Archive for the ‘Trips/Holidays’ Category

With our eldest off to college next year, our little Irish family decided to squeeze in as much traveling as we could over the summer. One of our destinations was South Africa.

South Africa is an amazing country…rich and long in history.

While in Cape Town, we took a boat ride out to the notorious Robben Island. It was there that Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years incarcerated. Here is a peek into his tiny cell.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell, looking through a key hole.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:
* Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge: Peek
* Nelson Mandela Biography


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Say the phrase “road trip” in our Irish home and you’re likely to hear “hooray” back. I’d love to think it’s because my two sweet girls enjoy spending quality time with my husband and me, but the truth is they actually equate road trips with rubbish…and lots of it. Coca Cola, chocolate, crisps…you name it…if it can be purchased in a petrol station, we’ve probably got it in our car.

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This year, however, our junk food road trips aren’t happening. Instead, I’ve been trading out the rubbish and replacing it with something a little more healthy. As you can imagine, the kids aren’t exactly thrilled with the change, but they’re being good sports and playing along nicely.

On a recent trip from Dublin to Belfast, I stocked the car with two of our favourite Irish treats: Flapjacks and Mars Bars Biscuits. I also made some trail mix.

Homemade trail mix with nuts, raisins, berries and chocolate chips


Now, trail mix is a relative newcomer to our snack box. Ehem…yes, we have a “snack box” in our Irish home. It’s a large plastic tub filled with food items the girls know they can dip into any time with no questions asked. It was something I started when they were teeny-tiny and it has worked really well for our family so it’s stuck. But I’ve digressed…

The trail mix I’ve been making is an absolute rip-off of a packet I bought last year while in America. I’d give full credit to the makers, if I still had the wrapper…but it’s long gone, so I can’t. Packed with fruits and nuts and just the right amount of chocolate, it is sweet and salty. I think it’s the perfect road trip food…or the perfect airplane snack for that matter.

Thankfully, everything, except the white and dark chocolate chips, is readily available in our local health food shop, so it’s not difficult to throw together. The chips I tend to pick up at Cavistons in Glasthule.

As for our recent Irish road trip…my youngest daughter, a girlfriend from Germany, my little brother, and I traveled from Dublin to Antrim to finally see Northern Ireland’s spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sight the Giant’s Causeway. The drive time took just under three hours each way and was incredibly pleasant.

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When you get to Giant’s Causeway, there are four walking trails with amazing views from each. When you’re done, there is a restaurant right next to the entrance called The Nook, call in if you’re hungry. We had a really good meal there and, though we probably shouldn’t have, we also had Irish coffees!

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Photo Credit: The Nook Restaurant

Given that we started our road trip late in the day, we didn’t have time to stop at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is only about 12 miles away along a coastal path. If you have time, stop and see if you’ve got the nerve to cross the bridge. I have no doubt we’ll be back to test our nerves.

And, finally, if you’re interested in a wee bit of Giant Causeway folklore, it is said that Finn MacCool, the great Irish warrior, built it as a bridge to Scotland to challenge his rival, the giant Benandonner. On seeing the enormous Scotsman, Finn scurried back to Antrim, where his quick-witted wife disguised him as a child. Benandonner, hot on his heels, crossed the bridge too and upon seeing the hulking baby, decided: “If that’s the baby, I don’t want to meet the father” and turned tail back to Scotland, ripping up the highway behind him.

Fact or fiction, this wonder of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns is a road trip worthy destination. Don’t forget to pack up your healthy treats!

Homemade Trail Mix


2 handful raisins

2 handful cranberries

2 handful chocolate chips

2 handful white chocolate chips

2 handful goji berries

2 handful mulberries

3 handful chopped walnuts, oven toasted

3 handful pistachios, shelled and oven roasted

3 handful pumpkin seeds, oven toasted

3 handful almonds, oven roasted


Easy Peasy: mix everything in a large bowl and you’re done!


Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Here’s a quick overview of the trip on Google map.

** Looking for help planning your trip? Checkout this website for more information.


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DSC00253In the spring of 2013, I had a real bee in my bonnet about taking the family to Washington, D.C. The driving factors for this all-American holiday were: 1) my husband and I wanted to take the kids on a trip of cultural and historical significance; 2) Barack Obama had just been re-elected to a second term in office and talk of American politics was still raging and; 3) the girls were just the right age to introduce them to a bigger dose of their American heritage.

My parents took my brothers and me to D.C. when we were about 3, 8 and 9 years old…a trip that took our family of five from Los Angeles, CA to Hartford, CT and return in a 1966 Mustang! Those were the days when a family road trip meant long hours spent playing “spot the license plate” and singing John Denver songs. Nevertheless, the city left such a profound mark on me that I would eventually return many times as a college student to work on Capitol Hill. At one time, I even thought I’d have a career in politics.

DSC00076From the beginning, my husband and I agreed we wanted to make the most of the experience and come away with a feeling of having garnered some knowledge. This meant planning the trip with military precision because, surprisingly, a week in Washington really isn’t enough time to see everything. Fortunately, there’s no better woman than yours truly to plan a holiday. Heck, if I can plan a July 4th celebration in Ireland for an American Ambassador and a 500+ people cycling event around Dublin City Centre at midnight for a fundraiser, surely I can figure out how a family of four can take in the sites, sounds and tastes of D.C.! Here’s how the trip went:

Day 1 ~ Travel Day. Get to D.C., check-in at Westin Georgetown Hotel. Unpack bags, walk to dinner at Westend Bistro and walk into Georgetown to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.

IMG_3636Day 2 ~Monument Day. Borrow bikes and helmets from the hotel. Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien. Cycle to Georgetown University to show the girls an American college and then cycle over to the national monuments. You can take a trolley tour or double-decker bus tour, but riding bikes was great fun and left us in control of our day. Visit Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Reflecting Pool, WWII Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Dinner at Meiwah and walk back to Georgetown for an ice cream at Thomas Sweet.

Day 3 ~ Museum Day. Breakfast at the hotel and a walk to the Air & Space Museum, American History Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Tip: Do a Google search of each museum prior to your trip to find out the exhibits you are interested in. Make a list and immediately upon entering a museum go in search of the things on your list. This way, you’ll see what you want to see and probably have time to wander about at your leisure or go to another museum without wasting time! After a day on our feet, we took a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner at Blue Duck Tavern and DSC00199we walked into Georgetown to have frozen yogurt at Pinkberry.

Day 4 ~ Shopping Day. Back to Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast and then spent the day strolling around Georgetown shopping. The shops range from antiques to wigs, so there’s something for everyone. Pack a spare duffel bag in your luggage, as you’ll find all sorts of wonders to bring home. Here’s a great “Shopping in D.C.” article from the Washingtonian.com. Dinner at Cafe Milano…this isn’t your Cafe Milano as we know it in Ireland. This is better!

Day 5 ~ Capitol Hill Day. Breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a D.C. institution. Sight-seeing for the day: the Capitol Visitor Center, the Capitol Rotunda, The Senate and House Galleries, Library of Congress, Supreme Court Tour, the White House, and the White DSC00240House Visitor Center. At White House Gifts we had a family photo taken behind a replica of the Presidents’ Resolute Desk and Press Office Podium, which was fun for the kids. If you’re an American citizen, contact your Senator or State Representative to see about joining a tour led by a member of his or her staff and getting a pass to enter the Senate or House Galleries. For tours of the White House check out this site. Dinner was picked up at Chop’t on our way back to the hotel. We ate in our room and watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (a fun way to get the kids to test their memory of the places we visited in D.C.!).

Day 6 ~ Mount Vernon. After breakfast at the hotel, we jumped into a taxi and took a twenty-minute drive to the gorgeous and interesting Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is the plantation home of America’s first President, George Washington, and his wife DSC00343Martha. A visit there offers a glimpse into 18th-century life through beautiful gardens and grounds, intriguing museum exhibits, and immersive programs honoring the couple’s life and legacy. There is so much to see, we spent a whole day touring around at our leisure. Dinner at Founding Farmers, farm-to-table restaurant. Later we walked from the hotel into Georgetown to get cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake.

Day 7 ~ Last day…The Spy Museum and brunch at Poste Moderne Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco. We didn’t have much time on this last day as we were flying back home. The kids loved The Spy Museum…my husband and I not so much…it felt very “touristy”. I have no regrets of going, however, as the kids had been so good all week about visiting places of cultural and historical significance.

DSC00362Tips for visiting D.C. with kids:

1. Wear your runners (tennis shoes) or your most comfortable walking shoes. If you are like us, you will be walking everywhere every day.

2. Do not carry backpacks. Many of the museums and destinations require security searches which can mean waiting in long lines. The girls and I carried cross-body bags and in them we each had a reusable plastic rain poncho, an umbrella, a water bottle, iPod/phone, headphones for using iPod/phone, and a map of DC. I also carried a notepad and pen and every day I had my notes for the places we would be seeing.

3. Pack appropriately for the weather. In the summer, DC is hot and humid. In the winter and early spring, it’s very cold. Autumn is a lovely time to visit, but be ready for rain.

IMG_36564. Before you travel, research each place you plan to visit online for special exhibit listings and opening and closing times. For each day you will be in DC have a typed agenda highlighting what you want to see and why you’re going. For example, we had five typed packets: Monument Day, Museum Day, Shopping Day, Capitol Hill Day and Mount Vernon Day. Each packet listed the places we were going, the highlights of each place, when the places opened and closed, and the historical or cultural significance of each. I realise this is a lot of extra work, but it saved us from having to carry a travel guide with us.

5. Pick up a map from the concierge of your hotel. They’re light weight and easy to carry.

Additional Resources:

1. For a resource of things to see and do check out 100 Things to do in Washington, D.C.

2. Excellent responses about what to see in Washington from DC locals at Ree Drummond’s blog.

3. Kid Friendly Museums and Hands On Attractions here.

4. Sight-seeing information from Old Town Trolley Tours here.









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Today I’m giving you the facts, and just the facts, regarding Irish films at Sundance 2014 as they are reported across various media outlets. None of these are my own opinions.

There are four films at Sundance that have an Irish connection. They have either received funding from the Irish Film Board (IFB), have been filmed in Ireland, have been in post production in Ireland, star Irish actors, or some combination of the above. The films are: Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank; John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary; Ciaran Cassidy’s The Last Days of Peter Bergmann; and Jack Paltrow’s Young Ones.

Currently there are trailers for only three of the films:

Press coverage, as of today, for the films at Sundance {good, bad and indifferent} includes the following:

Calvary from The Hollywood Reporter: “John Michael McDonagh’s 2011 debut, The Guard, provided the wonderful Brendan Gleeson with a vehicle for some of his best screen work, playing an Irish West Country cop unencumbered by diplomacy skills. But the follow-up collaboration of the writer-director and lead actor is in a whole different league. Gleeson’s performance as a man of profound integrity suffering for the sins of others is the lynchpin of this immensely powerful drama, enriched by spiky black comedy but also by its resonant contemplation of faith and forgiveness. Representing a considerable leap in thematic scope and craft for McDonagh, Calvary deserves to reach the widest possible audience.”

Calvary from Variety: “McDonagh and his collaborators have delivered a technically immaculate work that feels appropriately austere by comparison. D.p. Larry Smith’s widescreen compositions are framed with unfussy precision; as stunning as the rugged landscapes are to behold, particularly the shots of waves breaking against cliffs (the production shot on the east and west coasts), the lighting and color balancing of the interior shots are no less exquisite.”

Calvary from The Guardian: “Calvary boasts a sharp sense of place and a deep love of language. It’s puckish and playful, mercurial and clever, rattling with gallows laughter as it paints a portrait of an Irish community that is at once intimate and alienated.”

Frank from The Hollywood Reporter: “Whimsy and madness mix for an very unappetizing cocktail indeed in Frank, a gently eccentric account of an avant-garde band whose leader wears a large artificial head with a cartoon face painted on it. Irish director Lenny Abrahamson clearly means to beguile with this weird mix of moods and methods — goofy comedy here, sudden slashes of tragedy there, momentary eruptions of musical inspiration overshadowed by admitted mediocrity — but the mash-up of elements combine with a singularly unpleasant roster of characters to create a work of genuinely off-putting quirkiness. Particularly gullible younger audiences and fringe music fans might synch up with the sensibility here to create a modest cult following, but on any serious level this oddball creation doesn’t cut it.”

Frank from Variety: “Of all the acting challenges Michael Fassbender has faced, none quite compares to performing without the use of his face. That’s precisely what’s required in “Frank,” a weird and wonderful musical comedy about an oddball outsider band whose mentally ill frontman insists on wearing an expressionless plaster mask at all times — both onstage and off, in the shower and even to bed. It’s the sort of affectation that gets films labeled as “quirky,” although this one happens to be inspired by a true story. Luckily, helmer Lenny Abrahamson (“Garage,” “Adam & Paul”) puts the pic’s eccentricity to good use, luring in skeptics with jokey surrealism and delivering them to a profoundly moving place.”

Frank from Collider: “Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is a funny, warm, thoughtful story about crafting an artistic identity, and needing to seize on to someone else’s expression when you don’t have one of your own.  It also provides an insightful look at the fault in trying to forge an identity based on the acceptance of others instead of embracing one’s own oddities and shortcomings even if the world at large sees them as “insane”.”

Young Ones from Collider: “Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones is remarkable in how it does so much right, and yet it leaves the viewer completely cold.  Its strengths are undeniable and its flaws are subtle, so subtle that it can be confusing as to how such a technically superb picture can be so ineffective.

Young ones from Variety:A hodgepodge of Western, sci-fi and Greek tragedy, “Young Ones” is certainly one of the more unique films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But the sophomore effort from Jake Paltrow (“The Good Night”) gets so bogged down in its primal tale of murder and revenge that the most intriguing elements become little more than futuristic window dressing. Unfolding in three distinct chapters, each featuring a different protagonist, the visually rich and dramatically spare pic plays a bit like a cinematic graphic novel. A cult following could be in the offing, but commercial prospects otherwise appear limited.”

Young Ones from The Hollywood Reporter: “Ponderous, self-important and thematically narrow, Jake Paltrow’s dystopian future Western set in a Dust Bowl where water is controlled by the state and monopolized by industry is all oppressive mood and atmosphere with not much on its mind beyond an old-fashioned tale of murder, retribution and a robo-cow. Young Ones is visually commanding and not without inventive ideas, plus its pared-down narrative at least rescues Michael Shannon from the thudding memory of Man of Steel. But otherwise this lethargically paced, dehydrated update on There Will Be Blood will be strictly for artsy minimalist sci-fi enthusiasts.”

Commenting back in December on the early Irish line-up for Sundance 2014, James Hickey, Chief Executive, of the Irish Film Board said: “Irish film has performed very well at Sundance over the last number of years. Films such as The Guard, Once, His and Hers, and The Summit have all been discovered at the festival and have gone on from there to be distributed internationally.” “Both Frank and Calvary showcase the excellent work happening right now in the Irish industry and they include a world-class line-up of Irish stars including Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson. Chris O’Dowd, Domhnall Gleeson, Aidan Gillen and Killian Scott. It is a very positive start to 2014 for the industry and a great representation for Ireland internationally.” 

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Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden

Yesterday was tough. I’m not used to partying into the wee hours of the night…but that Day One Sundance kick-off event sure was fun!! After only four hours sleep, I dragged my sorry self out of bed and dressed quickly for the 9.00am premiere of Whiplash.

Here’s what the Sundance catalogue says about Whiplash:

Andrew, a promising 19-year-old drummer at a cutthroat Manhattan music conservatory, has little interest in being just a musician. Haunted by his father’s failed writing career and plagued with the fear that mediocrity just might be genetic, Andrew dreams of greatness. Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps, he practices daily until his hands literally bleed. The pressure of success ratchets into high gear when he is picked to join the school band led by the infamous Terence Fletcher, a brutally savage music instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential. Under Fletcher’s ruthless direction, Andrew begins to pursue perfection at any cost—even his humanity.

The truth is, this film is so much more than the description above lets on…which is part of why Sundance is so great…you never know what you’re going to actually get until you sit through a film.

The Audience Waiting for Whiplash to Start

The Audience Waiting for Whiplash to Start

The Cast and Crew Taking Audience Questions

The Cast and Crew Taking Audience Questions

Gripping, electrifying, potent, and emotionally engaging are words I would use to describe it. Damien Chazelle, the film’s 28-year-old writer-director, drew from his own personal experience for the story. {No wonder he’s not a professional musician!} His short film of the same title and subject won an award at Sundance last year. Actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons relationship on screen as student and teacher locks you in immediately and keeps you there the entire time. I won’t give anything away but do want to say two things…1) Towards the end of the film, the plot turns and twists like a wicked roller coaster ride. 2) At the very end, I found myself wanting to shout, “don’t give in, don’t give in!”, it was that damn engaging. When you see Whiplash, and you should, I think you’ll find it a fascinating movie. There’s no surprise it was chosen as the World Premiere Film to kick-off the 2014 Sundance Festival {though I believe in previous years the kick-off film hasn’t always been as good}. I, for one, think it has a very good chance of winning the U.S. Dramatic Competition award.

Two hours later, and back at the Eccles Theatre, I was at the world premiere of Camp X-Ray. This highly anticipated first feature-film from writer-director Peter Sattler sets aside the political controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay and instead focuses on the personal relationship between an unlikely pair: a recently arrived young female MP (Kristen Stewart) and a long term uncooperative male “detainee” (Payman Maadi). It is the film that has had everyone abuzz for weeks and the speculation was that this would be the box office smash of Sundance.

Photo Credit: Beth Dubber

Photo Credit: Beth Dubber

The truth is that while the film is very good…it is not great. It lacks a certain “refinement”, feels slow at times, and could benefit with some minor tightening, particularly in scenes where Kirsten Stewart’s character, Amy Cole, is interacting with characters other than the those living on the base.

Many of the online reviews for Camp X-Ray say the film received a standing ovation but, the fact is that it was only those sitting immediately around Stewart who were standing. Her performance {and that of Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch, and others} is good…very good. For Stewart, in particular, this role confirms she is an actress to watch and elevates her far and above the Twilight series she became famous for.

The Line to see Camp X-Ray World Premiere

The Line to see Camp X-Ray World Premiere

The Cast and Crew of Camp X-Ray Taking Audience Questions

The Cast and Crew of Camp X-Ray Taking Audience Questions

Overall, Camp X-Ray is a very good film…one to see…but don’t expect to walk out having been bowled over by it.

Today I am all about The Case Against 8 film, which is having its world premiere at Sundance. I am fortunate to be attending as a guest of Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, two of the plaintiffs (along with Kris Perry and Sandy Stier) in the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 case.

Diana Walker

Photo Credit: Diana Walker

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Oh good Lord! I just rolled in from the Sundance 2014 Day One Party and just have to say…it was AMAZING! No, I did not go to the An Artist at the Table event up at Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, where the meal was prepared by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. At $1,500 per person it was a little too rich for my pocketbook. Nor did I go to the Eccles Theater, where guests were welcomed by Robert Redford and then watched the opening night premier movie, Whiplash. Nope…though I did hear both events were very well done this year.

Day One Party 2014


Instead, I was over at the Legacy Lodge at Park City Mountain Resort having an absolutely brilliant time dancing my heart out and sipping on ice cold beverages courtesy of Stella Artois and Ketel One. Billed as “annual celebration where filmmakers and Festival friends reunite or meet for the first time” it didn’t disappoint.

I was thrilled to say “hello” to Michael Rossato-Bennett, Director/Producer of the film Alive Inside, right off the mark, and many other people I met today {or is it yesterday?} while walking on Main Street. And, as I was leaving the party, I had a lovely chat with Ryan Patrick McGuffey about raising the Irish presence a wee bit higher at Sundance next year {Ryan, I’m not letting you off the hook…you said you were “in” and I have witnesses!}.

All in all, it was great craic (fun)…just sorry I didn’t get more/better photos!

Film news to follow tomorrow…from Sundance 2014…goodnight.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 12.27.05 AMToday is Day 1 of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and like so many others (50,000 give or take a few!), I am excited and delighted to be in beautiful Park City, Utah during the 30th Anniversary year of this prestigious event.

In his own words, Founder and President of the Sundance Institute, Robert Redford has said, “I started Sundance to provide a home for independent storytellers and inspire a community of people to experience their work. Three decades later, this simple idea continues to drive all that we do.”

It was a simple idea…give independent filmmakers a place to showcase their work and let’s see what happens.

Now, 30 years later, the Sundance Film Festival has become an institution that reaches out to the four corners of the world and brings filmmakers, movie lovers, industry-types, celebrities, everyone together for ten days of watching and learning. It is, in two words…simply terrific.

To get a brief overview of the past 30 years, check out this interactive timeline the Sundance Institute has posted on their website. And, see John Cooper, Director Sundance Film Festival, and Trevor Groth, Director of Programming Sundance Film Festival, talk about the 2014 event and looking back at three decades at The Wall Street Journal.

For a full listing of films at this year’s Sundance, check out the online version of the Film Guide. And, last but not least, to read about the Irish entries check out Calvary, Frank, and The Last Days of Peter Bergmann.


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