Haunted by Ireland

Markree Castle, County Sligo
Markree Castle, County Sligo

A giant, laminated map of the world hangs above my bed, reminding me of all of the places I want to go: South Africa, Botswana (almost anywhere in Africa, really), China, Greece, Romania, and about 1,000 other places. And yet, out of all the grand options available, something about Ireland always calls out to me. Even after three trips. A friend once told me to beware of Ireland, “It will haunt you.” How right she was. I still need to see the Skelligs up close and personal…and there are the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland I really want to photograph…I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that place.



Today I am dreaming of County Galway and the Connemara Loop, channelling the spirit of Ireland to finish my memoir. Next week I’m flying to New York City to attend a pitch conference and will have the opportunity to pitch my book directly to the editors of some major publishing houses. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. (Stressed out and panicked are a little more accurate.)

Sometimes I think back to being a little girl, living in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a one-stoplight town and dreaming of all of the things I wanted to do with my life. I always wanted to be a writer. I repeated that dream over and over again in my journals. But at some point in time, I lost sight of that – probably when I started noticing boys. They’ve always been a distraction…

My priorities are a little different these days. I’ve cancelled many dates to hang out with my manuscript, and honestly, I feel that has been the better time investment. My book, and all of my dear little word babies, are my pride and joy, and I feel like I am finally putting something good into the universe. 🙂 No matter what happens in NYC next week, I know I am doing my best to follow my dream.

The Hole of Sorrows

Dolmens, also known as portal tombs, generally consist of at least two upright stones that support a capstone. Rising dramatically above the limestone pavement of the Burren, Poulnabrone is the most widely photographed of all the Irish dolmens and dates back over 2,500 years. Found within its chamber were the remains of over 20 people, including a baby and six children. It’s name means, “hole of sorrows”.

Happy Halloween!

Croagh Patrick

St. Patrick holds a clover, representing the holy trinity.

The day I visited Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s most sacred mountain, clouds obscured its peak and tiny water droplets collected on my eyelashes. I hiked as far as the statue of St. Patrick, who overlooks the stunning waters of Clew Bay with a staff in one hand and three-leaf clover in the other. Had I continued past St. Patrick, up the mountain and into the clouds, I would have been following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims who came before me. I would have found a chapel at the peak, where many have sought redemption and offered prayers.

I would have also been soaked from head to toe.

October isn’t the most practical time for spiritual journeys up mountains. Most make the 2-hour trek on the last Sunday in July, known as “Reek Sunday”. This is a day in which Ireland’s patron saint is honored.

Legend has it that the “snakes” were driven from Ireland on Croagh Patrick. Perhaps that is why, when walking down the mountain and then driving back through Westport, just 5 short miles a way, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace – almost as though something dark inside of me had just been driven out as well.

The journey up Croagh Patrick begins right behind the statue…

Jet Lag

Sheep grazing on the mountains just before the Ring of Kerry

Irish travel log, day 4.

My jet lag has been terrible this time. I didn’t blog for the first two days because of the fog. I had to force myself to walk around Dublin and even to eat because I just didn’t feel like it. Writing? Ha! Balls to that! (Irish expression.)

So, what happens to an American woman who is jet lagged? Someone will actually rent her a car. Once the car is rented, she will proceed to sit in the passenger side seat, expecting a steering wheel to be there and then, pretending like she meant to do that, she will get out and then re-enter on the right (wrong) side. Later, when she tries to enter Bailey’s Hotel car park, she will enter on the right side and wonder where the hell the key code entry pad is located. Then she’ll back up and enter the left (wrong) side hoping a camera wasn’t recording it, lest she end up on Tosh.O with a web redemption.

Today I am less jet lagged and think I’ve gotten the hang of driving, even though the signs aren’t very well posted. I’m very surprised to have actually made it to Portmagee, my final destination for the evening. Tomorrow – boat trip to Skellig Michael. No driving required…

Some photos from the day:

I never said I was a good driver to begin with…
Cahir Castle; Cahir, Ireland
Cool Door at Cahir Castle
Portmagee, Ireland

The Third Time is the Charm

I love how Irish people pronounce “Ireland”. They say her name like that of a new lover with whom they have just parted ways, wistfully enchanted, possessed by a fondness that can never be fully realized. I have caught myself saying it that way too – love and loss rolled into three syllables. Ireland.

Who couldn’t help falling in love with her?

She is magic, an enchantress who sings of adventure and romance from her Celtic shores. She lures you in with her bittersweet song and haunts you long after she tosses you back to sea. Ireland.

She is cold reality, forcing you to swim back against the salty currents, wounded, just to get another burning glimpse. Ireland.

She makes her peace with you – once you let go of your own agenda and just love her. She opens up a colorful promise, like a rainbow painted across a steal-blue sky, sweet hope against heavy sorrow. She plucks you from the desolate beach of disappointment and offers a gift. Ireland.

Ireland’s gift to me is a story,”Spirited Away”. She gave me the time and space to discover that I am a writer, and unlike the fickleness of romantic love, writing is a passion that can’t be taken away from me. So I have returned to the Emerald Isle a third time to do just that – write. Who knows, maybe I’ll finish my first book while I’m here?

The Dog Days of Summer are Almost Over…

Definitely Boomer

Because of all of the attention I have been giving my book, I have neglected my Nikon. Sure, I see her sitting in the corner of my bedroom, alone and dejected, crying baby tears. Sure, I feel guilty about letting at least 24 GBs of memory go to waste. But, I have felt uninspired and therefore unsure of what I would do with her anyway.

One early Saturday morning back in July, my guilt got the best of me. I dusted off Nikon, hopped in my car, and drove around Whatcom County looking for something to photograph. Nothing was really jumping out at me, and Nikon looked bored – until I saw a white Subaru pull over on the side road. A woman literally jumped out and frantically swatted at the air. She looked familiar…I made a U-turn to investigate.

The woman was my friend Tracy, and her car had been invaded by bees. By the time I pulled up next to her, she’d taken care of the problem. She’s so self-sufficient – unlike myself. Insects and arachnids are not my thing, and I usually end up calling my neighbor Andy to save me from anything bigger than a penny. Shiver. But, I digress.

Tracy invited me to go for a walk with her and her two dogs, Baxter and Boomer. This made Nikon happy. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to actually editing the photos I took that day until recently. Also, I’m not entirely sure which dog is which. Tracy says the close up is definitely Boomer. They look exactly the same to me, so how does Tracy know? “Two big eyes like the two big ‘o’s in his name!” she said. Also, because I’m using his image on WordPress, “He expects any royalties to be paid via his own peanutbutter-pal account!”

The other two pictures may or may not be Boomer. They might be Baxter. Collectively, Tracy said they are known as the B Boyz or the Brothers B or BaxyBoo. Regardless, I have some good memories of being dragged along for three miles by two very energetic dogs and their equally energetic doggy mamma – and being bitten squarely in the forehead by a mosquito. See, insects are my nemesis!!

Might be Boomer?
If not Boomer, this is Baxter
Darn Mosquitos

The Long Ride Home

I went to Leavenworth, Washington on a camping trip with some friends in July. Not a huge fan of camping, I toughed it out for a few days before deciding to leave early – but that meant hitching a ride back with friends who had….gulp…children. Kids terrify me. They’re too honest, ask too many questions, and bounce around too much. So, I had to weigh the options – one more night with a back-ache and using a communal shower or get jostled around by young kids on a three-hour drive over the mountains so I could sleep in my own bed?

I chose the latter. And I survived! Actually, this sweet little girl entertained us with stories and took an interest in my camera before passing out in her car seat. I meant to email her dad all of the photos and blog about it but completely forgot until I happened to look through my files yesterday. These are a couple of the shots I really liked from that long ride home.

Where have 3.0 GBs of Storage Gone?

Taken at Fort Ebey, Washington

After two years on WordPress, I have used 90% of my 3.0 GB of free storage. Those GBs represent the bulk of my creative ideas and favorite photographs – the evolution of ME.

At first I viewed blogging as simply a way to share the pictures I snapped on my cell phone, but it quickly developed into a daily photographic journey with “point-and-click” (as I hear some people say) and DSLRs images. People from all over the world were looking at my work. How cool!

But then came the dark, underbelly of blogging: stats wars, a scramble for followers, and hoping to be “freshly pressed”, which never happened. I went through a time of frustration and jealousy to see the stats of my fellow bloggers climbing beyond what I was reaching despite a lot of time and committment to the site.

I got over it. Blogging should be fun right, not a stat competition?

So, why do I keep doing it after two years? I love seeing the world through the eyes of people in distant places. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers in person and to connect with others on Facebook. I love writing and sharing my thoughts regardless of who reads them. Blogging is something I can do on my own terms, without restriction, and it stretches my creative writing muscles.

Even after I hit 3.0 GB and have to pay for an upgrade, I will gladly do it. The benefits are well worth the investment!

Before and After the Shutter Clicked: Memoir is Therapy

Love is an unreliable lens through which to look at a person. The same can be said of vacation. The viewer is left with a romantic memory of an experience, bereft of all its glaring imperfections.

Memoir writing has caused me to confront my romantic notions of Ireland and to be brutally honest with myself. I look at the pictures I took during both of my trips and think of some of them – that was such a good day. I wish I could go back there and relive that moment. But then I put pen to paper and I remember that a photo just represents one moment, and it is suspended in a perfect grace in which the before and after are unknown and irrelevant.

I now question the past – before and after the shutter clicked. How happy was I really? Why, when I returned from vacation, did I feel like one of the crumbling ruins scattered across the Irish countryside? Why did I allow myself to travel so far for love only to lose it? Maybe I was looking for something I never really had in the first place; was my experience really as perfect as I remembered? Finding answers to those questions can make for some great writing. However, the process is painful to the writer.

Memoir can be summed up in an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” I am in a perpetual state of Ireland. I don’t want to be, but in order to write about it, I have to continuously think about it and examine every last detail and all of my actions. And I fall in love with the same person, over and over again with the sad knowledge that my heart gets broken. Who, except for a writer, would voluntarily subject themselves to so much pain?

Some people pay for therapists; I write. And through the therapy of memoir I discovered the error of my thinking:  Ireland hurt me because I held onto the microscopic pixels of memory like they were living things.

As I write my first book The Parting Glass, I am learning to be thankful for my Irish experiences and the opportunity to learn from the past instead of wallow in it. I love that I can now view my photo albums with the full color spectrum of reality.


The skies are still overcast here in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m not entirely sure what the sun looks like anymore, but I’m feeling optimistic anyway. I have plenty of reason to be hopeful this week. The Chuckanut Writers Conference begins on Friday morning and runs through Saturday, and I’ll have the opportunity to pitch my book to 3 different agents. I’ve decided (at least for now) upon the title, “The Parting Glass”, and about 100 pages are complete. Because I am writing memoir, I only need 50 completed pages to move forward (vs fiction, in which agents will ask for a completed manuscript).

So, the rest of my week will be spent polishing up the first 50 pages and continuing to expand. I never dreamed how difficult it would be to actually write a book. Silly me, I thought I would just be able to sit down and crank out 250 pages and be done. My friend Richard wrote 400 pages of his book in just 2 months – but that’s not typical. I’m a slow worker, and that’s because I want my finished product to be perfect. Several themes I never anticipated have also emerged during the first 100 pages that are worth exploring a little further. Hopefully, at least one of the agents will appreciate what I’m trying to do and pick up my project. I’m only thinking happy thoughts!

Here’s my possible pitch idea (what I’ll tell the agents on Friday). Would any of you read my book based on this? Anything you’d be curious about? :

When a restless young traveler decides to try Irish whiskey in a local bar for the first time, the last thing she expected was to get a ticket…to Dublin. Some would later say the whiskey was just trying to get to its home when she pulled out her smart phone and booked the airline ticket. Not wanting to travel alone, she pursues international online dating to find a travel companion. What seems like a simple search turns into a series of romantic misadventures across the Emerald Isle full of memorable characters such as a considerate doctor, a mysterious cop, and an incendiary bartender. Set against the breath-taking backdrop of a ruin-dotted countryside and lively cities, the Narrator sets out to capture all the important moments with her camera, but it’s her unguarded heart that is captured instead. After a few months back home, she grows restless again from dreaming of distant hills that always look greener and books another ticket to reclaim her heart. Unfortunately, she returns only to discover that the man she loves isn’t exactly who she remembered him to be.

The Parting Glass is a toast to all of the wonderful people of Ireland. But, it’s also about idealizing a moment in time as remembered through the unreliable lens of vacation. It’s about learning which experiences are impermanent and which ones last forever.