave and kind and excited to learn. We are so proud of our little guy!

Best Husband:
Jon!
Yeah, yeah…I only have ONE husband…but he’s a KEEPER! Each year that we’re married (and there have already been 11 of them) I fall more in love with this man who I have chosen to do life with. He’s kind, caring, hard-working, Jesus-loving, and unfaltering in his dedication to our family. He snuggles babies and wrestles boys. He cooks the most amazing steak. He even sends me out to do “whatever I want” (a nap in my car) on the days he’s home from work. Love you forever, Jon!

Best Adventure:
Our trip to Arizona.
This spring we took a pilgrimage back to the land of my birth: Arizona. While there, we visited my grandma, aunts, uncle, and cousins–family who we hold dear in our hearts but don’t get to see in person nearly often enough. I got to introduce my kids to the joys of polliwog hunting in G.G. Sandy’s creek, the smell of creosote in the desert after it rains, and why we don’t touch the owie trees (cactus). We got to see one of the Wonders of The World (the Grand Canyon) and we discovered the place we’re going to retire so we can hike and visit day spas every day (Sedona). It wasn’t a lavish vacation, but it was one of the most impactful adventures we’ve had in a long time.

Best Yes:
MOPS.
Two years ago I was asked to step into leadership at our church’s MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, but it just wasn’t the right time. Last spring they still needed someone to take over the group, and I said Yes. Leading and praying for the moms in our group has been one of my greatest privileges this year. I have a huge heart for moms in the trenches, and I love that I get to spend my week ministering to them now. Plus we get brunch at MOPS, so what’s not to love?

Best Surprise:
My sister Jessica showing up on my doorstep for Thanksgiving.
While I love most parts of the life we’ve made for ourselves here in California, I will always miss my friends and family who are far away. This year we hosted my parents (from Washington) and sister Erin’s family (from Southern California) for Thanksgiving at our house, but my other sister Jessica couldn’t make it. She had just started a new job and couldn’t get time off work to fly down from Seattle. As we were sitting down to dinner on the first night of everyone’s arrival, however, there was a knock on our door–it was Jessica, and she’d flown down after work to spend the weekend with us. I know that it was a huge sacrifice of time and expense on her part to be here, but it meant so much to me. Love you, Jess!

Best Accomplishment:
Running the Big Sur Half Marathon.
I’ve been a runner for most of my life and I’ve run more half marathons than I can even recall, but this one was special. I ran it in November, just 9 months after giving birth to my third baby (via C-Section…my THIRD C-Section. All of you C-Section mamas know what a big deal this is.). It took a lot of focus and sacrifice to fit in the training, overcome injury, and make this race happen. My dad flew down from Seattle to run the race with me, and it was the most breathtakingly beautiful course I’ve ever run. Absolutely one for the memory bank.

Best Accidental Joy:
The benefits of random acts of kindness.
This year I wanted to help spread kindness, and to get my kids in on the action with me. We’ve done everything from baking treats for new neighbors to bringing hand-made Christmas cards to our fire fighters. And while the kindness is always appreciated by the recipients, the lasting joy those acts give me and my kids is by far the best benefit. I’ve made special friendships and precious memories through our random acts of kindness, and I intend to keep it up.

Best Realization:
God’s got this.
You guys, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world around us. There will always be pain and injustice and nuts-o politics. This is a broken, hurting world–it always has been, and always will be. That’s why God sent us a Savior, and He is bigger than all of this. When you feel discouraged or confused or angry, put your trust in Him, because He’s got this. And that. And everything else, too. And when we change our calendars next week, that truth will always remain. God’s got this.

Now, as we enter yet another year, may you experience the blessings all around you.

Welcome, 2017!

Bring it on.

The Best Of Ireland Awards

Yesterday marked one year since we arrived in Ireland. ONE YEAR! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone…and yet, at the same time, it feels like we have lived here forever. We have been to more places, seen more things, met more people, tried more food and experienced more in this year than at any other time in our lives.

People often ask me what the best part of Ireland is and, the answer is, there are many “bests”. There is no way I could possibly limit my favorites down to one thing. So I won’t even try. What I will do, however, is offer you a compilation of the best things we’ve actually experienced here in Ireland. I now present to you:

The Best of Ireland Awards (According to me, of course!)

Best Natural Site: The Cliffs of Moher
IMG_2049I can’t think of anything more spectacular than moss-covered cliffs that plunge 400 feet into the ocean. They’re seriously amazing.

Best Museum: Titanic Belfast
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OK, so for starters, the museum is in the actual shipping yard where Titanic was built and the front of the building is a scale replica of the size of the great ship’s hull. The exhibits are fascinating, there is an amusement park-style ride that takes you through the ship building process, and the cafe serves scones on White Star Line china. What’s not to love?

Best Monument/Historical Site: Newgrange
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Probably the oldest building you’ll ever see (it’s 5,000 years old, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids). Just don’t take your kids with you or you might get kicked out for unruly behavior.

Best Holiday Celebrate In Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day

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If you thought the St.Patrick’s Day parade in your town was fun, then wait until you see how Ireland celebrates! St. Patrick’s Day is definitely the most festive holiday we’ve been a part of here.

Best Time To Visit Ireland: Easter Week
IMG_2496The flowers are blooming, the sun is starting to find its way out of winter hibernation, and the towns are starting to come back to life. Easter falls right at the beginning of the official Irish tourist season, so shops and museums that have been closed for the winter will again welcome you in–plus the crowds won’t arrive for another month or two. There are lots of special activities and festivals throughout the country during Holy Week, making this the perfect time to visit.

Best Castle to Explore: King John’s Castle, Limerick

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I’m a self-professed castle-holic, as you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time. We have seen a LOT of castles here in Ireland. It’s hard to chose just one favorite castle, but I’m going to have to give this award out to King John’s for their fabulous renovations and hands-on exhibits. I mean, where else will you get to dress up like a knight in shining armor…in a REAL medieval castle?!

Best Irish Food: Scones
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I’m obsessed with scones, so this is no surprise. They’re just the best thing ever. Period.

Best Irish Drink: Barry’s Tea
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Barry’s Tea will forever be that taste that reminds me of Ireland. On my last trip to the grocery store I bought a giant box of Barry’s Tea with enough tea to last me through the apocalypse (or at least until the next time I make it back to Ireland).

Best Place Off The Beaten Path: Ballycotton Cliff Walk
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This cliffside walk is one of the most beautiful, most peaceful places I’ve ever been. The views are incredible, and every corner you turn takes a bit more of  your breath away. Truly spectacular. Also, for the first time in nearly 180 years, this year they are allowing the public to tour Ballycotton Island and lighthouse (via a guided boat ride and tour). I can only imagine how stunning the views must be looking back at the cliffs from the picturesque island.

Best Chipper: K.C. & Son & Sons, Douglas (Cork)
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There’s a reason why hundreds of people queue up outside K.C.’s each night: it’s dang good food. K.C.’s has the right mix of juicy, greasy, succulent-ness that you expect from a good burger or pile of fish and chips.

Best Farmer’s Market: Mahon Point (Cork)
IMG_1486This weekly farmer’s market is one of the best-run public markets I’ve ever been to. All of the food is fresh and local, sold by the farmers who produce it–and everything is incredible. Fresh cheese, home-baked bread, crisp veggies, straight-from-the-farm meats and fresh-from-the-sea fish–anything you could ever want for your weekly shopping. Plus they have woodfired pizzas and what I lovingly refer to as “crack curry” because it’s just so addictive.  Nom nom nom…

Best Scenic Drive: The Ring of Kerry
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Seeing as The Ring of Kerry is on every tourist’s agenda,  this choice is a bit cliché. But it really is incredible, and every tourist to Ireland should see it at least once. Driving The Ring takes you through mountains and valleys, past lakes and waterfalls, and along sweeping ocean cliffs. There are countless hikes that you can take just off the main road if you want to explore a bit more of the beauty, or you can just stay in your car and take it all in.

Most Unique Irish Experience: Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

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This was one of our family’s favorite experiences–my kids still talk about our dinner in the castle and ask when we can go back ther. Picture this: you arrive at a medieval castle and are greeted by people dressed in medieval costumes. These people then serve you bottomless wine, feed you a meal fit for a king, and serenade you with music. Did I mention you’re in a REAL castle?! Did I mention there was wine?!

Best Bike and Foot Trail System: Cork Bay Railway Walk

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This is a rails-to-trails system that follows the bay from Cork city out to a town called Passage West. There is an entrance to the trail right down the hill from our house, so we have spent many, many hours exploring these waterfront miles. The trail even goes directly to Jon’s office, allowing him to walk home from work on a peaceful trail when he wants a break from the usual commute. One section of the trail also leads to Blackrock Castle and cafe, the perfect place to stop in for some lunch or tea while you’re out exploring

Best Stone to Kiss: The Blarney Stone

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Some say that the Blarney Stone will give you the “gift of gab”. I think it may just give you canker sores and a strained neck, but it’s still worth giving a little smooch.

Best Big City to Explore: Dublin
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Everyone from Cork has just stopped reading this blog as I have pronounced heresy. Sorry, Rebels, but Dublin IS bigger and it’s my pick for city explorations. Take your pick of museums, cathedrals, pubs and parks–as well as trendy restaurants and upscale shopping. If you’re looking for a big city in Ireland, this is it!

Best Festival: Youghal Medieval Festival
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A medieval festival in an actual walled medieval city. Need I say more?

Best Island: The Great Blasket Islands
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This was one of my favorite day trips that we took in Ireland. A somewhat crazy boat ride takes you out to an ancient island that was finally abandoned half a century ago. We spent our day on the island exploring ruins, climbing grassy hills, and frolicking on sandy beaches with hundreds of basking seals. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

I could go on and on about all of my favorite things in Ireland, but I’ll show a wee bit of restraint and stop myself there. Ireland is an amazing place–an amazing place that I have been fortunate enough to experience for one whole year.  You will always be near and dear to my heart, Ireland!