Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Life Lessons from the Garden

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Almost 2 months ago when I told my family I would be leaving to go work outside on an estate in Ireland for a little while, they were incredulous. To them, and friends, and many others, it didn’t fit their image of me. They couldn’t see why I felt a need to do this. But to me, a lot of my childhood was spent outside and a lot of my lifehood is spent searching for something, anything, new to learn.

So that’s why I did it.

I want to once again say thank you to Tony, the head gardener I had the privilege of working with at Inish Beg. We had many conversations over my 6 weeks in West Cork and while some days those conversations were more oriented towards my obsessions with potatoes and Ice Road Truckers, most days they were of a more reflective and thought provoking nature. Whether or not Tony was aware of all the cogs turning and perspectives shifting in my head is another story, but turn and shift they did and this post is only a handful of the ones I took away from it all.

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “A Little Chaos” which is about the construction of the gardens at Versailles. Not only is the original score almost unbearably beautiful (highly recommend giving the title track a listen), but the story and design of the movie itself were really moving for me. There was a particular quote in the beginning of the film that struck me:

“God put us first into a garden, and when we lost Eden we were fated to search and reinvent it again.”

Maybe without the context of the film this isn’t so moving for you, but it’s definitely a notion that has stayed with me since I heard it. I love being outside, I’ve always loved being outside, and as a relatively young person a lot of my life now feels like a search for the places I feel most comfortable in.

In a way, this trip was a piece of my search for Eden – and here is what I found.

Give back what’s taken | bare root planting

I’m gonna kick this paragraph off by saying bare root planting is hard but it was probably the thing I enjoyed the most. Before this trip I had planted one single tree in my lifetime, on a study abroad trip, and it was quite a different lesson. People aren’t the only things that destroy nature (though I will definitely agree they’re the largest cause). The elements, disease, plain old coincidence and circumstance – they all have a hand to play. It became a sort of fundamental importance to put back into the earth whatever was taken, regardless of the cause. In the case of self-seeding plants, Mother Nature might just do it herself. But in the case of trees and hedge and fruits and veg a little human help is probably greatly appreciated.

Give and take has always been around, I’ve heard people saying it all my life. But now I see that it applies to all facets: to the things we consume and create as well as the friendships and kinships and small ships and big ships and what? Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, kindness finds its roots in giving – so that it can grow better branches to take from.

Keep it simple | small garden beds

Massive scale is hardly something I’ll be able to balance in my own future gardening endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy fresh foods, herbs, and flowers. Keeping it simple doesn’t always have to translate to keeping it small, that just happens to be how my own personal garden will manifest itself. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it’s important to remember that a little can go a long way. So I’ll be starting with the basics: potatoes and maybe a flower or two.

Aside from gardens, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I want to simplify. I feel that there is so much overcomplication these days and that’s a huge stress trigger for me. I hate wasted space, I hate lugging around a huge closet of things I don’t even wear, I hate trying to make convoluted plans just to spend quality time with friends… so it’s all getting nixed! Simple eating, simple living, simple wearing, simple being – I’m here on out making the conscious effort.

Have vision | the winter season

Now, arriving to work on a garden in the winter season is not exactly the best idea if you want to see luscious, blooming flowers and fresh, green shrubbery. Most of what I worked with was brown and dampened, but I was conditioned into a sense of remembering that life was still in full swing all around us. Just because a plant was brown or wasn’t visible didn’t mean that it was dead. Winter is not a deadly season, it’s a resting season. Whenever I learned new plants or got assigned new tasks, we’d talk through what those plants would become or why those tasks were instrumental to promoting their growth. Creating those visions made me excited for the things I was doing because I had a better grasp on what was to come.

I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of creativity and a big imagination, but I also know that I struggle with preconception. If I’m working on something new, it’s fairly easy for me to open my mind but when it’s something I think I know and understand already, breaking down the walls to create that vision becomes more difficult. There are a million different adjectives you can use to describe this quality of myself (hey now, I heard that one!), but let’s just stick with visionistically impaired.

Work the lens both ways | the brassica bed & pruning the Rosa Rugosas

What I mean by that is step back just as much as you zoom in. The Rosa Rugosas were probably my favorite plants of the entire trip, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to see them in bloom. When I did a little research I discovered that they are not in fact a spell from Harry Potter but are actually noted in the US for being a tough dune plant, highly concentrated along the Northeast coastline. Pruning them, however, is relatively challenging considering the entirety of their branches are covered in small thorns. In gardening, there is a fine balance between the aesthetic and the practical. You have to be empirical in pruning back the roses because you want them to be healthy, however you also have to be conscious of the look and shape they will produce after said pruning. AKA you’ve got to step away every few cuts to make sure you haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture.

The brassica bed was a place I put a lot of work into my last few weeks. The bed itself was pretty much the only outdoor space we had providing fresh vegetables for the winter months, before the new seeds were sown and the new plants grown. Each week we’d pick through broccoli and cauliflower, parsley and wild chives, kale and assorted rainbow chards. In no way was the general health of any of these plants attributable to me, but I happily took on preparing and maintaining them for a bit. Pulling a few weeds, cutting off the dead or slug-eaten leaves, and giving the soil a good turn were all relatively minor tasks yet they made such a huge difference in the appearance of the bed. When stepping back suddenly the greens looked greener and the since-staked slumped over broccolis looked taller. I contented myself with knowing that for such small modifications, they seemed to make a world of difference in the grand scheme.

Be gentle… | encountering bugs & new growth

Honestly, I’m terrified of bugs. When I was little my tolerance had a hard stop at snails and worms. Hopefully it isn’t news to you that gardens have all manners of bugs but I had to learn to suck it up and accept that a lot of them were on our side (although the slugs had to go). Apparently bumblebees hibernate! They bury themselves in the soil over the winter and I came across several while working through the strawberry beds. The Cassie of yesteryears would have likely screamed and run away but knowing the importance, especially in the general population decline, of those bees I tried my best to leave them as undisturbed as possible… or at least move them to a safer spot of soil. I found myself feeling a lot more compassion towards bugs than I ever have before, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Bumblebees weren’t the only things I had to be careful of though. New growth was everywhere, and I just had to learn how to look for it. What little gardening skill I brought with me on this trip culminated in the brute force method of weeding – tug that sucker out as hard as you can and rip at whatever is left. Wrong! I had to kick that habit upon arrival because in this garden, there was a necessity to be gentle. That new growth was usually hidden deep under all of the weeds I was clearing away, or even looked like a weed itself, so it became important to take my time and use whatever gentleness I could muster. There was a satisfaction that came from slowly working the entirety, roots and all, of a weed out of the ground and leaving the beautiful new plants safely undisturbed beside it. There is a gentleness and compassion that is warranted with even the most imperceptible of things – including the weeds. Make of that what you will.

… but not delicate pretty much everything!

Again, Ireland in the winter is not a forgiving climate and I wasn’t even there for the worst of it. That’s not to say that I was out battering the elements for the sake of tidying up a few dead stalks of parsley, but I still had to learn to embrace a little rain and mud. I was excited about getting my hands dirty for once. This whole experience was meant to push the comfort zones of my physical, mental, and emotional states – and I’m happy to report that it did. I worked hard at removing hesitation from anything I was asked to do because that’s how you learn and grow as a person (or something). I got comfortable with the dirt and the mud, the shoveling and the wheelbarrowing. Not being super strong didn’t stop me from trying as best I could and I like to think that I made my coworkers proud… because I can definitely say that I made me proud of me.

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A panorama from inside the Walled Garden. That big bed in the left-center is the brassica bed I worked on!

Books I Brought Abroad [@WestCorkIRL]

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Travel Tip: figure out if your hosts used to own a bookshop in London and therefore have MASSES of reading options available for your perusal before you travel…

Packing to go anywhere is a struggle for me, as it is for most others as well. Some agonize over shoes, some over makeup, some over sweatshirts. I happen to agonize most extremely over books. Depending on how far out from the trip I am, I can spend weeks planning what reads to take with me. They get stockpiled in a corner of my room until the dreaded day when I have to see what fits. This year, I almost had to leave behind two whole paperbacks but I made the game time decision to kick out a pair of nicer boots in order to fit them in my case and let me tell you, I don’t regret a thing.

Since reading is such a huge part of my life and experiences, I wanted to give a quick list and a little note on each of the books I took with me to Ireland. I’m not huge on reviews, but some thoughts and nice quotes never hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll see something that sparks your interest.

Note before going further: none of these books are contemporary so be advised that if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King novel you won’t find it here.

Okay, continue.


“I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now – opened to you plainly my life of agony – described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence – shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”

This has been a long time pushed off book and to be honest, a huge motivation to read it recently has been all thanks to Netflix. Every time I logged in to my profile I would get the recent Jane Eyre movie as a recommendation and I swore never to watch it until I read it. Impatience got the best of me and here we are. One thing genuinely surprising about this book is its captivation. I adore Austen, don’t get me wrong, but her style is the first that comes to mind when thinking of 18th-19th century novels and how authors take a few pages to go off on descriptive tangents where they almost forget about the reader and write for themselves. Charlotte Brontë masters maintaining that connection and it genuinely turned this book into a hard to put down read for me. Not to mention it’s written as a memoir so there is a huge interest in following Jane’s life from early development to older (but still pretty young) adulthood. Not a crazy big fan of the ending, but all in all worth the weight.


“He now decided to make better use of all his future Sunday mornings.”

We all know those people who use words like “Kafkaesque” and dolly garn I wanted to be one of them! Kafka, like Proust, is one of those authors I always assumed you needed a PhD to be able to read and a Masters to even consider reading. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say that I agree. I also can’t say that I was 100% into this one because, well, I wasn’t. The day I began reading The Trial was the day I stopped by The Time Traveller’s Bookshop and while there I noticed a work titled “A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A. Cuddon. Forget the fact that it looked to weigh a million pounds and yet I still spent serious time considering whether or not to purchase it (I did), I was curious to see if it had a definition of “Kafkaesque” somewhere in its many pages. It did. And The Trial is cited as a top example of all that the term implies. So while I didn’t necessarily like this book, or Kafka’s style at all to be quite honest, at least I know that I’m semi-qualified to use his literary namesake as a reference in the future.


“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!”

A friend gifted this to me a few years ago with a note explaining how it’s one of his favorites and I, being the terrible person that I am, put off reading it for soooo long. However, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to start it than on a quick trip over to the homeland so it found its way into the stash. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives and trials of middle class people from, you guessed it, Dublin in the early 1900s. The key word here is collection, as in not to be taken separately. At first, I felt that every story seemed to end too quickly, and very few actually provided a concrete resolution to the problem or issue presented. Worse, I couldn’t find any sort of lesson/message in them. However, that’s because I was reading the whole book incorrectly. The short stories are not meant to be taken as themselves individually but rather altogether as a compendium of life in Dublin. After looking back at the title, I feel like that’s probably obvious to everyone else but me? Anyways, just keep it in mind if you pick up a copy. My favorite of the collection was “A Little Cloud” though I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “Eveline” as the most noteworthy – both make you seriously consider the concept of alternatives, both I highly recommend.


“A very easy way to feel [souls] go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”

God love Thomas Hardy. Also God love the edition of this novel I brought with me. It’s beautifully designed; I found it at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts so if you’re going to order a copy I highly recommend getting it from there. Support the independent sellers, y’all.

Anyways, back to Thomas Hardy. What a freaking writer! The style of that man is something else. I would say A but I’m inclined to say My Perfect Contrast with the king of simplification himself, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite male author, just a FYI). For every 1 word that’s needed, Hardy gives you 4. I love how descriptive he is and I would love to be able to emulate writing like that. However, that’s about all the love I can give for this book because to be completely honest I was not at all a fan of the story. I can absolutely see why this novel received so much criticism in its time of initial publication – but all I’ll say further on that matter is that those people were Wrong, with a capital W. The best example of a character you’re genuinely rooting for, despite all the malefactions that come her way.


“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized I probably should have also brought one of dear Anne’s novels along with me to make it a real trilogy experience but alas. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite rereadable books of all time and it is genuinely deserving of the habitual attention. I clarify rereadable because Anna Karenina is also a favorite but that puppy can only be tackled so many times, you know? And by so many I mean once for the very far off foreseeable future. I digress – for all intents and purposes I name this as my favorite book and this particular copy happens to go pretty much everywhere with me. It’s my safety novel. No matter where I am, I’ll always be able to turn to it in times of literary need. The story is unconventional to say the least. It’s chock-full of characters I love to hate because I hate to love them. It simultaneously invokes pity and indifference while conveying what it means to truly love someone, in all the ardent extremes. It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for a sweet 19th century love affair allow me to direct you to the Austen shelf.


“And what’s more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it.”

This goes back to my November sudden obsession with Russian literature. I packed this without actually skimming through the publishing style and what a doozie! If the look of Kafka was frustrating to get through (it was, it really pilcrowing was) then bringing The Idiot along was borderline masochistic. I saved this book for last for a good reason: plane reading. I can read just about anything on a plane, including all safety procedural guides (which everyone really should be reading anyway!), and at the time of packing this seemed like a nice fallback for when I inevitably did what I did and suffered from War & Peace flashbacks within the first 20 pages. It’s taking a little bit longer for me to get into the mood for The Idiot.

At the time of publishing this post, I am approximately not very far through this book and therefore I’m unable to offer any sort of thoughts on it. I’d say so far, so good but in case you were wondering Goodreads says “In the end, Myshkin’s (the main character’s) honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.” So… make of that what you will!

Please do reach out with thoughts and suggestions of your own for what books you absolutely refuse to travel without. Also, check out how these bad boys helped me in my 20[16k] challenge!

Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part II [@WestCorkIRL]

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Inish Beg House

The local West Corkonians joke about how everyone is always ready to talk about the weather here, but I love it and I feel like I fit right in with it so – allow me to tell you (mostly via showing you) about the beautiful Sunday afternoon I had wandering around the estate a few weeks ago.

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The first thing I saw when I set off on my adventure was that the sheep had been moved from one of the back fields to the front field! I munched on an apple as I walked alongside them, so it almost felt like we were having lunch together. I assume all of them are named Shaun. They’ve since been moved around again to prepare for lambing.

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Vitamin D was in full force and I couldn’t get enough of it. I tried to keep the sun on my person at all times, but it gets a little difficult in the dense woodland areas so a reflection had to suffice.

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I really love adding anecdotes with pictures for my voyages, don’t I? Well… Anecdote: As I approached this area of the island I couldn’t help but remember studying Robert Frost with a much beloved English teacher during my freshman year of high school – Miss A. I pursued this particular path at Inish Beg “because it was grassy and wanted wear.” But no matter where I am in my journeys at home and abroad, if I am ever to stumble across a peculiar looking area I always think of Miss A and choose to take the road less travelled by… “and that has made all the difference.”

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Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is to always turn around. Oftentimes when we set off in a direction, we pursue that specific direction until we reach where we’re going. If I’m out for a leisurely stroll I like to look all around me – upwards, sideways, backwards, etc. I probably appear to others as a crazy person but it’s worth it. Looking backwards in my less travelled haven gave me this blue-skied beautiful contrast of wild grasses.

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As I reached the edge of said wild grasses, I found a little beach-like area leading towards the water. At first I thought “cool! I’ll make my way down there as carefully as I can so as to leave whatever habitats might be around undisturbed!” Wrong. Just like on the opposite side of the island I immediately started to sink into the muddy banks and left quite the trail behind me. As the water was still a ways off, I turned back rather than risk being sunk up to my elbows.

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Isn’t this place just swell? Beautiful beautiful, and moments before taking this picture I spied a fox run off into the sanctuary of the bushes in front of me. Never had I ever seen fur that bright red, in fact never had I ever seen a fox in person before and I’m still kicking myself for not catching it on camera. Than again, can I really complain about getting to soak in this view with my very own eyeballs for a few seconds longer?

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This bridge to get onto the island is an actual architectural marvel. Believe you me, I’ve had my moments of shaking my head and saying “they just don’t make them like that anymore” on several occasions and each time I get laughed at for being an absolute baby child who has no concept of what being old even is. But it’s respected that I respect it, and that’s all that I can ask for. Rad to the highest degree, that’s what I dub this bridge.

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The Cassie of 4 weeks ago: look at this GIANT tree! The Cassie of now: look at this Monterey Cypress! Another member of the wicked-old-tree-family collection here on Inish Beg, situated just at the end of Rad Bridge. This big guy is actually my tried and true favorite tree on the estate because I spent my first day planting hedge alongside him.

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I’ve actually started calling the Monterey Cypress trees “Armadillo trees” because they have fascinating nuts that look like a cross between a Poke Ball and an Armadillo. These things find their way all over the island and they’re surprisingly hard to pull into bits. I swear I’m an adult and not a 4 year old. I swear.

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Couldn’t help myself with a little behind-the-scenes selfie in the front garden fountain. Also, my mom made this beanie for me, so can I call myself a hipster yet? Bonus content: that good old Irish weather hair frizz I’ve got going on.

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Yet another reason to look in every direction possible, no? Inish Beg is home to a very beautiful bamboo forest affectionately named “Bamboozle.”

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And finally right back to where I started: the marvelously marvelous (ace use of adjectives there, Cass) – Inish Beg House.

Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to a close and soon it’s back home to the States for me. But never fear, darling reader. Catch up on why I’m here at Inish Beg in the first place and skim through all my @WestCorkIRL adventures while you patiently wait to see what I’ve got in store for my next voyage…

Voyages: Skibbereen & Baltimore [@WestCorkIRL]

Note: Remember back in the good old days when you’d have to avoid a lot of images on a web page because loading them with dial-up was a nightmare? I wanted to warn you just in case you’re not all initiated into decent wi-fi / 4s / 1080p horsepower or whatever the heck the good internet is these days. This post is extremely photo heavy because I’m combining two voyages into one so sorry not sorry (just reminiscent) about it.

Saturday mornings in Skibbereen are starting to become a routine for me and I’m for sure going to miss them when I’m gone. I love every second I spend in the quaint little market town, which apparently confuses some of the locals who don’t see much to do there, but I’ve only got a short window of time left to enjoy it. This particular Saturday before last was a cold one. The rain had been at it all night long and I was sure it was never going to let up. Shortly after being dropped off in the earlier AM hours, I made the commitment to stay indoors and read for as long as possible until moving on to outdoor adventures in the afternoon.

At one point in the midmorning I overheard a waitress saying to a nearby couple “’tis cold, but ’tis jolly” and I decided that never in a million years could I have come up with a better depiction of Skibbereen on a late February morning than that.

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The streets were bustling on Saturday morning, with locals milling about the farmers market and meeting up with each other in cafes and restaurants. You better believe that the girl walking around with a giant backpack and a camera stood out as “NOT FROM HERE.”

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A few people told me to check out this Church-turned-Restaurant, for aesthetic reasons at the very least, and I was definitely not disappointed. The place was buzzing despite the early hour. Anecdote: I have a terrible habit of not being able to tune out other people around me when I’m trying to read in public places (like cafes) and at one point I overheard the man at the table next to me saying “something about the way they burn the barley makes it neutral… so you can have as much Guinness as you like… that’s what my doctor told me.” I’m not sure who that doctor is, but I’m going to go ahead and rely on that advice which I don’t fully understand (as I do with most doctors) because YUM.

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Take a peep at the interior of Church Restaurant. I could not get over the fact that the cakes and baked goods were all laid out on the altar. Talk about a religion I want to be a part of.

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After some breakfast I went to scout out the local book shop. I mean, come on do I even need to explain why?

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There’s just something about wood and books that makes for an intimately relaxed feel. That very feeling here at The Time Traveller’s Bookshop was what enticed me to spend well over an hour perusing the shelves. I even got to hold a first edition copy of “David Copperfield” and subsequently tried very hard not to hyperventilate on it. Seriously considering leaving all my clothes behind at the end of my trip in favor of filling my case with these rare beauties.

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I’m gonna go ahead and make a generalization that a lot of people don’t know that Skibbereen played a huge part in The Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. I was one of those people until Paul, my host, kindly told me a lot more information on the subject (and gave me a great book to read about it). The Heritage Centre features all sorts of resources about the Great Famine years, the marine marvel that is Lough Hyne, and tracing family trees.

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Kalbos Cafe is situated between the West Cork Art Centre and a tiny little body of water flowing down into the larger river which Google Maps is not providing me with the name of. The huge glass windows looking outside were very cool and the cafe itself had a really great, cozy interior style. There is an adjoining deck and I’m betting that all the glass windows open right up to let patrons enjoy the, what I assume to be infrequent, sunshine in the summer.

Later in the afternoon, after a few too many cups of coffee, I met up with Tony from Inish Beg and we set off to check out some of the local attractions outside of the Skibbereen town center. Thankfully the rain had in fact let up a bit, but the cold was still lingering. We braved through it though. First stop, Lough Hyne.

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Another Wild Atlantic Way sign! And this one happens to be situated at the site of the only salt-water lake (“Lough”) in Ireland. Word on the street is that its fascinating ecosystems and marine life make it one of the most studied bodies of water in the world. My hostess Georgie, ever the superwoman, swims at Lough Hyne pretty much all year round.

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We were visiting the Lough at a beautiful close-to-sunset hour and the lighting was breathtakingly reflective. Upon review, most of my pictures were just of the water’s surface. Way off in the distance down that little channel is the area known as “The Rapids” – aka the place where the salt water flows in and out from the Atlantic Ocean. Not really sure that I have to clarify how peaceful of a place Lough Hyne is, but I will just in case.

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Holy wells apparently exist all over Ireland and some quick Google searching has told me that they were of Pagan origin before becoming mostly Christianized way back when. Regardless, there is one nestled back in the trees by a freshwater brook close to Lough Hyne and we took a little hike to seek it out.

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Many people consider the wells to be sacred and spiritual so they come to pray or make wishes or leave offerings, etc. etc. This one happened to be my favorite because come on, you’ve seen my sidebar. I agree that a nice cold Bud Heavy in a frosted glass bottle can feel like a religious experience. Suffice it to say, I took a drink from the well hoping it was filled with the King of Beers but unfortunately it was just water.

After marveling at the Lough one last time, we set off for Baltimore. You might remember my mentioning how the island of Inish Beg is situated between two towns so it was only fitting that Baltimore receive ample exploration time as well. Much smaller than Skibbereen, but in some ways I thought more beautiful.

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We drove over a few hills to get to Baltimore and had to weave our way down towards the water before hairpinning back up to the cliffs on the outskirts. As we arrived into town you could just spot the harbor ahead.

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The hike up the cliffs was sufficiently terrifying and I relied on my zoom to get me as close as I wanted to the edge, while staying physically very very far away. The water and the wind and the cliffs made for such incredible scenery. Fresh sea air unfortunately not included with this photograph.

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This is The Beacon! The very thing we hiked up to see! They don’t mess around when it comes to naming things, these West Corkers (Corkians? Cortians? … *Googles* … “Corkonians” – I wasn’t far off). They stick with the practical: The Baltimore Beacon was (and still is?) meant to guide ships into the harbour. This picture doesn’t do the size justice, but this thing is huge. ~50 ft high huge.

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Another thing I couldn’t get over was the turquoise water, even though it was so cold! And February! I’m used to seeing dark blue borderline black waters in the wintertime Atlantic Ocean but here it looked almost tropical. Not quite enticing enough for cliff diving, but close.

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Tony is the Head Gardener at Inish Beg and we spend a few days a week working together around the estate. He was a good sport about hiking around in the cold with me! Even though he was in Converses and I had on the hiking boots, he was able to climb back down the muddy slopes way faster than I could ever hope to. Can you tell from the outfit (hint: mine was even MORE bundled) how that water is in no way, shape, or form tropical?

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Andddd another Wild Atlantic Way sign. There are tons of islands that people can get to in this part of Ireland and a ferry waits patiently in the harbour to usher around to each of them. My being prone to seasickness and overall aversion to being out on the water in the winter does not make me a good candidate for the experience but it’s cool to know that it happens!

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As we were leaving and the sun was tucking in for the night, I couldn’t help but be struck by the resemblance the empty Baltimore Harbour had to my own hometown and more specifically to the stretch of water right down the street from my house. Seeing this some might think of homesickness, but for me it was more like a fond reminder.

Adventuring around the localities was a day well spent and, as per usual on my travels, now that I’ve finally started feeling comfortable I have to prepare to say my goodbyes sooner than I’d like. A few more short weeks of huddling with my tea and cake in the Skibbereen coffee shops, then it’s back home to my little Rhode Island reminder of Baltimore.

Special shout out to Tony, Paul, and Georgie for their excellent West Corkonian benignity!

A List of Cooking Tips For A Novice Like Me [@WestCorkIRL]

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Go ahead and ask anyone who knows me and they’ll happily laugh in your face if you ask them about my past baking escapades. Nutella chocolate chip cookies? Apparently adding a whole jar of Nutella to the regular recipe is not how you do it. My misfortune extends into general cooking as well – I have a longstanding fear of chicken after all the times I’ve messed it up.

Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t tried tried again over the years, because believe me I have. I find that I always get too experimental while baking, which requires being more exact, and too exact while cooking, which allows for being experimental.

Let’s quickly talk about the encore though because that certainly is something I excel in: I’ve been eating very well while here in West Cork. Georgie, my hostess, makes sure of that with whatever her berry crumble compote with homemade vanilla ice cream was last week (which I can confidently say I ate about half the pan of). And then there’s Fiona, the housekeeper here at Inish Beg, who (amongst many other kind things she does for me) has graciously invited me to family birthday gatherings with the headliners being her scrumptious cakes. If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’ve stepped right into the only child version of Hansel & Gretel.

This past weekend the Estate (Georgie & Fiona) was literally catering to a very large hen party and I had the extreme pleasure of being allowed to help out. Friday afternoon was spent preparing soup, main course, and dessert (though they call it “pudding” over here) for 26 hungry hens. While I helped with little bits and pieces of the main dishes, the two things I worked on in full were the loaves of Ciabatta bread and Parmesan Shortbread cookies (“biscuits”). Thankfully, Georgie & Fiona were constant fixtures in the kitchen so I was never lost for guidance. They’re seasoned professionals (are you having that???) in cooking and baking so many a word of wisdom was offered to a novice like me.

Throughout the afternoon I made a mental note of those little tips they told and showed me. While I’m confident that a few of them slipped through this flour-sifter-excuse-for-a-brain of mine, I hope you’re able to learn something useful from the list I’ve compiled here!

Check your ingredients before you start the cooking/mixing/baking/any preparation process. Seems pretty obvious, but I’ve messed this up with cereal before and that’s literally only two ingredients so I try to keep drilling it in and maybe you should too.

Pour the uncooked rice into the pot of boiling water, don’t pour the boiling water onto the pot of uncooked rice. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan. However, you should also stir it to be on the sticking safe side because it can still happen. Not speaking from personal experience here, definitely not.

Clean your kitchen as you go. This was especially relevant given the amount of cooking we were doing throughout the day but in general I can see how nice it is to have everything tidied and put away when the fruit of your labor is ready to be enjoyed.

When a recipe calls for warm water, it means it should be on the border of just warm enough to not burn you when you put your fingers in it.

As you roll your dough, rotate it in a circle to keep it from sticking to the table. Assuming you already know to flour the surface you’re rolling on, put some flour on the rolling pin to keep it from sticking to that too. Also a little bit on your hands can’t hurt…

Pack your tablespoons.

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Oil everything when letting bread sit to rise. Similar to the whole flour concept, it’ll just make your life easier when you’re pulling it out of the bowl. Dough is incredibly sticky, who knew?

Save the foils from butter to use as an easy tool for greasing pans.

Give your bread a little tap on it’s underbelly when the bake time is up and if it sounds hollow, it’s done. The loaves we made were a bit thicker than the recipe had called for so Georgie turned them onto their backs for a few minutes to make sure the bottom cooked all the way through.

Fan ovens work best for baking. I’ve actually never even heard of a fan oven until I came over here. The circulation of the heat is really great for making your cakes and things bake evenly.

Egg whites are finished being whipped when you flip the bowl upside-down and they stay put. I had a mini heart attack watching Fiona test this one, I’ll be honest. Also as a side note, imagine how long it took to whip egg whites back in the pre-electric mixer days…

Taste test everything.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced is watching the loaves of bread, my loaves of bread if you will, come out of the oven all goldened and ready to eat. It’s one thing to dump a box of mix into a bread maker; it’s a whole other thing to work in all the individual ingredients and watch it rise before coming to fruition in a good old fashioned oven.

These tips have certainly helped inspire me to feel more confident, but I can’t say I’ll be hosting any 5-course dinners at my place in the near future. It was so much fun to watch and learn from two incredibly talented women such as Georgie & Fiona and I got a lot out of the experience.

But my favorite thing of all that I learned about cooking and baking?

It’s as easy as bread & biscuits.

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Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part I [@WestCorkIRL]

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Apparently the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 km drive along Ireland’s West Coast and these signs mark popular spots to stop and take in the scenery! Doing the whole drive is definitely something I’m adding to the bucket list so, who wants to come with?

With a little less than a week gone by since I left the States, being at Inish Beg has already made me realize that it’s not so much the time to be alive as it is the place to be living. I absolutely adore this new short-term home of mine and I’ve been receiving many impatient inquiries as to what it’s like.

Before I get into it, I wanted to give a little bit of a rundown on the history of the area in which I am currently living. Inish Beg Estate is on the island of Inish Beg in West Cork, Ireland. It is situated just about halfway between two small towns, Baltimore and Skibbereen. The island itself has been inhabited for many centuries but the estate as a structure was not finished until 1899. The current owners, my wonderfully kind hosts Paul & Georgie Keane, moved to Inish Beg in 1997 and began restoration and development of the estate and island into a self-catering retreat (check out the website for more images of the actual properties).

Now, I already gave a quick explanation of what I’m doing here in a previous post and the only real amendment I wanted to make to that is my obvious accessibility to the internet! The weather has not been too kind, although it’s less up and down than New England temperatures seem to be at the moment, so adventuring around with my camera was a bit difficult. I did my very best for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but expect a possible Part II when the weather cooperates. Today’s goal was to get my bearings via walking around the outer paths of the island.

Also – the salty air from the nearby Atlantic Ocean was beckoning and I couldn’t bring myself to stray far from the water’s edge.

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The trees here are absolutely breathtaking. There are over 50 different species and the reforestation process as part of the estate’s rehabilitation is ongoing. Unfortunately, the harsh winter Ireland has had this year continues to wreak havoc on the older specimens but many of the big guys like this one are still standing.

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Take an extra close look and you’ll see an old church off in the background across the way… which I have quite the hankering to explore.

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The water was at relatively low tide today but patches of wildflowers spruced up the view when needed.

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There are dozens of little… I can only think to call them peninsulas but some were islands in their own right I suppose… with undisturbed tall grasses, hanging around the edges of Inish Beg. My wellies pretty much made me invincible so I ventured around a few and found some different fresh water streams to jump across.

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Weird anecdote: back in my messing around on photoshop days I used to be obsessed with frames. Any silly little collage I’d throw a random gilded frame into because apparently I liked the aesthetic and I find myself still leaning towards that framing theme when taking pictures now. However, this time my frames just happen to be trees.

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I couldn’t resist walking down to the water’s edge and I think the Atlantic knew I was coming back to visit it because every step sunk me deeper into the shore. Once it started crossing over my ankles I started to panic and turn back, though I desperately wish it were warm enough to keep going.

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I wanted to climb on this so badly!!! Can you imagine a better reading perch? Here, let me help you with that – no, no you cannot! This tree was l i t e r a l l y beckoning to me but I resisted possibly being the bough-breaker and sated myself by snapping a picture. *sigh*

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This is a little nook called Pumpkin’s Puddle. A beautiful magical wonderful little place and that’s all that needs to be said.

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I’m told this is a spot where many people like to get married on the estate, but I’m going to choose to believe that it’s actually a faerie ring and henceforth spend all of my free time coming back to hopefully catch a glimpse. If I can’t become the Banshee of Wigtown, the Faerie Queen of West Cork is certainly an equally attractive alternative.

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Sheepies! Still a little too traumatized from my kinder years of chasing them around the Scottish hillsides so for now I’m keeping my distance. They were very curious to see if I was coming up here to visit the…

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Horsies! Meet Thor and Loki! Not their actual names, but apparently people call them a lot of different things so it’s up for discussion… I think mine are first rate though. These guys are an absolute riot. Every morning and afternoon we bring them some sweet oats and they pick up on who brings the bucket verrrry quickly. Like I said, I’ve been here less than a week and I barely crested the hill to the stables when they started whinnying for me. They’re sweet little Shetlands.

And there you have it! This is just a quick glimpse of the adventure island I get to call home for the next 6 weeks, but you can bet I’ll be showing you around some more as soon as I can. But for now…

Welcome to Inish Beg!

Real Moments: Shipping Up to… Ireland!

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My Essentials: new Helly Hansen jacket & Timberland hiking boots (thanks Mama!), more heavy sweaters than anyone really needs, the camera I rarely find an excuse to use, and a selection of stimulating reads (that copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ goes everywhere with me)

“What are your plans for after graduation?”

Drinking game to how many times college seniors get asked that question in their final semester. A few months back, I shrugged my shoulders and avoided talking about it. My career plans were set almost a year ago: I’ll be moving to North Carolina in July. But as for the six months between finishing up school in December and embarking on that move down south – I wasn’t really sure.

Well, now I get to announce a change in that – I’m heading off to Ireland for seven weeks!

Those of you who follow my Casstastrophes may recall a quick gloss-over reference to a very stressful trip I took to Dublin last summer. Have no fear; I love that part of the world so much that even that experience couldn’t dissuade me from returning. I’ll be, as the kids say, WWOOFing in Ireland for a little while. What does that mean, you may ask? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is agreeing to be a volunteer on one of those farms in exchange for room and board.

Caveat: my personal experience will be a little different from what you might be envisioning after reading the word ‘farm.’ I’m actually headed off to help out on the gardening team of an estate in County Cork.

Every time I travel, I’m never sure about how the internet and modern technology situation will translate so I may or may not be able to maintain this blog while abroad. I’ll try my darned best and if I can’t, well you’ll have that much more to look forward to when I return!

So. Many. Voyages.

Voyages: Kancamagus Highway [@NewHampshire]

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It was Christmas Day. 2006. I unwrapped a gift from a dear aunt of mine and found a framed picture of a sign for a highway called Kancamagus. My fascination with this mountainous region of New Hampshire developed a few months prior, when I forced her to take the very picture I held in my hand. Fast forward to the present day and that framed picture is hanging just above me where I sit writing this, on the wall of my college dorm room.

Those middle years saw my fascination grow beyond the name (which apparently has been incorrectly pronounced by my family as Kangamangus – I know, sounds way cooler so I’m keeping it). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t remember ever spending real time in the natural surroundings of the Kancamagus Highway, even though we drove up and down it a lot throughout my childhood. Now, not remembering it isn’t saying that it never happened (my memory is absolutely terrible), but still – I only had the faintest recalls of those car rides. Naturally, adolescent Cassie was too busy with her Game Boy and books in the backseat to admire the outdoors.

With my impending move down south, I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that my time with having all of New England at my fingertips is running out. The White Mountains region that holds the sign in the photograph deserved a respectful send-off, full of admiration and devoid of Pokemon Sapphire Version.

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A beautiful cloudscape greeted me outside my bedroom window on the day of my journey, which made waking up at the early hour a little more tolerable.

My hometown by the sea is stunning in those A.M. single digits. When I left first thing, I had a difficult time keeping my eyes on the New Hampshire prize instead of on the beckoning beach.

The rain started shortly after I crossed the border into Massachusetts and my windshield wasn’t the only thing it dampened. Despite the amazingly bad old mixed CDs I haven’t listened to since high school (Track 1 – Drake, Track 2 – Phil Collins, Track 3 – Marky Mark, Track 4 – 3OH!3… case all the way closed), the weather really bummed me out. As the drops grew heavier, I started to feel more discouraged about my adventures.

Crossing the border into New Hampshire lifted the rainfall and my spirits with the anticipation of seeing mountains. I wouldn’t call myself outdoorsy, but I love being outside and I’m awed as heck by nature – especially mountains. My body has this natural response to being close to them that my best friend and I jokingly refer to as a vibe. That vibe gives me such an energy that I feel like I could Fred Flintstone my way up to the nearest peak.

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Naturally, visiting White Mountain Coffee in the capital city of Concord, NH motivated me to spend some time in the namesake region.

One of the highlights of this journey was navigating myself up to Concord without a GPS (isn’t it sad that doing something without the assistance of technology is so exciting to me?) Try it out next time you take a relatively short distance trip. Instead of being concerned with how many miles are left until the Garmin gives you a reminder of the next step in the directions, pay better attention to the road signs. It’s one of those circumstances that literally allows you to focus on the journey rather than the destination.

With my newfound attention to signage came seeing the names of other places that sounded interesting enough to make me want to come back and visit them some day. Most notably, I passed a sign for a Robert Frost Farm somewhere along I-93 and got so instinctually excited that I almost swerved my little blue VW off-road. Maybe I need to start planning a landmarks-of-authors-inspired-by-New-England voyage?

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A wild beetle appeared between the trees. My trusty companion, Linus, hasn’t had a trip like this in ages. I think his emerging-from-hibernation engine loved cruising the long winding roads more than I did.

Upon arrival in Lincoln, NH I made the game plan to drive straight along the whole thing first and make mental notes of places to stop on my way back. That lasted for all of 5 minutes until I noticed what felt like a familiar roadside inlet. Kancamagus Highway is peppered with stop-off points, ranging from actual National Park areas for picnics or hiking trails to a few yards of dirt and gravel that have been habitually worn down thanks to dozens of others noticing the not so organized and official opportunities. Since my “drive first, stop later” plan completely fell to bits I found myself wishing I had allocated more time to explore. I only spent a moment or so in every place I pulled over before jumping back into the car and continuing on my way.

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My boots were not conducive to any sort of hiking – but I’m happy to say I emerged with only a handful of minor stumbles over tree roots.

As far as foliage viewing is concerned, my arrival to the White Mountains was inopportune. A month or so earlier and I probably would have seen the trees in all their golden glory. Instead, I was there for the in-between phase. Most of the trees were skeletal, with the exception of the conifers (I have absolutely no idea which kind of conifer they were so go right ahead and skip over that question). Deadened leaves lay dried out at my feet, swept into piles which I took the happy advantage of stomping through as I trekked down paths and trails. The silence of the forest felt like it was holding it’s breath in anticipation of the first major frost to welcome it into winter.

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Love me some birch and conifers! Likely because those are two of the maybe seven, on a good day, tree-related words I know.

Although the upper trails provided almost complete silence among the mountaintops, the first thing I noticed every time I threw open my door on the lower stretches of the highway was the sound of water on the move. It’s like a homing beacon, making me that much more excited to rush down the leaf-covered slopes to get to the banks. Earlier in the day, I’ll admit I thought about dipping my hands in but couldn’t find any good rocks while I was still bold enough to face that temperature change. Later on, when I got to the better shores, I was much too cold for that.

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I hopped in and out of the car so frequently that sometimes I hadn’t fully warmed up yet by the time I reached the next stopping point, so my heaters and I admired the scenery from inside.

The best part about this highway is that it starts you low and it seems like a gradual climb until suddenly you round a few curves and you’re on top of the world, looking out to all the neighboring peaks before it winds you back down to the river. That middle mountaintop stretch gets you to Kancamagus Pass, which I’m gonna go ahead and infer to be the highest point of the highway at an elevation of 2,855 ft. It’s all downhill, or rather downmountain, from there.

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You never really knew what you’d find at the end of the trails leading off the roadside. Sometimes they wound too far into the forest for me to follow and sometimes they led me right back to my favorite banks.

Speaking of downmountain, I’ve got a theory. On the western stretch of the Kancamagus you’ve got a dozen little branches and brooks that feed water down from the mountains but for the most part you’re next to Swift River. Standing on the shores and hearing the rush of the water felt like listening to the culmination of a thousand ancient voices. One can only imagine the amount of people who come to these very banks and spill their secrets, whether in conversation with friends and family or to the rocks and ripples themselves. Those words are then carried downstream and hushed back at other visitors, who can’t quite decode them from the language of the river.

Spending time on these banks were the parts of the day I had to heartbreakingly tear myself away from. This river has been listening for many years before I came into the world and it’s going to be listening for many years after I leave it. I’ll be back when I’ve got some better stories to tell.

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Mountains stretching above the clouds is a sight of sights. Makes me miss the floor clouds of South Africa.

As I drove the morning away, I watched the little snowflake symbol appear in the corner of the temperature gauge on my dashboard – which dropped into the mid-thirties. Every time I stepped outside I could feel the actual nip of the air on the tips of my fingers and nose, no doubt worsened by having the heat on full blast in the car. Even though my chest was covered in multiple layers, it didn’t matter because this wasn’t that type of chill. It didn’t care to raise goosebumps on my skin; it bit into my bones. Encountering this kind of cold that works from the inside out isn’t something that happens often for me but I could read what it was trying to tell me: that it was only a matter of time. The air had a certain smell to it, a certain feeling that every New Englander is born knowing – the harbinger of snow.

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Again, you never knew what you’d find once you pulled off to the side of the road. I was a big fan of the stairs that led me right back down to…

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… the river!

The Conway side of the road signaled the end of the highway, and thus my turning back point. As I started the return journey to Lincoln, the 3 ft tall metal reflector poles that line the roadside caught my eye. Large sticks, probably over 6 ft in height, were tied to the tops of each metal pole. “For what possible reason?” I thought to myself. To be honest, the sticks had an eery Blair Witch Project feel to them, but after a few more miles it hit me that maybe, just maybe, they get over 3 ft of snow in these parts and so the sticks are there as a backup for drifts so drivers can still see the edge of the road!

Couple this new knowledge of the sticks with the feeling of the cool air and you’ve got a me driving back wide-eyed, anxiously hoping against hope to see a few flakes fall from the sky before I leave. Spoiler: I didn’t.

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A terribly upsetting sign to see.

Coming home for Thanksgiving break meant time with family, but also time for more of those wonderfully introspective moments. As I said in the beginning of this post, I’ve become more aware of my very short time left in this part of the country. Those childhood memories deserve a chase or two while they’re only a short drive away. The Atlantic Ocean is home to me and I doubt I’ll ever find a place I love more than by it’s side – but isn’t life all about finding the places you want to be in, and the people you want to be with? Is that not why we travel?

It’s why I do.

To England, With Love: A Send-Off To Summer [@CambridgeUK]

“And then she recalled weeks that had flown past and afternoons that had lasted for ever. Some minutes had lasted hours, some hours had gone past so quickly she hadn’t been aware they’d gone past at all…”

Isn’t it devastatingly wonderful when a passage from a book seems to capture your life so perfectly? Thanks for that, Terry Pratchett.

By now I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about my time in England. “We get it! You were @CambridgeUK! Move on!” Have patience my dears, that is exactly what I’m trying to do here! But there is this little thing called closure and I’d very much like to try it out. You’ve already seen posts about my wonderful experiences, now I want you to see one about what I took away from them. I think we can all agree that as we live our lives and experience new places and people and things, we are influenced to change ourselves. We want to remember the little lessons we learned so we can incorporate them in our daily lives and hopefully pass them on to others.

To England, here are some of the things you influenced in me, I’ll try my best to pass them on, with love.

Blue Doors

They’re everywhere! It has been a long summer of back and forth between deciding whether or not to Google the meaning behind blue doors in the UK (you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally settled on not to) because everyone seems to have one. There must have been hundreds that my eyes stumbled across throughout my travels in England, Scotland, and Ireland. My own accommodation in Cambridge had a beautiful blue door (pictured above) as did every other house on Fitzwilliam Street. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them. There is such a homey, welcoming vibe to blue doors. They remind me of the pineapple symbol in Newport. I felt like if I walked up and chapped on a random blue door, I’d be ushered inside and offered tea and cakes and a fascinating life story. There is just something so truly magnificent about them, I love them, I can’t wait to have one.

Appreciating My Surroundings

It’s easy to get caught up in a beautiful place when you’ve been told two dozen times that it’s beautiful. It’s a whole other matter to decide all on your own that you find your surroundings beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard not to appreciate King’s College for what it is – but there were also so many other tiny side streets along the edge of the River Cam or groupings of trees on the grounds of ancient estates in the countryside that felt infinitely more beautiful to me. A lot of other students chose to visit other cities on the weekend because they were on a quest to see something fantastic – they wanted the Sistine Chapel and the Eiffel Tower and the Remnants of the Berlin Wall. Which is totally fine! Do it while you can, I get that. But don’t disregard the seemingly insignificant places either. Surroundings mean more than just settings, too. It’s an incredible feeling to notice how genuinely gorgeous your friends’ smiles are, or the twinkle of a strangers eye when you make small talk with them. Don’t forget to appreciate where you are when you’re there. Take it in, smile and laugh to yourself, smile and laugh to others. Be there.

Tea Time

There’s a reason this rhymes with “Me Time.” Most mornings I followed the routine of waking up early, packing up my laptop, and heading round the corner to a nearby cafe for tea and toast. It helped me to ease into my day. Some mornings would be spent writing emails to my two best friends back in the States, some spent reading a book or an article for class. Sometimes I’d just cruise the internet for a bit. No matter what, I took the time to start the day off with me, myself, and I. That’s important. Refresh yourself before you jump in to life with others. Find a time of the day you want to give to yourself, even if its just for a quick cuppa.


In the same way that Me Time is important, social time with a really great group of people is just as high up there on the list. Every Tuesday, myself and four other wonderful darling beautiful women would take some time to go get a drink or two. We’d chat, we’d laugh (mostly to tears), we’d play, we’d tell stories, we’d get into all sorts of trouble. I relied on this day of the week because I knew that it would be a break from the bubble – I’d be away from classes and schoolwork and other students in favor of enjoying the little nooks of Cambridge pubs with incredible friends. The time we spent together was always on the lighter side. No one got into deep, existential conversations. We just made ourselves happy. That’s it. Tuesdays were pure happiness and I will forever cherish them. I hope to continue the spirit of Brewsday for a long, long while no matter where I end up in the world.

Provoking of Thoughts

Thought provoking discussions are all well and good but I like being talked at every now and then too. I especially like being talked at about really cool things I find genuinely interesting. I especially, ESPECIALLY like being talked at about really cool things I find genuinely interesting by really cool people who are genuinely interested in what they’re talking about! What I’m trying to say here is I loved my class lectures. I loved attending the additional plenary lectures (aka basically learning for fun since nothing required us to be there). I loved listening to my friends tell me stories about the experiences they’ve had in their lives or what they find fascinating. Being talked at creates the perfect atmosphere for introspection, which I crave more and more every day. Provoke your own thoughts instead of focusing so much on other peoples.

Being Comfortable With Yourself

This feels a little like a cheating point because duh! Everyone says that! Every person on the planet talks about how crucial it is to “Be You” but not everyone actually listens to those people. I like to think that at the ripe old age of 22, I’m pretty comfortable with the person I am. And more than that, I’m happy with the person I am. I wear my bright yellow Star Trek shirt around Dublin, a trip which I took all by lonesome to begin with, because I love it. Sometimes I still carry around a stick and pretend its a wand. I laugh at myself! I think that I’m hilarious because I crack me up, which is pretty important. I got comfortable with all of this over the summer and learned: Be You because You make You happy! Figure out what it is about yourself that makes you smile. I know that’s not easy to do, and that’s okay. You don’t have to do it right this second. But know that there are people out there in this world who will also smile at that thing and if you haven’t found them yet keep on moving until you do. And if you don’t ever find them, even better – you’re too cool for the rest of us anyways.


Sure, I ran into the odd Brit or two who seemed to have all the wrong opinions about Americans, but I avoided them as best I could and rejoiced in the dozens of other nice people I came across in the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever really spent time thinking about what it means to be hospitable and how it goes beyond just being friendly and welcoming. There is also a part of it, which the people of the UK really excelled at, that asks you to be unboundedly helpful. While writing this I attempted to provide some examples, but that could make up a whole other post in itself (it won’t – I won’t subject you to that – but it could). What I took away from all those people is that community is not just the place where you live, it’s the way you treat the people you’re surrounded by – and that means treating your neighbor of 5 years the same as the passerby American girl here for 3 days. Hospitality is important, being kind to one another is important, and realizing that a helpful act no matter how small can absolutely change someones day is the most important of all.

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.