When it’s Hard to Write

I sat down Sunday to write the next installment in my blog series about my travels with my son. My habit is to make the drive to pick him up from his weekend at his dad’s and chat about the blog topic on the drive home. Then, when we get home, he goes and does his things after a while, and I sit down with the laptop and piece it all together.

However, this Sunday it wasn’t that easy.

I had a wonderful weekend with my best friend from college. She and her husband live in Illinois with their adorable daughter (and my namesake), and I try to see them whenever I can. That hasn’t been easy here lately. I’d planned on going at the end of March (my spring break), but that obviously didn’t happen. So, since restrictions had finally started to lift, I decided to make the trip.

It was wonderful!

And I picked up my son.

It was wonderful!

Then we got home, and I made the mistake of popping on social media.

Suddenly the world pushed down harder and harder as I saw more and more hate-filled posts, people knowingly posting untruths because “they bring up a good point,” and posting venomous anger. So much anger. And it weighed me down – choking my soul so that my vision tunneled out the wonderful things of the weekend, and all I could see was this ever tightening ring of darkness, anger, hatred, and ignorance.

Suddenly I couldn’t write about the joys of visiting the Grand Canyon anymore. It seemed profane to think about happiness when so many people were hurting.

So what do you do when it’s hard to write?

I think you have to write anyway.

For me it was more of an “eventually” kind of situation. When that darkness starts choking, it becomes very difficult for me to do anything other than figuring out how to not choke. But today, I decided to write– not about the Grand Canyon, but write something. Later, I hope to be able to write about the Grand Canyon and the fun we had there. I know I will.

My final thought for today: Remember that all people are people. They have feelings, passions, families. Love people. All people.

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The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

As I take these adventures down memory lane of the travels I’ve made with my son over the years, I can’t help but have some of the fondest memories of our time in the Grand Canyon. For one, this was never a trip that I thought I would be able to go on with my son. For one, just getting there was something I didn’t think I would be able to afford.

In Europe, I’ve found travel to be amazingly cheap. A girl that I met in the Dublin hostel  I stayed in in 2016 flew from Milan to Dublin for €30 (approx. $35). That’s almost 900 miles. But for me to fly to Chicago (less than 200 miles by air) is $150 (approx. €135). Travel within the US is for some reason MUCH more expensive. In fact, I went to Dublin in 2016 because it was less than half as expensive as it would have been to go to Key West, which had been my original plan.

So, understandably I didn’t think it would be possible for me as a single mother to fly my son and I to Arizona, rent a car, get a hotel, and feed ourselves for the multiple days it would take to do the Canyon justice. I estimated it would likely cost us well over $2000… which, as an educator, would take a long time to save.

In stepped my parents. From my childhood, my parents understood the importance of traveling. We went on several trips as I was growing up: England, Florida, New England, and several states out west, as well as multiple trips to the Smokey Mountains and Chicago. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that my parents would suggest that instead of the traditional Christmas presents, they would like to take Gabriel and I on trips instead.

One thing that I feel I truly understand about parenting is this:

Experiences last much longer in the memory and create more true joy than any gift.

My father is an avid hiker – he has summited Mt. Rainer and Kilimanjaro, and in 2013 he wanted to do the Rim to Rim to Rim hike (starting at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, hiking to the northern rim, and then back again). And my mom thought it would be fun while he was off hiking, if we (she, Gabriel, and I) could explore the Grand Canyon and a few other national parks near(ish) there.

So, off we went in March of 2013!

It was much less expensive to fly to Las Vegas rather than Pheonix, so we did that. It is a much longer drive, but it seemed worth the money that would be saved. So we got our gear together and headed off to Vegas!

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Gabriel and my dad at the Indianapolis International Airport – two buddies!

The only real issue that we had at the airport is that the ticket counter workers wouldn’t let my dad’s friend bring the MREs they had packed for the hiking trip (I think) because of the heat tabs inside that they use for cooking. And that was their plan for food the entire hike. That was a big problem for them. We were going to arrive at the Canyon in the middle of the night and they were going to start their hike at first light (before stores would open).

But, there wasn’t anything that could be done. If I remember correctly, they kept the food and just relinquished the heat tabs. The plan was to stop at a camping supply store somewhere between Vegas and the Canyon and get what they needed.

The flight there was Gabriel’s first time in an airplane (he was 8 years old), and he didn’t seem to mind it. I think he was a little unnerved by the ear popping, but I armed him with chewing gum and showed him the joys of excessive yawning.

Walking off the plane in Vegas was hilarious for me. Literally– immediately after we got out of the passage from the plane to the airport we were greeted by this:

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slot machines at the airport????

I had never seen slot machines in real life before – just the movies – and it was fascinating! The music, the flashing lights… all very intriguing. I have nothing against gambling other than it seems like a big time and money suck, but I did find it a little disheartening to see so many people make a bee line for the slot machines straight out of the gate.  I can’t stop putting a puzzle together once I’ve started, so I figured that gambling would probably be a bad idea for me, so we kept on going to pick-up our luggage.

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Outside at the airport

 

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Lake Mead as we were leaving Las Vegas

Once we got our rental van, all six of us (my parents, my dad’s two friends, and Gabriel and I) packed in and headed toward the Grand Canyon. Since we were going to the south rim of the Canyon, that was a five-hour drive. That is until you figure in stopping at every. single. store. in between the two locations that might have camping gear. And that is exactly what we had to do. Apparently there had been a run on camping gear or something, because EVERY place we stopped was out.

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Gabriel keeping himself occupied during the drive

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The only stops we made were in towns, but I tried as best as I could to capture some of the rugged beauty of Arizona as we drove.

When we finally made it to the lodge where we were staying near the rim of the Canyon, it was late. Late, late. Like way past the middle of the night late, and our bodies (especially that of an eight-year-old) were still on Eastern Time. But we made it!

And as frustrating and long as the trip was, when we stepped out of the van, the night sky made me gasp. Out in the deserts of Arizona, there isn’t much light pollution at all– for HUNDREDS of miles. I’d been camping before out in the “wilds” of Indiana and Illinois and seen the “unpolluted skies” before… or so I’d thought.

Looking up from the parking lot, I saw more stars than sky! It was absolutely unreal, and I wish that my camera had done it justice so that I could share it with you. Alas, you will just have to find a way to experience it for yourself.

Every night for the entire trip I would go outside after dark and marvel at the sky.

The world has so many wonders for us. And just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful thing that I could ever see, the world surprises me and gives me something new. And the beauty is so diverse! The desert is a completely different beauty from the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, which is a totally different from the beauty of the rugged cliffs of Meteora, Greece, which is completely different from the magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome… and I could go on and on.

I honestly can’t pick which is the “most” beautiful… because each of their beauty is incomparable!

And that night, the sky above the lodge in the Grand Canyon expressed perfectly that phenomenal beauty that the world can give us.

Next week I’ll talk about our first day at the Canyon and the wonderful sights we saw!


If you are new to the blog – start here, at the beginning of the blog series about my travels with my son:

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?

Scotland in Kentucky?

My son and I love to go on adventures! In my current blog series I am exploring some of our trips from the past. Last week, I highlighted our first day at Mammoth Cave National Park. This week we are going to look at the places we stayed near the park, and a wonderful side adventure that we hadn’t planned on.

Where to stay when visiting Mammoth Cave

I’m sure there are several lovely places that you can stay near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. However, I am very partial to our choice — Glasgow, Kentucky.

I will be honest with you. I chose Glasgow because of the name. I’d wanted to go to Scotland for several years, but just couldn’t justify leaving my young son to go on my own, and I wasn’t about to take him with me and spend hundreds of dollars on a trip that he wouldn’t remember in ten years. So, Glasgow, Kentucky was my compromise! Glasgow does have their own Highland Games, but we were not there for that.

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Glasgow is a lovely little town to visit! Along with the wonderful history of the town, it is a beautiful place. The town square is typical small town USA, but what is not to love about that?

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We were there in excellent weather – it was a little cool, but pleasantly so. We were able to walk from our bed and breakfast to the town center in about two minutes, and there was quite a lot to look at, from statues, to lovely scenery, gazebos, and of course the old architecture.

Our bed and breakfast was the lovely Main Street Bed and Breakfast, which is still in operation. It is owned by a different person now– we went in 2012, and it went under new ownership in 2018. From the look of the website, it seems like it was placed in very good hands, and their dog alone makes me want to go back!

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The house was full of period decorations, exposed brick, cast iron fixtures- the works! It was simply gorgeous! Gabriel and I stayed in one of their smaller rooms with a private bath, and it was beautiful and spacious!

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The Greer Room

I was so pleased with the room! But that wasn’t even the best part! There was a lovely sitting room that was cozy and quiet.

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The breakfast was also lovely, but I won’t dwell too much on that since it is under new ownership, and I don’t have first hand experience with their cooking.

The kitchen was also an experience with decorative pieces everywhere, and a very inviting atmosphere.

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One very cool thing about the bed and breakfast was their private “cabin” of sorts. We didn’t stay there, obviously, but the owner showed it to us because it was vacant at the time we arrived. It offers a bit more privacy, and it has its own little porch. However, it is only a few steps away from the main house, so the walk to breakfast is possibly even shorter than coming downstairs from the Greer Room where we stayed.

I highly recommend both Glasgow AND Main Street B & B!

Unforeseen Surprise

Our second day at Mammoth Cave was filled with another tour of the main cavern as well as a walk through the museum, which was both informative and interactive – perfect for a young one (and his mom).

However, the coolest part of the day was talk with the rangers, of course! I have the utmost respect for these intelligent and caring individuals who ALWAYS made our trips more exciting.

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Gabriel got sworn in as a junior ranger of Mammoth Cave National Park, and then he had his second badge.

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Yet another wonderful thing about the rangers is that they love talking to the children who get the badges.  When the ranger found out we were returning home that day, she asked if we were going to the Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site, which was on the way back to Indianapolis. She even gave me a tip on a scenic route that was faster than the interstate… and prettier. And boy was she right! Unfortunately since I was driving and Gabriel was only six, I don’t have any pictures of the drive, but if you’re headed north from Mammoth Cave, definitely take the 357 to Hodgenville, Kentucky! Green fields dotted with white sheep and stunningly red tobacco barns followed us all the way there. For the first time in my life I understood why people voluntarily lived in Kentucky. 🙂

Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site is very beautiful! A hidden gem, it is lusciously green with wonderful hiking trails. We didn’t get to do much of that because we’d already had a full day before we got there, however, I would love to go back and look at their sunken gardens. Had I known about it before-hand, we would have stayed an extra day so that we could spend more time in Hodgenville.

The big “claim to fame” of the historic site is the monument with a replica of the cabin where Lincoln was born. It isn’t much to speak of on the inside, but the outside is very beautiful. There are 56 steps leading up into the monument that represent each of the years Lincoln was alive, and there are several references to the number 16 since Lincoln was the sixteenth President.

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In the end, Gabriel got a new badge, and we had a lovely stop partway on our trip home!

Come back next week we we jump forward in time to our trip to the Grand Canyon!


If you’re new to the blog, check out the other blogs in this series: 

St. Louis, Missouri 

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Or check out some of my other blogs about my other travels! Here are a few of my favorites:

The Healing Balm of Ireland

I found my soul’s home in Glendalough

“You stayed WHERE?” And Other Things People Say to Solo Travelers.

Igoumenitsa to Meteora – the unknown beauty of Greece

Mini-Vaca in the USA

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

After a successful trip with the boy (to St. Louis, Missouri), I felt very empowered to take my young son on more adventures. The park ranger at The Gateway Arch National Park was monumentally important in determining the trajectory for all of our trips from that point out.

Gabriel wanted more junior ranger badges!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Junior Ranger program and you have small kids, I highly suggest doing this with your children. When visiting National Parks, Historic Sites, National Shorelines, etc, visit the ranger station and your child will get an activity book to fill out while exploring the area. The workbooks are age adjusted, so the activities for preschoolers are much less intense than the ones for older elementary children. It’s a great way to learn about the park, and the park rangers get totally stoked to swear-in the kids. Every park we’ve been to, the rangers stop whatever they are doing to help kids– even at one park they “fought” over who got to swear Gabriel in that day.  They are wonderful, wonderful people!

Mammoth

Being a teacher has many positives and negatives, but one of the positives is that I have breaks from work when my son has breaks from school… for the most part. And, in central Indiana we have a modified schedule where we have multiple two-week breaks: two weeks in October, two weeks in December, two weeks in March/April. My school does something slightly different now, but at the time of this trip, we had two weeks in October- and so we looked for National Parks that we could drive to pretty easily.

Gabriel decided that his next adventure should be Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, just 3 1/2 hours from where we live. We decided to go over our fall break since the tree colors would be pretty on the drive and in the park.

On the first day of our trip, we started off early and went straight to the park. We got there in time to go on a tour of the main cave. There is a small fee to go on the guided tours, but it is well worth it for the vast knowledge of the park rangers.

There are a plethora of tour options from the very tame, where you walk on well-lit paths that are basically paved and accessible to everyone, to the extremely intense, where you are crawling on your belly and need head-lamps. I believe they even have zip-lining now!  We took the basic tour of the main cavern since my son was still quite young, just six years old.

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Entrance to the main cavern – note the park ranger on the far bottom right for scale

At that age, Gabriel soaked up every. single. word. the ranger uttered. He instructed me what I should write down in the activity book, and he made sure that I kept track of the different uses for the caves over the years.

Some of the great facts we learned:

  • It is the longest system of underground caves in the entire world
  • Originally it was thought to be several different systems that were eventually connected through further exploration
  • Portions of the cave are still unexplored and underwater
  • Evidence of Native American habitation has been found in multiple portions of the cave
  • For a time it was used as a tuberculosis hospital
  • Discoveries are still being made
  • Some animals discovered in the cave (insects) have completely translucent skin because of the complete lack of light (Gabriel’s favorite fact)

Park rules prohibit flash photography in the cave, and this was 2012, so I probably had an iPhone 3 that I was using as a camera. 🙂  Here are a few pictures that are less awful than the rest.

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The slope down into the cave

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It’s difficult to describe how massive the cave is– the shadow on the left is about four times bigger than the actual person that gives some kind of scope.

One of the coolest part of the tour we went on was that once we had walked around for a while and looked at the various sites, the ranger warned us and then turned out all of the lights in the cave. I have never known complete darkness like that. I had my hand right in front of my eyes, and couldn’t see anything – not even the movement of my hand. If it makes sense, it was even darker than when I close my eyes! The lights were only out for a few brief moments, but it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before.

After our tour, we hiked on several trails around the main cave and the visitor center. It was a beautiful cool day, but not so cold that you needed a coat.

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Trees on the trails

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This is the face of a very excited young man. He loved the hiking we got to do!

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“Take a picture of me walking by myself, Mom”

Fall was the right time to visit Kentucky. The leaves on the trees were turning, and it was positively beautiful.

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One of several “sink-hole” cave entrances

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This is his pensive stance

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Like many National Parks, Mammoth Cave has a lodge where you can stay in the park, and they also have several campgrounds for both tents and campers. We chose to stay in nearby Glasgow, Kentucky – but I’ll talk more about that in the next post when I talk about day two of our wonderful time at Mammoth Cave National Park!

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New to the blog?

Check out the first mom/son adventure that my son and I went on: 

Or, check out my adventures in Ireland in 1997 by starting here: 

How about my trip to Italy and Greece with some of my students? Start here:

School in the time of Corona

I went into the school building a few weeks ago to pick-up some things I needed for the remainder of the school year.

I’ve been in the school during the evenings, weekends, and over the summer. When I became a teacher one of the things that fascinated me the most about schools is that they are almost never empty! Evenings bring award ceremonies, sports practices, academic team competitions, and play practices. Weekends bring community groups, sports tournaments, and more play practices. The summer brings conditioning, renovations, elementary sports clubs, and more community groups.

I wasn’t involved in activities after school. I worked and was more involved in church activities than school. So it truly surprised me at how much activity buzzes around a school after 3pm and after the last day of school.

But when I went back a few weeks ago the school was almost completely empty. It was so strange. Eerie, even.

While I was there the period bells rang- which normally triggers an influx of sound. But that day— only silence.

No sportsball practicing
The silent hallways
Strangest of all… the always bustling media center

St. Louis, Missouri

Welcome to a new series on the blog!

Since last September, my blogs looked at my travels either by myself or with students. However, this Mother’s Day (in the US Mother’s Day was this last Sunday), I am starting a blog about the trips that my son and I have gone on — mostly by ourselves, but there will be a few travels that we also took with my parents.

We are kicking off the series with our very first mother/son trip.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a single mom of a fabulous 13-year-old young man. At the ripe ol’ age of 28 I found myself suddenly single with a 2-year-old– that’s a different story that I’d rather not get into in this light-hearted blog, but it gives you a little background.

Growing up, my family went on some truly wonderful vacations, and as my son got older, I felt like he was getting cheated out of those kinds of experiences because of my fear of traveling alone with a young child. So I decided that I was done “waiting around” for our life situation to change, and we began to go on trips, just the two of us.

So one day while driving home from Dairy Queen (an ice cream store for you non-Americans), I asked my son where he would like to go on vacation. He was five years old at the time, and I anticipated hearing something along the lines of Disney World or some other place that children have heard of. Instead he says boldly that he wants very much to go to St. Louis.

St. Louis? Where on Earth does a five-year-old year about St. Louis? And then it came to me… Veggie Tales… “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie. Meet me at the fair.” So I laughed, and figured when I asked him a few weeks later he might change his mind (as five-year-olds often do). However, Gabriel was consistent, and so a few weeks later I booked us a stay at a (cheap) centrally located hotel in the lovely city of St. Louis.

Though I grew up only a few hours away from St. Louis, I had NEVER been! I’d heard many lovely things about the place, but I mainly new about the arch and that was it. So I did some research, and a few months later, we were on our way- braving the road on our own!

Honestly, St. Louis was a wonderful place for us to start our adventures. For one, it’s only a four-hour drive from Indianapolis, which isn’t too terrible for a five-year-old to handle in one go. We did stop for lunch, where he lost his second tooth, and we found out that the Tooth Fairy does find you no matter where you are staying. AND she gives bigger gifts in new places because Mom didn’t have any change. 🙂

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Our first stop was, of course, the Mississippi River. We crossed the bridge from Illinois into Missouri, and pulled over almost immediately into the riverfront parking. We walked along the shore for a while enjoying the cool breeze off the water – the temperatures for the days we were there were in the mid-90s, so the breeze was welcomed!

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The first thing Gabriel noticed was a river boat, and we simply HAD to take the day cruise right that minute! So that’s what we did — it was the perfect way to see the city for the first time. The guide came over the speakers and pointed out famous landmarks and gave us historical insights into the city and the expansion of Anglo-invaders to the western portions of the United States.

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We chose the boat Tom Sawyer for obvious reasons– I’m an English teacher!

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The English teacher in me found the name of this boat particularly hilarious

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After our trip on the boat, we headed straight for the arch! Gabriel was blown away by the sheer size of the arch. We went under the arch where there is a museum run by the National Park Service and it is free (donations are accepted).  The museum gives much of the history of Westward Expansion, life on the prairie, and how people lived before the west was “settled.” It was truly fascinating for us both, and we came back the next day as well because Gabriel wanted to see it again.

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A statue of Thomas Jefferson – the president who pushed Westward Expansion

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partial replica of a sod house

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At this museum we had a defining experience. It seems strange to say that, but it is true. The park ranger who explained the museum to us gave us a worksheet for Gabriel to complete while we looked around, and he told us to come back when we were finished.

We walked around the exhibits and answered the questions and returned, as instructed, to the park ranger station. The ranger then told us about the Junior Ranger program, and explained to Gabriel (not me) the importance of keeping our National Parks and historic sights clean, safe, and protected. He told Gabriel that as a Junior Ranger, it was his responsibility to make sure he did whatever he could to keep the parks clean and safe. Then, he swore Gabriel in as a Junior Ranger and gave him his first (of many) Junior Ranger badges. Later Gabriel expressed to me that he thought the responsibility was too big for him and insisted that we go back and return the badge. It took quite some time before I was able to convince him that he was up to the challenge (so cute)!

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After leaving the museum, we went back above ground and walked around the arch.  We laid on the grass under the arch and looked up and traced it with our fingers and talked about how, from where we were, it looked like it got paper-thin at the top. He was fascinated and horrified (thankfully) that you could travel all the way to the top and look out at the world from the top.

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Here is a life lesson for you new parents out there: I should have stopped there. We had experienced quite a bit in our short time in St. Louis so far, and I should have steered us to the hotel and have been done with it. However, wanting to squeeze as much as we could into the day, I insisted that we keep going.

Five-year-olds do not have the same attention spans as their parents, and though I enjoyed the Old Courthouse quite a bit with its beautiful architecture…

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… Gabriel did not!

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This was after I told him we could get ice cream if he just stoped frowning. 

That night at the hotel we ordered a pizza and relaxed. Gabriel’s good mood returned when he learned that there was an entire channel on the TV dedicated to just golf! We watched golf for nearly an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore, and I finally got us both to sleep!

Day 2

We started out our day back at the arch, back at the museum, and of course the gift shop! We also took another cruise because our hotel gave us a free ticket… so we HAD to go! Then we visited the Dred Scott museum, and Gabriel was much more into that than he had been at the courthouse.

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Peek-a-boo!

We also encountered a lovely public park in the middle of the city with statues, fountains, and interactive art. I highly recommend going – it is just west of the Old Courthouse.

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Another note: You cannot do St. Louis the justice it deserves in two days! There were SO many things we didn’t do on that trip because we simply didn’t have the time. I’d learned my lesson the first day, and I let Gabriel guide the trip – and though I wanted him to see even more, I decided he would have the most fun if he got to choose the itinerary. So that’s what we did. We didn’t see the zoo, or the sportsball stadiums, the City Museum or Grant’s Farm. However, my son has the time of his life, and I enjoyed watching him enjoy the city!

All in all this was a wonderful first vacation for the two of us! We had an amazing time, despite the record heat they had that summer, and we made life long memories!

Come back next week to read about our next adventure – Mammoth Cave!

The End of Ireland… for now

The end of our trip was very sad for me – and probably a little for my parents as well. My biggest fear as an 18 year old was that I would never go back. Though we had traveled a good loop through Ireland (Dublin to Glendalough to Waterford to Cork to Blarney to Kenmare to Kilarney to the Cliffs of Moher to Sligo to Donegal to Carrick on Shannon and back to Dublin), I knew there was so much more to see– and so much more to see in the places we hadn’t stayed long… like Glendalough and St. John’s Point.

But our trip wasn’t over yet.

Leaving Carrick on Shannon we finally cut inland for the first time and headed back to Bellcamp Hutchinson. Though our trip around the coast of Ireland had held unimaginable joys for us, returning to Bellcamp was in many ways like returning home — to people we knew, beds we knew, and a few days of rest before the inevitable trip back to the airport.

We spent some time in Dublin again, but I have very little memory of those last few days. My mother reminded me that we went to a bookstore- a rather large one… two stories, I think. She wanted to find a book that was IRISH! So she asked a bookseller what she should get – if they had anything by an Irish author that would be good to get while in Ireland.

Coincidentally enough, they had just had an author signing there the week before and still had several copies of this man’s book, the first book he’d published. We’d never heard of the book or the author, but my mom bought it off the bookseller’s recommendation while I bought a book of Irish mythology.

On the flight home, my mom started to read the book, but she didn’t like the way it started and put it down. We didn’t think of it for months (or maybe even a year) until I heard the author’s name and title of the book again. I gasped and called my mom to see if she still had that signed copy of the book, and she did. And now on my bookshelf at school sits a signed copy of Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes with a unique cover that we didn’t get here in the States.

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Unfortunately I will have to use this picture as a place holder until I can go back to school again and get a picture of the actual book with Frank McCourt’s signature in it.

At this point, I feel that I have to admit an error in my memory from of the earlier posts — I mentioned going to Malahide Castle on one of our first days in Dublin, but my parents corrected me tonight (they’re good about doing that). We went to Malahide on our return trip to the Dublin area and enjoyed the grounds. The weather took a rainy turn, and we found a pub close by to get something to eat. None of us could remember what time of day it was, but we were nearly the only people in the pub, so perhaps it was a bit early for the lunch or dinner hour, but it was cold and rainy and they served us the most amazing potato leek soup that I have ever had in my entire life! Years later when I had a home of my own, I tried to duplicate this soup but fell miserably short.  Though my (then) husband said it tasted divine and asked me to make it again, it just wasn’t right. Maybe you need the Irish air, or Irish produce, or maybe it is just my mind romanticizing the memory, but I long to someday have soup that magnificent again!

My father also reminded me of something that I hadn’t put together. On our last day we went to a “small little village north of Dublin to see a regatta.” When my father mentioned this to me today in our weekly talk about Ireland, my heart jumped a little bit. I asked him if he would recognize the name of the town if I said it, and he said he probably would.

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“Howth?”

“Yeah! That’s it.”

On my My Take-Back Year (and a half) I traveled to Ireland on my own.  It was my first time back since I’d been in 1997. On the advice of a student, I traveled to the town that I thought I’d never heard of before.  Howth was the name of that town.  I spent the my birthday doing the cliff walk to the lighthouse and exploring the town. I loved Howth, and when (in my weaker moments) I start planning another trip, Howth is always on the list!

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Me on the cliff walk in 2016

The next day, we left for the United States, but I knew that I was leaving a part of me in Ireland that I didn’t quite understand. Ireland fed my soul. It spoke to parts of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d felt something tangible while in Ireland, a pull to go back, to find more.

I talked to my parents about their big take-aways from the trip, and my father talked about the magic of that night out on St. John’s Point. It was a place we just “happened upon” and had some of the most unique experiences there, like seeing the whales go out to sea. My mother talked about how much she enjoyed seeing the adventure through my eyes. It had been my graduation gift to go anywhere in the world, and she said it was fun to watch me experience Ireland. As an 18 year old, I wouldn’t have understood that, but now as a mom, I get it.

In fact, that has inspired me for my next blog series! I am going to talk about the trips that my son and I have gone on over the years and the joy of seeing things through his eyes. So, next week, we will start with our first big adventure as mom and son — St. Louis, Missouri! Stay tuned!

And if you missed any of the other posts from my 1997 journey around Ireland, you can click the links below.


The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

From the Highest Cliffs to the Famous River

Bathed in Positivity

I’m taking a short break from my series about my trip to Ireland in order to infuse a little much needed positivity into the world.

As I walked around the neighborhood the other day, I ran across some lovely, positive messages from the people who live around me.

Sometimes we just need a few brief messages to bring a smile to our day!

From the Highest Cliffs to the Famous River

Our trip around Ireland was nearing its completion, but the surprises that Ireland had in store for us didn’t stop just because we left the coast. After our phenomenal find on St. John’s Point, we received yet another great tip for a spot off the beaten path. If I learned one thing from this trip, it is how helpful innkeepers are at helping you find the “ins” in Ireland. So many times we would have driven past amazing sights had we not been instructed to go “a wee bit down the road” and find something amazing!

Our innkeepers at Harbour Lights were no exception — I don’t remember how the topic came up, but they told us we should check-out the “highest cliffs in all of Europe.” And of course we had already been to the Cliffs of Moher — but no! That was not it at all. Though the Cliffs of Moher were very breathtaking and awe-inspiring, those were not the highest cliffs in all of Europe.

Sliabh Liag – or “Slieve League” in American – are three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher, and though the cliffs at Sliabh Liag aren’t as sheer as the Cliffs of Moher, they left me dizzy with the immensity of the place.

If you happen to be traveling in Donegal- Sliagn Liag is a must see– beautiful, and far less trafficked by tourists (which is a huge plus in my book).

Like so many times before, it was difficult to leave a place so impressive, but we started to slowly make our way back to the east side of Ireland where our plane would be leaving in three days time.

Cutting inland, we drove through mountains and past beautiful lakes on our way to the lovely town of Carrick-on-Shannon. This was probably one of my favorite little towns that we stayed in. The name comes from the fact that the town is amazingly situated right on the River Shannon – a river with a glorious history and even more fascinating mythology. The Shannon runs from Shannon Pot in County Cavan to the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick where it dumps into the sea.  It is the longest river in Ireland (over 360 km, or 224 miles long), and it was the source of much joy that day!

Our bed and breakfast that night was Hollywell Country House.

The flyer from Hollywell

Like several other places we stayed, I’m not sure if it is still a bed and breakfast. It is listed on TripAdvisor, but the last review was left in 2014, and they do not have their own website.  However, when we were there, it felt like we were staying in a storybook house.

The proprietors and me at the front door

Hollywell was named after the owner’s dog, Holly pictured below.

The house itself was absolute perfection – my father described it as looking like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice would come walking out the front door. The proprietors were very kind people — as were nearly all of the innkeepers we encountered. And they had a very inviting sitting area where my mom found an Irish picture book that she nearly stowed away in her luggage because she liked it so much (just kidding, Mom… or am I?).

Our room at Hollywell

The breakfast room

Me in the sitting room

Mom contemplating how she can steal that Irish picture book 😁

The view from Hollywell into Carrick-on-Shannon

After checking in at Hollywell, we walked across a bridge into the town and enjoyed walking around and going into the shops. My purchase of the day was a copy of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra because I had just finished Julius Caesar a few days prior. My parents razed me for being such a nerd that my “souvenir” was Shakespearean play which most people my age wouldn’t go near. But… I was/am an odd duck – I’m not ashamed to admit it!

The innkeepers told us that you could take a river cruise on the Shannon, so that is exactly what we did. It was the perfect day for it! The sun was shinning, and it was so warm I rolled up my sleeves on the boat ride. The boat was small, but we got seated near the front, and thoroughly enjoyed our time.

The dock

On the river

Getting some sun on the river cruise

We even passed the bed and breakfast on the boat trip, and my dad got a picture of it from the river.

Hollywell from the River Shannon

Hollywell from the river

As our time in Ireland was coming to a close, there was a certain melancholy with us that evening. I feared that though I felt such a visceral connection to Ireland that I might never get back to this place that had stolen my heart and showed me a beauty that I didn’t know was possible. And if you had told 18 year old me (in 1997) that I wouldn’t be back until 2016 I would have probably cried.

I hope you enjoyed the blog this week. If you are new and haven’t read the other posts in this series, I’ve linked them below in chronological order.

Thanks for stopping by! Next Monday’s post will wrap up my first trip to Ireland, and then I will have to decide what adventure to take you all on next.


The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

The Things We Grieve

So many things have been lost in these uncertain times. From loved ones to the simple joys of going to a coffee shop to sit, drink, and read.

The ease of going to the grocery store is long gone- replaced with anxiety and empty shelves. Classrooms and hallways filled with lockers are empty now. Students who dreaded the daily routine now wish for some semblance of normalcy.

I’ve felt acutely aware of all of these things and have mourned various things – from death of a family friend to the smiles of my students every morning.

However, for some strange reason I got a gut punch today for something seemingly simple. My phone sent me a reminder that I purchased a ticket to see a play- and all of a sudden my mood took a nose dive.

Flashback to Valentine’s Day. As a single mom who has been terminally single for the last 11 years, the day has always been a struggle to maintain even a small iota is self-esteem. So this year I decided that I would “treat myself”— spoil myself by buying a ludicrously expensive (for me) single ticket to see a play later in the year. It was a novelty to spend so much on myself and dare to go to a play solo and to a play that I’d never seen before- one of my favorite- Hamlet.

I’ve read the play multiple times and seen nearly every movie version released after 1980– even spoof movies like Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. And though I have seen over 15 other Shakespeare plays on the stage, I have yet to see Hamlet.

And then came the virus. But I said to myself, This will all be over by the end of April. And then schools shut down. And businesses. And I finally got the email mid-March that the theater was canceling the show. I was sad then. But then I forgot about it.

Until I got a notification on my phone for the show. I’d forgotten to delete it off of my calendar, and just like that, I was suddenly grieving the loss of Hamlet.

So much of our lives have changed. So much has been taken from us. But we’ll be ok. I’ll see Hamlet eventually- and I will even enjoy it more as I remember the time I lost that chance.

We’ll make it through this. We will. And we will be stronger for it.