The Hatmaker’s Heart- Carla Stewart

Sometimes you just need a feel good book. Sometimes you just need to remove yourself from reality and step into someone else’s.

Carla Stewart did a brilliant job with this novel. As has created a story with a few of my favorite elements.

1. HISTORY! I have a serious problem, if you haven’t been able to deduct this from my previous book reviews then you might want to go take another look. This novel takes place in 1920’s New York and it is splendid. Absolutely lovely. To give it another layer of depth, she throws in some London, England in there too. Which leads me too…

2. ENGLAND! I love how she incorporated England into the main character’s life, the plot AND threw in the royal wedding. Kudos and extra points for that one. Having just had a royal wedding a few shorts years ago, it was super relatable for me.

3. Relatable characters. Prunella was darling. There are so many things I liked about her character. Her innocents, her passion, her integrity, her faith, her love and loyalty to her family and friends- she was a breath of fresh air. How lovely to have a female be her own hero and not be a cotton headed ninny muggins. Yup. I said it. Everyone has dealt and come across people like the characters in “The Hatmaker’s Heart” in their life. The nasty boss, the cruel girl in school, the first love of childhood, the crazy relatives, the beloved grandmother- it’s like walking out of your life and comfortably walking into someone else’s.

This was such a great read. I read it in a few hours. It was refreshing to read a book that was appropriate in language, plot, and romance. The ending was just so right. There’s something to be said about reading a book that really does just have a happy ending for everybody, even if it does seem fantastical and silly. But, what girl doesn’t want to see love win out in the end?

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Appaloosa Summer- Tudor Robins

Appaloosa Summer is book one of the Island Trilogy by Tudor Robins. It was a cute little summer read. I read it on the plane over to Northern Ireland a few weeks ago.

Meg, the main female character goes through the tragic loss of her horse. In an attempt to have a change of scenery, pace, and peace from what has happened she find solace at her parents vacation house along the St. Lawrence river working at the local bed and breakfast.

Jared, the main male character is the classic, attractive hurting cowboy. Twist of fate and tragedy in his own life have left him distance and withdrawn.

The two of them find each other that summer and bond over their grief, their fears and a scruffy appaloosa mare.

It was obviously a young adult book. I do look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy as they are available. I found the characters absolutely endearing and charming. I hope that as the series continues that the characters themselves continue to grow and really come into their own. Though Meg and Jared are in their mid-late teens, they have a lot to learn and growing up to do. Hopefully, they will continue to do both of these things together. Because they are so freaking adorable in that totally mushy gushy perfect way. I would definitely recommend this book to my younger high schoolers, or even middle schoolers.

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French Bread with Sweet Garlic and Herb butter

Along with my Sweet Blueberry Rolls and Blueberry Lemon Sauce, I made bread to go with dinner. I was super serious when I said I was on a crazy baking kick.

Ingredients:

1 cup hot water (110-125 degrees)

1 packets quick rise yeast

1 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons of good olive oil

3-3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for butter:

1/2 teaspoon honey

3 tablespoons of SOFT butter

2 garlic cloves

Basil

Oregano

Olive Oil

Parsley

1. I seriously love the knead/bread attachment on the KitchenAide mixer. It’s a miracle. In the bowl, dump in your packet of yeast, water and table spoon of sugar. Gently mix and let sit for 5 minutes. This gives the yeast time to activate, eat the sugars and get bubbly. You will know its ready because a sort of foam forms and you can smell that yeasty bread smell.

2. After the yeast has activated, add your flour and salt. Turn on your mixer to medium-low. You may need to use a spatula and scrape the sides a bit.

3. Once the ingredients are incorporated, set the mixer to medium and let it do its job. It should take about 3 minutes. Normally, this part would be done by hand, but thankfully, the mixer hooked me up.

4. In a large bowl, grease with olive oil. Plop the dough into the bowl, using your hand, coat the top in oil as well. Cover with a towel and place in a warm environment. We have a warming area on our stove. While I was mixing I turned this on. As I was prepping the bowl and such I turned it off. This gave the dough a nice warm place to rise without baking it. Set the timer for at least an hour. I let mine go an hour and a half.

5. While the dough is rising… On a piece of foil, peal your garlic, drizzle in olive oil and wrap in a little packet. Place this packet on the grill or in an oven set to 350 degrees. Every 10 minutes flip, for about a half of an hour. When this is done, remove the packet from the heat.

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6. Either in the foil or a bowl, with a fork, smoosh the garlic. It is going to smell AH-Mazing. To the garlic add your honey, SOFT butter, and herbs to taste.

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7. After the dough has risen, dump on a lightly floured surface. Pre-heat your oven to 375. Roll out your dough to a rectangle shape. With your hands, smear on the butter.

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8. Fold over the dough and crimp/fold the sides and ends to keep it all together. Place on a greased and lightly floured baking sheet. With a serrated knife, slice in shallow, angled cuts to give it that classic “french bread” look.

9. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the roll is a nice golden brown. Serve warm. Additional butter is always an option. 🙂

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The Notebook Has Arrived

I LOVE Erin Condren packaging. It is so adorable. And so super exciting to receive when it comes!!! 😀

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Yes, I got ANOTHER pack of markers. They are the best and I plan on passing them out to my fellow teachers once school starts next week. THAT’S how much I like them.

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The notebooks come with a little ruler. Yes, my notebook and teacher planner match. The planner is the larger of the two. It also comes with a clear, plastic, zipper pouch, blank stickers and folder just like the planners which is really nice I think. It also comes with more of the personalized gift stickers. I now have a set of “Miss. Swenda” and “Anna Swenda” stickers.

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The notebook itself is pretty swell. The majority is lined pages with blank pages for free doodling/writing in the back.IMG_3995

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I was also able to get my notebook in time to receive the free 18 month calendar. This, I passed on to my mom. It is sleek enough for her to throw it in any of her purses. She is passed the point of motherhood where she needs the FULL life planner. She’s quite thankful for this. I also let her steal a few of my extra stickers to decorate the outside.

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Just like regular planners, there is a pretty display for the month and a page for notes. Unlike the regular planners, in the bottom right corner, there is a full month display with the dates. When you turn the page, there is a full, two-page, month spread with a column for notes. The top has a cute little saying, as with all of her other planners.

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My second notebook and pack of headbands will be coming shortly! I think it’s safe to say I have a problem. 🙂

If you would like your own Erin Condren planner, notebook or any other goodies, use the link below to receive $10 off your purchase in your welcome e-mail! 🙂 

https://www.erincondren.com/referral/invite/annaswenda0116

Sweet Blueberry Rolls with Blueberry Lemon Sauce

This morning I got the bee in my bonnet to do some serious baking. I knew we had yeast in the fridge, so it was game on. The first thing on the list was cinnamon rolls. Then I remembered we had blueberries in the freezer. HECK YES! The decision to make blueberry rolls was swift. The blueberry lemon sauce was a stroke of genius in the midst of baking. The basic roll recipe came from my mother’s handy, dandy, anniversary edition of the Betty Crocker Cook Book. If you don’t have a copy, GET ONE. It is one of the most useful, all around DA BOMB cook books you will ever get.

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Ingredients for rolls:

1 cup hot water (110-125 degrees)

2 packets quick rise yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar

3-3 1/2 cups flour

Salt

Ingredients for Filling:

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Honey

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

2 Tablespoons of SOFT butter

Ingredients for sauce:

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice from thawed berries

2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of cinnamon

1. I’d like to begin with stating that I cheated just a little bit. I used the KitchenAide bread attachment to make and knead my dough. Seriously, best investment in the world. In the bowl, dump in your packets of yeast, water and two table spoons of sugar. Gently mix and let sit for 5 minutes. This gives the yeast time to activate, eat the sugars and get bubbly. You will know its ready because a sort of foam forms and you can smell that yeasty bread smell.

2. After the yeast has activated, add your flour, sugar, and dash of salt. Turn on your mixer to medium-low. You may need to use a spatula and scrape the sides a bit.

3. Once the ingredients are incorporated, set the mixer to medium and let it do its job. It should take about 3 minutes. Normally, this part would be done by hand, but thankfully, the mixer hooked me up.

4. In a large bowl, grease with vegetable oil. Plop the dough into the bowl, using your hand, coat the top in oil as well. Cover with a towel and place in a warm environment. We have a warming area on our stove. While I was mixing I turned this on. As I was prepping the bowl and such I turned it off. This gave the dough a nice warm place to rise without baking it. Set the timer for at least an hour. I let mine go an hour and a half.

While the dough was rising…..I took the blueberries out of the bag and put them in a fine strainer. I then put the strainer over a bowl. By doing this, the juices that sweat off of the berries as they thaw are caught to be used for the sauce to drizzle over when it’s all said and done. Every now and again I’d give them a little shake just to help that process along a bit.

5. After the dough has risen, pre-heat your oven to 350. On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 of an inch thick. It may seem thin, but it will puff up as it bakes. Trust me.

6. Using your hands, smear the SOFT butter over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar. Drizzle honey over all of it. I did a zig-zag pattern and just kinda did what ever. There’s no exact science too this.

7. Give the blueberries one last good shimmy in the strainer. Sprinkle the berries around liberally.

8. Gently, starting with one long side, begin rolling the dough until you have a log.

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7. Using a serrated knife, cut 2 inch sections. Place the sections into a greased 13×9 giving them space to expand. If you squish them in like sardines they won’t get big and fluffy. Notice how I gave them all “personal space”

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8. Place uncovered in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden brown on top. See how they fluffed up!? Giving them growing room IS important!

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While they are baking…..add the juice of 1 lemon to your blueberry drippings. Add in your vanilla, dash of cinnamon and powdered sugar as well. I used a small whisk to combine it all. I wanted to make this on the thick side so I used quite a bit of powdered sugar, if you want a thinner “glaze” like viscosity, use less powdered sugar. I also put mine in the fridge to help it syrup up.

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Allow the buns to cool a bit, drizzle with sauce, and ENJOY! My brother got the first official roll taste and he ate the whole thing before I could snap a picture of him scarfing it down.

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Solitude of a Birdcage Pre-Release Tour

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A few months ago I had the privilege of reviewing “Solitude of a Birdcage” by Brielle Skye. Since then, we have emailed back and forth, become Good Reads friends and was asked to join her pre-release blog tour! This is Brielle’s first novel and I am super excited to have the opportunity to help it grow! To see my review of “Solitude of a Birdcage,” click the linked title. In order to understand the rest of this post, here is a quick description of the book.

“Maxie Shannen and Savannah Trimmel are more than best friends. They’re sisters, bound by a tragic past and an unbreakable bond. When Isaac, Savannah’s boyfriend, falls victim to an act of violence that leaves him with no recollection of the prior eighteen months, both women tend to his recovery. For Savannah, it’s simply an attempt to care for the man she loves.

For Maxie, it’s a chance at redemption.

She tells Isaac nothing of the passionate secrets they’d been keeping from Savannah, nor of the unyielding feelings that nearly consumed them both.

But as the fragile wall obstructing Isaac’s memory begins to crack, hidden truths slip through the fissures, and Maxie will once again be faced with an impossible choice– her loyalty, or her heart.”

One of the most exciting things about this post was getting to interview Brielle! YAY! “A” is myself and “B” is Brielle. Funny how that worked out- Anna and Brielle “A” and “B.”

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A-First of all I am so excited to have this opportunity to chat with you. I could read forever but I’m not a “writer” in the classical sense. When did you realize that writing was something you were good at and wanted to do?

B- I first want to thank you so much for having me! I’m so happy for the opportunity to drop by and chat! I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I think I must have decided I wanted to write when I learned how to read. I can’t remember ever not wanting to do it. There were phases along the way when I was really into other things, like drawing, and fashion design, but no matter what else I was into, I’ve always knew that one day I would be an author.

A- What steps did you take to make it happen? Education, workshops, networking etc

B- Practice! I never took writing classes, I didn’t finish college. But I devour books and I never stop exercising my creative muscle. I was also fortunate enough to land a job in the publishing industry, and that has afforded with so much knowledge and insight on the business side of things.

A- I’ve heard a number of times through my own education that authors write what they know. Where did the inspiration for “Solitude of a Birdcage” stem from?

B- This is such a hard one! I actually don’t remember where the idea originally came from. I actually finished the first draft of “Solitude” back in 2010. Since then, the story, the characters, the sub-plots, the conflicts, even the resolutions, have all changed about a million times. However, through all of those re-writes, I really got to know the characters so well—their lives, their flaws, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses—that eventually the story began to play out on it’s own. It got to a point where the characters were making their own decisions. I was just narrating.

A- “Solitude of a Birdcage” was not the original title, “Forget-Me-Not” was. I’m actually a huge fan of both titles. I think they both work and have their own impact on the novel itself. How did “Solitude of a Birdcage” even become an option?

B-  I actually never meant for the title to be “Forget Me Not.” I didn’t have a title for a long time, but I was still promoting the manuscript on my website and letting friends read it and things like that, so I needed to call it something. “Forget Me Not” just seemed fitting. Once it stuck, I considered just going with it, but once I looked at it from a business standpoint (if you search “Forget Me Not” on any book retailer, you’ll get about a million results of books with the same title) I decided I definitely needed to go with something a little more original, and catchy. “Solitude of a Birdcage” just came to me one day. I didn’t even have to consider it. As soon as it hit me, I knew it was right.

A- Maxie is an extremely endearing character. Do you find you have put bits of yourself into who she is and her little quirks, like dancing around the kitchen?

B- This is such a common question, especially from people who know me personally. The answer is both yes & no. Yes, because she was born from me. I feel that there may be a tiny bit of myself in all of the characters I write, be it something from my personality, from the way I look, the things I say, my hobbies, interests, beliefs, morals, etc. However, I’ll say no because if there are bits of me in Maxie, it isn’t intentional. I didn’t take anything from my life and consciously apply it to her. If there are similarities, it’s coincidental.

A- Did you intend to end the book in such an open, questions unanswered, cliff-hanger?

B- No! I actually struggled terribly with the end! Here’s the thing: “Solitude” had started out as just one book. One massive, wordy book. Eventually, I split it down the middle, so trying to end Part I in a way that left readers with a sense of finality, yet still wanting more was SUCH a challenge. However, I think I was able to find a good balance that will leave readers eager, not frustrated.

A- How has writing the second book “Like the Red Sky At Morning” been going? Is it going in the direction you expected it to when you first started thinking about writing Maxie, Van, Isaac and Gnar’s story?

B- Oh, my. I can actually go on forever about how writing “Red Sky” has been. As of right now, I have two (and a half) completed versions of it. After splitting the book in two, I worked a lot on the second book but just wasn’t satisfied with the finished product. I ended up re-working the entire plot TWICE. However, it’s definitely in a MUCH better place now and even though “Solitude” isn’t even out, I’m SO excited to release “Red Sky.”

A- In my original book review I threw a fit about having to wait until 2015 to read “Like the Red Sky At Morning.” Do you have an idea as to how far into 2015 readers might have to wait to find out what happens to Maxie, Van, Isaac and Gnar?

B- Definitely the beginning of 2015! Latest March, though I’m shooting for a January release. If everything goes without a hitch, you’ll have an ARC in your hands by the end of the year!

A- Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have any thing in particular you like to have with you? Tea, specific music, candles, outside etc…

B- I don’t have a specific place that I like to write, more like a particular environment. I love open, airy rooms. Big windows, sunlight. And a nice place to sit that allows me a dozen comfortable positions. No television, & classical or Radiohead as background music.

A- You are a New York native. How do you think the environment influenced your writing?

B- There’s inspiration at every turn in New York, especially New York City. From the different types of people you encounter every day to the odd, random things you see, to the city itself; the streets, the buildings, the beauty and the ugliness. When you combine your imagination with the infinite amount of material the city naturally provides, there pretty much aren’t any limits to what can realistically happen to a character living in New York.

A- Where has been your favorite place to travel?

B- Australia, hands down. I’m a mover. I don’t visit places, I relocate to them. Usually, around the 6-8 month mark, I’m over it, though, and come back home. While sometimes I miss the places I’d lived, I’ve never wanted to move back to any of them. Until Melbourne. I LOVE Melbourne.

A- Where is the next place you want to stop?

B- For a visit: Greece in August, Thailand in December. To live? England. Probably not any time soon, but eventually I’m going to try out England.

A- What is the best advice you have been given as a writer thus far?

B- Get the first draft out. Just get it out. Don’t go back and re-read previous chapters, don’t re-write, don’t change or fix anything, just get that first draft out. Before I actually started listening to these wise words, I spent more time re-writing chapters I’d already completed three times then actually finishing anything.

Thank you again, Anna, for having me! Hopefully I’ll be back soon enough to talk about “Red Sky!”

Brielle is obviously more than just a great author, she is one swell person as well! I am slightly biased, being that we have quite a few hobbies in common. LIKE:  crocheting, traveling and reading. 🙂 She is also the founder of the New York City Writers Network, an organization dedicated to uniting the very people who share her passion for words.

If you are interested in learning more about Brielle check her out at one of the below social media sites. If you are as excited as I am to read “Red Sky” OR to read “Solitude of a Birdcage,” the information to make that happen is below as well! “Solitude of a Birdcage” is available NOW until September 13th for a pre-order special price! Don’t miss out!

CONTACT:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/BrielleSkye

Website: http://www.lost20s.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brielleskyewriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/briellewrites

PRE-ORDER LINKS: (Only .99 before release, 5.99 after September 13th)

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/solitude-of-a-birdcage-brielle-skye/1119887118?ean=2940046042160

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/solitude-of-a-birdcage/id894610294?mt=11

Kobohttp://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/solitude-of-a-birdcage

Also available for request on Netgalley!

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Enter to win your own copy by visiting @brunetteswithbrains on instagram OR commenting on this blog “I want my copy!” Winner will be drawn 10/15

Chocolate Buckeye Cookies

Because I am still convinced few things beat the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. ❤

1 box fudge brownie mix (ingredients to make brownies according to the box)

1 egg

1/4 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 cup coco powder

1 1/2 cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

Melting chocolate

1. Preheat oven at 350. Mix brownie mix according too the box

2. Add in flour, coco powder, melted butter, and extra egg. It will be thick!

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3. Using a large scoop, scoop out dough/batter onto a lined cookie sheet. Leave lots of room for potential expansion. Cook 10-12 minutes

4. While cookies are baking, chill batter/dough. Mix peanut butter with the powdered sugar. It will be on the pasty side.

5. Remove cookies from oven. Place a dollop of peanut butter mixture in the center of the cookie. Press lightly and let cool.

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6. After the cookies are all made and peanut buttered, melt your chocolate with a bit of butter SLOWLY.

7. Drizzle or spoon chocolate on top

EAT!

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They didn’t turn out as fluffy as I had hoped. Next time I make them I am going to use a regular super chocolately cookie recipe. I will adjust as needed. 🙂

EC Notebooks

I have a serious problem. My first EC On-The-Go Notebook isn’t even here yet and I’m already ordering a second one! This time, I’m making it more personal. Thus far, my teacher planner and notebook match. This one, I’m getting just for me. It has a lot of meaning to me for a number of reasons now.

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Between having an English Lit concentration and having just gotten back from Northern Ireland I can not wait to get this pretty new notebook! I am also getting a set of bands.

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They were perfect in my hair all week whether I was playing rugby, hockey, football or dancing around at vacation Bible school. Since I already have a pack each of the color sets, I wanted another pack of just the silver because the silver one is my favorite of my bunch!

EC still has the On-The-Go 18 month promotion running so I am getting ANOTHER one of those too! 😀 Now to decide who to share it with!

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Check out my other EC goodies at “The Package” and “New EC Notebook!

If you would like your own Erin Condren goodies AND a $10 off coupon on your purchase, click the link below! After signing up with the link, you will receive a $10 coupon code in a welcome email! 🙂

EC $10 Coupon!

ENJOY!

Antrim, Northern Ireland

I AM BACK! It’s been a while but I have been bursting at the seems to share my trip to Antrim, Northern Ireland with a group of swell friends from school.

I do not like flying. I don’t have a fear, I just don’t like sitting and being all cramped and it’s just annoying. But we made it to Dublin from JFK Airport with no issues.

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We made it through all security and stepped out into the lovely misty Dublin weather. John Ashe, the pastor of  Journey and Phil picked us up at the air port, loaded us up and took us on a mini tour of Dublin before heading up North.

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Due to how much our team was able to raise, we were able to stay in a hotel for the duration of our stay instead of one of the local universities. The coolest part about this was the fact that the National 20U NI football team was staying there as well. They didn’t talk to us, but hey, it’s still pretty cool. I roomed with Kelsey and Bethany. I am just now realizing we didn’t get a roomie picture before we left. UGH. Saturday, after settling in at the hotel, we went to the Caldwell’s for dinner. The view from their backyard is absolutely stunning. When you think of Ireland, you think of these kind of views.

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Sunday morning we had church at Journey. One of the girls on our team, Mary, a girl from the Ohio team, Kayla and I all volunteered to do children’s church. I learned a few things. 1. They believe we all have southern accents. It’s hilarious. Apparently, I sound like what they think a stereotypical American accent is. 2. They LOVE Cake Boss. They watch American TV and they just think he is the bees knees.  After church, different families from the church took pods of 2-4 of us too their homes for lunch. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the home of the Grant’s. Mary and Ohio team Erin and I were welcomed by a beautiful home with the biggest marigold flowers I think I’d ever seen! Penny and Keith put on a huge, yummy spread and made us a part of their family instantly. Penny and Keith are both Elementary school teachers. Mary and I were in our element with them. They also have two daughters, Ashleigh and Becci. Becci was not at lunch with us, but friends Tori and Ashleigh K were there to join us. Ashleigh and her husband Mark are both hockey players so obviously I was one little happy camper.

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Sunday evening we went to the local Starbucks for Cafe Church. There we worshiped and had a short message from John. The real beginning of the week started right there. The power and changes for everyone started in that little shop.

Monday morning was our first day of Vacation Bible School. We got there about 2 hours early to completely decorate the rooms and hallways we would be using at the local grammar school. Yes, we set up and decorated an entire week of VBS in just 2 hours. It was crazy but the kids LOVED it. This year our song was “Without You” by Toby Mac, quite the workout to do the dance we created to go along with it.

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After VBS and lunch we toured Antrim Castle grounds and walked down the river trail to Lough Neagh. I will allow the following pictures to speak for themselves. However, I will mention, some Game of Thrones has been filmed around some of the grounds.

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That evening was our first night of “in the community” work. The majority of our teams went into one of the neighborhoods to throw a block party. Myself and 3 other team members went to the sports camp we would be running all week with some local athletes. The first night was rugby. It may potentially be my new favorite sport. Before you think I was running into anybody, we played the equivalent of flag football. I still had a blast and have the feeling buying a rugby ball is in my future. We went back to 15D, where Journey meets for some games. Never have I have, Pink Spots and some other game with scissors.

Tuesday we had VBS in the morning. After lunch we were introduced to our afternoon work. We had groups cleaning up the gardens in the back of the building, painting 15E, the downstairs of the church, handing out fliers for VBS, the block parties and sports camp this week and treasure hunting. For 3 days everyone worked diligently to revitalize the back of the building along the river walk. The results were outstanding.

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That evening was hockey night for sports camp. Ashleigh’s husband Mark ran the clinic. There were about 15 kids, plus all of the big kids who grabbed sticks to join in. I can not begin to express the absolute joy it was to play again. Here in the states, after high school, unless you go to a decent sized college that has a team or intramural team, hockey stops when you walk off of the field in high school. It’s hard to find somewhere to play. What was even more exciting was that being able to play and share that experience with everyone and the kids was part of the mission that week! The following are a few shots from that evening. WARNING. *There is a slightly gruesome pictures following.* I found myself with a stick between my legs and supermanned across the gravel playing field. WHO PLAYS ON GRAVEL!? Well apparently, in Northern Ireland, if astro turf isn’t available, they do.

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Wednesday went much the same in the morning and afternoon. That evening began our 2 day football clinic. Not American football, real football, like the rest of the world calls it- soccer. The first night Cliff Ferguson, one of the biggest soccer scouts in Ireland, Glenn and Ian from Liverpool Academy came out to work with the kids. It was an amazing experience for them, and cool for me. 🙂

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That evening church members Eddie and Gillian opened their stunning home to our group. Their home is older than the United States but you’d never know it. Food, exploration, worship and an ice cream truck were the highlights of that evening.

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Thursday I was Mary Magdalene for VBS. Mikey and some local players ran the football clinic. I was the professional ball-getter when the kids shot wide and it went into the brush. Towards the end, they called me in. I have never played soccer a day in my life and it was a train wreck. The guys enjoyed laughing at me. I did attempt to head the ball, even if it did mean a lovely bruise on my forehead. It was great fun.

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Friday was our last day of VBS. It had been an incredible week and it was so sad saying goodbye too so many of them. Almost 40 kids accepted Jesus into their hearts. How AWESOME is THAT!? After that we were driven to Belfast to Victoria Square for some SHOPPING! What girl wouldn’t LOVE shopping!? It was great fun going through Jack Willis and all of the other uniquely European stores. That evening we had a HUGE end of the week party at the castle grounds. It was like one of our block parties on steroids and anybody in the community was welcome. Face pairing, balloon animals, nail painting, bounce houses, rock climbing, food and football kept everyone busy. Even the sprinkling rain couldn’t keep everyone from having fun. At one point there was a FULL start to finish, whole rainbow. I had never seen anything like it, never seen a rainbow so vibrant and perfect. What a great reminder of God’s promise towards the end of our trip?

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Saturday was tourist day. We were the cheesy Americans traveling the Antrim coast. It started with a trip where the Titanic was built in Belfast and C.S. Lewis’s house. The nerd in my was just a wee bit excited. It was on to Glenariff Forest where we saw the beautiful falls and shamrocks.

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Our next stop was Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a location that was commercial salmon fishing ground up until the early 2000’s. It was a beautiful location for more than one reason! Brooke, our fearless leader got engaged to the talented and awesome Tom!!! 😀 WOO HOO! Oh yeah, and by this point it was definitely raining. But it was time to move on.

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We stopped at Ballintoy Harbour for lunch. Some of you may recognize the location as Pyke Harbour, featured in Game of Thrones. We literally ate lunch in one of the caves to protect us from the increasingly worse weather.

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Giant’s Causeway came next. Up until this point I had been able to stay pretty dry. That was before the epic wind gusts destroyed my umbrella, the rain came down even harder and we had to walk over a mile to the Causeway. Needless to say, a team that sweats and gets wet together bonds relatively quickly. I wouldn’t have missed the scenery for anything. Even if it was a bit miserable.

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We made a stop at Dunluce Castle. It is in ruins, but still beautiful and super cool. I was so wet and cold I only took a few pictures from the parking lot before finding shelter back in the van. I am using some pictures from those who were brave enough to weather the storm- literally. We were going to go to the Dark Hedges but we were all so wet, tired and cold they took us back to the hotel to shower, change and get warm. We found ourselves back at Eddie and Gillian’s for our authentic fish and chips dinner.  We had a dance party, rousing game of Mau, and tons of fun. But then, that seemed to be a synonymous theme with that group.

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Sunday we were once again at church. After service we drove back down to the Lough for baptisms. There is something just so awesome about people getting baptized on mission trips. I’m slightly biased, having been baptized on one myself. But I believe it is a true testament to the fact that, no matter how much of yourself you give and pour into who and what you are there to serve, you will ALWAYS receive just as much, if not more.

We went too lunch with everyone afterwards. I had lamb and potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Of course I can’t forget the delectable creme brûlée. We spent the afternoon at Junction One, our version of the outlets, before our last cafe church. Mikey helped me find a football jersey! I may or may not have felt like the coolest kid. 🙂 After listening to some of our team members share some of their experiences this week, it was back to 15D.

At 15D we took a bajillion pictures, ate pizza and said goodbye to the incredible people we had met that week, both Irish and American. Everyone went back to the hotel to pack and pull an all nighter. We had to be in the lobby to leave by 4am. And there we were loading back into the same buses that brought us to the little green corner of the world 10 short days earlier. The difference in the girl who stepped off the plane and the girl who came home is crazy.

Monday, Day 3

Monday, Day 3

Sunday

Sunday, Last Day

I could not even begin to express how God worked through and in my life that week. It still amazes me how I go on mission trips to work and serve others and I somehow come back with a world that’s been completely changed. It was quite an adventure. I left for Ireland engaged and came home not. I left for Ireland so sure of who I was and where my path was leading me. I now have no idea, and for once I’m not freaking out. I learned that sometimes, it’s ok to let others help you and that relying on others isn’t a sign of weakness. That sometimes God doesn’t nudge you out of your comfort zone, he kicks you out of your nice warm bed into the world. Sometimes the plans and expectations you have for your life are nowhere near the amazing plans God has for you. I literally can not wait to get back to Antrim. God did extraordinary things in Antrim and my life this past week. I have no idea what is in store for my life, but I have Antrim and the people there to thank for turning it upside down for me.

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