Saturday, February 17, 2018

Quinault Rainforest, Washington State

I betcha thought that Rainforests were only in tropical regions! So did I! Until I was reading up on things to do, and I saw that there are a couple of them right here in the state of Washington! With 12 to 13 feet of rain a year, yep... I think that qualifies as a "rain" forest!

Quinault Rainforest is located in the Olympic National Forest and part of Olympic National Park. The Olympic National Forest covers a total of 628,115 acres, with the Quinault rainforest taking up over 1,000 acres of that. The rainforest is temperate year round with breathtaking views. When I say breathtaking, I mean you honestly gasp for air at the beauty of the forest.

Upon first entering the area, you will drive past the beautiful Quinault lake. The lake is surrounded by resorts and cabins, a gift shop and a couple of restaurants. There is even the cutest post office I've ever seen, everything is just so quaint. The lake itself offers kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Though this girl doesn't fish, I'd like to go back and boat on the lake.

We went in early February, the temperature was mild, in the 50's, but still so lush and green.
Driving further around the lake, you will be able to see the world's largest Spruce Tree. I have seen very tall trees before, but I have never seen one so wide around, it's 59' 11" in circumference!! I didn't even realize the true size of it, until my kids started to climb on it's roots. It's of course a protected tree, in fact, everything in the rainforest is protected. Do not even THINK about approaching or feeding any animal in the forest, including the smallest of ducks. Being an environmentalist, I am actually quite happy that the lands and the animals are so protected.
There are many places to stop off in the rainforest, and there is a road that loops around part of the forest, that you can hike or drive on. The entire drive is a 31 mile loop, passing the most bizarre looking trees, pristine waterfalls and a beautiful river.
There aren't many places left in the world, where you can just drink straight from a river. But here, we did.
Keep in mind, some of the roads are very narrow and there is a 450 drop off of cliffs during part of the drive. But... IT IS AMAZINGLY BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL! (I will tell you though, my sister in law was driving and had a couple of OMG moments... and my teenage son switched sides with me in the van, as he couldn't handle looking down! The single-lane-side-hugging-mountain(ish) drive, is only for a very short period, if I had to guess, I'd say no more than a couple of miles. I wasn't worried, but then, I wasn't driving either!
Seriously, some of the most bizarre trees, I have ever seen in my life!
On the drive, it's possible to see many types of wildlife, though we were only lucky enough to see a huge herd of Roosevelt Elk. It's very rare to spot a bear, or any wild life to be honest, as they don't like to lurk around the roads or where humans are.
As you can imagine, from someone that loves trees, I have about a gazillion photos, but I thought I would share just a few of my favorites. This is such a wonderful place to visit, "God's Country" as one of my girlfriends calls it. 
Is it worth a trip to Washington? Yes.
Is it the perfect place to hike? Again, Yes.
Did I mention it's simply magical?
Even the kids had a great time!
I can't wait to go back in the summer, and see what the rainforest is like when everything is in full bloom! 
I hope you're having a great weekend,
Until next time,

Sunday, February 4, 2018

100 Simple Pleasures in Life

I have always loved the simple pleasures in life and when I saw that a fellow blogger, (Amanda from Rhyme and Ribbons) shared her list , it really made me think about what I am grateful for. What makes me smile and what makes my heart and mind feel soothed.

When I lived in Austin, Texas I felt as if the world was go go go go ... everywhere we went there was traffic. If you have ever been to Austin, you know that there is no public transport except the bus. So if you want to get anywhere, you have to drive. It takes an hour to get anywhere, if not more. Traffic has always been an issue, but when the city went from a few hundred thousand to 2 million people within a short period of time, Austin became a concrete jungle. Don't get me wrong, there are still delights of this city... but the over crowding has really taken the quaintness and originality from the state capital. In one word. Stress. Austin had become stressful for me. 

We then moved to Olympia, Washington. The complete opposite of Austin. The population of Olympia? 51,000. 

We live in the country, a few miles from town. It's quiet, it's beautiful and it's peaceful. The weather here is a lot like Ireland. Mostly mild weather, rainy winters and very very green. I have heard the summers can get hot, but I've yet to experience one.

So here are my top 100 simple pleasures in life, in no particular order, as they came to mind.

I'll start with the obvious.. My children are my heart.

~Spending time with my Nick and his wife, My son and his wife
~Spending time with my Joshua and his wife, My 2nd son and his wife
~Spending time with my Chris, my 3rd son
~Spending time with my Andy, my 4th son
~Spending time with my Hannah, my youngest and only daughter

~Watching my children grow and develop into amazing adults and human beings
~Laughing with my brother Lee 
~Being with and helping my dad as he ages
~Watching my niece grow into a young lady
~Hanging out with Heather, my friend and sister-in-law, we don't even have to be talking

~Petting my dog... or any dog... and giving them a big love
~Kissing  my dog's nose
~Cuddling with my daughter, she still lets me hold her and give her huge snuggles. 
~The first sip of hot tea in the morning
~Listening to the rain fall

~Snuggling up warm in the winter and watching chick flicks
~Seeing sheers blow in the breeze of an opened window
~Watching and hearing the wind blow through tall pine trees
~Smelling flowers
~Seeing the first bud of flowers in the early spring

~Bright red and orange leaves on trees in the fall
~Crunchy leaves under foot
~Breathing in deeply crisp, cool and fresh country air
~Listening to the laughter of people I love
~Running my fingers through Rocco's fur (Our pet schnauzer)

~Looking at the mountains (Washington has beautiful mountains)
~Walking towards and then seeing my first view of Tower Bridge (Every few months, it's the same feeling)
~Kissing the man I love
~The smell of fresh laundry
~Getting into bed and having fresh clean sheets

~My feather pillow
~Laughing when my teenage son slips on his cowboy boots when wearing shorts (He laughs too... but doesn't care what others think)
~The anticipation of traveling
~Knowing my children are healthy, gives me contentment
~A full tank of gas

~Hearing the ocean crash against the shore
~Walking on the beach hunting for sea shells or looking for tiny crabs... to watch but not catch
~Watching Dolphins swim freely
~The smell of a puppy
~Watching chickens, no rhyme or reason why... I like chickens, they are funny little things

~Seeing the first buds of flowers in the Spring
~Running my hands along a very old tree (Yes, I actually do this)
~Sitting on a cross country train watching the scenery go by
~Fresh flowers in vases
~Baking for my dairy free son

~Walking barefoot in Northern grass
~Seeing Southern Magnolia's in bloom
~Cotton clothing against my skin
~Reading a book in the quiet
~Being hugged tightly by one of my adult children

~The smell of vanilla
~A long, warm bath in a very big bathtub
~Having my hair washed and brushed by someone else
~Watching children play
~Knowing I'm loved

~Getting a text or whatsapp message from a friend
~Seeing a friend after years and feeling the same, as if we never parted
~Christmas lights
~Easter colors
~Watching leaves blow in the wind

~Listening to my teenagers tell me what they want to do in life... so much time, so many dreams
~Thinking about my mom, even if I shed a tear
~Knowing that a friend has succeeded in a life goal, I really love that
~Getting good uninterrupted sleep
~Knowing I don't have to get up at 6:00am

~A sharp knife when cutting tomatoes!!!
~The smell of cinnamon
~Fresh snow
~Job security
~Seeing beautiful cotton growing in the southern USA

~Watching my daughter dance
~Warm breezy days
~Clean eye glasses
~Going to the library (In any country) and browsing through books
~Fresh laundry hanging outside

~Apple picking in the fall
~Bonfires with family
~Meals cooked on a grill
~Hearing thunder
~The smell after a rain storm

~Seeing pumpkins --Everywhere, in the fall
~Listening to Andy and Chris play the guitar
~Unexpected happy mail
~A warm day with no mosquitoes
~A clean house

~A relaxing Sunday
~Walking in the country
~Watching deer creep into your yard and walk around
~Smelling wood burning in the fire place
~Quiet. Complete unadulterated quiet.

~Listening to Doves. They remind me of sitting on my parents back porch.
~Watching the Northern lights race across the winter sky
~Visiting the rainforest in Washington State
~The smell of lavender

~Holding a baby
~Looking through family photos, both past and present
~Clean, crisp, white oxford shirts
~Ice water on a hot summer day
~How excited my dog is to see me when I've been out. Dogs are awesome!

That's my list, though I could go on, about dogs :)
And my kids...
These are the things that I love, and I'm lucky enough to have traveled the world and lived many places to be able to experience and re-experience a lot of things.
If you do a 100 list, I'd love to read yours!

I hope you have a great Sunday and upcoming week,

Monday, January 29, 2018

"The No Spend Year" by Michelle McGagh... A Book Review

I am always looking for ways to save money, so when I saw that one of my friends posted a photo of this book on Instaram, I was intrigued and ordered a copy that day. After all, as I tell my children, there is one thing that is never a waste of money... a book!

I have to admit, I almost didn't finish the book. Why? Well, I just couldn't relate to the first part of it. But I stuck it through and I'm so glad I did. This woman is a pearl of wisdom.
I'll start by telling you why I couldn't relate to some of the book. There were 3 things

First of all, "No Spend", means you still pay your bills and you still eat. You just don't buy anything else. Ever. The woman that wrote this book, she struggled, a bit... but she has no kids. My first huge issue... You cannot just not spend when you have kids. It's impossible. Thinking back to when mine were babies, even with using cloth diapers (that lasted a whole month) there are things to buy! Kids are the most expensive thing on the planet, (though completely worth it I might add). Even now that my children are teenagers, there is always something coming up with school that they need money for, they outgrow clothing and their feet (it feels like) grow 2 inches a day, they are always needing shoes. I'm not saying there aren't ways to save, as a stay at home mom of 5, I used thrift stores for jeans and learned to cook big meals on a budget. Unless someone provides for you, there is no way that anyone with children, can just not buy. 

The 2nd thing I couldn't relate to, she lives in London and cycles everywhere. Even when I lived in a big city (Austin, Texas), there was no way I could cycle to work. Are you kidding? How can I get 2 teenagers to school on the back of my bike? Not to mention in the sweltering heat. I also lived in the country and traveled into the city. Now that I live in Olympia, Washington I still live way out in the country... Could you imagine trying to get groceries home for a family of 5 on the back of your bike? There are many parts of the US that this isn't feasible. Even if I did live in London, there is that topic of children again. Uniforms, Food, School Fees, Medication... I think I've made my point.

The 3rd thing that I couldn't relate to. Is a personal issue, based on my character and how I feel about things. One of the things that the author would do to save money, is if she were invited to a party, because she couldn't stop and buy flowers and a dessert, she would bake a cake at home (nothing wrong with that right?)... But then put it in her backpack to ride over on her bike. I wouldn't ever treat a host like that. There are times in our lives, that we fork over a few bucks, just to make others feel appreciated. Heck... You can pick flowers if you live in the country, but the cake being bounced about in a back pack and then given as a gift. No.

Now that I have written what I can't relate to, I feel as if I have done the book an injustice. That's not the case at all, in fact, just because this woman is in a different place in her life than I am, doesn't mean that I don't completely admire her tenacity.

**First of all, she cycles everywhere... snow, rain, sun... that's dedication, that's strength. I would cave the minute I felt any discomfort. I mention her cycling and commitment, because that's the feel during the whole book. She doesn't give up. She did not spend money for a whole year, and she will share with you how.

**If you live in London (I do not but travel there often), You'll learn how to get into the greatest places, how to find them, how to meet new people, visit galleries and openings. There are many events that I would not have even considered before this book. HOWEVER... Big HOWEVER, the tips that she gives for finding free gigs in London, can be used locally wherever you are. 

**Her food budget is pretty amazing. I spend over $100 a week on food. She spends pennies. She will tell you how.

**She saved thousands over the year, the author tells you how she spent it after the year and how to get out of the consumerism trap. (I think this is by far the best thing about the book, her views on needs versus wants)

**The Author talks about investing, what it means, how to do it and breaks down the different types of investment, from savings accounts to bonds to passive funds.

**Michelle is married, her husband only participated in the food part of the challenge, he still continued to spend and purchase... interesting combo right? She breaks it down.

Would I suggest this book? Yes. Absolutely. Why? Because even if you can't relate to all of the book as a whole, you can take the bits that you like, the parts that will benefit you... and run with them! If you read it, tell me what you think!

I hope you're having a great start to your week,
Until next time,

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Saving Money for Travel Part 2

I travel to London at least two times a year and other parts of Europe at least once. I will eventually branch into Asia, but I’m still exploring Europe. I also take 3 or 4 stateside trips. Now that I have moved to Washington State, we are right on the Canadian border, why not just stroll over there a couple of times a year as well?

I explained in Part 1, how I can afford to travel. How I save my pennies and the little things I do to save extra money. But what about the actual traveling part? I want to have a nice trip, but I don't want to spend an arm and a leg if I don't have to!

So here are the little things that I do...

                                            BOOKING PLANE TICKETS

When I book plane tickets, I stick with 2 of my favorites. I use Cheapoair to find the best deals across the USA and Skyscanner for the best deals internationally. With Skyscanner you can also sign up for daily email alerts for tickets you want to book. I have seen tickets go down by $500 in one day, so you can jump on tickets that hit a rock bottom price. These are my favorite places to search for tickets, but there are many sites out there. I used many-many sites before I settled on a couple that seemed to bring me the best deals. I have also booked tickets using the apps for both of these sites.
When I’m booking plane tickets, I find that flying on a Tuesday is the cheapest day to travel, it’s also the cheapest day to look for flights. Wednesdays are often good as well, but the closer you fly or search for flights to the weekend, the more flights go up in price. 

Remember to clear your browser history and cookies before you search for your flights. It makes a difference, 


I don’t usually stay in hotels, though I do from time to time... But mostly, I like being able to cook my own food if I want to (Especially when I travel with my children. I also enjoy shopping for food at local grocery stores and markets, it's another way to experience the culture). When I do book hotels, sometimes I use my air miles, but usually I do a search on ... SO...How do I save on accommodation without using hotels??

*Sometimes I stay with friends. I have met the most amazing people from blogging. You stay with them and return the favor when they want to visit your part of the world!

*Regardless of what accommodation purchased, I find the further away from the city center you go, the cheaper the hotel/airbnb/b&b will be.

*Booking accommodation during the off season, is always cheaper. Sometimes 75% cheaper.

If I’m traveling with my children, I will often book an entire flat/house/apartment. However, when my daughter and I went to Paris, we only needed somewhere to sleep for 2 nights, so we rented from a lady that rented rooms to other women only. 
Airbnb has amazing rates all over the world. I had trouble with the plumbing on one rental in London and the owner of the flat refused to help. BUT Airbnb stepped in, found me another rental and even offered to buy us dinner. Keep in mind, whatever communication you have with owners, always do it through the airbnb website or app, this way if there is ever a problem, Airbnb can look at any communication and decide in your favor or that of the owners. That is how I was able to get Airbnb to help me when the owner refused. I used Airbnb in Limerick, London, Paris and Austin. I have always ended up content, I would recommend Airbnb.
The kids and I did this for 2 weeks once, it was actually very relaxing and we spent a lot of time with dogs, cats, rabbits and snakes (though we never actually touched the snakes). The downside to this, can be that you can’t leave the animals for long period of time, people don’t want you to housesit so you can be gone for 12 hours out of the day, and they want their pets well looked after. So we didn’t actually go anywhere in the 2 weeks we pet/housesat, except to buy food. So consider what you want to do, and then set out to find the perfect housesit, I signed up for 2 sites. The site that I paid very little for, was the site I found 2 places to housesit. The site I paid $100 for, landed me zip. 

So how it works?
Well the owners of the home will advertise that they are looking for someone to help them, for a specific amount of time. You apply and tell them you are willing to help. You tell them about yourself, what you do for a living, why you want to housesit for them and so on… and the owner then chooses out of all of the applicants. It’s kind of like a job interview. Some home/pet owners may want to talk to you on the phone, webcam or, some will just be happy to email. I have seen people advertise that they need someone for 2 months or more. Some allow families, some don't. The two sites I used were Housecarers, which is $50 a year for house sitters, but free for the home owner. Trusted Housesitters Costs $119 for the year for both the sitter and house owner. If that sounds expensive to you, consider this... We stayed in a lovely 4 bedroom home for $119, for 2 weeks.
*WWOOF or “WILLING WORKERS ON ORGANIC FARMS” is a way of exchanging work for food and board. Wwoofing is something I wanted to do once or twice with my children. I thought the experience of working on a farm for a short few days would be fun, especially the farms that have animals and their own farmers markets. We actually had a place booked in England, a farm where I would help and the kids could play or hang around the farm. However, Andrew was diagnosed with a dairy allergy before we left for our 2 month UK trip and the farm couldn’t accommodate his allergy, they were accustomed to cooking large amounts of food for many people and this particular farm didn’t take special requests. Many young adults do WWOOF, so do many families. Many people love it. If you’re interested, you pay a small fee to have access to the site, the farmers post and tell you what they are needing, and how many people they need, they will also tell you about accommodation and how much work they need done. You then contact the farmer and tell them you’re interested in the job. You'll be interviewed by the farmer and picked if you’re right for their farm. Remember you are paid in accommodation and food, not wages. And if you plan on volunteering in a foreign country, check the laws, some countries require you to have a volunteer visa. 

There are many ways to save, depending on what you have in mind, where you are and what you're doing during your stay. Unless we're with friends, we don't spend a lot of time in our accommodation anyway, but I think we can all agree, it's still nice to have somewhere comfortable to return to. I don't claim to be an expert of anything, but I love to travel and I like sharing information with fellow explorers. These are just a few things that have worked for me. If you have any suggestions for me, please do share!

                              Good luck on your adventures!
                                          Until next time,

Monday, January 22, 2018

Saving Money for Travel Part 1

I have had messages on Facebook and a couple here and there of people saying to me (often with contempt) How do you afford to travel so much? I've had people ask me if I have a rich family or if I'm rich... Seriously people. You're barking up the wrong tree!

I am guilty of wondering how some people "luxury" travel. In fact, have I sounded condescending or envious as well? I need to make sure I’m not being sassy with my fellow travelers. If I ever have been, I do apologize. I can’t offer any suggestions as to how others travel, but I can share how I travel. A single mom, with 2 teens, bills, car payment and the lot.

My first suggestion, I feel is so obvious, (but I find that many don’t). If you want to save for travel, If you want to build up your savings…

Stop buying coffee on the go. Or Tea, or whatever you drink.
Seriously, I think this is a no-brainer. But I know so many people that wrestle with their Starbucks obsession. My brain thinks like this… a $3.50 latte a work day is $17.50 a week, making that $70 a month and $840 a year. BINGO… round trip flight to London, right there! Just by making your own drink at home. Put coffee on your grocery list and include it in your food budget.

     Stop eating out
We all eat out occasionally, and there are always special occasions, but give up the drive through fast food all together. Make your lunch at home and take it to work. Make your dinner! I won’t say that I cook a 4-course meal every night, but my children eat well. We have a variety of healthy food in our diets and even some naughty ones. One of my biggest expenses is my food budget because my son requires dairy free food. Have you ever bought dairy free ice cream? It’s not cheap! So, I’m not saying eat vegetable soup every night. But eating out is MUCH more expensive than making it yourself!

      Don’t smoke
A DEFINITE no-brainer. It’s disgusting… yes, but it’s also very expensive. Depending on how much you smoke, your habit can easily add up to over $2000 a year.

     Must you buy alcohol?
Whoa. Did she just go there?!?! Yes. She went there. If you must have a drink, limit yourself, because alcohol is expensive. Some will think I’m out of my everlovin mind. I’m not. I do drink, occasionally, but only when I’m on holiday.
Clubs or bars? 
How badly do you want to travel? You can easily suck your account dry going to an alcohol zone. There really are a lot of fun things that you can do, without involving spending a fortune. 

     Wait for the DVD
     Cinema prices are ridiculous. The prices of snacks at the cinema are even more ridiculous... Seriously... $8 for popcorn? Redbox is $1.50 a movie.

     Shop for groceries with lists
     Always shop with lists and don't sway from them... OR Shop online. I have taken recently to shopping online and then picking up my order. I don't wonder through aisles so I'm not tempted to throw anything extra into my cart, this also keeps the kids from asking for junk food!

     Have more than one checking account
     I have a checking account for paying bills and a checking account for everything else. The "Everything Else" category means random spending money, the less I spend, the more I have for travel. I also use this checking account when I travel and transfer my travel savings into it. 

     Have more than one savings account
     I have 4 savings accounts. Does that seem extreme? I don't like mixing money, so I have 4 accounts. I have automatic transfers into each of them. 2 of the saving accounts are online savings accounts that I can't access immediately, it takes 3 or 4 days to wire transfer. Online accounts make it less likely for you to take from them. The other two savings accounts are with the same bank I have my checking accounts. The savings accounts I have are... 1) Emergencies 2) Travel Savings. 3) Saving For a Property I want to purchase overseas (An online savings acct) 4)Investment saving (I save up for awhile.. then invest the money)(An online savings acct). The 2 banks that I use for online savings are Ally Bank and Barclays Bank 

     Keep the change
     Attached to my 2 checking accounts is a savings opportunity from my bank called "Keep The Change" (I bank with Bank of America). How it works, is every time I use my checking account, the bank automatically rounds my money up to the next dollar and deposits the money into a savings account of my choice. So if I make a purchase for $21.50, my bank rounds it up to $22.00 and puts the extra .50 cents into my emergency savings account. It adds up really fast. If you don't have a program like this offered at your bank, you can always save the money yourself. And definitely always save your coins... My mom saved up for her dream diamond ring in a year by saving her change.

     Stay out of Target
     Or Primark, Or Walmart, Or Macy's, or the Mall... Or whatever store is your weakness. I love Target, I will stroll the aisles and suddenly convince myself of needs, and give in to a couple of wants too. I call Target the $100 store and Walmart the $50 store. Because I can't seem to walk out without spending money. So I stay out of Target unless I need to go (New underwear anyone?)

     Buy Quality Clothing and Shoes
     It might surprise people that I say you should buy name brand clothing. The thing is, if you keep buying cheap clothing, you have to keep replacing it. It doesn't wash well, it doesn't wear well, it shrinks, it loses shape and color. I always wait for sales though. My daughter loves Hollister and they have regular 50% off sales. My daughter also loves Converse (so do I) and I won't think twice about spending good money on a leather pair of shoes or my son’s cowboy boots, because I know they’ll last for years. Why keep replacing cheap clothing?? Spend your money on quality. Along with the quality items lasting, they will have good re-sale value... a good way to make extra income.
     Sell your crap! (And save the money)
     I am a big fan of simplicity, I'm also a big fan of minimalism. I am in the process of deciding what I can and can't live without. I have recently inherited nearly everything my mom owned as well as many things from my dad, when he decided to sell his house and move to Washington State. That aside, I do re-sell items in good condition that my kids outgrow. Though it doesn't make me a rich woman, I throw it in travel savings. The cheapest way to resell things is to use craigslist, garage sale or facebook selling groups, that way there are not shipping or selling fees. I do often use Ebay though, even though there is a charge, it hasn't failed me yet and reaches a larger group of people.

     Work part-time from home
     It would be a dream come true for me if I could work from home and travel when I wanted. But since I haven't quite figured out how to do that and keep regular income coming in, I work full time and then have a side business at home. I make and sell birdcakes and sometimes I babysit.. Parents like someone that is experienced to watch their children, so I will often pick up a few babysitting jobs right before an expensive vacation.. Like this summer we are going to Greece and Italy.. We are going to PAR-TAY!! And by party I mean go to at least 5 cities, do a lot of sight seeing and eating out... So I save any extra money I make. There are so many side businesses that you can do and actually enjoy.
     So there's the answer. I do my best to not blow money, I just think to myself "You can buy that, or you can travel"... Of course I buy clothes and needs. We all get our hair cuts, and spa treatments before holiday, I'm not a complete miser... The kids and I are always doing things together. Like I said, I'm not a big fan of "stuff" but I do like pretty things and nice shoes, however, I don't need 10 of everything and in every color. And there are tons of things to do with my family without spending a lot of money. It's all about moderation.
                                             Some fun free stuff to do 

(Or for very little money)
Google is your friend - Google Free things to do in your area
Art Galleries are often free
Museums are very often free
Parks are always fun
Go Hiking
Go to the Beach
 Invite friends over and make dinner
Rent a Redbox DVD
Have a picnic lunch with the kids/family/friends
Go Swimming
Etc Etc Etc

 There are so many things to do and still save money, just use your imagination. When we travel, that's when we do a lot of things like try new restaurants, pay for special exhibitions or visit monuments.
When I talk about travel, it doesn't just have to be for an overseas trip for 2 weeks, we plan many weekend excursions as well. Or save up to go somewhere local... For instance, Seattle is roughly an hour from us and we haven't had the chance to explore it yet. I see many weekends there in our immediate future!

If you have ways that you save, or know of fun things to do that don't cost a fortune, please share! I like to learn new ways of saving money for traveling!

 I didn't want this post to be even longer than it is, so I will include a part 2... ways I save to get the best deals when traveling, ways to save on accommodation and plane tickets.

Until next time,

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dairy Free Apple Pie

Is there anything better than warm apple pie? Apples and cinnamon piled on a flakey crust... Topped with a scoop of Vanilla almond milk ice cream?

For my family though, he problem was, apple pie crust is full of butter and so is the filling.
I wanted to make an alternative that my dairy free son could also enjoy, but I didn't want to use just another veggie oil/fake buttery/loaded with soy alternative. Then my sister-in-law happened upon a brand called "Melt"... She bought it for my son and we tried it. I was sold. 
This stuff is amazing and has made turning any recipe calling for butter, into a dairy free one. 

The best part for me is that the ingredients are sustainably sourced!!! That's a huge deal! A lot of today's products are grown by destroying rain forests. It's refreshing that a company cares about our planet.

The best part for my son... No Soy, No Dairy and organic! Before I go any further, I just want to say, I haven't been paid or coerced, nor do I work for the Melt company. It's just a really good product, and when I find something great, I share the news!
I use Melt buttery sticks when I make apple pie and it's delicious. My son doesn't eat pie often, but I like to bake and cook dairy free anyway, so that my teen has a lot of choices and so that he doesn't accidentally eat anything loaded with dairy. 
There is nothing different about this pie recipe, the only change is the dairy free butter instead of real butter... And let me warn you, I'm not one of those bakers that has these perfect looking pies... but it sure was delicious!
As you can see from my crust, I had to "patch" up a couple of areas... but no one sees the inside.
Did I mention it was delicious?
My favorite top crusts are cut from shapes, with cookie cutters. I used a star one, a special cookie cutter that my mom used to use. I like playing around with new crusts, and I think this one turned out pretty...
Before I baked the pie, I spread a little bit of melted "Melt" buttery sticks and a good dose of cinnamon sugar on the top


7 Medium apples
9 TBSP Water
4 TBSP "Melt" Dairy Free Butter
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2/3 Cup Sugar
2 TBSP + 2 Tsp Corn Starch
1/2 Tsp Nutmeg
1/2 Tsp Salt

Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Melt Vegan/Dairy Free butter + cinnamon over Medium heat. Stir in apples, sugar and 6 TBSP Water. Cover and cook until apples are slightly softened. 
In a small dish combine corn starch and 3 TBSP Water, add to the pan while stirring and continue to cool until apples are soft (not mushy) and filling has thickened. Let bubble one minute and then cool.

2 Cups of Flour
1 Tsp Salt
2/3 cup "Melt" Dairy Free Butter
5-7 TBSP Water

Put flour in bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the dairy free butter into the flour. Add salt and water to flour mixture. Mix until dough is formed. Roll out on flat surface. Carefully put your rolled out pie crust into your pie pan, cutting off overlapping dough to add later for the topping. Prick the bottom of the pie crust in a couple of places, and pre-bake before adding pie filling. Bake at 350 Degrees until lightly brown. 

Once the pie crust is slightly browned, add apple pie filling. Roll out remaining dough and shape/cut/place on top of your pie in any fashion you want. 

Before baking your pie, brush melted Dairy free butter over the top, as well as generously spinkle cinnamon and sugar over your top crust.
Bake for roughly 20-25 minutes at 350 Degrees 
This pie was so good, why add the extra fat and dairy? I'll always make my apple pie, dairy free now

If you're a dairy free, vegan or vegetarian baker, please let me know, I would love to swap recipes!
                                                                       Until next time,

Friday, January 19, 2018

A walk in Paris

What does one say about Paris?
May I say ... I had my doubts?
I had worried that I built Paris up so much in my mind, that It wouldn't and couldn't live up to my expectations. My daughter had fallen in love with Paris, just by name. This city of love, had some how managed to capture the heart of my 12 year old daughter, by no help of my own. So of course, I worried as well, that she would be let down.

I planned that we would spend two full days in Paris and return back to Ireland, where we were vacationing, on the 3rd day. However, it was not meant to be, as I accidentally booked our tickets on the wrong day. I was so disappointed in myself for making such a ridiculous mistake and I felt bad for Hannah. I had to rebook our tickets at the airport, and by doing so, had to book to leave from another airport. What a day that was... We finally arrived at our AirBnB around midnight.

But alas, Hannah took everything in stride, as she's a very positive child. We got sleep and looked forward to our full day in Paris.

Since we only had one full day in the city, we wanted to make the most of it. So far, we had only seen Paris at night, by a bus from the airport and then a taxi. When we ventured up the street the next morning, I can only tell you, that I had to stop, and just take it all in. Here we are in a Paris, we have no real real idea where we even are and I'm just standing there gasping and saying to my daughter "Oh my gosh, look at these buildings!"
Our first view of Paris...
Hannah and I discussed what we wanted to do most in Paris, for me it was the Lourve and as for my girl, she stated she wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and people watch! After finding our way to the Metro (Thank you citymapper) we headed to the stop closest to the Eiffel Tower. Though I have never been awed by the Eiffel Tower, I do have to say it's quite impressive in "real" life.
We decided not to climb the tower because of time, but we stopped for a short while, as my little lady wanted to ride the Merry-Go-Round (carrousel de la tour eiffel) near the Eiffel Tower.
We had quick lunch from a small outdoor mobile cafe, I had a turkey and chili coleslaw sandwich, but my daughter turned her nose up at trying anything new... The French LOVE their Nutella, I swear you can get anything covered in that delicious chocolateness, but refusing to try anything new or eat the chocolate goodness... she only had french fries. I'll be honest, when it comes to food, I'm not the most adventurous person, but I'm not afraid of an interesting sandwich!
We crossed the bridge Pont De Lena that links the left bank where the Tower is to the right bank and the district of Trocadero. It's really not that long of a walk to the Lourve from the Eiffel Tower, but it would have taken us at least an hour, so we took a bus for part of the way, and walked part of the way.
I can't stress how much the citymapper app has helped us when we travel, my phone service doesn't work overseas, but wifi is everywhere and that's all that's needed to use citymapper.
Walking along side the Seine (Port De Billy), allowed us to appreciate more of Paris. For instance... A building covered in plants?
And this view of the river Seine...
Walking around Paris also allowed my daughter the opportunity to spot a clothing store called Pimkie, she got shoes and a shirt. She loved seeing how the young girls dressed and what the fashion was. I once adored fashion, now, at nearly 50, I'm no longer obsessed with the latest trend. However, if you're like my daughter and love fashion, Paris is definitely the place for you! The young girls and mature women alike were very tres a la mode! We both passed on the clear boots though, should I go back for them?
When you do get on the bus, you will be in shock by the traffic... why shock? Okay... surprise maybe? My experience is, if there isn't a lane, I'm pretty sure the French make one! 
Using Citymapper we knew where to take the bus and how long the journey would take and cost.
The Louvre is surrounded by a stunning building called The Louvre Palace, it is honestly extraordinarily beautiful. 
And the Architecture outside of the Louvre Art Gallery? 
The Lourve was so crowded, it was hard to get pictures of any of the structures without 50 people standing around.
But we managed to get a few pictures with only a handful of people. July is a very busy time to go to Paris.
Many people were concerned for our safety when we told them we were flying to Paris, but I assure you, we felt very safe, there are armed guards almost at every turn, they are walking around and also in many of the Metro stations. I never once felt unsafe in Paris.
After the Lourve, we did a little more walking around, and decided to go to a cafe for dinner, so that my daughter could do her "people watching" as she likes to do. 
We also poked around this beautiful building that had shops on the ground floor.
As we considered where we would eat, we came across a cafe that my 12 year old daughter insisted we should eat at.
Are you ready for her choice?
I mean... Are you sitting down?
Hannah wanted to go to McDonald's... In all of Paris! She spotted the familiar golden arches and said to me "Mom I want to eat at McDonald's, because at least I know what food is there
Except it was called "McCafe"
Alas, we did our "people watching" from the 2nd floor of the McDonald's. My daughter was happy, and this was a trip that was especially for her, so I was happy.
Knowing we had an early start the next day, we made our way back to our flat in the late afternoon, again... thank you citymapper!
The Louvre Metro station had beautiful statues on display and the metro stops we used,were all very clean. Take that dirty New York subways, take notes and learn!
We will return to Paris several more times, it's a city that must be soaked up many-many times, it's a destination that has much to offer for all ages. With round trip tickets from London as cheap as $50, I see no reason to spend several weekends in Paris.
Before I close this post, and my very humble writing on our day in Paris, I want to share with you some of the doors we passed. Like Dublin, Limerick and London, they were elegant and had their own personalities. 
I hope you're having a great day,
Until next time,