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Our Ireland Adventure: Kilkenny and Limerick

December 11, 2017

A few months ago, I came across a fantastic Groupon for a week in Ireland with hotels, airfare and rental car included. It was almost too fantastic to say pass up, but when I learned that we’d be able to spend our wedding anniversary and my birthday there, I knew I had to go for it. So I did! As an added bonus, I was able to keep the destination a secret until A came home from deployment. What a welcome home surprise!

The trip had us move around to four different cities, driving ourselves in a manual transmission, on the wrong side of the road. But A handled it like a boss and I think not being able to drive ourselves would have been a disservice. We were able to see so much and on our own schedule. Plus some of our best stories came from trying to navigate the Irish country roads.

Our first stop (after the airport and rental car office) was Kilkenny, a town in southeast Ireland. It was probably the quaintest town we stayed in and was A’s favorite for that reason.  Situated along the River Nore, this town dates back to the early 6th century. That level of history boggles my mind as we think something is “old” in the United States if it’s 200 years old.

We actually lucked out with weather the entire time we were in Ireland and didn’t get rained on at all. The sun was out for a few days and it was in the high 40s.  When you travel in the “off season”, you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise, but we couldn’t have had better weather.

Where we stayed: Aspect Hotel. We were only here one night and the hotel had everything we needed. It wasn’t in the city center, but was just a short drive away, which worked out perfectly for dinner the first evening.

Where we ate:

Nourish Cafe was a bit of an accidental find, but on our first night in Ireland, it was a very welcome surprise. They had fantastic hot chocolate and were so friendly. That was true of people everywhere we went; the hospitality lived up to their reputation.

We ate dinner at Kyteler’s Inn where we actually met up with a few individuals I know through my day job. They were a great welcoming committee to Ireland and I loved that we were able to connect, especially at one of the oldest inns in Ireland.

What we did: We spent much of our time in Kilkenny wandering around town; I loved the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. We also came across their famous (to them) hurling statue, built in honor of their obsession with hurling.

Our second big stop was Kilkenny Castle, probably their largest tourist attraction. The cost was €8.00 per person, which included the guided tour. Our tour guide was really good and had so much information to share.  It took about an hour to view the public rooms.

If this trip taught me anything, it’s that I LOVE castles. Big, small, furnished, ruined, the condition doesn’t matter. Kilkenny Castle started that love affair and was definitely my favorite one of the trip. That’s why there are so many photos!

I know this may make me weird, but the exterior of the castle was probably my favorite part. I am always blown away by the intricate stonework that was all done by hand. Everything from the gate to the windows was intricate and beautiful. I’m pretty sure A loved the exterior as well, but because of the perfect grass. To say he had lawn envy would be an understatement.

That’s not to say that the interiors weren’t breathtaking as well. My favorite room was definitely the art gallery. The floors, walls and ceiling were all so intricate and gorgeous. The hand-painted ceiling had so much detail and I could have photographed every inch of it.

I have a very large number of pictures of the details of this castle, but the fireplace in the art gallery and the stained glass windows in the dining room were showstoppers. The marble fireplace mantle depicts the story of Kilkenny Castle and is original to the home. 

After a half day in Kilkenny, we hit the road to head to our next stop of the trip, but took a quick detour to Rock of Cashel. For €8.00 each, we had access to the entire site (minus the chapel which was under construction) and used our Rick Steves’ tour book and my wonderful reading voice to guide us through the buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The buildings are in almost total ruins, but somehow that makes them even more appealing to me. I fully anticipate printing and framing some of my Rock of Cashel photos.

The Rock sits on a hill high above the surrounding small town so when you pull up, you’re greeted with a pretty breathtaking site. And then you climb up the hill and look out and see all of the countryside spread before you. Again, A couldn’t get over the grass and I was basking in the beauty of this country.

We spent roughly an hour or so at the Rock of Cashel and then we finished our trip to Limerick, our home for two nights.  Coming from the small town of Kilkenny, Limerick immediately felt very large and industrial, but the more we explored the city, the more we both enjoyed it.

Where we stayed: Limerick City Hotel. The hotel was right on the River Shannon and had a nice bar and restaurant that was PACKED at night, but made excellent chicken wings.  Yes, we flew all the way to Ireland and had delicious chicken wings.

Where we ate:

On our first night, we had our anniversary dinner at Bobby Byrnes Bar.  A had “amazing” fish and chips that he continued to rave about for the majority of our trip. The atmosphere was much like what we found in every pub in Ireland: warm, welcoming and full of life.

The following day (my 29th birthday!) saw us stop at The Locke for lunch, where I had a delicious roast turkey sandwich and A had shepherd’s pie. I won’t say we both licked our plates, but I won’t say that we didn’t.

A mid-afternoon snack from Hook & Ladder was just the afternoon pick-me-up we needed to keep exploring. I cannot recommend the blueberry muffin highly enough; it was more like cake than a muffin. I would have eaten 45 of them if I could have.

For dinner, we opted to go a bit fancier at the Cornstore. I was in the mood for steak and when it’s your birthday, you tend to get what you want, even if you’re in Ireland! The food was delicious, especially dessert. I would highly recommend getting the fixed menu (3 courses for €37) so you get to try a little bit of everything.

What we did:

On our full day in Limerick, we walked all over the city, stopping at what else but a castle! King John’s Castle (€10.50 each) was night and day compared to the grandeur of Kilkenny Castle, but we both still enjoyed it. The 13th century castle’s history was very robust and they had a really great museum exhibit that took you through its ups and downs.

Anything the castle lacked in terms of opulence, it made up for in the views of Limerick from the top of its lookout tower. We spent maybe two hours touring the museum and then the castle grounds themselves. Like most of our stops, we had almost the entire place to ourselves, which made my photo-taking heart happy.

Our first two cities in Ireland set the bar pretty high for the rest our trip. Celebrating our wedding anniversary and my birthday were definite highlights, but the stand out for me was definitely the Rock of Cashel. I’ll share more about our time in Galway and Dublin on Wednesday!

Gift Guides

Gift Guide: Gifts For Couples

December 8, 2017
Gifts for Couples

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Who still has Christmas shopping to finish up? Yeah, me too. There is just a little over two weeks until the big day and I am still searching for gift ideas for quite a few folks on my list, including quite a few couples. Gifts for couples can be tricky because you’re purchasing one item for two people, but in my searching, I found quite a few good ideas. Hopefully these ideas will make shopping for the couples in your life a bit easier.

Gifts for Couples

I think the key to shopping for couples is to choose one thing they both have in common and focus on purchasing a gift centered on that common interest. That common item doesn’t have to be a hobby necessarily, every couple has their anniversary in common or the need for a little extra help with meal planning.

I pulled together a pretty wide variety of gifts for couples and I would be thrilled to give (or receive), but there are a few items worth spotlighting. First off, those sheets. We actually own those sheets and they are amazing; so soft and a great weight for all seasons.

We’ve also used the 5 Love Languages book as part of our pre-marital counseling and then used the military edition earlier this year. It’s a great way to get conversation flowing between a couple and we found it to be really helpful in loving each other in the best way possible.

You’ve likely seen the night sky print all over social media, but it’s so cool that I had to include it here as well. You can customize the print with your choice of date, time and location for whatever meaningful event you’d like. I think this would be a really cool gift for a recently married (or engaged) couple.

We’ve also used the Sur La Table cooking classes and really enjoy those. If you give a gift card, the recipient can choose the class to attend based on the menu and their tastes. The classes are a lot of fun, you get to eat what you cook and it’s an experience rather than a thing.

And last, but certainly not least, is the Date Night In box. I think this would be such a fun gift for the couple who doesn’t necessarily need stuff. The subscription box is super popular right now so why not give one that’s perfect as gifts for couples?

Other great gifts for couples could include gift cards (think restaurants, home improvement stores or the spa), subscriptions (AmazonPrime, Costco, HelloFresh, etc.) or even free(!) babysitting so the couple could plan their own date night.

Gifts for couples can be tricky, but there is a great present out there for every couple on your list. What’s the best couples’ gift you’ve ever received?

Gift Guides

Black Friday Guide: Military Spouse Owned Businesses

November 24, 2017

Raise your hand if you’re having leftover pie for breakfast this morning! Yeah, me too. But it has apples in it so it’s not THAT bad. While I have dessert for breakfast, I’m probably going to knock out some Christmas shopping from the comfort of my own sofa. While shopping at any time of the year, but especially for Christmas, I like to purchase products or from stores that I believe in and there is no one I believe in more than military spouses. So as you’re doing your Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday shopping, consider supporting some of these fantastic military spouse owned businesses!

I’ve selected an item from each of my featured military spouse owned businesses that I would love to give or receive as a gift this year, but each shop has so many fantastic products that I think you’ll find something for just about everyone on your list. Plus so many of these shops have great sales over the next few days so you’ll save money and support some wonderful people.

Isn’t it amazing and kind of ridiculously awesome that all of these products are made by military spouses? The wide variety of different military spouse owned businesses is almost as broad as the wide variety of people in the military community. I hope you consider supporting as many of them as possible!

“Kind is the new cool” kids’ shirt: I absolutely love this shirt for a little one! It’s so much better than another toy and has a good message to it.

“Bless your heart” pillow: Growing up in Texas makes one very familiar with this saying so I chuckled when I scrolled past this pillow. This shop has so many designs that you could certainly find something for just about every person on your list, Southern or not!

Infinity scarf: This is a great girlfriend gift because it’s on sale right now for only $7.99! You don’t have to worry about sizing, it comes in a variety of colors and looks so dang cozy.

Wine bottle candle: I’m a big scented candle fan, especially during the holidays. These holiday-scented candles would add a little extra festivity to a home and they come in recycled wine bottle!

“15 Years of War”: I have heard so many wonderful things about this book! It’s on my own list and is currently $16.95 instead of $19.95. P.S. This link is an affiliate link, which means if you purchase through the link, I receive a small commission for your purchase.

Gemstone bangle: I’m a huge fan of these rough gemstones lately. They’re pretty and feminine, but not too sparkly. This one is currently only $10.50 making it a great stocking stuffer or friend present.

“Behind the Scenes” book: I genuinely enjoy reading books by and about military spouses and this one meets both criteria! I’m adding this to my own Christmas list and hope to share more about it soon. P.S. This link is an affiliate link, which means if you purchase through the link, I receive a small commission for your purchase.

Custom coasters: I’ve followed Nomadic Nation for quite some time and absolutely love their stuff! The custom cuff links almost made the list, but the coasters are a great gift for guys and gals. I could definitely see these as a stocking stuffer for my husband.

Filthy animal onesie: There’s something about a baby that makes me want to buy all the funny onesies and this one is no exception! If you have a new baby (or a soon-to-be new baby) in your life, I think I’ve got you covered with this bad boy.

Dog collar: You can’t forget your four-legged family members at Christmas time and this shop won’t let you! I love the orange gingham collar and could see both Roogie and B rocking one. And with them being 25% off this week, I could easily snag two.

Grant tote bag: Ok, I have to gush about this bag. I met the R.Riveter ladies at the Military Influencers Conference and immediately wanted my own bag! I got this style (in a slightly different color) for my birthday and cannot get over how well made it is! It holds everything I need for work and still has room left over. Right now, they’re offering tiered savings based on how much you spend. This bag would get $75 off and free shipping through 11/26.

Insulated wine tumbler: So this bad boy comes in a huge variety of colors, but of course, I chose the orange one! You can get these monogrammed at no extra cost, which would be so stinking cute! I’m not sure you can beat this for the wine enthusiast in your life. Use the code BLACKFRIDAY2017 for 25% everything in their shop.

Knot bangle: If you’re not into the gemstone look, this knot bangle is also very pretty! I think it’s intended to be a bridesmaid’s gift, but for close girlfriends or maybe sisters/sisters-in-law? Perfection.

Lavender bath bomb: Here’s another great girlfriend gift because of the wallet-friendly price point! Plus who doesn’t need a little extra relaxation?

“Together is our favorite place to be” sign: The military lifestyle sends you to all corners of the earth, so home quickly becomes where your people are. This sign perfectly captures that in my opinion. It would look beautiful in any home and could even be a nice housewarming present.

Two additional gift ideas are courtesy of the Six Box and Rosie Planner. Both companies are military spouse owned businesses and create products specifically for military spouses.

There you have it! This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to military spouse owned businesses that are ready to help you complete your Christmas shopping. Consider supporting one (or more then one) of these fantastic entrepreneurs this year.

Marriage

Three Years Later Q&A

November 14, 2017

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past weekend was an excellent one for me because my husband came home! There are not enough exclamation points in the world to accurately show how excited I am about that. After 139 days apart, he showed up just in time to celebrate our wedding anniversary together.

That’s right, today is our third wedding anniversary! Over the past three years, we’ve bought and sold a home, added another dog into our family, traveled to four new countries and gone through three deployments. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single person out there that I’d rather hold hands with through life. Having my husband home this year so we can celebrate our anniversary together makes the day even more special, as I’m grateful for even the littlest signs of us being together.

To celebrate, I’m keeping the mushiness to a minimum and instead I forced my (seriously jet-lagged) husband to play a mini version of the newlywed shoe game. For the most part our answers matched, but there were definitely some disagreements.

Q: Who is the most likely to wake up grumpy?

My answer: Me

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who is more likely to injure themselves?

My answer: A.

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who is more creative?

My answer: Me.

A’s answer: You

Q: Who is more likely to get lost?

My answer: Me

A’s answer: You

Q: Who made the first move?

My answer: A

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who takes up more than their half of the bed?

My answer: A

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who’s the better driver?

My answer: Me

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who’s more stubborn?

My answer: A

A’s answer: Me

Q: Who fell in love first?

My answer: A

A’s answer: Probably you.

Q: What is your favorite part of marriage so far?

My answer: Making a life together: finding that first home we both loved, traveling together, having holidays as a family. It’s all exactly everything I’d ever wanted.

A’s answer: Just being around you all the time. We always find something fun to do.

Things will be a bit quiet around here over the next few days while A and I travel a bit, but I’ll be back on Monday with some pretty fantastic deals for the shop!

Gift Guides Marriage

Traditional 3rd Anniversary Gifts

November 8, 2017

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I like the idea of giving traditional wedding anniversary gifts, mainly because they usually require a little creativity to make them useful in the modern day. Things like paper and cotton don’t immediately scream great gift idea to me. But traditional 3rd anniversary gifts may be the easiest year I’ve done yet because there are so many leather options!

Leather is the perfect traditional 3rd anniversary gift material because it’s strong, but subject to change over the years, just like a marriage. Think about it: leather is made to withstand a lot of things, but will also show signs of surviving the years. Hopefully, a marriage withstands everything, but it will certainly be changed by events, both good and bad.

The past two years, I’ve shared traditional wedding anniversary gifts for guys, but this year, I decided to throw some suggestions for ladies into the mix as well. There are so many ways to give traditional 3rd anniversary gifts to both genders that finding suggestions was very easy!

Traditional 3rd Anniversary Gifts

Passport Holder: this would be a perfect traditional 3rd anniversary gift for a guy or a girl who loves to travel, especially if you added a plane ticket in there as an added surprise!

Baseball Art: this baseball art is such a neat idea for a sports fan! If you’re super crafty, you may be able to put this together on your own, but the Etsy shop I’ve linked has them at a very reasonable price.  Another idea would be giving a collector’s item, like a signed baseball. This would likely get far more expensive, but is a nice idea if your loved one isn’t into super sentimental things.

Earrings: Joanna Gaines strikes again with these leather earrings.  They are simple, made using ethically sourced leather and help employ at-risk women in the Waco community.  I think we can all get behind a gift that gives back!

Watch: my husband would probably want a watch with a leather band for his traditional 3rd anniversary gift. I really like the simple look of this one (and its reasonable price tag), but there are styles and price points to fit just about anyone.

Valet Tray: raise your hand if your loved one comes to bed every night and empties his or her pockets onto the dresser or night stand. Keys, coins, receipts, a random pen cap or two all pile up and almost NEVER make it back in their pocket. This valet tray keeps all those bits contained while still looking nice. Plus this particular one has an Irish wedding blessing on it which adds a bit of sweetness to its functionality.

Messenger Bag: I love this messenger bag! It’s stylish and would be perfect for your loved one to take to and from the office. It’s also a great travel bag for business trips and works for men or women.

Luggage Tag: you could easily combine this with the passport holder for the travel enthusiast in your life.  These two items make a nice gift if you’ve planned a trip for the future, but would still like a tangible way for your loved one to find out.

Bookmark: customizable bookmarkis your loved one an avid reader? Well then this would be a perfect traditional 3rd anniversary gift. You could add your own sweet message so every time they read a book, they’re reminded of your love.

Dopp Kit: my husband currently uses his military-issued Dopp kit for travel, which is fine, but this one is so nice that I think he’d love the replacement.  Plus this Dopp kit is made by R.Riveter, a military-spouse owned company that uses a business model that allows them to employ as many military spouses as possible.

Keychain: I love that you can have both the outside and inside of this keychain engraved. It’s a reminder of your love that will be seen and used every single day.

Now, if you’re not into leather or are vegan, you could certainly give something that’s synthetic or one of these leather-scented candles instead.

Traditional 3rd anniversary gifts made of leather are easily customizable to your loved one’s unique tastes.  Between all the different items and the variety in leather color, there is truly something for everyone.  Do you give traditional wedding anniversary gifts? What did you give for your 3rd anniversary?

Check out my traditional first and second anniversary gift ideas.