Thursday, August 24, 2017


Hard to imagine that summer is almost over, but here on Inishturk, it is palpable. The days are getting shorter - no more dusk at 10 and dawn at 5 - and the breeze is out of the north from time to time. Still it is pleasantly warm at day, low 60's (this makes me laugh seeing the 100 degree temps in Texas) and when the sun comes out I can be fooled into believing summer will last forever. 
I had some friends visit from Camp Verde and Kerrville. Maria worked with me at Cypress Springs where I was the cook for almost 15 years. Her brother, Jesus, worked there also, although not in the kitchen. His girlfriend, Destiny, joined them for their week in Ireland with their first stop in Inishturk. Maria had just returned from a 2 week National Geographic trip to Italy and Greece - she was in big time travel mode before college starts up for this recent graduate (2nd in her class!). They were great fun and we hiked both trails on the island and stayed up late talking and laughing each night.
Maria, Destiny and Jesus
A few days after they arrived Turkfest commenced, so they were on their own as I was helping in the club kitchen. 150 Irish hipsters invaded the island and brought music and new energy to the calm isolation that keeps me here. It was intense, but for the most part, fun. I was here for it last year, so I knew what to expect. Nevertheless, I was glad when Monday came and the island was somewhat back to normal. Tuesday brought hoards again as it was the annual pilgrimage to Caher Island. Caher is a small uninhabited island which lies about halfway between Inishturk and the mainland. It was once the site of a monastery (7th century) and there are fine examples of medieval stone crosses. August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption and the day that hundreds of people brave the treacherous waters around Caher to experience Mass at the ruins of the church. There is no pier, so pilgrims must clamber up the rocky shore after exiting the boats. For many people this pilgrimage is part of the climb up Croagh Patrick on the mainland on the last Sunday in July. After Mass at Caher the folks board the boats again and head to Inishturk for food and fellowship. Once again, I was sequestered in the kitchen, avoiding the crowds. By evening, the island was blissfully quiet again. A wedding was scheduled for Friday of that week, but the forecast was brutal so the weekend celebration was moved to the mainland. From Thursday on, the island was practically deserted, with less than half its average population. It was lovely walking the island and not encountering another soul.
The island tends to attract WWOOFers, which is how I found it last year, and some integrate into the community. My dear friend Mary Catherine has had a few this summer and, since I spend quite a bit of time at her house, I get to know them well. Earlier in the summer Mary C hosted Maria from southern Germany. She lives just 20 minutes from my friends Tom and Cynthia in Simmerberg, Germany! After Maria left, Claudia arrived. Claudia is from the northwest coast of Italy and her month on the island flew by. We worked side by side at island functions (mostly in The Club kitchen or at Mary C's busy guesthouse) and occasionally got to relax at the restaurant for a meal or take a hike on the islands trails. She was a remarkable young woman and I was really sad to see her go. WWOOFing is an incredible way to see the world and I highly recommend traveling that way - an opportunity to know a country by living and working with a family there.
Claudia at Tale of the Tongs
The blackberries which grow all over the island are just beginning to ripen. Days of rain and then sun have them turning from green to red and finally black. When they lose their glossy sheen they are ready to pick and with just a touch, they fall into my hand. 
They make for a tasty snack while on walks. An edible treasure hunt.
On Monday, the 21st - the day of the Eclipse - the weather was wicked, with heavy rain most all day. The sky was steely grey and the downpours flowed down the mountain, creating waterfalls off the cliffs into the harbour. Days later, there were still rushing streams coursing through mountainside gullies. On Curraun Beach, a trickle of fresh water that always flows from mountain to ocean became a cascade that carved curving patterns in the sand.
My friend Kathleen sent me a copy of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). Although it's been on my Kindle for over a year - I mentioned it in my New Years post and it's included in my Books By My Bedside list - I have yet to finish it. After picking up my package from the Post Office (open from 12-1 on Tuesdays and Fridays) I walked to the Community Center (affectionately called The Club which houses the pub, restaurant and small shop) and sat on the empty deck overlooking the ocean. Although I truly love the idea of books on Kindle for the ease of reading while traveling, holding that beloved book in my hands and feeling the pages felt precious. It's just a different experience. 
The last page of Big Magic. Indeed.
After a quick visit from my artist friend Jeannette next week, my mother and three sisters descend on Inishturk. At 83, my mom hasn't traveled for years and it took a bit of coaxing from all of us girls to convince her to make the trip. But after she agreed, it was full steam ahead! I am beyond excited to show them the island and introduce them to the unique group of folks that make up its population. The island may never be the same...
Well, my morning is slipping away and the tide is going out. I'm going to meet my neighbor Pete at low tide to harvest some carraigin seaweed, also known as carrageen moss, to dry for winter use. Used to set liquids (like gelatin), it is considered a remedy for coughs, sore throats and chest colds. I gathered sea lettuce and sea grass yesterday, dried then crumbled it to make seaweed bread later this afternoon. I couldn't help but munch on some after drying it. So tasty.
September's almost here! Smile!

Thursday, August 3, 2017


A busy summer here on Inishturk. I had guests for almost 5 weeks with my youngest daughter Lily here for ten days and my sweet grand daughter Natalie visiting for a month. Her mom, Marta, came for a week and they went back to the States just a few days ago. Marta loved it but was shocked that the lifeline to the mainland was a ferry that runs only 12 times a week. If you want to go into town for errands or groceries (town being Westport) you had to catch the 9:30 ferry in the morning, travel an hour, then catch a 20 minute shuttle to Westport. AND you have to stay in town until you catch the 5:45 shuttle to Roonaugh Pier, where you catch the 6:30 ferry arriving in Inishturk at 7:30. That's a long day to fill up when you're accustomed to jumping in the car and driving 10 minutes to grab a gallon of milk! Definitely a lifestyle adjustment! 
After a week or so of quiet at my house, the guest rooms will fill up again and be occupied on and off until mid October. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share such a magical place with friends and family. Having Natalie here was particularly poignant. We spent a lot of time at the various beaches - each one holding a different purpose: Curraun for gentle waves and mussel harvesting; Tranaun for more exciting swimming - bigger waves - and at low tide an expansive sandy beach; and what we call Pete's Beach (because it's down the hill from Pete's house) for wading in tidal pools and picking winkles at low tide and swimming with no waves at high tide (it's a protected cove surrounded by rocky outcroppings). I love Pete's Beach for the variety of seaweeds I can find there and the unusual rock beach. I never leave that beach empty handed. 
A myriad of seaweeds at low tide at Pete's Beach
An underwater pic of a tiny starfish clinging to a rock. I found it while looking for winkles - it wasn't even 2 inches across!
The Harbour was also a favorite spot. I could sit on my neighbor Jo's deck and watch the kids swim or throw sticks into the water for the island dogs. Walks along the Harbour at low tide were fascinating for the sea life. One afternoon, in the course of a 5 minute walk we counted 24 jellyfish in 7 different colors. There was no swimming that day. Another time, the kids found a baby shark perhaps left behind after a day of fishing. Natalie made fast friends with the island kids and a few that were visiting for the summer. They did art projects - lots of painting on rocks - and produced hilarious videos on my porch with their stuffed animals. They investigated tide pools for tiny crabs, which they promptly named and brought home. 
Laura, Ellie and Natalie crabbing.
When the crabs perished days later, they'd have makeshift Viking funerals (minus the pyre): a small wood scrap with a bed of seaweed on top and the deceased crab resting atop the seaweed. Sometimes they'd invert a limpet shell on top of the crab. They'd stand solemnly on the shore, say a few words about the dearly departed, set the piece of wood in the ocean and watch it float away. It never made it far as the waves tended to quickly upend the lightweight wood. I convinced them it was for the best as the crab was ending up close to where its life began. Seeing the island through Natalie's eyes was a lesson in the art of observance. I miss her every day. 
Natalie with a heart rock at Pete's Beach
Jo's grand niece, Ellie Concannon, came by the day after Natalie left and told me she missed Natalie, "but I know not as much as you do Diane!" Ellie still comes by almost daily. We took a picnic hike this week to Tale of the Tongs, a small shelter made of local stone, glass and stainless steel which represents the global Irish diaspora. It's a favorite place of mine for writing and thinking and getting out of the rain or howling wind while hiking.
The Tale of the Tongs
It was built in 2013 over nine days by students from The Catholic University of America with the help of some islanders. It's said that when leaving Ireland during the famine times, a family would gather a hot coal from their fire with tongs (that sit beside every island fireplace or coal stove - indeed there is a pair beside my stove) and bring it to the fire of their neighboring friend or family member. They would also leave their tongs behind with the promise that when they returned, they would retrieve the tongs and a hot coal to start their fire once again. The structure sits on top of a hill with a view of the Atlantic on both the north and south sides of the island. Surrounding the "temple" are glass columns etched with the family names of the inhabitants of Inishturk and freestanding rock sculptures of various shapes and sizes. I frequently sun on a long low "bench" and Ellie and I had our picnic on one.
Ellie standing in front of the glass panel bearing her family name, Concannon. In the background is one of the rock sculptures representing those lost from memory from the island and those who come to be here. Like me.
As Ellie and I sat and ate lunch this week we talked of being an island descendant and how special it was that she had that connection. I told her she was fortunate for that. She told me I had a connection, too! When I remarked that I didn't - I am not Irish and have no kin here - she said, "But you love it here, so that's a connection of the heart and that's better than kin!" Oh my. 
I just discovered there is a video made about the designing, building and installation of Tale of the Tongs in Inishturk. It's called "Tale of the Tongs" (catchy name, huh?) and it's by Judith and Stanley Hallet. It's now on my Watchlist...
I've been told by a few people on the island about the "Money Rock" where coins would be pushed into the crevices of a particular rock for good luck. As Ellie and I were hiking up to Tale of the Tongs for our picnic, she also mentioned it. When I inquired as to it's whereabouts, she had no idea. It had been years since she'd taken this particular hike and she was a kid then, she told me (this made me smile as she's not yet 13). As we rounded a corner and followed the trail up the hill, she stopped. "I think this is the Money Rock!" And indeed it was! I happened to have some coins in my pocket so we each took one, found cracks in the rock and pushed our coins in. Then, per Ellie's instructions, we kissed our fingers and pressed them to the coin to send it on. We found one last crevice, put a coin in it for Natalie and both kissed it to wish Natalie good luck.
Some coins in the Money Rock.
I was helping out with breakfast at a guesthouse this week and I met a fascinating Irish journalist named Margaret Ward. She was the Foreign Editor at RTE which is Ireland's version of NPR and public TV. She wrote a piece for the Irish Times that was published last December about Inishturk and Inishbofin, an island just to the south of Inishturk, which boasts a population three times that of Inishturk (about 150). In addition to being written with a lovely lyricism, I found the article to be the most accurate depiction of the situation the islands find themselves in at this time. Since my return, I've been told more than once that in ten years this will be a holiday island only, meaning pretty much deserted during the winter and only coming back to life in the summer months for vacationers. Many of the islanders - some whose families have inhabited this island for generations - have homes on the mainland, so it would be an easy move. But I would think a tragic loss of a way of life. If you'd like to read her article and get an informative glimpse into island life, here is the link:
My favorite quote from the article is from my neighbor Bernard who says, "Ireland is an island off Inishturk." Which it kinda' is...
Mid June seemed to stall out weather - wise. Day after day was grey and rainy and cold. A malaise fell over me that I couldn't seem to shake. I stopped meditating and doing yoga. I wrote in my journal, but nowhere else. I hardly ventured from my cottage. I sent depressing texts to friends (thanks for listening, Sid and I apologize...). There are a couple truly inspiring women on the island that I am honored to call friends and their presence pulled me through. When I felt at my most aimless, they'd drag me out for a hike or have me in for tea and a long chat. Sometimes when I have concerns about spending the winter here, I remember that I'll have this close knit community to be with. I was told in the winter Wednesday night is late night card games because there is no early ferry Thursday mornings for anyone to have to deal with. And no fishing. Or holiday guests.
But now, the island is lovely and even when the rain comes, which it does briefly even on the sunniest days, it can't dampen the vitality summer brings to Inishturk. 
Everything is in bloom!
Even the "weeds"!
 The progression of lunch...
 After a rainshower
 My funny little cottage in the Harbour
 Swimming in the Harbour
 Growing out of rock
A long hike to the Harbour

Friday, June 2, 2017


Funny how time moves here on the island. It definitely has its own pace, which is pretty slow. Now, a bit more than a month into my stay, I find I've adjusted to this new schedule just fine. 
I've been gathering wild plants and experimenting with them in the kitchen. I have wild garlic growing right outside my front door. The bulb stays in the soil and a cut made at ground level yields a slender, almost leek like stalk that has a decidedly garlic flavor. Over time the bulb sends out another stalk. A 2 minute walk across my side yard brings me to a small creek that has beautiful mints growing on its banks and tall cress like plants that I use as salad greens. My favorite wild plant is stinging nettles for it's super nutritious, incredibly tasty and plentiful. And I feel like somewhat of a badass picking this rather nasty plant (any interaction with the fine hairs on the plants surface leaves you stinging for hours) and transforming it into delicious meals. 
A bowl full of just picked nettles. They look harmless enough, but handle with care!
Last week was Jo's birthday and I made her a Lemon Nettles Cake. 
It went over really well-so well in fact that Pauline, a neighbor whose daughter was heading to America for the summer, requested one for her daughters farewell dinner. I've made pasta with nettles, added them to omelettes and eaten them simply sauteed in olive oil with a bit of chopped garlic. Always delicious!
Jo has six hens and a goose named Goosey. This very old goose (about 18 or 19 years old!) still lays eggs and no matter how far into the hills she is, she responds when Jo calls her. Two of Jo's hens died recently, so she bought four more from the mainland. We kept them in a back room of the coop for four days to get them acclimated to their new home and before we let them out, I clipped their wings. One hen, white with a grey shawl, was particularly calm and didn't struggle at all when I picked her up to trim her feathers. Whenever I went into the henhouse after that, the white hen would run over to me. I could pet it like a cat and it would follow me as I collected eggs or changed the water. The other day I noticed the four new hens to the side of the coop, just outside the gate. Three of the hens were milling around but my friend, the little white hen, had her head wedged between two rocks in the rock wall. At first I thought she was stuck and I crouched down to see if I could help her. I petted her back and cooed at her, but she didn't move. I was just about to try to pick her up when plop! an egg fell beside my shoe. She removed her head from between the rocks and went to join the others. One morning Jo and I went up to the hen yard to feed the hens and Goosey was nowhere to be seen. Jo called and called (a loud "Goooooosey, Goosey, Goosey, Goosey"), but no answer. We realized it had been a few days since either of us had seen her. Jo went inside, put on a pair of boots, grabbed her cane and off we went into the hills to look for Goosey. Her niece Cathrin (my landlady) and Cathrin's two children Laura and Jamie joined us. I searched along the bottoms, moving through dense stands of irises. Cathrin and Jaime hiked to the very top of the hill and disappeared over the top. Jo and Laura made their way up the first level of the hill, past a low stone wall where I met them after I'd scoured the bottoms. Jo called constantly for her beloved pet. We started back down, trying to find the most gradual way down for Jo. She told me if Goosey was setting on a nest, it'd be along the wall. I'd followed the wall most of the way up the hill, but had left the last 30 feet or so unchecked as I headed for the gate. Although I was sure Goosey had met her demise, I headed over to the wall to comb the small area I'd missed. Two steps into the irises and there was Goosey, her nest right against the wall where Jo said it would be.
I had my first visitor last week. Eli Adams is my friend Marshall's grandson. He is on a 2 week holiday in Ireland and his first stop after a night in Dublin was Inishturk! It was fun to have him here. We took a long hike out to see the Puffins (I even got him to hike barefoot!) and he also did some exploring of the island on his own. The weather report predicted lots of rain while he was here, but he got two beautifully sunny days, perfect for being outside. He even got a bit of a sunburn! He was enthralled and hopes to come back next summer and WWOOF here. 
Yesterday morning I went to Helen's to get a lesson in making kefir. It was incredibly easy and I went home with my very own stash of kefir grains. I now have a jar of milk on my windowsill fermenting away! After my lesson, we met up for a hike to look for the elusive Bogbean flower. It sounded like something out of Harry Potter when she first mentioned it. It only blooms in May in a freshwater lake on the western side of the island. Since it was June 1st, she was afraid she'd missed it. We hiked through a field thick with nettles and then up a hill thick with sheep to a part of the island I'd never visited. We walked up a series of hillocks where Helen told me potatoes and maize used to be grown. We came to a small lake and aside from some buttercups growing along the edge, there were no other flowers to be seen. We crossed a small stream and walked on until we came to another lake. The far side was covered in green water plants and there we found the Bogbean! A delicate little flower, it was such a pale lavender it looked white. The frilled petals encircled a stiff stem that stood above the green foliage. Hikes with Helen are always enchanting events!
I wish I'd taken this photo, but it's from
With the summer solstice less than three weeks away, it's light enough to take a walk well past 10:00 at night (although I'm never out that late) and the east window in my bedroom is showing me morning by 5:00. I like getting up really early (usually by 5:30) because the island is so quiet with no activity. The tides are low that early, so the harbour is still, it will be hours before the fishermen make their way to their boats. I'm realizing what a cooperative place this is...indeed, that it HAS to be. With so few people, you have to rely on others to get things done. Case in point: I was low on heating fuel and was told to ask Jack, Helen's husband, to pick me up some when he collected the mail in Cleggan. He takes his boat to Cleggan twice a week for mail delivery and various other errands. I had a choice- a five gallon container or a fifty-five gallon drum. The price difference per gallon was substantial, so I opted for the drum. He came by my house one morning on his way to the harbour and unearthed a barrel hiding in the weeds in the side yard. I'd never even noticed it there. He proceeded to load it onto his boat and headed out to Cleggan. By noon he was back and he docked where the ferry usually docks and the huge crane on the pier lifted the full drum off the boat and onto the landing. Later that day I walked to the pier and looked at that big drum of heating fuel. My house is close to the harbour, but how was I to get that huge, heavy drum of fuel to my house and emptied into my tank? This time I was told to ask Robert. I don't know Robert really, a hello in passing when I see him at Jo's, but I do know his wife Mary Helene, who runs the only store on the island. As I was walking to the pier one morning, Robert drove by and I stopped him and asked if he could get the fuel to my house and in the tank whenever he had the time. Like most everyone on the island, Robert has many jobs. Things get done when they get done. A few days later I walked in my side gate after visiting a neighbor and there sat the drum, empty. Wow. I suppose it's much like living in an intentional community, although it's rather unintentional. There are really only a handful of names here...most everyone is related and i'm still figuring out how they are kin. There are a few outsiders, but not many and we are all treated well. The islanders are an exceptionally polite group of people, mannerly and gracious. On a daily basis, I realize how fortunate I am to be here.

Here, the sea sings constantly to the shore.
Sometimes a low hum, repetitive and dreamy.
Other times a roar, a crescendo of violence.
But a symphony, always this, a symphony.

Friday, May 12, 2017


The Puffins are back! 
Tuesday afternoon Helen showed me a photo on her phone from a walk she'd taken that morning. We were outside and the bright sunlight made it hard to see the pic, but she was excited and it was infectious. "Come walk with me in the morning! If we go early, I think the viewing will be better!" I agreed to be at her house at 9:30, not knowing exactly what we'd be seeing on our walk. I didn't know Helen well, but I wanted to and this seemed the perfect opportunity.
The next morning at exactly 9:30 I knocked on her door and then let myself in, the island way. She bustled down the hallway to meet me and then turned back to the kitchen to apply sunscreen. In a minute we were in the car heading out. We drove past the pub and the football pitch and turned in at the water plant. She shut off the engine and grabbed her binoculars. We crossed the road and headed up what I would describe as a mountain, it was certainly more than a hill! "We'll talk when we get to the top..." she told me and I knew it was because we'd be so winded climbing. The climb was like doing lunges, one after another. The ground was soft and spongy, but not wet. More than halfway up was a rock outcropping and she stopped. "Let's sit for a bit." It was then I noticed she was barefoot. Helen is in her late 60's and retired from being a midwife about 3 years ago. I only visited her once last year and I remember being intrigued by the batch of kefir on her windowsill and her lush garden. She's barely as tall as my shoulder and she moves fast and with intent. We didn't sit long - she was on a schedule as her husband Jack was bringing a guest to the island from the mainland. Back to our lunges, we finally crested the top of the hill and walked through a grassy meadow with tiny wildflowers. The ground was spongier yet up here and in some places damp. There were a few freshwater ponds and we crossed a small babbling creek. She told me names of a number of wildflowers and the ones she didn't know, she'd pick and have me put it in my pocket to identify when we got back. I knew we were walking to the overlook on the west side of the island. When we got to the wooden fence that acts as a barricade to the treacherous cliffs beyond, she took the binoculars and started scanning the cliffs. "There!" she said, "There on the grass above the rock, look!" She handed me the binoculars and said, "Puffins!" It took me a while, but I was finally able to distinguish them from the hundreds of seagulls perched on the side of the cliffs. Their orange legs and their coal black backs and white bellies made them stand out. They come to the island every Spring to breed. There is a large historical decline of Puffins in Europe, so it is a thrill when they make it back to the island every year. Helen commented that they made her feel so peaceful and I knew exactly what she meant. Watching them through the binoculars I felt my heart rate slow down from the vigorous walk and a calm settle over me. I wish I could post a photo of them, but they were quite far away. I even tried to take a pic through the binoculars, but it didn't work (is that even possible?).
The white dots are seagulls flying around. The Puffins were on the lower cliffs on the left hand side. I would see what I thought were Puffins on another rock and get all excited, "Look, there's a whole bunch of them over there!" She'd take the binoculars from me, look and say no, those are ... (another island bird) - and point out that, although they were black and white, they didn't have orange legs and see how they were not as fat as the Puffins? She was patient with my enthusiasm. She told me that once she was lying on her belly at the edge of the cliff painting the scenery and a wind came and Poof! all her paintbrushes flew off the cliff edge into the sea! At one point she turned to the sea behind us, off the southern coast and pointed out Jack's boat heading in. It was a tiny speck in the ocean, but it would take us a while to get back to the car. We needed to head out. Before we left the cliff there was one thing I needed to do first. Leaning against the sturdy wooden fence, I took off my socks and shoes for the long walk back. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


I arrived on Inishturk last Wednesday on the 6:30 ferry. I'd taken the overnight flight Tuesday from Hartford, Connecticut (where I'd been visiting my mom) to Dublin, arriving at 5:15 a.m. I'd had nightmares about this part of the journey...from plane to bus to train to shuttle to ferry...but it went so smoothly I took it as a sign that I was in the right place at the right time. I was exhausted when the plane landed as I'd slept less than 2 hours and I knew I had a long day of travel ahead of me. But I followed my instincts and got on the correct bus to the rail station and the machine took my credit card to buy the ticket (note to self: buying the ticket online would have saved me half the ticket price) and I made the 7:35 train to Westport. The train was comfortable but when we stayed at one stop for over 20 minutes without anyone getting on or off, I got concerned. I had to catch a connecting train and I watched the minutes ticking away. When we finally started down the tracks again, I was already 15 minutes late. My stop came up and lo and behold! there, on the other side of the platform was the Westport train waiting with doors open. I settled onto the new train and nodded off a few times during the 90 minute ride. 
Arriving in Westport was a joy as it's a small, tidy town and reminds me a lot of Fredericksburg with about the same population. It will be my source for commerce for my time on Inishturk. Banks, groceries, shops, hotels, restaurants, Westport has everything Inishturk lacks and thank goodness, as I wouldn't love Inishturk near as much if it had those things. With my backpack on and wheeling my small suitcase, I headed into town. I tried to get money from 2 ATM's and neither would cough up a dime. I had a stash of euros and had planned to get groceries on my credit card (fingers crossed it would work), so I figured I was okay. I lingered over my lunch of bland soup and brown bread until the owner began looking at me suspiciously, so I moved on. I had hours to kill until I could catch the shuttle to the ferry and with my pack and suitcase (and being seriously tired), I had no desire to look in shops or walk around town. Across the street to the grocery store I went, loaded my luggage into the grocery cart and commenced to pick up supplies for my first week on the island. Coffee, yogurt, milk, veggies, spaghetti...I found myself calculating how much I could carry to my cottage if it was raining and no one met me at the harbour. My credit card worked (YES!) and I wheeled my luggage and groceries to the back of the store where I'd meet the shuttle to take me to Roonaugh Pier and the ferry to Inishturk. There was a bench there by the open door and I took a seat for what I knew would be a 3 hour wait. It was chilly and rained on and off. Folks would nod at me as they walked in and look at me puzzled as they walked out later. A little boy walked in followed by his mother and sister. He looked over at me and said, "Diane!" It was little Jamie, the son of Catherine, the owner of the cottage I'm renting. We sat and visited for a bit, then they left to get their groceries. When they came back out, while Catherine and I were talking, her phone rang and it was Mary Catherine from the island. She handed the phone to me and I got the wonderful news that she would pick me up at the harbour! 
The shuttle finally arrived and the driver helped me load my bags. I settled in for the 20 minute ride with the 3 schoolchildren from the island (yes, a total of 3 kids attend the island school) who had been to the mainland for a field trip with their teacher. We arrived at the pier just as the ferry did and as the passengers got off I saw a number of familiar faces. Hugs and promises made to catch up later as our baggage was loaded and off we went. The seas were a bit rough, with intermittent rain and gusty winds. It was nice to have folks to talk to as my stomach was turning everytime the boat did. We finally docked at the harbour and I was so glad to see Mary Catherine's sweet face! We loaded my bags in her car and took the short drive to my gate. There we carried everything through another gate and into the house. A fire burned in the coal stove and the house felt cozy and warm. Was I ever glad to be home! I put away groceries while running to the living room window to gaze at the ocean. 
I had landed in Paradise! I put off unpacking my luggage and went out my front gate (not to be confused with the side gate) and down a small path to a private entrance to Jo's courtyard. Jo is the reason I came to this island in the first place last year-answering a posting on the WWOOFing Ireland site-and my cottage is next door to her house. She looked well and healthy. She had set the fire in my coal stove and I thanked her for the most welcoming gesture. After having a glass of brandy I headed back home - with a plate of salmon, vegetables and potatoes for lunch the next day. Mary Catherine came back by and dropped off a steak dinner, so I slowly ate while watching the tide come in. I had made it back.
 A gift of rhubarb from my neighbor Maggie, the island nurse. 
Wild primroses grow all over the island.
My first mostly foraged dinner. Spaghetti with mussels and garlicky dandelion greens.
Stunning views off the cliffs on the northeast side of the island.
Tranaun Beach

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On New Years Resolutions

I've been wanting to write a post on making New Years resolutions for months. Or rather on NOT making them and how well that has served me. In the autumn of 2013 I was in the midst of a divorce and feeling pretty lost. I noticed that the word CLEANSE kept popping up. I'd open a book and the word would jump off the page. I'd be in line at the grocery story and overhear a conversation that included the word. It would come to me in my morning meditation. I decided that for 2014, CLEANSE would be my word, my focus. As there was much to clean up after over 10 years of marriage (both literally and figuratively), it seemed a good choice. I also decided that I'd quit making New Years resolutions and just have a word ready to put into action every New Year. Well,  2014 was indeed a year of cleansing and I made great progress in taking back the house and property and ridding myself of excess things, a process that continues to this day. In late summer of 2014, the word SERVICE began to surface in much the same way CLEANSE did the year before. So I made the decision that SERVICE would be my focus for 2015 and in so many ways it informed that year. I began volunteering in the kitchen of Haven for Hope, a massive homeless shelter in San Antonio. My youngest daughter Lily had open heart surgery in Dallas and I stayed in North Texas for over a month helping with her recovery. In September my mom had a knee replacement and I took a 2 week shift in her care along with my sisters. Mid summer of 2015 the word MERCY came to me. It didn't pop up repeatedly, it just showed up once with such presence that I knew it was the word for 2016. I had just decided that in 2016 I would take my epic trip overseas and I knew for certain MERCY was what I should focus on. About a month later Pope Francis declared December 8 to November 20 the Year of Mercy.
 During my travels I was the recipient of MERCY over and over. I experienced kindness and compassion like I've never known. I also had the opportunity to offer MERCY to others. It helped create an atmosphere of favor that continued well after I returned home.
While traveling, my constant companion was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled Big Magic.
I would sometimes devour chapter after chapter on a long train ride or ruminate over one sentence for weeks. I came across a word in the book that intrigued me. EUDAIMONIA. It was mentioned only once, but I couldn't get past it. I began studying EUDAEMONISM and as a result I've become an avowed EUDAEMONIST and it became my word for 2017.
From the Merriam Webster dictionary:
EUDAEMONISM- a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being.
Another definition: A system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness.
Imagine that! Good actions producing happiness! What a novel idea! Well, not really...the Greek philosopher Plato is attributed with this word, although he might have just expanded on an idea of Socrates. Meaning it's a concept that has been around a long, long time. Nevertheless, I know that this is the way I want to live my life. This is what feels good and right.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

2017! Can you believe it? And with the new year comes change. When I returned to the states in mid August, I spent time with my family in Connecticut and then visited my grandsons in Virginia before heading to the Dallas area to see Lily. We visited for one night before she drove me to Kaufman, about an hour southeast of Dallas where I spent 11 days at a silent meditation retreat. No phones, no books, no communication at all with any of the other 50 or so women. There were 50 men at the compound as well, but we were segregated at all times except during group meditation where we sat on opposite sides of the massive dhamma hall. 10+ hours a day simply meditating. It was exactly what I needed after traveling alone for over 6 months. My re-entry back home was jarring to say the least, but I dove in and began the massive clean-up and purge it demanded. I cooked for my very last Thanksgiving at Cypress Springs as my beloved boss, Robert Parker passed away while I was gone. It was my 14th Thanksgiving cooking for a group of folks that had become family and it was beyond difficult to say goodbye to the people and the ranch. It was by far the most wonderful job I've ever had. It's been great to be with my kids and grandkids, to visit friends and work on my house. I am in the process of sorting and packing up 25 years worth of possessions in anticipation of moving into a much smaller house I'm building on my property. My plan is to rent the big house and move into the commercial kitchen while the new place is being built. Already the commercial kitchen is being dismantled and it's been bittersweet. It is a place that holds so many sweet memories of late nights baking, dancing and singing in the kitchen with all the ovens on and the smell of yeasty goodness in the air. But now it will house me for a few months and I'm grateful I'll have a place to stay that I love so much. I don't plan on getting the new house in move in ready condition, but really just dried in and secure-a place to store my furniture and my pared down possessions. I'm leaving the end of April to move to Ireland for a year to Inishturk Island. A sweet little cottage came available for rent right next door to where I stayed on the island and before I left I made arrangements to rent it beginning May 1st. I have to admit that, although it's been great to be back, a big part of my heart remains in Inishturk. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the island and its people. It will be an interesting time I believe. Winters are quite brutal-no snow and it seldom freezes, but bitter winds and almost constant rain. The ferry, which generally runs 12 times a week, sometimes doesn't run at all due to rough seas. For months it becomes a locked in grab any opportunity to go to the mainland because you never know when the opportunity will come again. For some strange reason that is an attractive idea to me. And I stay amazed that this gal who always considered herself solar powered is moving somewhere that demands wool socks in the summer. Ahhh, change.
My cottage is the one on the far left with the red door. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016


It's been exactly one month since I've posted anything and although I'd love to say it's because I've been so busy having fun (which by the way is true), the fact is I haven't had internet. The lovely house I stay in on the island has no WiFi. 
I arrived on the island on a drizzly day with the ocean a few shades darker grey than the sky. It's 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) as the crow flies from Lahinch, where I started out, to Inishturk island. I left at 8 a.m. and arrived at 7:30 that evening after riding on two buses, a train, a van shuttle and a ferry. When the island came into view from the ferry, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into. It looked like a voluptuous woman lounging in the roiling sea. No trees to speak of, just rolling hills rising up from the ocean with a few buildings breaking up the green expanse. I stepped onto the dock from the ferry and was greeted by a young woman in a rain slicker who grabbed my bag and guided me down the pier to the road. Her name was Mary she told me, but not the Mary I was staying with. My host Mary had had a dizzy spell and was being tended to by the island nurse. A woman walking towards us stopped for just a moment to let us know that Mary had "the blood pressure of a 20 year old" and then hurried on to board the ferry. "That's Maggie, the nurse." Mary told me. She was leaving the island for a week and her replacement had been on the ferry with me. The first house we came to directly on the water was our destination. We opened the old gate (which later that same week I would paint a shiny black to make it look like new) and walked down a narrow path flanked by tall hedges. Inside the house, we put down my backpack and Mary walked me down a short hallway where we entered a small room with a coal fire burning in the fireplace and Mary settled in a chair beside it. In her early 70's, with a ruddy complexion and short reddish hair, Mary Jo (or Jo as I would call her) had lived on this island most all her life. This woman, with a brogue so thick I could barely understand her, would become my almost constant companion over the next 3 1/2 weeks. We amazed and amused each other and occasionally annoyed each other, too. 
Mary Jo
Although I found Mary Jo on the WWOOFing site, the work I did for her, aside from pulling up some wild mint and repotting it for her deck, never involved gardening. I painted the aforementioned gate plus another at the top of the property, fed the hens and the goose and collected eggs, got years worth of recycling sorted and brought up to the community center and helped in the guest house. On two occasions we had groups of divers stay and I prepared the rooms, helped with the meals and, after they left, got everything back in order. Meaning lots of laundry and making beds. Pleasant work in an easy relaxed atmosphere. Mary Jo had visitors drop by on a daily basis. I think socialization must be important in a remote place and many of the islanders simply walked through the door as they headed to and from the pier. No knocking, just walking in the door with a cheery "Mary Jo?". I frequently would offer coffee or tea, then leave so they could talk. I hung out the first few times, but they spoke so fast in their peculiar dialect, I sat in fear they would ask me a question and it would be revealed I had no idea what they were saying. I told Mary Jo this and she thought it was pretty funny. A day or so later Pete, her cousin and most frequent visitor, asked me if I thought he spoke fast, so I knew Mary Jo had passed my confession on. Pete. This character stole my heart as much as Mary Jo. If I made him laugh it was like the clouds parting to let the sun shine in. A man of few words, I listened hard to what he said because gems fell from his mouth when he spoke. After a visit with him I'd frequently hustle down the hallway to my room to grab my journal and write down what he said, but my memory would lose its grasp and I could never recall it exactly.
The tides were as alive to me as any of the other inhabitants on the island. I was always the first up in the morning and I'd make a cup of coffee and sit by the big window overlooking the harbour and watch the waves as the tide came in. Most mornings the fisherman would be preparing to go out and I'd observe the oilskin clad men get their boats ready. It was informative. The guys would jump from bobbing boat to bobbing boat as if on flat land. I loved to watch them tie knots to moor the boats and a few times I saw them unload sheep they had been grazing on another island (sheep outnumber people a few times over on the island). Forty or so sheep jumping out of the boat after a slap on their behinds and running down the pier in a wooly thicket. 
My morning view.
One of my favorite "chores" was harvesting winkles. If it was a nice day I'd wait (usually impatiently) for low tide so I could roll up my pant legs and head to a cove past Pete's house to wade in the tide pools and collect winkles, also known as sea snails. The seaweed is thick here and I was tentative at first, not knowing what waited under the thick growth of bladderwrack, dulse, carrageen, sea spaghetti and countless other varieties clogging the coastline. But it didn't take long to realize there was no danger from the infrequent crab or tiny fish I happened upon. Once, in a pool not bigger than a platter, I counted fourteen different kinds of seaweed! I discovered that common kelp frequently held the biggest winkles and I could lift the flat, brown, ribbon like pieces out of the water and detach some fat snails into my bucket. I kept the winkles covered in sea water to keep them from drying out, but also because they were cooked in the seawater which made a tasty broth. It was meditative out in the tide pools with the only sound the waves slapping the rocks beyond me. I found it akin to hunting morel mushrooms back home. If I stayed in one spot hunched over, my nose inches from the water and just LOOKED, within seconds I would start to see them, partially buried in the sand or the round contour of the shell visible under seaweed. Mary Jo told me to grab a few limpets to add to the pot as they enhanced the flavor of the winkles. The limpets had to be dislodged from the boulders with small flat rocks as their grasp was strong and tight. Like oysters, it's best to harvest limpets in months with an R in them, but they were so tasty I'd add a half dozen to every batch of winkles.
Cooked winkles
 Shelled winkles ready to eat!
 Winkle Chowder
All the winkles and limpets would go in a pot on the stove and if the seawater didn't cover them, I'd add water. Then they'd be brought to a boil and immediately removed from the heat and transferred with a slotted spoon to a shallow bowl where Mary Jo and I would grab big needles and, after removing the small flat "cap" that sealed off the shell, we'd pull out the winkles. I actually enjoyed the process but others thought it tedious. The winkles tasted like clams to me. We'd make Winkle sandwiches or Winkle Shepherds Pie or my favorite, Winkle Chowder. It was tempting when faced with a bowl of freshly shelled winkles to simply grab a spoon and shovel them in your mouth!
I wish I could convey what a different life it is on the island. You could easily be self sufficient with a few hens and a small garden as every evening there is fresh fish - plaice (a sort of flounder), pollack or my very favorite, mackerel - available from the fisherman. Lobster and huge crab claws were plentiful, too.
Claws for dinner!
There are a few really gorgeous gardens on the island. And it was a revelation to me that there's no need to water. It rains most every day at least a bit and sometimes a lot. I've come to think of Inishturk as Ireland's Portland. Lots of rain. For this Texas gardener, a garden that you don't have to water is remarkable. You have the seaweed for a natural fertilizer and mild enough temps that, with a polytunnel, you can have vegetables year round. But no tomatoes or peppers or sweet potatoes here. It's cool all the time. I wore wool socks most every day (in June and July!) and if the sun came out strong I would sit on the deck barefoot and in shirtsleeves to catch every bit of it I could! 
The cast of characters on the island enchanted me. Quite a few lifelong residents. The school had three students and after summer break it'll be down to two. Most men are fisherman or have sheep or run the ferry. I've heard it said women run the island because the men are away on the sea so much. Maybe not as much anymore, but this certainly was the case at one time. The restaurant on the island hires a chef for the summer months. This year they have a great guy originally from Turkey named Ossie. He has a home on the Ireland mainland, but is living on the island until September or so. We've become friends, so after two weeks working on the mainland in the gardens of a seafood restaurant, I'll head back to the island for five or six days to help Ossie cook for TurkFest, a big festival that happens the first week of August. Big is relative here of course, meaning the population of the island goes from 50 to about 150. Every available bed will be filled and tent camping will take care of the overflow. There will be demos of island crafts and lots of walks (there are terrific, picturesque walks on Inishturk) and a beach bar-b-que and plenty of music. It will seem weird to see this sleepy island so boisterous, but I'll be sequestered in the kitchen to stay out of it. 
The Harbour. Inishturk, Ireland
Although I wouldn't trade any of the experiences I've had on my travels, I wish I'd discovered Inishturk sooner. I could have easily spent my entire 6 1/2 months here. The pace suits me, the solitude suits me, I feel at home here. It is a magical place, rich in spirit and nature and wonder. I feel certain I'll be here again in the future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I flew to Manchester, England on May 26th and going through Passport Control proved to be quite interesting. I thought it would take a minute or two at most, I mean I've done this dozens of times, but I somehow found myself standing in front of a very unhappy and surly young man. He looked at the form I handed him with my passport - name, age, home country, occupation, where and how long I'd be in the U.K. - and he started grilling me. His first question knocked me out and I started laughing. Not a good response to, "How can you travel like this if you're just a baker?" I thought he was kidding. His next question was delivered through gritted teeth, "What. Is. So. Funny?" Which made me laugh more. Oh my. I tried to keep it light while answering all his inquiries, but he was not happy. I didn't have definite plans and he wanted definite plans. At one point he told me that if I spent more than two months in the U.K., immigration WOULD find me and then something about knocking down a door and dragging me this time I was more interested in the look on the face of the passport control guy sitting in the next booth watching the interaction with his mouth open. When he stamped my passport, I grabbed it quickly and hurried away. I laughed all the way to the parking lot. An older gentleman I passed addressed me, "Well, aren't you jolly!" 
My friend Brian met me outside and off we went through the outskirts of Manchester to Sale, a suburb southwest of the city. His house is in an older neighborhood with big trees and within walking distance to everything you'd need. We walked the canal that afternoon to downtown Sale then headed back where Brian made dinner and then I turned in early. I was in Sale for five days and everyday we walked. We'd drive out into the countryside and take off on trails that Brian was familiar with having lived here most all his life. The plants, trees and flowers were magnificent and we walked through more fields of sheep than I've seen in my lifetime. Many herds were held in their pastures by hawthorn hedgerows, such a natural and efficient way to pen small livestock. We climbed countless stiles to cross fences, went through "kissing gates" instead of opening full sized gates and traversed a countryside so ancient and storied, I could feel it to my bones. We ate fish and chips and I was introduced to Mushy Peas (yes, they're really called that), the traditional accompaniment to the meal. I met Brian's sister and we went to a neighboring town to see a working steam engine and to have coffee. Brian had a slumber party one night and all five of us enjoyed terrific Chinese take out in the back garden and then huddled around the outdoor fireplace drinking wine until the cold forced us inside. Being the lightweight I am, I was the first one to retire. The next morning a big breakfast was served in the garden again and then another walk through the countryside to a pub for a drink before walking back to the car. I became fond of a drink called a Shandy - beer and lemonade. My last full day there was what the English call a "bank holiday" and what we call Memorial Day. We drove to a huge lake and walked to a small cafe on the far side to meet friends of Brian's he'd known since he was a teenager, Mo and Fred. It was a great visit and Brian was a wonderful host. More than anything, I enjoyed the countryside - impossibly narrow lanes and small villages with funny names like Pott Shrigley. Northwestern England is the most whimsically poetic place I've ever been! Brian had suggested I visit Chester, on the border with Wales and so I took a train to this historic walled city and checked into a private room in a hostel for three nights close to the old part of town. I like the option of a non dorm room in a hostel as you have your privacy, but still have the use of a kitchen and get to meet other guests. Chester was lovely and quiet and a great place to decide my next move. I made reservations in Llandudno, on the northwest coast of Wales and within an hour received a message from Bev, the English woman I'd met in Evora, Portugal with a request to get together. She had friends in Cotswold, England where we could meet for the weekend. I changed my reservation and the next day hopped on a train to Banbury, where I met Bev at the train station as she had just arrived from Oxford. We spent a wonderful weekend at the beautuful home of Mandy and Keith in Hook Norton. Our first afternoon, Bev and I walked to the brewery in Hook Norton, took the hour tour, tasted many glasses of their wares, walked back to the house and promptly fell asleep on the grass in the backyard! That night Mandy made a tasty baked chicken with vegetables and a big salad, but the magic of that meal for me was dessert. Their backyard garden held the largest rhubarb plant I've ever seen and Mandy had made a rhubarb crumble, with a simple shortbread crumb topping and lightly sweetened fruit (rhubarb is actually a vegetable), it was the best dessert I'd eaten in a long time. The next day Mandy and Keith had a family commitment in Oxford, so they dropped us in Woodstock to play tourist. We walked the back way into Blenheim Park where, as we walked the grounds, we watched Lycra clad runners passing us. We figured, incorrectly it was a marathon. We soon found out the park was the site of a Triathlon that weekend! Blenheim Park is home to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Winston Churchill and one of the largest homes in England. We walked through the park being guided by docents through areas of the triathlon and then into the village of Woodstock where we ate lunch and window shopped, ending up in a great bookstore. We took a bus to Chipping Norton and wandered until Mandy and Keith picked us up for the ride home. The next day was a small birthday lunch for Mandy's sister and we had a feast in the garden before I coerced a guest to give me a ride to the train station to catch my late afternoon train back to Chester. What a restful weekend it had been! Great music and food and new friends! Back in Chester for one night then the next morning to the train station for the hour long train ride along the coast to Llandudno, Wales. My hostel in Llandudno was a block from the train station but I walked all over town looking for it. It was a pleasant walk though I was glad when I found the hostel and could unload my backpack. The hostel was an elegant old house with thick carpets, chandeliers and fancy cotton sheets. Not the usual hostel! I spent three nights there and my days were consumed with walking through town, sitting on the beach and hiking the Great Orme. When I started hiking up the massive peninsula of limestone that is the Great Orme it was clear and sunny and the cable car that creaked overhead was full of chattering and waving passengers. At one point, halfway up the mountain, I stopped on a bench to watch the sheep grazing nearby. I was a bit worried when I watched thick white smoke pour over the mountain into the valley below me. As it passed me I felt a chill and realized it was fog, not smoke, and within minutes the valley was completely obscured as were the cable cars above. I could still hear the creaking of the cars moving but could barely make out where they were.
I finished my hike to the top all the while in a thick, damp fog. At the summit, the promised views were shrouded in a white blanket. I took a different route down the mountain and it was magical to be walking that mountain as in a mist from another time. When I got back to town everyone was talking about the fog that had descended - I sat on a bench by the old church and watched the fog continue to roll through town. Apparently it was an anomaly and I was pleased I got to experience it, especially while on the Great Orme. 
From Llandudno, I took a train to Holyhead on the island of Anglesey where I caught a three hour ferry to Dublin. Once at the Dublin port, I boarded a bus to Ha'penny Bridge just a block from my hostel. No passport control, no security, just off the ferry and onto the bus. This surprised me as Ireland is not in the U.K. (Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.), but it is part of the European Union. My hostel in Dublin was a beehive, a young and active hostel. Not my favorite kind, but my small three bunk room was comfortable with two nice roommates. They moved me the next night to an eight bed room, and after a day walking around Dublin (which included a visit to the Guinness Brewery and getting caught in a big rainstorm), I was grateful to find no one else in the room. I was able to dry my clothes and catch up on mail and the news. As I was just about ready to go to bed, a young woman walked in. We started talking and I could tell she was American. She was from San Antonio on a month long work study trip from UTSA. She was heading to London the next day, but had stopped in Dublin because she'd never been. We marvelled at the serendipity of our meeting. My train the next morning to Wexford on the southeastern coast of Ireland was a slow, sleepy ride. I was looking forward to quiet before a whirlwind two weeks with my friend Kathleen coming over from Texas. I'd booked a B&B in Wexford and it was more upscale than I'd been used to. The hostess, Grainne, (pronounced Gron-ya) reminded me so much of a younger Mrs. Doubtfire, from the Robin Williams movie of the same name. Her full Irish breakfasts are legendary and I've never had so much food for breakfast - and on fine China and silver coffee service, too! I could live on her breakfast porridge with cream and I miss that more than anything. My first night in Wexford, Kathleen texted me that she had ended up in the hospital and was having to cancel her trip. I was sad and concerned. We've kept in touch and she seems much better, but I miss her presence all the same. With two weeks to fill, I turned to the WWOOFing (WWOOF=World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) site and after one night in Dublin, I'll head west to WWOOF for a week or two on the tiny island of Inishturk. Three miles long and one mile wide with a population of about fifty people, I'll be helping out on a small sheep farm. I'm looking forward to the one on one with the owner, Mary. After my time there, I may head back to the mainland to help with an organic garden behind a seafood restaurant on the coast or gardens at a holistic retreat center near the Cliffs of Moher. The WWOOFing opportunities are many and I'll be working my last two months in Ireland. I'm heading back to the States in mid August, but will be on the East Coast for a number of weeks before I head to Texas. Knowing I am so close to the end of this trip is bittersweet. I miss my family terribly, but yet it's hard to imagine being settled back at home. I'm enjoying being a nomad with all its uncertainty, it will be strange to have routine again! Yet it's one of the things I miss the most - hanging clothes on the clothesline, taking a walk with my dog, time with my grandkids. The little routine things I hope I never take for granted again. But for now there's a train to catch and an island to discover and more adventures awaiting. I'll leave you with this quote: "We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." ~Anonymous

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


After the Camino, I must admit to feeling a bit lost. For almost three weeks I had a mission every day - WALK. And now I was back on vacation. I do much better with a mission (I've always known that) and, having almost three weeks before boarding a flight to the Azores island of Terceira, I had to find a way to fill my days. I started reading up on Portugal and settled on a plan of visiting small historic towns before spending one night in Lisbon where I'd catch a plane. I left Finisterre, Spain on a bus and ended up in Braga, Portugal where, when I checked into my "room" for a two night stay, discovered it was a spacious and stylishly furnished two bedroom apartment. It rained the entire bus ride to Braga, but stopped long enough for me to walk to the apartment, check in and make a run to the grocery store. I had the big bedroom with the spa bathroom accessible only through my room. Two French woman had secured the other bedroom with two twin beds and a bathroom in the hallway for one night. They were friendly and quiet and mostly not there. A perfect arrangement. It rained most of my visit and I used the time not to see the sights, but to lock in and write. Isabel, the owner of the apartment, lived with her college aged daughter across the hall. She taught in a preschool during the day and studied Chinese medicine in the evenings. She also sang in a traditional Portuguese folk music and dance troupe that performs around the country and my second night she invited me to join her for a rehearsal. It was spectacular with music played on traditional instruments accompanied by lively, intricate dances. For three hours, I tapped my feet and smiled so broadly my cheeks hurt! I was given a lesson on how to use the castanets (much more difficult than it looks) and a CD of their music. I left Braga the next morning by bus for Porto where I'd left a small box of possessions before my Camino. This trip to Porto was so different from my first visit when I had been there recuperating from shin splints. Pain free, I visited the farmers market, walked the bridge across the Rio Douro and wandered the streets of the old section of town. I tried to claim a spot on a tour of the Sandeman Port Winery, but they were booked solid. Although Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, it has the feel of a much smaller town with lots of cobblestone streets, small cafes and quaint hotels. Its historical core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A lovely and affordable place to visit. 
On the banks of the Rio Douro in Porto
Next stop, Tomar. Considered one of Portugal's historical jewels, it was founded by the Knights Templar and the Convento de Cristo monastery and the Castle sit on a hill overlooking the town. The grounds surrounding the castle are a maze of paths through tall trees and beautiful plantings. At breakfast the first morning, I joined a few folks who were walking the Camino (Tomar is on the Camino route from Lisbon) and also Red, a man on vacation from Oregon. As we traded stories, I mentioned I was considering catching a bus to Fatima, a religious shrine about 40 minutes west of Tomar. Red told me he also was wanting to visit Fatima and he had a car so a plan was made to meet after breakfast. A pleasant ride brought us to a very built up Sanctuary with a massive blacktop plaza capable of holding over 60,000 people. We observed some people doing penance by traversing the plaza on their knees. At the entrance to the sanctuary is a 5,732 pound chunk of the Berlin wall behind glass. There were quite a few people there in preparation for the huge celebration on May 13th, when the plaza would be filled to capacity (I watched the proceedings on TV in the train station cafe on my way out of Tomar). On the 13th of every month from May to October in 1917, it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children on this site. So those days draw heavy crowds of the devoted. We walked back through town, past tourist shops full of religious icons, ate lunch in a small cafe and headed out to Santarém, a town on the Tagus River. We wandered through town for hours, walked the gardens on the grounds of an ancient Moorish citadel and got caught in a wicked thunderstorm. The architecture is an amazing mix of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque! Back at the hotel hours later, it was obvious the storms had hit Tomar also as the Nabão River, which cuts through the town was swollen, muddy and running fast. The next morning I walked the Castle hiking trails and while on a very overgrown, mostly unused trail that intersected with a paved trail I came across a young couple with backpacks who I assumed were Camino walkers. I said, "Bom dia!" (Good day in Portuguese) and they nodded their heads at me. I next asked, "Are y'all doin' the Camino?" (Don't know why I turned Texan all of a sudden). They looked at me oddly and replied in broken English, "We don't speak Portuguese!" That afternoon Red and I paid a visit to the Matchbox Museum. I was thinking Matchbox cars and was less than enthusiastic, but no, this was the world's largest collection of actual boxes of matches. Six rooms full. Really. Some dating from the late 1800's and categorized by country. It was more interesting than it sounds. Not the highlight of my Tomar visit, but it held a strange sort of fascination. The next day I was back at the train station to catch a train to Evora, a town I'd been wanting to visit for months. The train took me to Lisbon where I'd catch another train to Evora. I had a two hour wait, so I went to a cafe I'd been to more than a month earlier when I was in town to start my first attempt at the Camino. My phone connected to their Wi-Fi immediately, having stored the passwords weeks before. I really appreciate this feature! I caught up on mail and news while I nursed a coffee and then walked to the platform to catch my train. My ticket listed the car number and seat number so I walked to car 22 and tried the door, but it was locked. It was fifteen minutes till the train left, so I sat on a bench on the platform to wait. Soon the platform filled with people but the doors remained locked, which seemed odd. At 5:02, which was the time the train was scheduled to leave, the front three cars of the train headed down the track. I walked up to a couple sitting on a bench and pointed to the train locked up tight in front of us. "Evora?" I asked. They pointed to the train disappearing down the tracks. Damn. I walked to the ticket booth and they gave me a ticket for the next train, two hours later. I felt only marginally less an idiot when I noticed a few other people who'd been on the platform with me, getting new tickets too. I caught the next train without incident and pulled into Evora around 8:15. It was still light, but not for long. I followed an elderly lady out of the train station and watched as her husband walked up, grabbed her bag and gave her a big kiss. I took the opportunity to stop them and ask the direction to the old part of town. "You walk?" She asked me. "Yes." I replied, "No problem!" But they wouldn't hear of it and grabbed my bag, opened the back door of their car and motioned me in. They drove me into town and then walked me to the door of my hotel - about 2 blocks! This is the sort of kindness I experienced throughout Portugal. Amazing people! The man at the front desk showed me to my room and my heart fell. It was a dingy closet with a twin bed and a sink. The bathroom was a half mile down the hall (not really, but it seemed that far when I got up in the middle of the night to use it...). It was late, so I just crawled into bed and went to sleep. The next morning I availed myself of the free breakfast and left to see Evora. A visit to the Chapel of Bones was first on my list. A small chapel attached to the Church of St. Francis, the interior is covered with skulls and bones dug up from the town in the 16th century. The Franciscan monk who built it intended it to create contemplation on the transitory nature of life. Indeed, a motto carved in marble above the door says, "We bones that are here, for yours await." Pleasant. The chapel itself is lovely - clean and hushed. I expected grisly and got reverence. 
As I walked out of the chapel, it began to sprinkle, so I walked towards my hotel. By the time I reached it, the rain had picked up. I grabbed my key at the front desk and walked to my room which, with dark skies dumping rain outside, seemed even gloomier than the night before. I decided I couldn't do it...I couldn't have this room be my base for the next three days. It was 11:30 and checkout was by noon. I packed my backpack and headed to the front desk, my stomach doing flips with every step. I had never checked out of a hotel because I didn't like it before. I approached the desk clerk, the same one I'd joked with the night before and put my key on the counter. "I'd like to check out. My room just isn't what I expected." He didn't say a word, just sat there and looked at me. "I'm sorry." I added. I hadn't paid my bill yet and the hotel only took cash so, as he changed the booking and printed my bill, I went online and booked a new room I'd scoped out that morning. And just like that, I was out of there. I walked in the rain to the new hotel and sat downstairs waiting for reception on the third floor to open. The new room was just that, new. They had only been open a month or two and it was spacious and clean and furnished with painted furniture typical of the region. Once again a room without a bathroom, but it was directly across the hall and even had a bathtub. What's more, I was the only one staying there! When the proprietor left at seven in the evening, I had the whole place to myself. The next morning I walked to the train station to buy my ticket to Lisbon and realized I could've walked to town my first night as it took me less than 20 minutes. But I got to experience the kindness of strangers. I then walked back to the old part of town, within the ramparts (Evora is a walled city) and walked around the wall observing the difference within - cobblestone streets, traditional building techniques, huge trees - and without - modern hotels, traffic going through roundabouts, billboards. I sat on a bench carved into the ancient rock wall at the edge of a garden. I watched a lady walking towards me and I estimated her to be about my age, a tourist like me and maybe German. Beverly turned out to be English, not German but I hit the mark on all the rest. We sat and talked for two hours and when the rain started, we ducked into one of the tiny stone guard houses that were at every turn on the rampart. We walked to a cafe for soup and sat for 90 minutes more. We agreed to meet for lunch the next day. Bev had been traveling solo for about 10 weeks, mostly in Africa, (Gambia and Senegal) doing charity work and was heading to the Algarve in southern Portugal for a week at the beach, then to attend a wedding. We were leaving Evora the same day, on the same train. The next day as we ate lunch she bemoaned the need to dress up for the wedding festivities. Traveling in Africa, she'd not needed fancy clothes. Like me, she saw dressing up as a chore. Throughout Spain and Portugal, I'd been taken a few times to what are called Chinese Stores. Kind of like a dollar store on steroids. Some are small with just clothes and jewelry, but some are like super Walmarts crammed into 2000 square feet. On a trip to the grocery store that morning, I'd passed three of them. So off we went to find Bev a dress. We had a fun and successful afternoon and made plans to meet on the train the next morning. I arrived at the train station early and had a coffee in the cafe before boarding the train as soon as they opened the doors. I stood in the doorway of the train watching taxis drop off passengers, but never saw Bev and I started to worry. It was almost 9:00 and the train would be pulling out at 9:06. I finally went to my seat and Bev came walking down the aisle. She had been waiting for me inside the train station with the same concerns I'd had for her. We made plans to reconnect in England as she arrives home a few days after I get there. I had one night in Lisbon before I caught my flight to the Azores. I'd booked a room at the same place I'd stayed when I was starting the Camino and it was nice to be back. A comfortable five bedroom, two bathroom flat in a great part of town, the owner a dynamic woman named Maria Theresa. Maria's 19 year old son, Francisco, would be picking me up in front of the apartment at 5:00 the next morning to drive me to the airport. There was a futbol match that evening and afterwards celebrations exploded around town. Singing, horns honking, explosions that sounded like cannons...hours of raucous partying. At 2 a.m., after just getting to sleep, a series of messages came in on WhatsApp. Francisco had a fever and had yet to go to sleep. He would be unable to drive me to the airport, but had arranged for a taxi to be waiting downstairs at 5. I messaged him back, thanking him for arranging it and wishing him a speedy recovery. I do hope he got better, but I've heard futbol fever is pretty easy to sleep off. 
I caught my first flight to Ponte Delgado on the island of São Miguel, the largest and most populated of the nine islands in the Azores. After a 20 minute wait, I boarded a prop plane to Terceira, my final destination and my home for a week. A taxi took me to the Sawmill hotel in the parish of Aqualva, about a 15 minutes ride. The island of Terceira is the third largest of the nine islands and the land that time forgot. Less than 20 miles long and 12 miles wide, it is mainly an agricultural, livestock and dairy economy. Oh, and did I mention Paradise? This time of year the island is in bloom with hydrangeas, giant purple alliums, geraniums and wild nasturtiums growing everywhere. I checked into the Sawmill complex which rents individual bedrooms in one building with a shared bathroom and a large living room and kitchen or individual apartments in a low slung building across the driveway. I rented the smallest apartment with a small kitchen, a bathroom and a large bedroom. But I spent lots of time in the big kitchen across the driveway. It became a meeting place and lots of plans were hatched there along with some pretty good meals cooked in the well equipped kitchen. Sergio, the owner, is from Lisbon and met his wife in college. She grew up on the island and they now have a sweet 6 year old son. The day I arrived I walked into town, a 10 minute walk, and visited the one small grocery store to pick up supplies for a few days. There are no restaurants in Aqualva and with the big kitchen, I had no need for one. I then took off on a walk through a neighboring parish to find the ocean. The roads were narrow and many without sidewalks, so when I saw a side road heading toward the ocean, I took it. Just a few hundred feet in, the pavement ended and I was walking a dirt road between waist high volcanic basalt rock walls. The island is crisscrossed with these stacked rock walls, used to delineate tilled plots for crops or paddocks for animals. Fencing is almost non existent.
Rock walls as far as the eye can see
Some of the paddocks had cows, but most were simply plots of lush grass. I could see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, but I never reached it, my forward progress ultimately blocked by, you guessed it - rock walls. I headed back to my apartment and made myself a light dinner. I met a few women staying there, Hannah, a German woman who was heading back to Düsseldorf the next day and Mia, a young college student from Helsinki. They had gone whale watching that day on the south side of the island and recommended the experience. Sergio could make the arrangements. The next morning Sergio delivered Hannah to the airport and returned with a new guest, Nancy who hailed from St. Augustine, Florida but arrived in Terceira from England. Her husband was in a boat race from England to Terceira and she would be at Sawmill until he arrived in 3-4 weeks. We became fast friends and, on her first full day at Sawmill, we decided to take one of the many hikes on the island. Her map said "4 km. Easy hike." A 2.5 mile hike? No problem! We headed out mid morning and figured we'd pick up bottles of water in town. Since the hike was so short, we decided to walk a big loop around the outskirts of the village of Aqualva to reach the trailhead. As soon as we left the village proper, the road headed uphill with, once again, stacked rock walls on either side of the road extending up and over the mountain. It was a couple miles of pleasant walking to reach the trailhead and we completely forgot to pick up drinking water.
When we reached the start of the trail we could see the ocean ahead of us down a long dirt road. I was determined to put my feet in the water at some point that day! We walked and talked and soon the trail started heading down into the woods. I had pictured the trail remaining a nicely tended trail, but we started clamoring down and over boulders and steep narrows that we had to walk down with our feet sideways to keep from sliding. It was actually kind of thrilling to be physically challenged again since I hadn't done any strenuous hiking since the Camino. The land flattened and we came upon a tiny rock house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by small plots of plants I later discovered to be taro. And just beyond, the rocky shore of the ocean.
I climbed over the rocks and stood at the waters edge. A wave soaked my shoes, socks and the bottom of my jeans. The water was surprisingly tepid, I'd expected it to be cold. I walked back to Nancy and we headed back out to find where the trail would lead us next. It took us a few minutes to realize we would be walking over the cliff we'd walked beside to reach the ocean. Crude steps had been dug out of the mountainside and we followed them up and over the mountain.
The view from the top was magnificent and we stopped frequently to take pictures. Some of the paths were piles of jagged rocks and others were sections of paved roads, but everywhere the views were of the craggy Terceira coastline.
We'd been hiking a few hours by this time and we were feeling the lack of water. Nancy had some almonds with her, but I thought they'd make me thirstier so I ate some wild nasturtiums growing on the side of the trail. We came to a marker by the side of the path that showed we were close to the end. A half mile more and we were sitting by the side of the road sharing a chocolate bar Nancy had found in her pack and waiting for the bus to take us back to Aqualva. 
The next morning at 8:00 the van showed up for the 30 minute ride to Angra for whale watching. Nancy hitched a ride with us although she wasn't joining me because, as she put it, "When my husband gets here and we're sailing between the islands, we'll probably see lots of whales!" So she took off to run errands while I boarded a small rubber dinghy with seven other folks and two crew. We motored about four miles out into the Atlantic Ocean and let the motor idle quietly. They have strict rules about whale closer than fifty meters, no approaching from the front of the whales and no more than thirty minutes in one spot. Almost immediately, we saw a small blow of water in the waves ahead of us followed by a blackish gray mass that kind of rolled over the top of the waves. A whale! A fin whale to be exact, the second biggest animal on the planet. 
It was pretty magnificent and it swam a bit closer before it disappeared. A few other smaller fin whales swam around the boat before we moved on to another spot. On shore, a spotter was on one of the highest cliffs on the waterfront and would radio coordinates to our boat. We motored around for over two hours, stopping to watch the whales swim and spout before heading closer to shore to see dolphins. They swam right up to the boat, some jumping out of the water completely and others swimming under the boat.
A dolphin under the water off the side of the boat
They were playful and energetic and it was a nice way to end the excursion. Back on shore, Nancy and I took off for a restaurant she had seen while running errands. Off the tourist route, it was obviously a spot for locals. We were hoping to have a traditional dish called Alcatra - Portuguese pot roast - and this was the place. For 5€ each we had delicious Alcatra with boiled potatoes, bread, a half liter of local red wine and coffee. After lunch we ran a few more errands, walked through the spectacular gardens and did some grocery shopping before catching the bus back to Sawmill. The next day poured most all day and I stayed in reading and writing and catching up on laundry. We were renting a car the next day to tour the whole island, eat seafood and see a Tourada de Ropa. Sergio arranged our rental car and did the research on the best Tourada de Ropa on the island that night. A "sport" that takes place in Terceira only May through October, it is particular to the Azores, most specifically the island of Terceira. After securing our car, we drove to a waterfront seafood restaurant, Beira Mar, in Sao Mateus and made a reservation for lunch. We then drove to the west side of the island (Aqualva parish being in the northeast) and I was amazed by how different the geography was. Extensive plantations of Cryptomeria Japonica covered the hills and roadsides and the huge hydrangea shrubs were just starting to bloom. It was lush and green with tiny villages dotting the landscape. We made our way to Biscoitos, a village on the north coast marked by coves surrounded by black lava. Platforms have been built with sunbathing areas and stairs down into the natural pools of seawater.
Despite being barely 70 degrees, there were quite a few sunbathers out and even a few people in the water! I could've stayed all day, but lunch called so we headed back to Sao Mateus. When we arrived at Beira Mar, every table was full except one - ours! We started with local bread, cheese and wine; then our entrees of wreckfish and octopus. The wreckfish (so called because the massive fish weighing upwards of 200 lbs frequent deepwater caves and shipwrecks) was a huge slab of broiled fish almost an inch thick. The octopus was the best I've ever eaten (and I tend to eat it frequently here), the huge tentacles being so tender you could cut them with a fork. The meals came with salad and vegetables, which we hadn't seen much. We were stuffed as we headed into Angra to do some grocery shopping. Finally we headed to Praia da Vitória to catch the evenings entertainment of Tourada de Ropa or Bull on a Rope. Two blocks were marked off with chalk and all the ground floor doors and windows partially barricaded with plywood. 
The streets were full of participants and onlookers both, the latter (like us) looking for someplace safe to watch the proceedings. We asked a few people the protocol for securing a spot and were told to just keep asking. As we walked past a low balcony with a few people standing there, Nancy asked if we could join them and they told us to come on up. Yes!
Our perch to watch the bull
I had watched a few Tourada de Ropa videos online and had seen the bulls actually leap into the stands. I felt fairly confident this balcony offered safety as well as a good view. A cannon shot marked the beginning and the crowds surged to the spot where the bull was let loose, two blocks away. "Loose" is not really accurate as the bull was secured by a heavy rope held by four to six men (pastores) dressed in white shirts, grey pants and black hats, although a few times I saw them drop the rope allowing the bull to roam freely for a minute. Sometimes, when the bull came after them, the pastores would jump inside a barricade for protection. The crowds behind the barricades would wave their jackets at the bull as he passed and sometimes he would ram the door to try to reach them. Participants on the road would whirl red umbrellas at the bull, encouraging him to charge, then run like hell when he did. Sometimes, from my spot on the balcony, I couldn't see the bull but knew he was coming when the throng began running our way. At one point, with the bull probably twenty feet away, a few teenaged boys parked themselves on the road under our balcony taunting the bull. When he headed our way, the boys climbed the wall to safety.
Nancy took this photo and I thought the composition was great!
The bull's horns are capped to diminish the risk if he does make contact with someone. We stayed for two of the four bulls before we headed back to Sawmill. The next day was Sunday and a big celebration was held in town. 
We encountered this man on our walk to church.
It started at 10:30 mass at the church in Aqualva, which we attended although we were terribly underdressed. Every man there, young and old alike wore a suit and the women were dressed to the nines complete with heels and hose. We stood in the back as every seat was full and we saw a few folks check us out. When it came time to shake hands, many came to shake ours. It was sweet although we didn't understand a word of the sermon. Afterwards, everyone assembled on the street outside the church as the philharmonic played and a procession of parishioners wearing elaborate crowns paraded by. Men bearing huge baskets of bread began walking through the crowd handing out loaves. When their baskets emptied, they replenished them until everyone had a loaf, Nancy and I included. 
We left soon after for the ten minute walk back to Sawmill and everyone we passed was carrying a loaf of bread. Every single one. It was good bread, too!
Black clouds rolled in and when Nancy knocked on my door a few hours later to invite me to join her for the afternoon celebration, I declined. I was writing and packing and rain was threatening. I'm so sorry I didn't go as Nancy reported it was a food feast with the townspeople making their specialties including some traditional Azorian dishes and spirits. 
The next morning I flew to Horta on the island of Faial, where I stayed for one night before catching a morning flight back to Lisbon. I was so sad to leave Terceira as it had stolen my heart. The simplicity of the island - even the cities were laid back - and its natural beauty is addicting. You can so easily become accustomed to the pace, being on "island time", that heading back to the mainland felt jarring. I actually perused the real estate ads to see what a tiny one bedroom, one bath house would go for (ridiculously cheap). It was the most affordable island vacation ever and I hope to visit again for much longer than a week!
So tomorrow morning I head to Great Britain and Ireland for a few months, being banished from the European Mainland for the remainder of my trip (don't ask...just google Schengen). I'll visit a few friends, hopefully make some new ones and see places I've never seen. So many times in the last few months I've had experiences that I think I can't possibly top, but then I surprise myself. So with an open mind (and a bit of a heavy heart), I'm leaving this part of my travels behind. It will be good to see friends and understand the language. Looking forward to some good hikes. I've been suffering from a bit of homesickness and am REALLY excited about two weeks in Ireland travelling around with my friend Kathleen from Texas. So onward and upward, adventure awaits!