Going Home

Minnesota has a lot of things I don’t miss – mosquitos, deer ticks and the ubiquitous threat of Lyme disease, the oppressive humidity. 90 degree temperatures. However, I can overlook those things because there are more reasons to be fond of the state. I’ll be thinking of them as I fly out of Seattle and into Minneapolis tomorrow.

Little people

1. Being called Auntie Jojo. Nothing beats waking up on your sister’s couch to two snickering little people, whispering and daring each other to poke you as though you’re a sleeping animal. You offer a fake snore to rouse their curiosity, and suddenly there’s a knee in your gut and a tiny face in yours begging for attention. “Get UP, Auntie Jojo!” DSCN3907-1 2. Thunderstorms. Unless you’ve lived in the Midwest, you can’t imagine the sky before a storm – heaving turquoise, warped grey clouds, and the air hanging heavy with anticipation. As a child, you can barely breathe. A crash of thunder on the heels of the first lightning strike provokes a blast of wind from the southwest. Your favorite cottonwood doubles over upon impact.  Hail clobbers the windows, forcing you inside. You hide. Pray in a corner of the basement that it’s not a tornado. But afterwards – that’s when the magic happens. Gold spills hot across the horizon and the breeze skims the waters of Lake Minnewaska, offering an apology for her brief, but violent, harangue.  All is forgiven. DSCN3946-1 3. Taking photos with my youngest brother. We’ve torn up rural routes all across Pope County in search of subject matter, escaped swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitos and evaded Lyme disease. He even let me photograph his wedding! I edited out no less than 50 mosquitos in the photo below…


Of course, there are so many other things I love about going home – breakfast with my dad at the Gingerbread Café, where you can still have a meal and coffee for under $10. My grandma’s stories about how she met grandpa. My mom’s cookies.

Pretending that I’m still a kid and the whole world is still before me.

A Trim Ending

My Ireland blog posts will be a little out of order. This is because when I arrived in Clifden, an electrical surge destroyed the transformer on my laptop’s power cord, and after that I had no way to charge my computer – so no uploading photos, blogging, etc. I had a spare cord at home from an old laptop, so the first thing I did when I got home last night was plug in and start pouring through photos. What a daunting task!

I decided I would start with Trim, Ireland – the last stop on my latest Ireland adventure.

I checked into Highfield House, a bed and breakfast just across the street from Trim Castle, on Saturday. Immediately, I was captivated by the high ceilings, antique furnishings and lush decor. I wanted to ask owner Geraldine Duignan, who wins the award for most hospitable hostess on my trip, if I could just move in. (She must get that a lot!) Geraldine prepared tea and scones upon my arrival, set me up with all the information I needed to explore the town, and made me feel truly welcome to be staying in her home. This is a great place to spend either your first full or last day in Ireland if you have flown into Dublin. I was tempted not to leave Highfield at all while in Trim, but the castle was literally just outside the door…

Along the River Boyne, the ruins of Trim Castle, the largest Anglo-Norman Castle in Ireland, still stand after over 800 years. (You may recognize it from the movie Braveheart!) A lovely walking path runs from the castle, along the river, and past the ruins of the 13th century town of Newton.

I crossed the River Boyne at Ring Road, and initially took the Castle River Walk that way, which first led me to Sheeps Gate. According to the County Meath tourist guide, “Sheeps Gate is the only surviving gateway of the Medieval town of Trim. In olden times tolls were exacted but today you can pass through…as freely and as often as you wish.”

Yellow Steeple

Next, I came upon The Yellow Steeple. Who could miss it? This used to be part of the Abbey of St. Mary, and it could be seen from most any point along the Castle River Walk. I wasn’t sure what I liked better – the steeple or the sky behind it. I was really blessed with good weather.

Inside the walls of Trim Castle

I paid 3 euro to get inside the castle walls. I could have paid a little more to do the tour of the main tower but wasn’t willing to commit an hour of my time for information I would probably forget anyway. (I always buy a book or take brochures to remember the details my terrible memory can’t retain through tours.)

Outside the walls of Trim Castle

After leaving the castle, I back-tracked and crossed over to the other side of Ring Road to follow the Castle River Walk as far as it would go to Newton. You would not believe how many women and children I had to PhotoShop out of some of my photos. I swear, Trim must be having a baby boom. I have not seen so many babies in one place in all of Ireland!

St Peter and Paul Cathedral

Legend has it that the tomb of the “jealous man and woman”, found in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral can cure warts. I was not able to personally verify that. Ha.

The Priory of St. John the Baptist – just beyond the ruins of Newton

The Priory of St. John was past the official walk, but it was just sitting by river, begging to be photographed.

So, now I will be slowly going through my remaining 1,000 plus photos. I have so many stories to share! I can’t wait to blog about all of them. In the back of my mind, I know there are probably hundreds of emails waiting for me back at work and lots to catch up on. Can’t I just stay on vacation forever??

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.

Cork 2011

Last year during the Superbowl my friend Erica and I (under the influence of beer, silly football commercials, and Matt’s mac & cheese meatloaf) decided we wanted to travel somewhere.  After scouring internet dating sites, we determined the best looking men came from Cork, Ireland.   Tentative plans were made to visit during the jazz festival.   Again, there was copious amounts of beer in this discussion. 

As usually happens, we sobered up and forgot about it until movie night this past July.   Someone had rented “Leap Year”, which is about a woman who flies into a geographically altered Ireland (thanks, Hollywood) to propose to her long-time boyfriend.  Of course Amy Adams meets a dark, handsome Irish man instead who proposes eventually on the Cliffs of Moher (I’m guessing) and they live the implied happily ever after.   Well, who wouldn’t want that

Again, as the movie thrall faded, I forgot about it…until Patrick, the young bartender with Irish heritage, schooled me in Irish whiskeys at Black Forest.   A friend would later tell me the Jameson was just trying to go home when I booked a flight to Dublin on my phone from the bar.  Welcome my new mantra, Cork 2010.

I decided I’d give international dating a try and joined a site.  That was interesting, and some of the men were down right crazy.  One wanted to “make babies and family”.  I was definitely not up for that.  But, I kept on until I found a couple of people I considered safe AND fun.   Details forthcoming in future memoir…

Skipping ahead so you have a reason to read my memoir one day….It’s true that attractive men reside in Cork, as originally suspected.  In fact, the two corks above were shared with someone in particular on a night I barely remember.  It was the best trip of my life, and I continue to romanticize it and long to go back. 

Actually, plans are already in the making.  I just booked a flight back to Cork, a decision I made completely sober and of relatively sound mind.   I’ll land there after winter quarter, on March 25.  Who knows what adventures lie ahead – maybe I romanticized the original trip too much and now I return for nothing?   There’s no way to know until I go.  

Regardless, there’s no greater rush than pressing the “book flight” button…