26 Places to Commemorate 26

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I wanted to kick this off with the phrase “another year around the moon” but then I got really stressed that I’ve used it in all of my other annual birthday posts. I’m inclined to think that 23 and 24 may have made it out alive, but 25 feels sneakily suspicious.

Alas, here we are. Another year around the moon. 26. I hate it. This is terrible and this is awful. This is the decline of my youth. There is no excitement.

I’m kidding, of course. Mild excitement. But I learned my lesson from last year. 25 was an age where everyone piled on more expectation than I’ve ever known. “This will be the best year of your life!” “25 holds so much promise!” “That is the greatest age!” Thanks to all of that, I went into it with too much energy and created too many of my own expectations and, shockingly, very few of them were actually lived up to. Very few. I left the year quite displeased with all of those people who did that to me! I’m convinced they put the whammy on it.

So, in 26 I’m decidedly expecting not much of anything at all. It’ll be an age, alright. It’ll hold so much… who knows? We’ll come back and see this time next year.

For now, let’s look behind us. I wanted to get a little different in my birthday reflective writings this year because lately I’ve been giving some serious thought to where I want to settle this here life of mine. As in, settle settle. I thought I had that figured out already. It felt so known for so long. I had a plan and a timeline and a too-stern nod of the head whenever anyone asked me. But lately half of the plan appears to be smudged and the timeline is ticking by too quickly and the brow on the sternly nodding head is beginning to furrow.

I know, I know, we’re throwing expectations right out the window and apparently this is one of them. Rather than get decided about where I’m going to be, this age wants to remind me about all of those tiny nooks and not so tiny crannies that I’ve been. That make me feel like my soul is in a home place. Maybe that’ll help me solve the settle.

Captured below are 26 places that give me those soul feelings. That commemorate what it means for me to make it to the unripe, not-so-old age of 26. “Pin drops” have been provided for the specifics.

Onwards, in no particular order…

1. The Front Porch @ 42

[Pin Drops]: the wall ledge against the house, the edge before the stairs, the original green door

2. Long Lived Papasan Chair

[Pin Drops]: every turned page, every tucked leg, every grey morning

3. West Cork, Ireland

[Pin Drops]: the strawberry patch, cake crawling, Levis’

4. Pembroke College, Cambridge, UK

[Pin Drops]: Pembroke Library, the dungeon room, Brewsday Crewsday

5. On Top of the World

[Pin Drops]: Pride & Prejudice (2005), dir. Joe Wright, mus. Dario Marianelli

6. Where Orion Was Its Brightest

[Pin Drops]: my heart, and soul, and fresh air

7. Cancun, MX

[Pin Drops]: Back of the Jeep, mirror selfies with actual digital cameras, hang outs in hotel rooms where coconuts hid under the bed

8. The bar at Knights of Columbus

[Pin Drops]: paper animals, shuffleboard tables, the salty sweat smell of home

9. Liguria, Italy

[Pin Drops]: the lights, cobbled streets, architecture to steal my breath clean out of my lungs

10. Pacific Coast Highway Beach

[Pin Drops]: warm rocks, cold water, highway air

11. The Special Room @ Kings Library

[Pin Drops]: my tears, most of my tears, all of my tears

12. Boston, MA

[Pin Drops]: Northeastern, the T, the whole damn city kid

13. Kangamagus Highway

[Pin Drops]: Scottish Fest, the condo, that last Tennants up in the lodge

14. Glasgow, Scotland

[Pin Drops]: River Clyde @ the Childrens Museum, Big GG’s garden, Wee GG’s electric coal fireplace, the Genius couch

15. Kirstenbosch

[Pin Drops]: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

16. Wigtown, Scotland

[Pin Drops]: hill down from the train station, bookshelves, quietness of the mind

17. Cape Town, South Africa

[Pin Drops]: bus rides, Wobblies, money, more laughter than my heart will ever know again

18. The Olympic Peninsula

[Pin Drops]: La Push (baby), Worlds Biggest Spruce, Bella Italia

19. The Old Living Room @ Euclid

[Pin Drops]: 5am, Lord of the Rings, putters under couches for Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

20. The Attic @ 42

[Pin Drops]: animal hospital, makeshift apartment, imaginings

21. The Atlantic Ocean

[Pin Drops]: Second Beach, Ocean Drive, Ireland

22. The Night Sky

[Pin Drops]: Ursa Major, airplane windows, front windshields

23. The Upper West Side

[Pin Drops]: Museum of Natural History, Cafe Amrita, Dead Poet

24. Parker Hill Abbey

[Pin Drops]: cuddle puddles, the (6 hour?) shower, open-doored bedrooms

25. Punters Pub

[Pin Drops]: Danger Zone at #1 on the jukebox, that Bud Diesel tap, the broken booths

26. My Inside Breath

[Pin Drops]: the moors, the forest, the heart places

As always, thank you for being part of this. I guarantee you, yes you, are woven into one and / or many of the above. Here’s to many more together.

Real Moments: Tales Turns One!

It’s been one whole year since I started Tales of Casstastrophe and look how far we’ve come! If you’re here anticipating styled photos of giant golden balloon numbers or letters, please kindly close your eyes and imagine them for a moment so you’re not disappointed and then open your eyes and continue reading.

First and foremost, let’s review some of the adventures we’ve been on since we got to know each other last July:

Secondly, I’ve made a few updates around the site. Nothing too fancy but allow me to direct you to the new home page. This Is Me and Casstegories have also gotten a little sprucing. Have no fear, navigation is still largely the same and I want to make sure that my past posts remain unaffected so if you see anything looking funky please let me know!

And finally, thank you to everyone who has come along on this whirlwind of a year with me! I appreciate it more than you know that anyone out there, even one single person, cares to read my thoughts and prose. Writing is fun for me; it’s a hobby, it’s a habit, and it’s a love. While I’m thankful to have these musings recorded somewhere for myself in the future, I’m even more thankful to think that someone out there might actually get something from what I write. If that someone is you – please write back.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Here’s to many more Tales of Casstastrophe!

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Real Moments: From Gardening to Glasgow to Graduation!

I’m well aware that there has been a lull in posts for the last few weeks – but that’s not for lack of things to say, trust me! An explanation by means of a life update felt in order.

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The most perfect of white camellias – which I cannot take the credit for finding. Tony, the head gardener at Inish Beg, discovered this beautiful botanical gem buried back behind the hydrangeas.

Apparently the letter ‘G’ has been the flavor of the past few weeks for me. What felt like immediately after my return from a month and a half of gardening in Ireland, but in actuality was only a week or so later, I set off on a trip to the homeland with my grandmother. My maternal grandparents hail from Glasgow, Scotland so we went over to visit a few relatives for two weeks.

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The view of Princess Street and beyond from Edinburgh Castle.

As I’ve been to Scotland a fair few times throughout my life prior to this trip, the travel bug wasn’t that strong and we didn’t venture off too far… with the exception of a day trip to the capital city. I must admit that I’m very proud of my 72 year old grandmother for trekking all over Edinburgh with me and not complaining once! We had a bonnie wee time to ourselves, we did.

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Took some time to go see The Elephant House – otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter – while in Edinburgh. My nana was abhorred by the “graffiti” on the wall of the bathrooms but it’s common practice to sign a message when visiting.

I kid you not, the very next morning after flying back to the States from Scotland I drove off for a weekend of glowraging with my favorite girlfriends down in Maryland. The five of us met back in Cambridge, England last summer and this was a reunion mixed with a last hurrah. I’m so thankful to have made such lasting friendships with these ladies. They’re some of the most impressive, inspirational young women I have ever met and I just… well, I’m really grateful to know them. It was incredible to be down on their turf for a little while. Our weekend was over much too soon.


Upon returning it was straight on to preparing for the final tassel on the cap – my graduation! Technically I finished school back in December… and received my diploma in January… but the formal ceremony was in May and I did it!

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Took my family to one of my favorite spots after the ceremony – Punter’s Pub. A blurry cheers to 5 years was certainly in order!

I’m officially officially really definitely done with my undergraduate experience now. Please excuse me while I take a few seconds to mime the word “WHAT????” to this empty room I’m sitting in. It truly went by too quickly, but I’m thankful for the people I got to experience it with… most notably getting to go through it all with my very best friend in the whole wide world. It’s thanks to our alma mater that we were even brought together in the first place so leaving for the last time was a little bittersweet.

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This photo is the most tear inducing thing I’ve ever been a part of! 5 years later and still my absolute soul sister, twin moon, best friend. Cannot wait to see what the heck we end up making of our lives.

Now, it should come as a shock to no one that I’m pretty big on reflection and introspection so I’ll wrap this up with a few things I have to say about this here life I’ve been living lately. Over the past 3 months I’ve been unsettled in the best of ways. Most of my time was spent outside of my comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries, and learning new things. From the correct way to plant a tree to why patience is the ultimate virtue, from how to enjoy those precious few moments crossing the stage (instead of panicking about tripping over yourself in front of your entire class) to the significance of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and way, way more. But most of all I’ve been questioning whether, at the ripe old age of 23, I’m on the life/existence/etc. path/journey/etc. that I want to be on. My answer?

For SURE, I am. In the past year alone I’ve spent 1/3 of my months abroad. I attempted to list out all of the different things I’ve studied (in some way, shape, or form) over the course of said year but let’s not double up our word count, shall we? Instead let’s just say that it has been quite the experience, the last 3 months I’ve recounted to you in this post especially.

As always, thank you kindly for following along on all of these adventures with me! We’ve got a many more ahead of us, so stay tuned for the tales.

Voyages: Scotland’s National Book Town [@WigtownUK]

One evening in the beginning of the summer, on a bus back from London, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine about books. It wasn’t long before we discovered our mutual adoration for second-hand shops and she said to me “Oh, you absolutely have to go to Wigtown!”

Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not one to take other people’s suggestions for these types of things. I get instantly skeptical and usually just nod and smile and think to myself “I absolutely have to go where I want to go, thank you very much” (but that’s because I’m inherently a grumpy old witch just waiting to retire to my creaky house on the hill). But I took the bait. I listened as my now very dear friend told me more and more about Scotland’s National Book Town and by the time we got back to Cambridge she had convinced me. I resolved that at the end of August I would make a voyage out of Wigtown.

Day One

Getting to Wigtown is not easy. It’s in a southern region of Scotland (think way southern, like practically England southern) known as Dumfries and Galloway. To get there you have to take a train, or as I found sometimes two, and two buses. I like adventure and all but no way was I going to drive myself there. So a family friend dropped me off at Glasgow Central at 9am and I set off on a train with no more than 15 people on it for a little town called Barrhill.

According to Google Maps this was called ‘Cross Water.’ It feeds into the Duisk River. Don’t ask me how to pronounce that.

When I say ‘little’ I am not exaggerating. This place was a 10-house town and I was the only one getting off the train for it. Thankfully the people in the UK are very nice and willing to help an American girl who is clearly far from home and her mind for coming to a place like this. With some direction from the locals, I stumbled my way down a winding abandoned road to get in to the village and find my bus stop. I had quite some time to wait before the bus actually came so I sat next to a little burn (aka stream) to bide my time with reading and laughing at the overall hilarity of this journey. I had never been to a smaller town in my entire life, and here I was doing it for the first time all on my own. I kind of wished I had a travel buddy so we could walk around saying “Are you seeing this???” to each other – but I’ll settle for having you, my dear reader.

The views from the bus rides were unreal. My neck hurt from swiveling back and forth the whole time to take it all in.

The bus to Newton Stewart finally arrived and I boarded to find I was only the second passenger. It remained that way for the next 45 minutes in to town. The driver and elderly woman (passenger #1) chatted away while I sat laughing to myself in the corner. Seriously! I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Once I got to Newtown Stewart it was just a switch over to the final bus that carried me on to Wigtown (there were a total of 3(!) people on this one).

Upon arrival in the National Book Town, I took advantage of the unusually beautiful Scottish weather and went out to walk around a bit. I could tell that this was the type of place most people could crush through in a quick day trip, which meant it would be perfect for my leisurely exploration over the next two days. Huge emphasis on the leisurely.

Note: this voyage was by no means meant to be action packed. I was there to shop for books, yes so action-filled, but also to relax and recharge and have time to myself before heading off to America and thus back to school. I needed a few days to laze around as much as my little heart desired so what I’m trying to say here is don’t expect any pictures of cliff-jumping in this post. Okay, back to it.

Day Two

Rolled out of bed late Tuesday morning and decided I deserved some cake for breakfast. After stopping by one of the darling little cafes, I hit up my first bookshop right across the street.

I discovered The Open Book was run by a woman from Lexington, Massachusetts! Imagine my surprise, you can’t, at finding a person from my home region tucked into the middle-of-nowhere, Scotland. We chatted for a bit about how to combine my soon-to-be-had Finance degree with the wonderful world of publishing. Scored a few books here and then decided on the brilliant idea to make the walk a mile out of town to visit the Bladnoch Distillery and a sci-fi/fantasy bookshop.

Desperately wanted to steal this sign, but I’ll settle for moving back to live on this road.

Unfortunately, I found both were closed down but it wasn’t for nothing. I had quite the time walking out on the thinest sidewalks I’d ever seen and back on no sidewalks at all. I took two different roads there and back – both of which were very fast-going highway type things on which I happened to be the only foot traveller… more laughing to myself ensued.

River Bladnoch

After I made it back into town without being mowed down by a cattle truck, I stopped for some lunch to reenergize for the rest of my bookshop tour. This was where the serious shopping began. I strolled my way through seven different second-hand shops throughout the course of the day and ended up splayed across my bed clutching my new books with tears of joy. Then I crawled into bed to watch Coronation Street reruns, my fave.

Reading Lasses makes the best mac & cheese AND trivia team name.

Byre Books was tucked down this hugely overgrown path. Made me feel like I was walking right into a fairytale.

The Book Shop – the largest bookshop in Scotland! The place went on and on with dozens of book-packed rooms. Could have spent eternities here. The quote over the fireplace made me laugh: “Give a man fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” – Terry Pratchett

Day Three

On my pack-up-and-go-home day I started to feel the weight of the fact that I had been abroad for 2 whole months and the travel ahead of me back to Glasgow wasn’t even the last I had to do before I could finally settle in and stop moving about for a while. In fact, my trip home to the States wasn’t even going to be the end of it. My exhaustion at the mere thought of all this coaxed me into spending my morning reading and drinking tea and eating scones – which I tried for the first time on this trip and learned that I LOVE! Why don’t people eat more scones?

So many things about this postcard are my favorite and I practically fainted after reading it. Counting down the days until Autumn hits and its time to go back to Salem.

All of my traveling directions were written on the backs of little slips of paper with the names and addresses of all my relatives in Scotland on them. Guess who left those directions at Reading Lasses when I finally accepted the fact that my trip was over and it was time to head out for the bus? To revisit that whole nice-people-in-the-UK point, one of the waitresses tracked me down at the bus stop and gave the papers back to me just before I realized they were gone. Those trusty little slips of paper got me pretty far! Who says you need a Google-Maps-equipped-cellphone to have a good time?

The travel back to Glasgow felt long and exhausting but when I finally stumbled off the train with a backpack full of books and pockets full of mint humbugs, into the arms of my beloved family friends, it finally hit me that my time in the UK was officially up. My study abroad in Cambridge had finished, my adventures off in the lowlands of Scotland were done, and it was time to finally go home.

Couldn’t help but sing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with a view like this on the walk back up to the Barrhill train station.

Thankfully, I had a beautifully illustrated copy of Wuthering Heights and the fondest of memories of my summer voyages to keep me company on the trek.