Back in 2013, we flew out Christmas Day to spend two weeks in Northern Ireland and one week in Scotland.  It was amazing.  Everywhere we went felt like we were in a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movie.  Although we stayed busy, it wasn't enough time to see everything.  So, obviously, we have to go back again, right?  Yea, I thought you would agree.  In case you are headed that way anytime soon, or I can convince you to go, here are my 15 tips for crossing Northern Ireland off your Bucket List:

Can't be real, right?!

1.  PACK LIGHT AND IN LAYERS.  First things first.  You need comfortable clothes for all the traveling and walking you're going to be doing.  Also, you need warm layers for the fickle weather and freezing wind.  Fit it all in a carry-on, if possible.  That way, you don't have to worry about losing your luggage.  Plus, the cars are like the tiniest things you've ever seen, so anything more than two carry-ons is not going to fit in their itty bitty trunks!

Headed out Christmas Day!

2.  SPEND A DAY IN DUBLIN.  Unfortunately, we flew in and out of Dublin, but didn't get to actually spend any time here.  Sad.  Next time, though, right?  And even though I didn't get to play tourist here, I know it should be on the list.  So, you should totally go.

The view outside of our bedroom window...like a fairy tale!

3.  STAY IN BELFAST.  We chose Belfast because we were visiting friends there, but I'm glad that's where we stayed.  I loved the city and would love to go back one day.  There was just the right amount of countryside and city.  Plus, there's so much history there!

Right outside Victoria Square

4.  TAKE A ROAD TRIP.  When we take a road trip in the USA, I imagine days, if not weeks, on the road.  However, our friends in Belfast consider two hours in the car to be torture.  Haha.  So, our entire road trip was one and a half hours and they felt like we had gone to the very edges of the country.  We ended up seeing places that even they had never been, even though they've lived there their entire lives!  The car was small and very cramped, but the countryside was beautiful and we stopped in several adorable little towns.

You can imagine how cramped we were in there!

5.  LEARN THE TRANSLATIONS.  Although the locals speak English, we felt like we almost needed a dictionary.  We quickly became familiar with the words and found that some are pretty important to know the difference.  For example, if I say "pants", I mean the long material covering my legs.  When they hear "pants", they assume I'm talking about my panties.  Haha.  That can make for some awkward misunderstandings for sure!

Another dinner at a pub!

6.  SHOP IN VICTORIA SQUARE.  I loved this mall because it was enormous and beautiful and decorated in Christmas lights.  What was crazy is that it was an open air mall, even though Belfast is not the warmest place.  It was probably the first time I ever walked around a mall to shop in my winter coat and scarf.

Don't you love the lights?!

7.  CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE DOME.  You get a 360 degree view of Belfast.  It's amazing and you won't want to miss it.

The view was amazing!

8.  SEE GIANTS CAUSEWAY.  I've always seen this place and been in awe.  It's even more magical in person.  Although I know Giant's Causeway is not man-made, it's still hard to believe it.  But seeing is believing, right?  The way that the rocks are shaped just perfectly and all fit together like a puzzle is just mind boggling.  You have to go there.

Giant's Causeway

9.  WALK THROUGH THE TITANIC MUSEUM.  I love history, especially learning about how people used to live, dress, what they ate, how they spent their days.  It's all so mysterious.  The Titanic Museum is built right next to where the actually boat was!  And it's built to the same height, to give visitors an idea of how the titanic towered over the people below.  Inside are many personal stories, clothing items, personal belongings, old photos and even rooms set up to show you what the cabins would have looked like.  Since being on a cruise in the past, it's crazy to see how much bigger are rooms are now compared to what people used to cruise in.

Titanic Museum is built to look similar to a ship!

10.  HOP ON A TOUR BUS.  You can easily walk all over Belfast, but your legs will definitely tire out and you'll end up missing some of the good stuff.  It's great to just hop on a bus your first day in the city.  Get a tour of the general area and then decide what places you want to come back to see in more detail.  Just make sure you remember the street you boarded the bus in case they randomly decide not to return you to the same spot!

I was shocked by the old bombed buildings that had never been restored!

11.  SPEND THE NIGHT IN A CASTLE.  One reason why we visited our friends in Northern Ireland when we did was because of a wedding!  Our friends Jonny and Michaela were getting married and I was asked to be a bridesmaid in the wedding.  The wedding was held at an old castle!  It was beautiful and we even got to spend the night there.  What a fun memory!

We spent the night in the room on the top floor!

12.  EAT AND EAT.  Fish and chips.  And don't forget the beer.  Need I say more?

I lost count of how many times I ate fish and chips.

13.  HANG WITH THE LOCALS.  We love to travel, but most of our travels are actually to visit friends who live in those countries.  This means that we have been able to go several times to Bolivia (where I grew up), the Faroe Islands and Denmark, Northern Ireland and Ireland, Scotland and probably some other places that don't come to mind right now!  Turn your vacations into time to catch up with friends you love.  You won't regret it.  Plus, you'll get a much better version of the lifestyle in that area that if you were on your own, staying in hotels.

My friend Michaela...I miss her!

14.  SEE THE CLIFFS.  While on one of our road trips, we drove an hour and a half to get to Sliabh Liag.  The cliffs were so steep and we were out of breath by the time we got to the top, but the view was so worth it.  It usually is!

Hiking up to the top of the cliffs.

15.  FLY OVER TO SCOTLAND, while you're at it.  Since we were already in Northern Ireland, Scotland was just a short and cheap flight away.  We flew over and stayed with some friends there for about a week.  I loved touring the castles and walking the streets of Edinburgh.  What a cool place to live, full of history.

Playing tourist in Scotland!

If you've been here before, let me know what I missed!  But, if you haven't been yet, as always I'm going to try to convince you to add it to your Bucket List and go!



Ok ok, so I would actually call us "plant-based", but not everyone understands what that means and so I find it easier just to say we are "vegan".  What's the difference?  Plant-based is just what it sounds like, a healthy diet based on plants.  So, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, grains and beans are our go-to.  Vegan? You can be vegan and still eat an unhealthy diet.  As long as someone doesn't consume animal products, they can call themselves a vegan.  Oreos and bacon bits and a bunch of other junk foods are vegan.  So, do you see what I mean?  Plant-based is healthy, but vegan doesn't always mean healthy.

I loved Hawaii and all the fresh coconuts on the road-sides!

Do you want to go plant-based/vegan, but don't know where to start?  Here are my 11 tips:

1.  Replace dairy products.  Instead of milk, you can easily use almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk and rice milk!  Instead of cheese, you can use nutritional yeast.

2.  Replace meat products.  Everyone asks us, "where do you get your protein?".  The answer is, we get it from beans, nuts, grains, seeds and veggies.  Also, don't forget spreads like almond butter and hummus and ingredients like nutritional yeast and spirulina.  Plus, you can always find a vegan protein powder...Young Living has one that I love in their Slique line!

We found this juice and smoothie bar in Hilton Head!
3.  Do your research.  Go to the library and book store to look through vegan recipe books for inspiration.  Or, if you prefer, browse Pinterest.  You can find all sorts of ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the snacks and drinks in between.  Also, take time to look up restaurants in the area that have vegan options, so that you are ready the next time a friend wants to meet you somewhere for lunch.  Tell her (or him) that there is a great new, healthy place you want to try!

4.  Make a plan.  Don't wait until you are hungry and freaking out to try to figure out what to eat.  Research ideas and come up some new recipes that you are excited to try.  You can meal prep and make some things ahead of time if you are super busy.

My new favorite is smoothie bowls!

5.  Go shopping.  Stay on the outside perimeter of the grocery store to find the freshest options.  As soon as you head down the isles, chances are you are going to be picking up packaged, processed foods.  Concentrate on filling up your cart with fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds with some beans too, if your recipes call for them.  You may also want something like rice milk and nutritional yeast if you love dairy and need to replace it, instead of eliminate it.

6.  Start with a good breakfast.  I love to have a fresh smoothie full of fruits like pineapple, mango, apple, orange and pear.  You can mix and match fruits until you find what you love!  Ironman, on the other hand, likes to start off his day with my homemade granola and rice milk, topped with berries.

Don't have time or want to shop?
Sign up to have smoothies, overnight oats, chia parfaits and soups delivered to your door!

7.  Grab a colorful lunch.  You can pack your own lunch, which is much easier when trying to follow a certain type of diet.  Or, you can search for places like Chipotle, which has veggie rice bowls!  Or, grab a salad at any restaurant (like this one) and ask them to hold back the meat and cheese.  Whatever it is, make it colorful with lots of fruits and veggies!

8.  Prepare a good dinner.  I love anything that I can cook in the crock-pot.  I do all sorts of soups and stews and usually serve them on top of brown rice.  All afternoon, I smell it cooking away and by the time Ironman walks in from work, it's ready to enjoy.  One pot, super easy.  We ate this last night and it's so good!

Ironman and I filled these rolls with our favorite veggies and quinoa!

9.  Treat yo'self.  You're going to have some cravings hit, so be prepared.  Dark chocolate is an easy option.  Nice cream is amazing when you want something cold and sweet.  Lara Bars are great to throw in your purse.  And when you're craving something that's rich with peanut butter and chocolate, make these!

10.  Focus on what you can eat.  Instead of focusing on what you can't eat, focus on what you can.  You can eat pretty much every kind of real food there is...veggies, fruits, beans, seeds and grains.  The options are endless.  The recipes are endless.
Ironman loves to make fresh juices...lucky for me!

11.  Be a learner.  Read books and watch documentaries frequently to stay motivated about your lifestyle change.  The China Study is a good read.  Some documentaries I would suggest are What the Health, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, Food Matters, Fat Sick & Nearly Dead...I watched them all for free on Netflix.

12.  Don't expect perfection.  Tell your fiends and family that you are starting out on this lifestyle change so that you have their support.  You may have to have a sit down and explain your reasoning so that they take you seriously.  And chances are, you will eventually fall off the bandwagon at some point.  Sometimes you will find yourself eating dinner at your parents home or cooking out with friends and there are no vegan options for you.  If you can, take something of your own to eat and share.  However, if you can't avoid the animal protein for some reason, just graciously eat it.  Not everyone will understand and you definitely don't want to hurt their feelings over food.

I have never been a big meat eater after growing up overseas and going to the market and butcher to buy our meat.  All the tongues laid out, entire cows hanging from a hook on the ceiling, blood and guts all over, flies and the absolutely horrible smell.  Because of those memories, I've never liked handling or cooking meat, let alone eating something that I saw before it was ready.  Yuck.  Lucky for me, Ironman was already plant based when I met him.  I remember him juicing carrots until his hands turned orange and eating spinach like it was candy.  So, as a newly-wed, I was learning to cook vegan/vegetarian from day 1.  It was a very slow learning curve and I've had over a decade now to find what we love and makes us feel good.  Going plant-based usually can't be done cold turkey.  It's going to take time, research, learning, failed attempts at cooking and baking.  And one day, maybe in a few years, you'll wake up and realize that you're completely vegan without even having to think about it anymore!  But give yourself some grace, even Ironman and I enjoy a good Marcos pizza every now and then.  However, the secret is always looking to improve yourself and your habits.  So, even in this area, we are currently looking for alternatives, without having to cook our own Friday night pizzas!



One of the many problems that I see with having everything that we could ever want or need is that it closes us off from others.  We spend far too much time sitting at home, behind closed doors.  Our neighbors are strangers and we are too lazy to dress up and show up.  And why would we anyway, if we have everything at home?  What we don't realize is that although it feels good to have everything we need and want, it could be what's cutting us off from the world.  We have all the stuff we could ever want, but it's stealing our time and freedom.  What if, instead of having it all at our fingertips, we had just the basics?  What if, instead of being home with everything we need, we were out with friends, running into familiar faces, having mini adventures and socializing with people more?

I always love a pop of red!

Does less stuff and more life sound like a breath of fresh air?  Here are 5 steps that you can take towards a more minimalist lifestyle:

1.  Go to the theatre.  Get rid of your TV.  Yep, I said it.  (I haven't done it, but would love to one day when Ironman agrees).  Instead, go out to the movies or go see a show at the local theatre.  Even better, get together at a friend's home to watch something together.  Choose a great TV series and you'll have a reason to see them again and again as you stay up to date on episodes!  Not only will this free up a lot of your time, but it will get you spending more time with loved ones!  And in all that free time, you can become a book worm...win win.

2.  Get outside or go to the gym.  Get rid of the at home gym equipment and get a gym membership.  Without that TV, you'll have more free time to add in activity.  This new habit will improve your health and social life!  Meet some friends at the gym, head there with your spouse or even go by yourself if you need some alone time.  My favorite thing to do is spend 30 minutes in the dry sauna and then 30 minutes showering, while Ironman works out.  Don't like the gym?  Find local rail trails and parks to get in that daily exercise.

Hiking in Arizona with my sisters!

3.  Visit the library and book stores.  Get rid of old magazines and books, including recipe books, as you work towards a more minimalistic home.  Take time to head to your local library and check out some books for free.  One thing that my husband and I like to do is head to Barnes and Noble.  We treat ourselves to some peppermint herbal tea, grab a few books and magazines and spend an hour flipping through.  It's a great way to get out of the house, learn something new and have time together without planning an elaborate or expensive date.

4.  Treat yourself.  Get rid of your at-home spa items.  The old nail polish only lasts so long, the fancy face scrubber probably needs replacing and you really shouldn't be dying your hair in your bathtub.  Instead, treat yourself!  Schedule in some down time and make appointments to be pampered.  Better yet, invite a friend for some girl time!

5.  Clear your calendar.  Give yourself more time to do the things you love.  Say no to things you don't enjoy so that you can say yes to those you do.  Don't schedule things back-to-back.  You need time to breathe.  Time to drive across town without speeding to get there.  Time to walk to that meeting without breaking a sweat.  Time to eat lunch without choking it down.  Just like material possessions, less is more when speaking about time.  Being an anxious mess doesn't look good on anyone.

Eggplant Parmesan was a hit!

6.  Spend time cooking.  Ironman's favorite part of the day is to come home and have something good waiting on him to eat.  So, I try to deliver!  Spend time looking for new recipes at your local library or book store (since you cleaned out all your old cookbooks, right?).  Or use my go-to, Pinterest!  Buy the ingredients, turn on some good music, diffuse your favorite essential oils and ask others to join in.  Your kids can help or have a friend come over to cook family dinners together.  Set the table, have everyone sit down to eat together until each person is finished.  Then clean up together.

7.  Spring clean your home.  Begin slowly cleaning out each room.  First, go through and immediately clear out things that you haven't used or worn in a year or things don't love.  Then, go through again and get rid of things that are broken, expired, torn, stained, too big, too small, duplicates, just plain ugly, etc.  After many loads to Goodwill and the dump, you should be left with only things you use and love (and some sentimental items).  Once that is done, find a place for every item in your home and always keep it there.  If you get it out, put it up as soon as you are done.  Make your bed each morning.  Clean the kitchen each night.  When you practice this lifestyle, you'll never freak out when someone randomly shows up because your home will always look great!

8.  Become a borrower.  If you don't have it, don't buy it.  Consider asking around to see if someone has that item and would loan it to you.  Chances are, your friends or family would be happy to have you drop by, catch up and send you off with what you need.  Not only does it save you money, but it keeps the clutter down in your home and connects you to the people around you.

Instead of building your own empire at your home address, think of ways to downsize your home and get out more.  Home should be a wonderful place, but not a place we go and hide from the world.  Go outside.  Meet your neighbors.  Use free local resources.  Exercise daily.  Eat well.  Learn to say no.  Spend more time with loved ones.  Less stuff, more life.