Dec 31, 2011

2011: A year in review

I've been reading my fellow blogger's posts about all the exciting stuff they did in 2011 and their hopes for 2012.  I am green with envy reading about trips along the California coast and new dirt bikes!   This year I had my own bits of motorcycle heaven but for some reason they seem so far away now that December and the cold has set in.

Somewhere on the way to Texas..with Marshmellows
In February I decided to let my beloved R1200GS go and downgrade to a G650GS since I wasn't riding as much as I should.  The new bike, named Runkle, and I bonded over short rides around Portland.  In August I took a two week motorcycle ride to Texas, tired of waiting for that perfect moto companion, I ventured off by myself and realized going alone can be spectacular.  I also realized it IS true, there is no bad weather, just bad gear.  I camped in quiet, secluded areas, wide awake all night waiting for a serial killer to approach.  I slept in motels I hope to never see again and RV parks where the people were friendly and helpful.  I rode in 109 degree temperatures with sweat and sunblock dripping from my face.  And I met more people this year than ever before...people who offered advice along the way and others who were just amazed a chick would dare set off on a motorcycle solo.

I wrote my first online motorcycle article, bought a fancy new Shoei helmet and was given the opportunity to test a pair of Aerostich AD1 pants that I don't know how I ever lived without.

I transferred from Portland to Eugene for work (on purpose!), and moved into what I like to call the "death house" since the last two people who lived here have died.  (Not the best odds, huh?).  I vacationed in Scotland and Ireland, flew to Texas (about a month after my ride there), and reconnected with friends and family...watching some experience the happiest moment of their lives and others suffering through the most awful tragedy  anyone could have.

Through it all I've come to realize that life really is what you make it, that happiness and beauty is all around but you just have to open your eyes to it,  and that you can make any decision you want as long as you are willing to suffer the consequences.  I also realize I am lucky...I have everything I need and those things I want, I sometimes get.

2011 has been good to me in some ways, awful to me in others.  Given that, I am glad 2011 is over in a few hours, and I hope 2012 brings me more margaritas, more laughter, more motorcycle rides, more moments of sheer bliss, and more knowledge.  

My hope for all of you is that you know what you want, you get it, and that 2012 is your best year yet.  And to all those who have lost someone special this year, I wish for you peace and that the swiss cheese that has become your heart is plugged, hole by hole, with laughter and friendship.

Happy New Year!  

Dec 15, 2011

Scotland/Ireland: 2011

The last few days of our trip we settled into Dublin, Ireland within walking distance to the Temple Bar area.  Temple Bar is blocks upon blocks of shops, pubs, art studios, and herds and herds of people.  I wasn't thrilled about being in the big city, and even less thrilled to be so close to such a hip and happening place where the people walked like cattle ready to slaughter.  My small town mentality had a hard time grasping what fun there would be walking amongst thousands of other tourists as we attempted to locate some music and food.  However, I actually found Dublin to be much more entertaining and likable than I could have ever imagined.  It wasn't my favorite place during our three week holiday, but it was one of the best surprises..the surprise being that I didn't actually hate it!  Walking through the streets that make up the Temple Bar area was like being in Vegas.  Lights flashed, people handed out flyers, music was pouring from various pubs, and sidewalk performers made the walk interesting.  And the shopping...well let's just say I bought my fair share of t-shirts...more than my fair share.

Now home for exactly a month, it is as if Scotland and Ireland never happened.  I haven't taken the time to review my photos or been able to stop long enough to simply bask in the memories that were made.  I've been busy packing, moving, and transferring to a new town for work.  Every now and then I look out the car window as I drive to work past a park.  The leaves are on the ground and I catch a glimpse of the river and I simply smile.  I think about how beautiful Scotland is, how majestic the shores of Ireland are and I am reminded that Oregon, with it's rain and recent cold weather snap, is majestic itself.  I now notice that the fog rolls across the country fields, the rain leaves beautiful drops on the leaves and that the river behind my house sounds like a beautiful song I've never taken the time to hear.

Perhaps the beauty of travel, the real benefit, is that you take time out of your normally busy life and actually look around.  You finally see things that life generally hides from you...like the leaves that have changed colors and fallen, and you take the time to follow the roads that could lead no where.  Maybe the key to a happy life is being able to see those things no matter where you are or who you are with.




Nov 11, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 11.10.11: Killarney to Kinsale, Blarney Castle


Killarney is a wonderful town, full of shops and Christmas cheer this time of year.  The best shop was the Aran Woolen Mill Outlet...which is a must see since Ireland’s finest sweaters, hats and my personal favorite, scarves, are around half price.  Still spendy, but half price makes the splurge seem more reasonable.  It’s right around the corner from our hotel, The Fairview Guest House, which is a good place to stay.  Their omelet was the best breakfast I’ve had throughout all of Scotland and Ireland (aka, tasted similar to a Denver omelet, which is my go to omelet in the States).  Jen tried the full Irish breakfast, which included pudding...which is a nice way of saying gross, disgusting things all rolled together with oats.  She's either got an iron stomach or she needs to research before ordering her food.  
Who is this strange old man with his hand on my breast?
From Killarney we hit the highway...or scenic byway if you will, toward Blarney Castle.  We were going to skip Blarney after hearing that kissing the Blarney Stone (one of the most famous destinations in Ireland) would be gross since kids apparently break in and pee on the stone for fun.  Hmm, I can’t imagine being drunk, breaking in, walking all the way to the castle, and then climbing all the way to the top of the castle without breaking one’s neck.  I thought we were going to lose a few tourists on the way up, and they were sober.  At any rate, we made the walk, climbed up the narrow stairs and took some great photos.  I actually kissed the stone and was more worried about the strange man with his hands around my mid section more than I was worried about any possible urine on the stone.  On the way down the spiral staircase I mentioned kissing the stone wasn’t a big deal, since I’d once kissed a ....  oh never mind.  A lady overheard my comment and completely agreed that compared to that, the Blarney Stone was child’s play.   

View from the top of Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle has wonderful grounds that seem to go on and on.  The poison garden (complete with mandrake and other spell making plants made popular in Harry Potter books), the fairy glen, the sacrificial rock, the witch’s kitchen, the wishing steps (walk up and down with your eyes closed while clearing your mind of everything but your wish and it will come true), all were quite fun.  I would highly recommend a trip to Blarney Castle...and definitely in the off season.  It was one of my favorite castles out of all I’ve seen...and trust me, we’ve seen more castles than should be allowed.   

From Blarney we drove to Kinsale, where out hotel was waiting.  Sheryl (my GPS) took us through town, which is quite possibly the worst place to drive I’ve ever been.  With Jen screaming at Sheryl and Sheryl insisting she was recalculating while I missed sharp turns and roads that were suddenly one way, we ended up driving through town twice.  Twice.  Through roads too narrow for people to be parked along, but these damn Irish parked there anyway.  We had to drive so slowly as we weaved through cars and pedestrians, it was like an obstacle course from hell.  It was like being turned around and blindfolded while trying to drive through a motorcycle course.   In a car!  All the while, Jen is waving at Sheryl with her middle finger and starting to look like she’s going to have a heart attack.  Good times.  
One of the wider streets in Kinsale...these are two lanes with cars parked along the side.
We are at the Trident Hotel which is a beautiful place that overlooks the water.  We walked around town, ate some great fish and chips, and I had some awesome berry cheesecake in the Trident Hotel bar.  The bartender is from Scotland and after I asked if he was running from the law (which really broke the ice, I think), he poured us some Irish Cider to try.  Jen now has a list of Irish brews that she’ll have to scout for when back in the States.  Her list is huge.  She’s such a lush (okay, maybe not, but for the record she has drank more than I have here...I think that has a lot to do with the fact that whenever I ask for a cranberry vodka they bring me a shot of vodka and a bottle of cranberry juice.  I kind of annoys me that I have to pour my own drink and still pay 8 euro for it).   
View from our room at Trident Hotel, World's End,  Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland
Four more days in Ireland.  One of those is for travel back to the States and two of them are us in Dublin, carless, and stuck in a city that’s way too large for my taste.  My list of things to see is dwindling.   Tomorrow we head to the Jameson Distillery and to Waterford.  And for the record, I haven’t gotten any Scottish or Irish in me yet...(Andy that was for you) but, what happens to me stays here.  What happens to Jen, well that’s what you all get to read about.


Nov 9, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 11.9.11: Killarney, Ireland and Dingle Peninsula


Dingle Peninsula
Dingle rocks.  From Killarney we headed to the Dingle Peninsula (instead of the Ring of Kerry, which is a top tourist destination...no thank you).  Dingle was awesome.  I found some cool new purses, a sweet sandwich, and some great views.  Jen is raving about the views..which are good...but since we’re from Oregon, our coast is pretty fricking fantastic as well, and I kept screaming, “GET IN THE F N CAR!”  whenever she wanted to dilly dally with her photos.  You see, Jen’s ego has grown to dynamic proportions as far as her photography skills are concerned.   Every time one of you freaks and or geeks make a comment on her photo of the day I get to hear about it for the next ten hours.  So, please, stop commenting.  Just look at it, bask in the glory of Ireland, but keep your traps shut.  I don’t know how she’s going to fit in the car for the airport unless we all work together and just say, “Yep, nice photo.”  Keep it simple.  Try it with me.  “Yep, nice photo.”  Enough of the “oooh that’s so beautiful” and “oooh is that real?”  Just repeat, “Yep, nice photo.”  Really, you’re doing me a favor.  And her.  You do want her to come back to the states, don’t you? I am not paying extra for a seat for her head.  So, again, “Yep, nice photo.”  No fanfare, no long pauses, no ooohs and awwwws.  Just “nice photo.”  

A stern lecture from Jen after climbing over the fence...buzzkill...
In other news, Jen ate mussels for dinner again (alternating between mussels and seafood chowder day after day) and I complained at dinner (as usual).  This time, my complaint was no bbq sauce.  But, I made due with ketchup (seemed sacrilegious) on my pork ribs...yep, I FOUND RIBS!  And holy crap, were they good.  So to all you haters who have been thinking I’d never be happy, think again.  Of course, I am still never going to be satisfied with a whole lot of other things...but my dinner, well, to quote your favorite fruitcake, “Winning!”  And, FYI, there are a lot of people who eat the same thing over and over.  It’s not that unusual...geez.  
Some of the cats at Inch Beach.
One thing I should share with you is the lovely beach at Inch.  Yep, Inch Beach.  In the parking lot were about 15 or so cats. Orange tabbies, to be exact.  Poor little buggars must have been dumped there..and although I wouldn’t walk across the street to help a cat out of a tree, these little guys were adorable.  I gave them my milk and donuts while Jen sat in the car and waited patiently (or not so).  The cats were cute but all I could think of was that no one loved them.  So sad.   Everyone needs someone to love them.  Even a dingy little throwaway cat.  And especially a bitter, cheeky, old maid...luckily this one has her Trout.  So, Smith family, get ready to lose a fish!  Four more days.  (Oh and don’t you dare call me bitter or I will cut you.)   

Nov 5, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 11.5.11: Northern Ireland, Giant's Causeway and Sheryl

Started the day out early, showered and woke Jen up who's first comment was "There's frost outside."  Hmm  someone call the Waaambulance.  I wanted to get going early, as after reading about Giant's Causeway I wanted to beat the tour buses and tourists.  My desire to see Giant's Causeway was the only reason we ended up in Belfast, which coincidentally is hosting the European MTV awards tonight.  Hmm, no wonder this place is a madhouse.   And, no wonder we got bumped from our fancy hotel...there's a line of lookyloos out front, waiting for a sighting of someone famous.  They probably wouldn't have recognized how important I am.

I was in such a hurry I didn't eat breakfast...so a wee out of Belfast we stopped at a grocery and bought chocolate croissants and ham and cheese ones for around 50 pence each.  And, I was finally able to get some milk and drank nearly half a gallon for the low price of 69 pence!  Holy crap.  Who knew I'd find heaven in a grocery?   I say if you are traveling you nix the hotel breakfasts and drive directly to the grocery.  I mean, these little gems were fresh and warm and delicious.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
So, Giant's Causeway is a walk from the parking lot.  You walk down a hill, walk around a corner, walk down another hill, then walk about half a mile to find so many tourists you can hardly take a photo of the stones.  Arg.  With high expectations come low rewards.  That's why next time I meet someone I'm going to just hope he has a job and some teeth.   Or, maybe just teeth.  Giant's Causeway is a must see, despite my opinion of tourists. I think you have to be there first thing, before the herds arrive.  And, go ahead and walk to the Causeway but for the love of all that is holy, go ahead and pay the 1 pound for the bus ride back up to the top!  It'll save time and get you moving to the next locale, which happens to be the Bushmills Distillery, right up the road.  But, to give Giant's Causeway it's well deserved due, the basalt columns are impressive, and the backdrop of the Irish coastline makes the sight picturesque, despite the tourists.

At Bushmills we did a short walk and then bought some Irish Whiskey.  I mean, wouldn't it have been a shame to pass it up???   Now when another curb jumps out at me (as happened this morning...those things are unpredictable and dangerous) Jen can just grab a bottle and chill the hell out.  Maybe I should spike her morning coffee.  

We drove up the coastline today and the views were spectacular.  It was difficult to get even a mile before we wanted to pull over again.  What a chore.  And what an amazing problem to have!  
Look!  I'm in the photo! Or my shadow is...my photography skills rock!

About 11 miles from our hotel Sheryl (my GPS) stopped working.  Just went black and wouldn't come back on.  Ever been in a place where you don't know north from south from east from west and traffic is hauling arse past and swooping through roundabouts as night falls?  Yeah, that's when Sheryl chose to go dark.  I shook her, unplugged her, spoke nicely, pushed her buttons (hmmm this is awkward) and nothing.  Not even a spark.  (I know a few men who can relate.)   Anyhoo, finally Sheryl woke up and realized we needed her and then faithfully showed us the way home.  I think Sheryl can count herself lucky she hasn't been traded in for another model.  That wench had better shape up or I'm tossing her out the window next time.   (See how Sheryl likes getting kicked to the curb, I think she's not as used to that as the rest of us...not like that's ever happened to me.)

I suddenly just realized I'm delusional.  I can't think of a prettier place to realize that.  I mean, if I do want to toss myself off a cliff, this is the place!

Don't push me, Jen!

For heaven's sake, don't worry.  I have been delusional for years.  I've come to grips with it.  Now you must.  

Tomorrow we head across the Isle to Clifden on the west coast.  It's a five hour drive without stops, but we have plenty of scenery to grab our attention.  Ireland is impressive.  Ya'll should come on over.   

Nov 4, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 11.4.11: Edinburgh to Dublin to Belfast

A heart with a view of the Abbey
I've missed a few days.  What you missed was us driving around Scotland, visting historical sights, taking photos of abbeys and chapels and castles.  We visited Melrose Abbey, in Melrose, Scotland, and stood before the burial place of Robert the Bruce's Heart (Scottish King who defeated the English army in 1314).   What happened to the rest of him I have no idea, and frankly don't think I care to know.  The Abbey was awesome.  I was wondering if I could rip some men's hearts out and bury them...then I realized I've already done that (but for some strange reason those men are still walking around...sorry,  W).  

We stayed in a castle (shocked?) for two nights on the outskirts of Edinburgh and drove to a few attractions that were closed...hmmm how's that spreadsheet treating us?  OMG, I haven't mentioned the 7000 cell spreadsheet Jen did, have I?  Well, seriously, even if you don't bring Jen on your trip, have her plan it.  Just be prepared to listen to her bragging about how great her spreadsheet is the whole time.  Geez.  (Yes, I will admit, it's been helpful...there, I said it.)

There are a lot of great photos from Scotland...so many you haven't seen and will probably never seen.  Jen is posting a lot of them, and shockingly her friends are commenting on how much they like her photos.  She sits now on the hobbit bed near mine, talking about how her friends are commenting on how great the photos are, then pouting a bit as she then says, "You took that one."

Oh snap.  "You took that one, too."  (My ego can't take any more of this, really, someone stop her.  I don't know how I'm going to fit my head through the doorway.)  

Edzell Castle in Edzell, Scotland

This morning we flew to Dublin.  We got the airport for our 8:20 am flight at around 6 am.  By 6:20 we were sitting in the waiting area...um...waiting.  And waiting...and waiting.  We did get to see one woman cry, plead, beg, and then try the tears again when she was not permitted to hustle down the runway after they closed the doors...after paging her about ten times.  That was entertaining.  Kind of made me want to walk over and tell her to shut the hell up and stop crying...but that's just me.   I have a feeling there were others waiting who felt the same way.  I swear I heard snickering.

From Dublin we grabbed our rental car and drove toward Belfast.  I am the first to admit I don't like big cities.  With that in mind, you can probably imagine how much I loved the Dublin Airport and how much I enjoyed driving into Belfast to stay at a ritzy hotel near the Queen's University (with towels the size of dish rags, I miss those fluffy castle spa towels!).  Blah.  I was not driving quickly enough, dangerous enough, or even snarky enough.  I was honked at about three times and by the time we got to the hotel.   I wanted to just point the car in the direction of a small town and sleep in the car.  Arg.  True, I'm not giving Belfast it's due.  I'm sure it's a lovely town.  We did walk through the museum, which had a little bit of everything.  And we walked through a pretty garden.  But, thus far, Ireland isn't as cool as Scotland was.  The people are downright mean...I spoke to the shuttle driver and he ignored me.  I can only imagine he didn't understand a lick of English.  Yep, that's it.  Oh well.  Can't make everyone swoon over my pearly whites.  (Or can I?)  

I'm hoping tomorrow is better, as we head out of Belfast for the day to tour Giant's Causeway (the fourth greatest natural wonder in the UK and the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland...oh please help me!)  and other attractions within a day's driving distance.  One more night in Belfast and then we head to the country, where we spend the next 8 days exploring the coastline and hitting all the small towns I've dreamed about.  I am giving Ireland a chance to redeem itself.  But just so you all know, thus far, Scotland is better.   (I can almost see you shaking your head in shame right now...did she really say Scotland could be better than Ireland? Augh.  What the hell is she thinking?)

I heart Scotland.



Nov 2, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 11.1.11: Extras

The Highlands in Scotland are without a doubt the best part of the country.  Maybe that's because they remind me of Oregon so much or maybe it's because of the rolling hills, wonderous fall colors and roads that would knock your motorcycle riding socks off.  We've been here a wee more than a week and still all I can think of is how awesome this would be on a motorbike.  Maybe next time.

Some of the sights you've missed thus far:

Balnuaran of Clava, a prehistoric cemetery dating back to 1400

A ruined Cathedral in Elgin, Scotland.  


A stream bed in Huntly, a large ruined castle overlooks the waterway...



Ireland/Scotland: 11.1.11: My own Tibetan Spiritual Walk of Enlightenment


Lane to the graveyard about a half mile away from Tulloch Castle

Today was a very good day.  We started out with the same Scottish breakfast from hell and chatted up our new friends, getting the necessary emails, candybar lists, and facebook contacts so that we may continue to share in all that is giggly and ghostly.  Earlier I had read there was a graveyard at Tulloch Castle and wanted to check it out before we left.  The front desk person had no idea how to get there (what service) so passed me off to the maintenance man.  He said his wife took him to the graveyard about two months earlier and it was really nothing to be impressed with.  Still, he walked me outside and pointed in the direction and gave me some “country directions” that people who know their way around their hometown give.  

Maintenance Man: “ Wander down this lane until you get to the field that’s not a proper field just past the trees.  The kids ride their motorbikes there.  Go diagonally through the field and at the trees the graveyard sits.  It’s overgrown and you won’t find it.”   

Hmm.  Didn’t fill me with confidence.  

Maintenance Man:  “If you want a real treat walk up this steep field here full of sheep, past the other steep field with sheep, and then go through that little clearing and up that big hill and you’ll find a mini castle built just for fun.”

Hmm. Ok, why not?

Jen didn’t want to tag along, something about actually having to walk and her not being impressed with the whole idea of another graveyard, I think.  These aren’t normal graveyards.  They are old and full of Keltic crosses and history and toppled headstones and...yeah whatever.  She stayed behind and read her iPad.  I did tell her if I wasn’t back in a few hours she should send out the local mounted sheep patrol to find me.  
I decided to hit both the graveyard and the mini castle.  I mean, why not!  The maintenance man was impressed with my attitude and wished me luck, reminding me again the graveyard sucked and I wouldn’t find it.  (Nothing like a cheerleader to keep you going!)   I think as I walked away he was telling the other guys working outside that the dumb American was going to get lost and they should prepare the sheep patrol.   

I started walking down the lane and noticed a guy walking his dog in front of me.  Hmm...serial killer or simply a man walking his dog?  I mean, really, if I disappeared no one would even know where to look.  And how long would it take before the mounted sheep patrol (MSP) even started to look?  And if it were one of their own who murdered me, would they even take it seriously?  Another tourist gone?  Who cares.  Hmmm  maybe I should have given Jen a better idea of where I was going first.  I started imagining me being attacked and throwing my red camera so the killer/rapist/boogeyman wouldn’t find it.  Surely a search party would find my camera and be able to tell where I’d been and that the man in front of me was wearing a red shirt and had a black dog.  
Finally I decided it was too beautiful to worry about trivial things like me being attacked.  In fact, I was kind of hoping some of the motorbike kids would come along so they could take me for a ride.  I only hoped it would only be one kid and not a gang of future sheep herding felons.   I could handle one.  More than one and I’d have to run for it.  In my white trainers.  They would get dirty.  Probably best just to strip naked and scare them to death.  Turn around is fair play.  
I walked under the trees, diagonally across the field and noted how lovely it was there.  The birds were chirping (little arsholes were flittering all over and scaring the shit out of me) and singing wonderful songs that sounded a lot like the theme from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I was snapping photos and enjoying my walk when a man suddenly stepped out from behind a tree and his dog came running over to me like he was going to jump on my face and eat it.  The man was more frightened of me than I was of him, despite my paranoia.  I asked him about the graveyard and he said he walked his dog in that field for years and had never seen a graveyard.  Drat.  Maybe Maintenance Man was right.  Damn it.

Still, undaunted, I carried on.  And walked directly over to the fricking graveyard.  My first thoughts, “Take that Maintenance Man with no faith!  Take fricking that!”  My second thought:  “Shrat, this graveyard sucks.”  There were only three visible stones and an ugly newer wire fence around them, which simply would not do for the expert photos I’d wanted to take.  (Somewhere between Edinburgh and Loch Ness I’d decided I was a champion photographer and in advance I apologize to those who actually are.)  So, after a quick look around, I was tromping back through the trees and field toward the three hills and sheep.  
Walking under the trees, the gold and red leaves scattered along the trail like rose petals toward Ryan Reynolds's bedroom (ok, I kid, we don’t have to be in the bedroom), I felt so at peace.  It was as if all the negative energy was being sucked out of me (it’s amazing I could still stand upright) and I suddenly realized that life really is beautiful (there were some other epiphanies but you don't need all the details, they may scare you).  
"If you come any closer I will cut you!"  
I crossed the lane and looked one way toward the way I’d come and then looked up toward the hill and thought, “I am not fecking walking all the way back the lane so I can walk up three hills and then cross back across that damn field”  (Okay, not all the negativity was gone and really I was just trying to save time.  Yep.  That’s my story).   So, I did what any great hiker would do, I forged my own trail.  (Actually I took a sheep trail through a ditch and climbed over my first of seven fences...those sheep are nimble!)  As I walked through the field I cleared my mind.  I pushed all the “what if’s” away (although I was still kind of wondering what I’d do if the landowner rushed out with a gun and tried to shoot me for trespassing), and I started simply thinking about the green grass, the hillside, the trees, the water flowing past in the adorable little stream.  Birds were singing (this time they were singing Pink, Perfect!) and the sheep were staring at me and slightly running away but I’m sure they were just trying to give me space to explore.  
By the time I got through the first field I was feeling good.  The second field made me wonder why I didn’t do more cardio.  And the third field, I thought (through coughing fits), “I’m almost there! Bring out the champagne and chocolate strawberries!”  (Okay, you got me, I was actually wondering why the hell anyone would put a fricking castle on top of this hill when it wasn’t even a full size castle.  How daft!)  
First glimpse of the castle
Eventually, by following the sheep trail, sheep poop, fence lines, cow chips and power lines, I glimpsed the castle.  And it was beautiful.  It stood on the top of the hill, one window built in the shape of a cross, a tiny little arched doorway with a small wall going to the mini guard’s house...all of this spoke to me.  It said, “Turn around and look at the view, Dumbass!”  So I did.  And I saw for miles.  And miles.  And I suddenly understood why someone would put a tiny castle at the top of the biggest hill, overlooking all the people and the sheep and the town.  Because they could.  Hell, I wanted to build a mini Taco Bell right next to it so I could have an ice cold Pepsi. 

But, in truth, as I tromped down the mountain after taking some more professional photos, I realized that this morning of hiking, of exploring, of climbing over fences, dodging sheep poop and hearing the goosh of my wet trainers was what living was all about.  The morning couldn’t have been better.  Life was perfect.  I wasn’t missing anything at all.  I wasn’t worried about tomorrow, or even later that day.  I was simply living in the moment with no expectations and no room for disappointments.  I realized my life would be perfect if I just kept feeling that way.  If I could just be satisfied with today and not worry about tomorrow.  

Once I made it down the hill the friendly couple yelled out to me, asking if I’d found the castle.  I said yes and showed them my photos.  They were gracious and wonderful as we looked at maps and they gave me tips on what castles to see and what towns were their favorite.  They were only the second Scottish people who actually were kind.  I was thankful for them and smiling as we parted ways.  As I walked past the maintenance men who were still working in the side yard, one of them asked if I’d actually made it to the castle.  I smiled my biggest white teeth smile (which actually garners compliments from strangers...watch me work it...uh huh bow chica bow wow..) and said, “Why yes I did!”  He laughed and said congratulations...but deep down I think he was a bit disappointed that the mounted sheep patrol wouldn’t be going out today.      

Nov 1, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 10.31.11: Halloween at Tulloch Castle, Dingwell

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness  (I took this!!! I rock!) 
Today started much like any other day on this vacation.  Get up, eat some sub-par Scottish breakfast, drive to a few castles, see a few graveyards, and then settle into a castle suite for a night of relaxation.  We also drove past Loch Ness, searching for Nessie, but as with most tourists, we were sadly disappointed as Nessie decided to stay hidden.  Damn her, that wench. Does she NOT realize who I am?
    
Today was All Hallow's Eve and Jen and I were staying at Tulloch Castle in Dingwell, Scotland.  Tulloch was featured on Ghost Finders Scotland (http://www.ghostfinders.co.uk/tullochcastle.html)
 in 2004.  According to the paranormal investigators, they saw many orbs which are generally interpreted as paranormal phenomena such as spirits, ghosts, auras, angels, energy fields, etc.  Basically, an orb appears to be anything you want it to be.  These "orbs" are not verified as spirits, and really, it seems almost impossible to do so.  However, seeking the mighty orb was our goal...and we headed off much like Charley Brown searching for the Great Pumpkin.  

  What the freck is this??? Easy entry for my murderer?
The Castle itself was a little scary.  Not yet fully remodeled and lacking in even basic lawn care, the place was reportedly going to be the castle in the worst shape.  It wasn't.  Tulloch Castle is safely my favorite accommodation as of yet, despite the shoddy landscaping.  In the lobby there was a nice fire and our room was adequate.  The only thing I didn't particularly like was the "attic" space opening in the middle of our room.  That's not really what you want to see when staying in a haunted castle.  Especially when I'm usually so paranoid about the room in general that you know I'm gonna have to open the attic space and check it out.  I pulled a chair over as Jen was questioning the need to do so.  My argument:  wouldn't you like to know there's a boogyman above us BEFORE he kills us?  Mercifully, I found out that the space below the floor above us and the attic door was only about a foot tall and riddled with wires and other objects.  I believed this space was too small for a man to hang out and wait to kill us.  Maybe a boy could do it, but I had every reason to believe I could kick any small boy's ass (and would without any qualms if the little bastard came out of the ceiling).  And anyhow, thankfully, Jen's bed was closer so I also reasoned I would have time to escape while she was being raped and tortured (kids grow up so fast, you know).  There's also the fact that I can run like the wind when needed.

Our first orb search was in our room,  number 5.  We turned off all the lights and used the camera's flash to attempt to pick up some elusive spirits.  We found one orb which had settled in near my backpack.  Jen swears there's a face in the orb.  Me, I see something, but I'm not willing to say it isn't a dust molecule.  Still, ghost hunting is fun.  Our next trek was around the Castle.  We found a large door that was shut and we didn't know if we were supposed to go inside that area, so I leaned down and peered through the keyhole.  I didn't see anything other than another room, which I quickly relayed to Jen in a whisper.  However, as I was leaning down, squinting, the door started to open on my face!  I backed up quickly, my heart beating like I was being attacked by a hungry gator.  Suddenly there was a maintenance man looking at me saying, "I thought you were a ghost!"   He quickly walked away and I attempted to rein in my heart as Jen laughed and laughed.

Room 15:  Come out, come out wherever you are!
Outside we met a couple from Glasgow who had a cheery cattle dog named Xander.  These were the first people who had spoken to us since we landed at Edinburg, and frankly I wasn't willing to leave them be.  We ended up befriending them, Laura and Walter, and spent the rest of the evening basically searching for ghosts, eating in the pub, comparing ghost orb photos, and laughing about how chicken Walter was (his plan was to run if he saw or heard anything and to sleep in the car with Xander).  Laura and Walter were in room 8, which is reportedly one of the most haunted rooms in the Castle.  Booooooo.   We ended up in their room, the lights out, flashes going off, in search of this ghostly entity who apparently had in the past held a man down as he was sleeping.  No such luck.  Apparently the ghost wasn't too fond of us.  Laura was a real hoot.  At one point we walked past room 15, another of the more haunted rooms...and she tried the door and (holy shrat, Batman) the door swung open.  We all giggled like school girls as we tried to push each other in and took photos in the dark.  Hmm, I may be mistaken but I think Jen the Mighty Ghost Hunter stayed in the hall until the lights were turned on.


At 9 pm our new friends and another couple met in the lobby for a ghost tour of the Castle.  The tour included the dungeon (where people were buried under the floor alive and others simply died! Death in a dungeon?  Wierd) and the opening of one of four hidden tunnels (caved in so we could do nothing other than peer into a shallow pit).  We also were taken to the Great Hall where a photo of the landowners still hangs on the wall.   The story goes the photo now is of the wife and her children.  The black spot behind the little girl on the left is where the husband used to stand.  The man apparently had  a wandering.. um..penis...and he liked to bed the chambermaids.  One day as he was deep in the...um..chamber maid... the little girl walked in and found them.  Distraught, she ran out of the room and fell down the stairs and to her death!  Later, the man was found hanged near the front gate of the Castle.  No one knows whether the man hanged himself out of shame or if the townspeople hung him (my vote is on the townspeople).   The mistress of the house is apparently the famous "Green Lady" ghost who walks the Castle, still in sorrow for her losses.   Of course we didn't see her...though we looked!

ORBS!  ORBS!  Holy shrat!  Ghosts a-plenty! Or dust.  
As the ghost tour ended Jen and I went back to the Great Hall again by ourselves and I snapped a few photos.  If you look closely you can see the multiple orbs in my photo...which were not on the subsequent photos.  Clearly I'm a much better ghost hunter than the TV show.  (If you'd like a copy of my orb photos, please inquire.  For the low price of $9.99 I will send you all of them so you can investigate...I kid!  They are FREE!  Hurry! Before the orbs disappear.)

On the way back to the room for the night Jen and I stopped by room #15.  No one was there, the door opened fine, and no orbs showed up on my camera.  Maybe the ghosts were still partying in the Great Hall???  Back in our room, tucked safely behind the door, Jen was getting ready to stay up all night out of fear.  Me, I jumped under my hobbit bed covers and was ready to slip into dreamland (which, by the way, turned out well since in my dream Ryan Reynolds and I were getting along just fine...but that's a story for another blog).  Jen walked to the bathroom, opened the door, closed the door, opened the door, asked if I could sleep with the light on all night (to which I replied, "hell no"), shut the door, walked to her bed, walked back to the door, opened the door, looked at me with pleading eyes and begged for the light to stay on all night long (answer was still "No" but this time accompanied a severe rolling of my eyes), walked back to her bed, back to the door, and then finally closed the door and decided the door was going to be shut while she stayed awake in fear all night.

And the Mighty Ghost Hunter, Jen, did stay up until 1 pm when she finally turned off her iPad and hid under the covers all night.  She claims at one point I woke her up by snoring but she doesn't know when since she was too afraid to look at the time.  I contend it wasn't me snoring but a ghost.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Ryan Reynolds wasn't bothered by my snoring (and that's all I'm sharing about that).  

PS:  Ryan, please call me.  

  

Oct 30, 2011

Ireland/Scotland: 10.30.11: Commando Memorial

Commandos gazing upon the view.
Anyone who knows me well knows I have a special fondness in my heart for those who serve in the military.  I support our troops despite what FOX news relays to us and I realize that each person who serves is doing something spectacular.  I am thankful for them every day.

On the way to Glengarry Castle we passed by the Commando Memorial.  From our little two lane road it was simply a large statue with a pullout nearby and no real markers telling us what it was.  I whipped the car into the parking area (and gave Jen whiplash) as three buses and big trucks of military men were loading up, leaving the area.  (Oh, by the way, those "men" were kids, I must be getting old.)  The memorial is dedicated to all commandos who had lost their lives in service of their country from 1939-1945 and others who sacrificed after.  The large statue overlooks some of the most beautiful country side.  Even with the fog and darkness approaching, it was a sight to behold.



Although the large statue was impressive, the makeshift memorial for the more recent soldiers/commandos grabbed my heart strings and made me reflect upon my friends, loves, and life.   Here are a few photos from that memorial, which sits with only a view of the parking lot but seems ever so much more important.


The photos were particularly heart wrenching...





I thank the soldiers for their service, far and wide.  May Angel watch over them. 

Scotland/Ireland: 10/30/2011: Kilmartin, Dunstaffnage, Oban, Ivangary

Kilmartin Chapel Graveyard
Big day today full of me driving and watching Jen's leg tense up as she reminded me repeatedly about the LEFT side of the road.  Would it be wrong to tie her up and just put her in the trunk?   We stopped at a few castles (go figure) and walked through a few graveyards (dejavu) and I've simply decided there isn't much else to do on the road here.  

But, oh what pretty graveyards they are!  Each time we pass one I hesitate, wanting so badly to stop and take a leisurely stroll.  They are so frequently seen here in the tiny towns we pass one can almost forget that each marker represents a life gone (and sometimes 3-5 family members stacked right on top of each other).  I read the inscriptions and ponder that despite the years that have passed (sometimes more than 100), that person is being thought of on this day simply because I have stopped.  Since I am feeling rather lazy, I end this particular post with some photos.  May you all live to be 100 (if that's what you'd like) and end up having your names read 100 years from now!

At Dunstaffnage near the Chapel


Chapel at Dunstaffnage.  


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Scotland/Ireland: 10/29/2011: Tarbert, Skipness


Tarbert Castle

We are headed west.   But we are in SCOTLAND, Mofos!   Drove to Tarbert today and ate one of the best tuna fish sandwiches I’ve ever had and the friendliest service.  (There is something to be said for eating tuna that’s fresh as you watch the ships sway in front of the restaurant window.)  Today was the first bout of serious rain we’ve encountered.  Scotland has been patient with us thus far but I think we’ve reached the end of our dry, blue sky days.   We attempted to tour Tarbert Castle, which is actually just two walls and a bunch of scaffolding all sitting pretty on the top of a wet, rainy hill.   You had to make sure and shut the gate so the sheep wouldn’t get out.  We took a few photos as the rain soaked through my jacket and the wind whipped past my ears.  We tromped back down the hillside dodging leaves and mud and made it back to the Kia, soaked through and through.  
Skipness Castle

From there we went to Skipness Castle, which was another abandoned castle.  This time the drive was more of what I’d expect from Scotland...single lane roads with pull outs.  We (and by that I mean I) drove along the shores of what could only be described as the roughest water I’ve ever seen, the waves crashing onto the shore and swells busting themselves on the rocks which have been worn over time into slabs.  It was beautiful.  Majestic even.  We continued driving until I was sure we were actually going to meet the Hills Have Eyes dudes in the middle of nowhere, when we came upon this tiny village that’s only resemblance to civilization was one red phone booth.  Seriously.  There were about ten homes all in a row along the jagged, rocky coastline and near the end, one red phone booth.  I expected a welcoming party of deformed men wearing other people’s skin.  Just past there was a brick arched bridge that led to the parking area of Skipness Castle.  

Road away from Skipness Castle
At that point the rain had decided to be our friends and was not appearing to let up.  We walked about a mile down a single lane road with fields and horses and sheep cheering us on.  Around the bend was the remains of Skipness Castle, reportedly haunted, standing tall overlooking the water.  Skipness Castle has lost most it’s luster...there is green grass inside and shambles of walls with no ceilings.  The place was a mess.  And most assuredly, my favorite place and castle thus far.  There is something about being near the water, the wind billowing at such a high rate of speed that it picks your arms up and almost holds your hand as it pushes you away.  I could have stood in the pouring rain all day, just letting the wind whip my jacket as I resisted the gentle push of Mother Nature.   I wanted to walk to the graveyard, probably half a mile away, but Jen wasn’t having any of it.  We walked back inside the castle as I tried to get Jen to scream at the ghost and annoy it.  She wasn’t having any of that, either.  Finally, we decided our jeans were soaked enough, our trackers were cold enough, and the ghost wasn’t going to show, so we left the area...leaving behind a little piece of my heart (and I don’t have much  to spare).  
Venison Sausage and mashers
From Skipness we headed back to our very own castle, Stonefield for another night before we moved farther west.  Back at the Stonefield we hung out in the bar for maybe five hours while Jen drank a bottle of wine and I sipped orange and passionfruit juice (I think I may have a problem...that J20 drink is GOOD!).   Eventually we ate dinner...she went back to last night’s leek, potato and seafood soup and I tried the venison sausage and mashers.  OMG.  I now want to go hunt and kill a deer.  This was the best food day I’ve had thus far.  A good lunch and good dinner?  Holy cow.  (For the record, Pepsi ...my friend...seems to be absent from Scotland.  Those Scots do not know what the hell they are missing.  And Taco Bell?  Donde esta Taco Bell?)   
During our five hour bar experience Jen took me back to “old home” week and we talked our parents, growing up together in a small town, and the things parents do that ruin us.  I didn’t want to play along at first, but as the wine flowed and Jen got more animated I decided it was pretty fun.  Jen has decided that the true story of my childhood does not compare to the one I made up, so from now on I will simply tell people the fake one: we ended up living with my Dad because my mom killed her husband at the time.  That does sound more dramatic and does kind of explain my neurosis.   I like it.  And, since I told Jen the story twice (after telling her it was a joke the first time) and she still believed it, I’d say it’s golden.  And I thought I was gullible. 

And, now I don’t need therapy.  I have simply decided all my faults are the real responsibility of someone else.  So really, it’s like I went through years and years of therapy and I am now fully recovered.  If you know of any single men, send them my way.  I have a list of my issues already typed up and ready for their review.  But please, don’t tell them about my family history.  I want to save the story about my mother killing someone for a time when I really need it.  You know, like when they piss me off and I ask them if that shit is hereditary?     





Oct 28, 2011

Scotland/Ireland: 10/28/2011: Things you've missed.

My rambling blog didn't have room for these diddys, which I don't want you to miss on the Scotland side of the tour.

First and foremost:  Jen insisted we stop by the birthplace of Harry Potter, which is a small cafe/coffee house on St. George IV Street in Edinburgh called 'the elephant house.'  Apparently JK Rowlings sat at a table and typed the first Harry Potter there.  WOW.  I have read some Harry Potter and watched some of the movies, but I would never personally go out of my way to see where the thing was typed.  I mean, yada yada, blah blah.  When I think of Harry Potter I think of this British dude I briefly "saw" and a time we went to a bar.  We were with my friend who was getting pretty drunk.  By the end of the night every time the British dude would say anything at all, my drunk friend would respond in a British accent, "Harry Potter!"   We would both laugh like crazy and say over and over, "Harry Potter!  Harry Potter!"  Poor British guy could hardly get a word in edgewise.  He ended up drinking with some other people at the bar and needless to say, there was no love connection.  To think of the horrors Harry Potter saved me from!

Stirling Castle overlooks a magnificent graveyard that dates back to the 1600's.  It is one of the best old graveyards I've been to and not a one tombstone was toppled.  There were bullet holes on some of them, from when the Castle was under siege from the nearby Cathedral Tower and some unlucky man chose to hide behind some stones.   Of note, one of the men buried in this graveyard is John MacFarlane, who is the uncle of Butch Cassidy of the famous American duo Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.   Totally cool factoid!  We had to hop on over and see the grave.  This new tombstone (new in 2000) was a shining star amongst the earlier, weathered stones from the 1800's.   I actually posted the photo with the "orb" (aka my flash bounce) so Jen would think there was a ghost near the tombstone, since once she sees it she will totally think this little orb is her friend in the bolo hat from the paranormal tour.  

I've suddenly realized graveyards are excellent photo ops and since there seem to be an abundance of them in Scotland (hmm and probably everywhere else) I've decided to seek out and photograph as many cool graveyards as possible.  I mean, how could anyone pass up on these:

Stirling Castle Yard East Side




















Stirling Castle Yard West Side

Here we have a perfect example of why some men are better than others.  This is a dog cemetery, where the soldiers' dogs are buried at Edinburgh Castle.  There is a special spot in heaven for dogs, and for those men who love them.  If my dog doesn't like you, then I don't like you.  That makes me the worst kind of old maid, but I wear that badge proudly since no one will ever love me like my dog.  (Thank Gosh!  I can only take one obsessive out of control relationship at a time!) 




On the LONG plane ride to Scotland Jen and I had plenty of time to realize a few things.  1) the seats are too close together for anyone to actually be able to reach under and grab the life vest.  2) when the plane is going down I've heard you are supposed to put your thumb in your mouth so upon crashing the thumb can be bitten off and will be in your mouth when they find your badly bruised and probably charred body.  We have decided that we need our thumbs.  So, in the event the plane goes down, us single chicks are instead going to put our ring fingers in our mouths.  Clearly if we live we don't need those particular fingers and we will still be able to grip the ever important wine or margarita glass.  Win win.  Who's with us!???

Lastly, my favorite photo from the trip thus far.  Why?  I took as I walked from the graveyard on the way back up to Stirling Castle.  The tombstones behind me, pulling me back to the past, and the Castle ahead of me, pulling me toward the living.  The leaves, the moss, the walkway it all makes me ponder that no matter where you are or what you do there's always a path you can take.  You can chose to go back or forward.  Sometimes, right around the bend is more beauty than you've ever seen.  May all your choices make you happy and every walkway lead you where you belong.



Scotland/Ireland: 10/28/2011: Stonefield Castle, Tarbert, Scotland Day 3

Jen set her alarm last night.  Seriously.  We both were awake at 2 am after tossing and turning for hours.  The alarm went off at 8 am.  ON MY VACATION.  Note to everyone:  I do not set alarms on vacation.  I woke up and dragged myself to the dining area for free breakfast, anxious to try the oven baked bacon after trying the square sausage the day before.  (Note to ya'll:  square sausage is possibly thinly sliced heated spam.  And I, for one, do NOT EAT SPAM.)  I started breakfast by skipping the Cocoa Pebbles (I know, shocking) and ordering porridge.  Guess what?  Porridge is oatmeal.  Who knew?  (Oh, everyone other than me? It sounded so Oliver Twist I figured it was something special.)

We left Edinburgh and headed toward the airport, luggage dragging behind on the cobbled streets, bouncing up and down and occasionally getting stuck in the large cracks.  Once on the shuttle bus to the airport we found the bus full and we were forced to ride standing room only.  Normally I skip the bus would pay for a taxi, but rumor has it taxi's are expensive in Scotland.  And, frankly, if I'd skipped the bus ride I would have missed out on the sweet memories of near death as the driver was a fricking maniac.  Grasping the railing for dear life, rolling suitcase swinging back and forth near my legs, I felt like I was on an amusement ride.  Sure made driving the rental car on the wrong side of the street feel like child's play.

Today we toured Stirling Castle in Stirling.  It was a great tour...far less people than Edinburgh Castle and more remote. The scenery was awesome.  I prefer castles that look upon green fields instead of city streets.   We also took a tour of Argyle House, which was basically an old run down huge house that I'm sure was regal in it's day.  Mr. Argyle ended up being beheaded and so did his dad.  Great family bonding, that beheading.

Jen was kind enough to allow me to drive the whole day and although she kept screaming, "LEFT!" (among other things) I know she was not worried about my driving at all.

Oh, wait, SNAP.  That paranoid chick initially grabbed my arm to remind me to stop and avoid hitting the stopped car that was about ten feet in front of me, and then nearly peed herself when I "accidentally" ran over a small pothole.  I swear, the thing was only about the size of a small tire.  She wanted to stop and see if the car was dented.  Finally, I think I pushed her over the emotional edge as I "accidentally" hit the curb going about 60.  As I told her, it was a SMALL curb, more like a little mound.  Geez.  The roads are narrow here.  If I have to hear "You're close to the edge" one more time...I did offer to let her drive and I had to do the chicken sounds, "chick chick chick chicken" repeatedly when she refused.  And when it got dark, holy cow you'd think she'd never ridden in a car before.  Our conversation went something like this, over and over:

Jen:  SLOW DOWN!

Me:  This Kia handles like a dream!  What's the speed limit?

Jen:  YOU'RE TOO CLOSE TO THE EDGE!

Me:  Just call me "dangerous!"  Oh yeah!  We're going over!!!!

Jen:  THAT'S A CURB!

Me:  Chill.  It's just a mound.

Jen:  RIDE THE CENTER LINE!

Me:  You want to drive?  No?  Chick chiCK CHICK CHICKEN!

Jen:  Our car is going to need an alignment.
  
Ships in McGregor's home town, Inveraray, Scotland
Of course, it probably didn't make things easier that Jen thought music would be distracting for me, so instead I sang out the one line I remembered from a song....over and over and over.  Then I just started making shit up.  When we stopped to take a photo I saw this awesome Landrover drive by. I had to spend the next twenty minutes reminding Jen that in the movie it always happens that the American woman is in some kind of trouble and saved by the handsome rich dude in the Landrover.  She didn't seem to understand the difficulty, which was clearly that there are two of us Americans.  She did get that there was no trouble.  I informed her the "trouble" could be simply that we were lost.  Geez, it's never this difficult in the movies.  So, after she professed she didn't want any man driving a Landrover (what an idiot she is), I had to continue on with my fantasy and even got so far as to name my hero,  Alec McGregor.   So don't be shocked when I don't come home.

We arrived at tonight's accommodations, Stonefield Castle, despite Jen's constant distractions while I was driving.  We are sitting in the bar, listening to some smooth jazz while Jen drinks some wine since she claims to be attempting to forget about the whole driving thing.  

I am looking out the window, watching as the wind whips the vines climbing the castle walls.  It's actually quite romantic.  When McGregor gets here Jen is on her own.  She will have to drive the Kia back to town, and I'm SURE she will hit a curb or two.  Then she'll see this driving stuff isn't as easy as I made it look.




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