A New Normal

COVID-19 has been one long season that I’ve sort of fever-dreamed my way through, waking up periodically to find the world still gripped by it and then sinking back into sleep. I haven’t even written a blog post since 2019. How is it possible that it’s been so long? Is it just the mysterious, dreamlike way in which time has passed since the pandemic began?

I’m a traveler, and time used to be measured by the trips I took. The process of travel, and planning travel, broke up the long weeks of work and college classes and gave me something to look forward to and write about. Without the thrill of some foreign adventure, I do feel like I just slept away the last couple of years. It all just blends together.

Despite this, I was one of those people who thrived during the pandemic. Because I couldn’t travel due to COVID-19 related restrictions, I focused on things closer to home. I earned a bachelor’s degree in July. Bought a house in September. Started learning Spanish. Cultivated new friendships. Got the hysterectomy I needed to finally start living a normal, pain-free life. I didn’t, however, feel like writing…or taking pictures. Photography and writing took a measure of creativity that disappeared when the pandemic hit, and I haven’t fully recovered it. I’m not complaining, though. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted in some way, either big or small, and many of us are struggling to find a new normal.

I did book a ticket to Chile for the end of March, and I hope that helps spark my creativity again. Having had to cancel a couple of trips at this point, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to go and have some new experiences. Or, maybe another wave of COVID will hit. It feels more important to be responsible and stay home, if I need to, than to satiate my wanderlust. I’ll adjust and find other adventures–maybe another USA road trip or simply hiking around Mt. Baker.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the last two trips I never wrote about. In 2019 I went to Spain (and returned to Ireland), and in 2020 I visited Portugal. I have thoughts about each place I’d like to explore in more detail, but here are a few photographic highlights. I’m hoping for more to share this year!

Spain: We traveled to Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona. I’d love to share more about the beautiful tilework I found around the country and what I did with the images.

A view from the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain

Ireland: I finally visited Inis Meáin, the middle Aran Island, in June 2019!

Portugal: Just before COVID shut down the planet, I visited Lisbon, the Douro Valley, Óbidos, and Sintra. I’d like to write about my experience sleeping in a wine barrel at Quinta da Pacheca!

Palace of Pena in Sintra
Like Spain, Portugal had plenty of beautiful tile work to discover.
Quinta da Pacheca

St. Ives Vacation

For the past year or so, I haven’t felt like me. Do you ever go through phases like that? Like, between work and school and whatever else you have going on, your creativity just vanishes into your daily obligations? For the first half of 2018, I didn’t even feel like taking pictures. I took a digital photography class, hoping it’d spark something inside of me; instead, the assignments became just more tasks to complete. And I would think, where did I go?

So, as I reflect on my summer–yes, the rain is already falling in the Pacific Northwest–I see that I needed St. Ives. I needed the remoteness of Cornwall, England with its narrow roads, pristine beaches, art galleries, and ocean views. I hope it makes sense to say, I felt myself returning.

On one particular night, I bought a glass of wine at a beach cafe and then sat on Porthmeor Beach, facing west. After an 85-degree day, the sun fell into a pink mist, turning the sky violet as it dipped below the water, scattering light across the waves. The sands cooled my feet, and I drank my wine. A German girl next to me took photos on her iPhone. A father chased a naked child who squealed and collapsed with laughter in the sand, wanting to be caught. Others lined the wall above the beach, waiting for the sun to set entirely. And we all got to experience the zephyr of ocean air, forgetting what came before and to abandon expectations for what might come after. Just to breath. Listen. Embrace a perfect moment.

Some peeled away after the sun disappeared, returning to hotel rooms or pubs to finish watching a game. Others lingered in the silence.

That was St. Ives to me, a few moments that existed beyond a camera lens. A few moments that showed me that stress and obligations can sometimes strangle the spirit right out of you, if you let them. It’s okay to slow down and enjoy life at a slower pace sometimes. I guess that’s why we go on vacation–to be reminded.

And I did feel like taking my *big* camera out, eventually. I captured a lot of photos on my cellphone this year, but here are a few from my Nikon as I explored St. Ives.


Meet Margerie

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I’m not a morning person. I am still the same little brat I was as a two-year-old if you try waking me up before I’m ready. Forty years of school, work, and life has not changed me. So, it should come as no surprise that I struggled on the morning my cruise ship sailed into Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Glacier Bay

dsc_7662Did I want to see a glacier? Sure, but that didn’t make the persistent voice of a Glacier Bay National Park park ranger over the ship’s PA system any less irritating at 8 a.m. But, there’s one thing in life more powerful than my need to sleep in: the desire to discover. Apparently, I’d already missed a family of bears and a few mountain goats clinging to a mountainside. So, I screamed into my pillow a little, sighed deeply, and got out of bed to get my camera.

Glacier Bay, home to more than 50 named glaciers, came six days into a seven-day Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel. Margerie Glacier, about 21 miles long and 250 feet high, is the most impressive. The Jewel rotated a complete 360 degrees, just to give everyone on board the time and space to view it.


Despite sharing the experience with thousands of other passengers, there was a quiet reverence on board that morning. Between camera clicks, people stood silently and listened. Waited. And if we held our breath we could hear the thunder off in the distance, a rumbling that meant the great walls of ice were expanding and breaking. Certainly something worth waking up for.


Ireland’s Most Haunted Castle

I love ghost stories. From the haunted vaults of Edinburgh to the castles of Ireland, and from New England battlefields to the streets of New Orleans, I’ve taken every opportunity to scare myself silly. I even went through a phase in which I watched Ghost Hunters every week on the SyFy channel just to get travel ideas.

Years ago, before I’d ever set foot on Irish soil, Ghost Hunters investigated Leap Castle in County Offaly. With a gruesome history dating back to the 1500’s, it’s supposedly the most haunted castle in Ireland, if not all of Europe! So, I added it to my mental itinerary of terrifying places to go.

One of the reasons Leap (pronounced Lep not Leep) Castle is so haunted is because of the Bloody Chapel. The original owners, the O’Carroll family, once invited a rival clan to dinner and murdered the whole lot of them in the chapel. The O’Carolls tossed their bodies down an oubliette to rot. This was a fate that befell many unfortunate souls over the years; hundreds of skeletons were discovered in the 1920’s. (You can read the complete history on Leap Castle’s website.) Because of this, it’s believed that many spirits now haunt the castle, including something called The Elemental, the granddaddy of all big bad evil entities. (Some of you are now probably thinking, oh hell no! I’m never going in there!)

The towerhouse in the middle would have been the original structure (similar towerhouses can be found all over Ireland). The extensions on either side are relatively new and wouldn’t have been a part of the original castle.

I finally gathered up the courage to visit last year.  I called Sean Ryan, the castle’s current owner, and asked for a private tour. Tours are by appointment only; he keeps the gates closed to control access to the property. Otherwise, I imagine he’d have wanna-be ghost hunters and curious people like me wandering around at all hours of the day and night.

Sean Ryan is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to live in Leap Castle. A musician, he has long white hair that falls to his shoulders and full white beard. He’s a friendly man with a serious disposition who seems mentally formidable enough to take on a towerhouse full of ghosts.  He invited me inside to sit by the fireplace, and as the wood cracked and hissed, he regaled me with stories about the castle. Then, he lead me to the stairway and gave me a flashlight.

“You’ll have to go up on your own,” he said. “I’ve had a little trouble with my knee.”

“But, the ghosts…” I said, joking. “They might get me!”

With an eerie, deadpan look he said, “There are no ghosts.”


Ghosts or no ghosts, walking up a narrow staircase with a flashlight by yourself can be a little unsettling. Especially when Sean closes the door behind you to “keep out the drafts.” And especially when the flashlight batteries start to fail, producing a strobe light effect in the darkness.  After wending the stairs in the photo above, there was no electricity. I couldn’t imagine climbing those stairs at night like all those crazy people from numerous ghost-hunting shows. It was better than any makeshift haunted house experience back home!

Sean’s living quarters

Artwork detail

The only source of light in the darkness.



The Bloody Chapel was at the top of the stairs. You’d think that with a name like “bloody chapel”, it’d be a bit scarier–that the air would be heavier and you’d feel a sense of foreboding or sadness. Maybe in the middle of the night when imaginations get the best of you, but during the day it felt…peaceful. With the sun shining, there was plenty of light in the chapel and a beautiful view of the Irish countryside.

Sean continues to work on renovations, and I hope to return some day to see how they progress. In the meantime, I hope he continues to welcome visitors and that people will consider donating to help with maintenance. (Castles are an expensive investment. I’ve looked into it!) Regardless of what ghosts may or may not haunt the place, Sean owns an interesting piece of Irish history, and I’m happy he’s chosen to open his home and share it with so many.


The Bloody Chapel

Section of the castle Sean hopes to renovate (view from the Bloody Chapel).

What’s the spookiest place you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!



Freedom and the Great American Road Trip

Before flying off on my European adventure a couple of years ago, I sold most of my possessions, including my car. Well, all great adventures eventually come to an end, and when I returned home—halfway through autumn 2015—I had to find alternative forms of transportation until I could afford to buy another vehicle.

I moved into a downtown Bellingham apartment, so I walked a lot. I finally figured out the bus schedule and took buses to all those far flung places my feet couldn’t carry me. My friend, Pam, lent me her Toyota Matrix during the worst part of the winter so I could get to work and school. I got by. Even so, I ended up feeling like a prisoner within the borders of my hometown without my own car.

Most places in Europe have amazing public transportation systems, and it isn’t unusual to go without a car if you live in a big city. And even if you want to travel across the country there’s probably a bus or train that goes there, so it’s not a big deal. In the United States, however, (unless you’re within a major metropolitan area like L.A., New York City, Seattle, etc.) public transportation isn’t the greatest. Americans are very spread out, and not having a car can be a huge disadvantage. I think for that reason, many Americans look at their driver’s licenses as not only proof of their personal identity, but an expression of their cultural identity—that we are a free people who can go where we want, when we want, without many restrictions.

And I wanted to live without restrictions. I wanted to wend Chuckanut Drive’s narrow curves and take in the view of the San Juan Islands at sunset. I wanted to drive out Highway 20 to Mount Baker or to Whidbey Island to visit friends or hell, just meet a friend at a moment’s notice on the other side of town without having to wait for the next bus or for someone to pick me up. So, seven months after my initial foray into public transportation, I bought a new car.

Seeing the odometer at zero (or, close to it–I think it read 11 miles when I took it out for a test drive) sent a twinge of excitement through my belly. I had my freedom back, and I wanted to hit the open road and go somewhere. So, at the end of the summer, I went on a road trip from Bellingham, Washington to Buena Vista, Colorado to visit family. I tossed my camera onto the passenger seat, rolled down the windows, and drove away. There’s nothing like a great American road trip. Nothing. You see so many things you’d miss on a train, plane, or bus. I may never go carless again!

Here are some photos from last year’s freedom ride (click to enlarge or view slideshow). I would love to take another road trip someday. What are some of your favorite routes?


742 Pictures Later

I returned home from Ireland in June with 742 new pictures. Some of them will become part of future blog posts, some will end up on Facebook or in my online gallery. Most of them will never leave my computer. One of the challenges I have after each trip is to decide what photo to edit first. This was especially difficult this time as there weren’t any once-in-a-lifetime-photos, nothing that will probably ever grace the pages of a magazine. But, as a complete unit, the pictures tell the story of my trip. Altogether, they capture Ireland. Here is a sample of some of the photos I’ve managed to edit so far. There are still many more to come.  Enjoy!

Yours to Explore: A Tour of Scattery Island

I’ve been fascinated with abandoned monastic sites, famine villages, and other ruins ever since I first visited Ireland seven years ago. As their bones slowly crumble into the earth, ancient buildings leave you wondering about what life would have been like anywhere from 50 to 1,500 years ago.

Achill Island has its deserted village, tucked away on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain. Skellig Michael has its beehive huts, found ten miles off the coast of County Kerry. And Glendalough has a monastic city, complete with round tower, in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Just to name a few. There are literally hundreds of ruins scattered across Ireland. I’ve seen quite a few of them over the years. So, when I landed at Shannon airport last May, I was surprised to find that I’d actually missed a major site!

Mixed in with the various travel brochures that I sometimes peruse for ideas, I found an advertisement for Scattery Island while waiting for my rental car. Located in the Shannon Estuary and less than an hour from the airport, the uninhabited island boasted a monastic settlement, abandoned village and a lighthouse–a trifecta of deserted Irish treasure!

Of course, I called Scattery Island Tours immediately and booked a trip.

Scattery Island Tours is a family run business that started operating in May, ferrying passengers to the island several times a day. The staff is outstanding. From the moment you pick up your ticket and board the ferry until the moment you’re back at the marina, you feel like a welcomed guest. Part of the reason for that is the small group sizes—there were only seven people on my tour, although (I think) they could fit up to twelve on the boat—so you don’t feel like just a number.


Plus, I love traveling by boat; it feels especially adventurous, like you’re really going somewhere. Leaving Kilrush Marina, the ferry actually passes through a lock. This was a first for me. The tide was out, so it took a few minutes for the water level to fall so we could exit into the estuary. Once out, it only took about ten minutes to get to the island.

Our guide was already waiting for us on shore. He led our humble group of seven down the ecclesiastical path (the easier of two walking trails), regaling us with tales of angels and of venerated saints who drove monsters from the island. Legends were mixed with the history of St. Senan, Vikings, and, most recently, fisher-farmers who occupied the island until about 1970.

After an hour-long tour, we were free to explore at our own pace. A second path led to a lighthouse and artillery battery. A few people walked the twenty minutes or so to get there while I explored the old main street and enjoyed the silence.  I think that was one of my favorite things about the island–how quiet it was. I remember walking behind the village, surrounded by trees and tall grasses, and hearing nothing except the rustling of leaves and a few bees chasing each other down the path. It was just good for the soul.

Ecclesiastical path

One of the more noteworthy relics our guide talked about is the round tower, speculated to be one of Ireland’s first. It’s unique for two reasons: 1) It was struck by lightening, giving it a lopsided shape and 2) It’s door is at the base of the tower. The doors of most towers in Ireland are built about ten feet off the ground. Contrary to popular belief, the high doors weren’t meant to protect the monks from invading Vikings, they were meant to provide structural stability. A doorway built at ground level would have weakened the structure.

A rare look inside a round tower. Another first for me!

Scaffolding is such a drag for the photo enthusiast. My one wish is that OPW will restore the buildings on the island to a safe standard so the metal fencing and scaffolding can be removed. I’d love to actually go inside of some of the old buildings. It’s a nit-picky request, though, because there’s certainly plenty to see, and the island is a quiet reprieve from some of the noisier sites around Ireland.

Cnoc An Aingeal. This is where an angel flew Saint Senan to the island to defeat the resident monster.

We had the island all to ourselves.

Looking back towards the mainland.

St. Senan’s Bed. The monks who used to reside on the island basically put up a No Girls Allowed! sign. Even if you were a saintly woman on her deathbed, you weren’t allowed to set foot on it.

St. Senan’s Bed

Mystery weed

Another fixer-upper. I’ll take it!

A peaceful resting place

The Street

Post Office

Closer… (love all the rust!)

After several tranquil hours upon the island, looking back to the mainland felt a little startling–like the past had suddenly and inexplicably collided with the present.

Don’t let this tour escape you. If you’re in the area, it’s worth adding to your vacation itinerary.

Scattery Island Tours

Kilrush Marina,

Merchants Quay,

Kilrush, Co. Clare

Tel: 085 2505512


Every Town has its Ghosts

_DSC2186Ghosts are good for business, and Port Townsend, Washington has its fair share of stories. Manresa Castle is haunted by a heartbroken woman, whose love never returned from the Great War, and a Jesuit priest. A Lady in White wanders the grounds of Point Wilson Lighthouse and is, allegedly, a bit of a snoop; she is forever rummaging through drawers of the keeper’s quarters. Fort Worden has its orbs and Man in Blue. I imagine if you started inquiring, every building downtown would have some sort of strange occurrence or shadowy figure. Sensitive people claim to “feel” their energy.

Whether the stories are true or not, they add an element of mystery and adventure to a trip, and this is one of the reasons I love visiting Port Townsend. I only ever feel “haunted” when I’m in the town’s antique stores, though. There’s something about being surrounded by the wares of a thousand departed souls that really gets to me. Maybe one of these days when I’m wandering around with my camera, I’ll catch something other than a landscape.

Here are a few shots from my last weekend trip. Anything look out of the ordinary to you?

Point Wilson Lighthouse and Grounds





Fort Worden







Port Townsend

I spent most of my time at Point Wilson and Fort Worden, so I didn’t have many shots of town. What did fascinate me was the Tarot card reader who is parked along the main street. Her boots are just visible beyond the door.



Back on Whidbey Island and safe from ghosts!

Oak Alley Plantation

When planning my trip to New Orleans, several people suggested visiting a plantation. Oak Alley, an hour outside the city, was of particular interest because of its 300-year-old alley of McDonogh oaks. More than that, though, I felt a trip was important because it would provide a glimpse into the antebellum South’s history, juxtaposing the lives of wealthy plantation owners with the slaves who were once forced to work for them.

It’s easy to imagine living a life of luxury as you tour the Big House, tables set with fine china and glasses filled with wine. Walking through the reconstructed slave quarters, though, it’s hard to get an idea of what life would have been like because things are cleaned up and sterilized. The thing that ultimately got to me was the wall of names–all the known slaves who toiled away there under the hot Louisiana sun.

I think it’s worth a visit for anyone planning a trip to the New Orleans area. In addition to touring the main house and slave quarters, there’s a restaurant that serves Southern Cajun/Creole Cuisine (best red beans and rice of my life!) and cottages for  anyone interested in spending the night. You can also just walk the grounds and let your imagination wander.

Built by Jacques and Celina Roman, the “Big House” is now 175-years-old. After Jacques’ death, the Roman family lost the property, and it fell into disrepair. Andrew and Josephine Stewart acquired and restored it in the early 1900’s. Josephine eventually left the grounds and home to the Oak Alley Foundation, intending for them to be open to the public.

Costumed tour guides lead visitors through the big house.

Imagine surviving the oppressive Louisiana heat without air-conditioning! The harp-shaped object above the table was designed to keep the room cool 175 years ago. This “fan” would be operated by a slave, and it would help circulate cool air from a bowl of ice placed beneath it on the table. He couldn’t fan too quickly, though, or he’d blow out the candles.

The balcony overlooks the alley of oaks.

A nice, quarter-mile walk



Reconstructed slave quarters




Names of former slaves who once worked on the sugarcane plantation

Once McDonogh Oaks reach a certain height, they begin growing out. Sometimes their branches reach down into the soil before sprouting back up again.


The Streets of New Orleans

You first enter New Orleans a little tone deaf and flat-footed, tripping over the broken, heat-stressed sidewalks and the frenetic pace of Bourbon Street. Maybe there’s a Hurricane in your belly. You feel like simmering gumbo, stirred together with so many strange people—your flavors and stenches mixing, mingling with the notes of a distant band. A young woman melts into the sidewalk, a puddle of booze, pouring through the fingers of some boyfriend who has no idea how to collect her again out of the tumbling trash full of plastic cups and beads and food wrappers. You may wonder what appeals to people in that neon stew.

Don’t worry. Bourbon is just one street in New Orleans. Each has its own tempo, one suited for college kids on spring break and another for people like me—a middle-aged woman celebrating her 40th birthday. And the incredible thing is, no matter what happens the night before, the evidence is swept away before daybreak. Trash packed. Streets cleaned. Friends found. Swish, sweep, done. In the morning, you get a second chance to fall in love with the city and how everything from its food to its music is designed to be a celebration.

Spend some time wandering around on foot, and you’ll find the right street for you. Live jazz saunters out of Frenchman in the evenings, if that’s your thing. On the weekends, newlyweds may parade around Royal under parasols, followed by a trumpeting brass band. Decatur offers beignets, and they’re easy to find-just follow the trail of powered sugar down the sidewalk to Cafe Du Monde. A friendly ghost may join you on Chartres if you stop by Muriel’s for a cocktail. One of my favorite things was sitting outside at Muriel’s, leaning over the wrought-iron balcony with a Honey Child, watching the crowds at Jackson Square (the ghost never made an appearance).

By the time you leave New Orleans, the city will feel less like gumbo and more like a warm piece of bread pudding, dripping with whiskey sugar glaze, sweet and satisfying. You’ll be ten pounds heavier. You’ll develop a certain fondness for bartenders who call you “baby” and the Uber drivers who share their life stories during lazy trips in and out of the French Quarter. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like that.

Jazz Band on Royal Street

Early evening on Bourbon Street

Random Couple that wandered into my frame

Beads from parades past dangle from trees

Another random passerby who added a little color to my shot

Lafayette Cemetery



Another way to get around the city

Food Staring at Me
My food is staring at me!

Bread pudding and shoe-fly pie

Newlyweds march through the French Quarter

Brass Band

Muriel’s on Jackson Square

Nikon at Muriels
Enjoying a Honey Child at Muriel’s

Jackson Square

Artist on Jackson Square

Capturing Iceland

This is my Iceland Writers Retreat writing competition submission. While I didn’t win this year, I was one of the finalists. I’m including the photos I took during the 2014 layover that inspired this piece.

The rules:
Iceland – Regard the Moon! Many authors have drawn parallels between Iceland and the moon. Write a max 500-word essay, story or poem on this theme.

Capturing Iceland

Stop One.
I’m completely alone. While evidence of human life surrounds me in the form of a lighthouse, a shipwreck, and a church of carved stone, I haven’t actually seen anyone in miles. The wind sandblasts my face raw as I step away from my rental car, and I wish for a scarf or a thicker jacket than what I’ve chosen to wear during my layover in Iceland. But this is okay. I’m on an exploratory mission, and thoughts of what I might find eclipse the desire for warmer outerwear.

Pictures are what I’m after. As a travel photographer, sitting in Keflavik International Airport and waiting six long hours for the next flight to Seattle isn’t an option. I never reject an opportunity to experience new places, and this layover affords me just enough time to circle the Reykjanes Peninsula with my camera. So I challenge the April winds, pushing ahead for the sake of art. A few clicks of the shutter later and I’m off again with a piece of Iceland safe in my memory card.

_DSC8500_DSC8478_DSC8489Stop Two.
A strip of faded asphalt cuts through a lunar plain. Down that road, the Eurasian and North American plates diverge in a tectonic rift. On a footbridge that crosses between the two sides, tourists have fastened padlocks to the chain links of the handrails. The love locks are red, purple, and gold—inscribed with names like Katja and Eros, couples who hope to stay together, even as the continents slowly drift apart. I raise my camera. Click._DSC8508-Recovered_DSC8526_DSC8522_DSC8519
Stop Three.
Beneath my feet, subterranean sea waters encounter cooling magma, and steam curls skyward from the earth’s crust—a thousand souls rising from sulfurous graves. A part of me thinks I should be afraid. This mysterious land could open up and cast me into its molten core. But, the explorer in me sees the beauty in it, recognizes her own insignificance and feels nothing but awe. Click._DSC8599
Stop Four.
I follow a sign that points to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a rapturous blue heart in the middle of a lava field in which—ah-ha!—every Reykjanes visitor has congregated! I want to stay, commune with fellow travelers. Dozens of heads bob up and down in the geothermal spa, and I envy them their cotton bathrobes and more time than myself. But, the layover hours have ticked away, and I must return to Keflavik. I aim my lens at the lagoon before departing. Click._DSC8543_DSC8551_DSC8545
Stop Five.
Reluctantly, I surrender my keys to the rental car company and pack up my camera. As I do, a thought strikes me—I have captured nothing. Iceland, in all of her tumultuous splendor, has captured me instead! How can I leave when there’s still so much left to see, things that don’t fit on a square inch of digital memory? As I head towards my gate, face thawing and hair a tangled mane, I’m already planning a solo mission to explore the rest.