Category Archives: Travelogues

Easing into reality

Greetings from the Travelogue Editorial Desk.

The trip home was smooth and Nora sent her “We’re home Mom” text to me by late yesterday afternoon. (Seriously, that’s written into our unwritten rules of working together — tell me when you get there safely. It goes both ways.)

Where’s my sock? Who cares? Nana, we’ve got pizza! Photo by Kat

I thought I’d ease you into life empty of daily travelogues with some extra photos and links to places Nora and family visited while they were away.

How does this travelogue thing work, you may wonder. Well, I’m part of a shared Google album to which Nora, Bruce, Jason and Kat upload photos daily. Nora sends me her copy in the morning, then I pick and choose the photos that best fit the narrative. Captions are all mine. Maybe I need to copyright them.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was basically a three-day layover. The comments that followed the posts on Facebook offered a ton of recommendations for places outside of the city, but there was only so much time and Jason was on chaperone duty until the second day. We’ll have to see what calls to Nora when next she feels drawn back to this particular part of the world. I’ll bet it won’t be Fringe Festival time, though. For a person who works in a Fortress of Solitude, the LZW horde used up a lot of her precious I’m around other people energy protection.

OK, so maybe the photos will all be of Griffin. Photo by Kat
From J and B’s Excellent adventure. Photo by j a-b
Jason’s take on the Scott Monument. photo by j a-b
I think we all need crests on our homes, don’t you? Photo by BW
Looking up. Photo by Kat
Edinburgh blooms. Photo by Kat

Balmoral Hotel
Edinburgh Castle
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Thistle Do Nicely

Co. Kerry, Ireland

The second stop was Sheen Falls in Co. Kerry, Ireland. I find themes emerge during the course of the travelogues. Some years it’s food shots, some years it’s vista shots. This year, obviously, was the pint-sized traveler. Nora and Kat sent some really great flower photos that just didn’t work for most recaps, so I’ll share a few here.

More green patchwork from the descent to Ireland. Photo by Kat
Mother, I want to go there. Please convey me. Photo by Kat
Outdoors inside. Photo by Kat
Color on a rainy day. Photo by Kat
From one of Nora’s walkabouts at Sheen Falls. Photo by Nora
Pub night. Photo by Kat.
I can sleep anywhere agree Father and Son. Photo by Nora
Flowers at Carriganass Castle. Photo by Nora
Excuse me, Grandda, but if you don’t look at me, I’ll have to hold your shirt. Photo by Kat

Sheen Falls
Kenmare
Carriganass Castle
Killarney
Rob’s Ranch House, Killarney
Killarney National Park
Torc Waterfall
Flappers in Tulla (No website, but you can see reviews on Trip Advisor)

Co. Mayo, Ireland

The last time Nora and the Gang stayed at Ashford Castle (in 2015), the estate was in the middle of renovation. I think they got a peek at some of the new rooms while they were there. When I came home last spring with photos and delight in everything Ashford, Nora declared it was past time they went back. And as she wrote in the travelogue about their transition from Kerry to Mayo, something settled deep inside when they arrived at Ashford Castle.

Because even when I’m not there, I’m always there, I chatted with Kate Kerrigan a few days before the Tea. She lunches on the regular with my cousin Annie May Reape, a Mayo Co Councillor. I know Kate’s books because Annie May opened a book signing for her and I saw the footage on FB. When the LB UK team asked me about the right sort of gift for Nora, I told them find something special and local. They approached Kate for Co. Mayo suggestions and one of them was a shawl by Lou Brennan (seen in warm action below). But she only found out the scarf was a go when Kate ran into Lou in town and she mentioned she was making a bespoke scarf for an American writer. It’s the smallest of worlds sometimes.

Part of the editing is fact-checking if a photo doesn’t match a description. Nora wrote that the bakery in Ballinrobe was Divine but I couldn’t find a bakery with that name. Since the gang was already out and about on the next day’s adventure and it went with the copy, I let it ride. It’s actually called Devour. Also appropriate. Link below.

Kat’s men changing the tone of the photo. Photo by Nora with Kat’s phone.
Alive alive oh! Alive alive oh! C’mon — Molly Malone popped into your head immediately, right? Photo by Nora/Earworm for the rest of the day from Laura
I used this on the JD Robb instagram account. Moody birds. Photo by Kat
Wilde and Mia — the stars of the show. Photo by j a-b
This? Just my newest accessory. Oh you meant the bird, not the scarf. Photo by j a-b
From Kat’s Galway adventure.
Flowers along the Cong River. Photo by Kat
Tiny friary heading into Cong. Photo by j a-b

Ashford Castle (Click through the site to find information about dining at the Dungeon or Cullens — or the fabulous George V – as well as the Hawk Walk and other estate activities.)
The Lodge at Ashford Castle
Lou Brennan – scarf
Paint Nite:
Inishmaine Abbey
Flannery’s
Devour Bakery
Glebe Stone Circle
Lydon’s Lodge
Killursa Church
Ross Friary
Kinlough Castle

To end this little recap, here are a variety of Griffin photos to tide you over until the next time.

Mom! You’re ruining my contemplative pose. Photo by Kat
Rain. Gravel. Some greenery. Best vacation EVER! Photo by Kat
Exhausted by the fun. Photo by Kat

And finally, here’s Griffin proving he knows who’s in charge of these travelogues.

Laura

Mayo, Day Eighteen

Our last day in Ireland is a full and fun one. Glowering skies, bits of blue coming and going as Kat drives us to Killursa Church. 

We go our windy way as the boy sings his traveling song. Happily, it stays dry, and we find the pretty church and cemetery. 

The direction of the drive. Photo by Kat

They’re actually digging a grave when we arrive, using pick and shovel in the rocky ground. 

Photo by Kat

I love visiting Irish cemeteries as they often make gardens in the plots to remember their loved ones. Spreading purple lobelia, bold red begonias, even hydrangeas covering graves where people leave momentos—poems, photos, and in one case a little thatched roof cottage.

There’s a sweetness to that.

I see a couple of Sweeneys, and wonder if they were distant cousins.

Photo by Nora

The ruin of the church is beautiful, and it feels like the right kind of day to pay this sort of visit. Not quite gloomy here, not quite bright. And the dead have views of the green hills, the grazing cows and sheep across the road.

Griffin laughs heartily at something (one) no one else sees, and seems to make a friend.

BW is unable to resist and asks the gravediggers if he can take a photo. They’re more than happy to pose.

A pause for the Yank. Photo by BW

We head on to Ross Errilly  Friary, a massive, fabulous place we’ve visited before. We have this marvelously spooky place to ourselves.

Just inside the entrance is a newish grave with markers, flowers over the mound. We wander through with everything echoing with the spirits of those long-dead monks.

I always love the little road down to it, with the pretty houses and glorious gardens.

You could walk for hours here, inside and out.

Ruins. Photo by j a-b
The resting place. Photo by j a-b
A view from above. Photo by j a-b

Griffin wants the gravel, of course, and Kat and I take a break, sit on a low wall while he tosses stones or pushes them over a little stone threshold. At one point, he decides we’re not paying attention and tries to sample one.

Pay no attention to the gravel by my hand. Photo by Kat

We both give that ‘eeh!’ 

At the same time, and apparently loud enough to give him a serious jolt. His whole body jerks in reaction, and he wings the stone in his hand. If there’d been a runner rounding third and heading for home, Griffin’s pitch would have gotten him out.

Then he bursts into tears. Real ones, big, fat drops rolling. He’s: You scared the CRAP out of me! 

We have to laugh even as Mama picks him up to comfort him.

Wandering more, up stone steps, into openings, down again.

Peeking through. Photo by BW

BW, Jason and I are together when we hear Griffin wail.

Off we go. It seems he was determined to get another taste of gravel. We’re not sure if the wail was reaction—doesn’t taste so good after all—or insult that his mom reached in and took it out of his mouth.

But he gets over it.

We go out for the view, watch a big brown cow circle the castle to a feeder. And Griffin can play in the grass on the green rise.

Family. Photo by BW

One more stop on our day, and we’re off to Kinlough Castle.

It’s signposted, so we follow down a tiny lane that gets only tinier. Jason’s nav says to turn on what looks like a cowpath, but intrepid Kat makes the turn, and goes over a steep hump of a bridge to a gate.

She maneuvers her way off the road that isn’t a road, and stays with napping Griffin while we hike across the field of rough grass and sheep droppings.

This place, an old keep, looks as forbidding as they come. Glowering gray in the glowering sky. It’s fenced off, obviously unsafe, so we stay back and just study it.

The facade alone says Keep Out. Photo by j a-b
A bottom to top pano. Photo by j a-b

I wonder if it was more welcoming once, or if it always had this dour look to it. It’s fascinating, must surely be haunted. I’m surprised if the sheep wander very close.

Back we go for Kat to prove her masterful skills. The only way to get out is for her to back up over that hump of a bridge.

Jason goes out to help guide her. The you’re too close to something signal shrieks the whole time as there’s about room enough for another coat of paint on either side of the stone walls of the bridge.

The warning red lights surround the view on the screen—Griffin sleeps on—and Kat just slides between the walls and over the bridge.

Back we head for a snack, for packing. Griffin wakes to visit and play.

We have dinner at Cullen’s where Griffin decides our waitress is the best ever. Every time he sees her he laughs, squeals, grins. She play the game back at him.

I walk him out once to take the air, and he’s thrilled to see her again.

Then he conks on the bench for a bit.

After a fine meal, I give the boy a mash-up session while Kat packs and Daddy takes turns entertaining the boy before bedtime.

A quiet night’s sleep, a short workout on a rainy morning.

We’re packed and about ready to head to the airport.

It’s been a long, lovely time. 

Last family selfie.
A final look. Photo by Kat

Nora

Mayo, Day Seventeen

The rain’s steady but gauzy thin when we set out. Our boy laughs, delighted with the way the wind blows the wet into his face.

It’s all cool and fresh as daisies.

Rain is fun! Photo by Kat

BW’s done some research, and there’s a ruin nearby we’ve never been to. Kat handles the ribbon of road as if she’d been born to it.

The world’s misty and wind’s kicking up. And that’s as lovely in its way as sunshine. We change from our ribbon of a road to a thread of one, passing cattle and sheep, then a gaggle of geese we pause to let cross the road.

We come to a gate with a sign reminding us to close it behind us, and now the thread becomes a cow path, winding and climbing with the hedgerows close enough to brush.

Muddy trek. Photo by Nora

Inishmaine Abbey sits on a rise above Lough Mask, a beautiful situation in the green fields where black-faced sheep watch us warily as we walk.

The lake’s gorgeous and wide, steely-colored under the layered sky. With the tide low, you see rich brown silt at the edge.

In we go to wander about, to wonder at the stone niches, the carvings. The boy prefers to sit and play in the gravel.

What gravel, Grandda? Photo by BW

And the flock of sheep all turn to face us as if posing.

First line of defense, though Murray (on far left) is distracted. Photo by j a-b

Kat says this is the Ireland she remembers, all misty rain, spreading wet green, gray stone ruins.

I see the geese gliding over the water,  a little boat doing the same, and hills rising into the troubled sky. It’s all a painting come to life.

Lough Mask still life. Photo by BW

Across the field to the next building, and—carefully—up the curving stone steps. The view is breathless, and even with the gloom, you can see for what seems miles and miles.

Sheep in the meadow. (When they aren’t defending.) Photo by Kat.
Thin view. Photo by j a-b
Pano time! Photo by j a-b
Grownups! I wasn’t ready! Photo by kat

We enjoy every minute before we walk back to the car.

On the way out, there’s a herd of cows right by that cow path, reclining. Kat wants a picture, and as BW obliges her, the big cow close to the car gets to her feet.

Kat says: Close enough! And drives on.

Second line of defense. Whatchu lookin’ at? Photo by BW

Into Ballinrobe for lunch at Flannery’s. It’s just right, warm and dry and welcoming. I’m going to share the barbecued beef bap with the boy as I know I can’t eat it all, and want a taste. We couldn’t finish it between us, but both enjoyed what we could manage. [Ed. Note: in the first edition of the post I had nap from Nora’s copy and it was too early to figure out what that meant. Mystery solved! Spell check struck again. A bap is a lbread roll sandwich. Thanks all! ~Laura]

Lunch place. Photo by Kat

We take a wander around town, end up at Divine Bakery. And it is, no question, divine. The scents alone are swoon-worthy. We get a couple of pastries to divide up later.

And we note Divine is right next door to the town dentist.

It seems apt.

It’s a friendly town with locals smiling and saying hello as we pass.

We’re heading next to Glebe Stone Circle, and the boy drifts off to sleep.

It’s sign posted, but you can’t drive to it. Kat finds a safe spot to pull off the road, and opts to sit in the car with Griffin as he naps while the rest of us walk—carefully again—up the surprisingly busy little road to where you cross into the field.

More carefully as a lot of sheep and cattle have been here. Watch your step!

The little dance is on the highest point of the field—and fenced off, I think to keep the livestock out. A huge limb has come down from a big tree, and has fallen right between two stones, then against the fence and out. It still has leaves and prickly little fruit on its upper branches.

Force of nature. Photo by j a-b

As with the abbey it seems this is the kind of day to see these sites, the the air damp and misty, the gray and the green soft and velvety.

I admire the stone fences dividing the fields—my people who came from Ireland and Scotland were farmers, and stone masons. As a boy my own father worked with his building stone walls in D.C. that still stand. So it’s sentiment along with admiration for me.

Son and mom. Photo by BW

Back to the car where the boy still sleeps, and home again.

He wakes a short time later, and Kat, hoping to finish her painting, asks if I can watch him for a bit.

Can I!

As it happens I’d been about to go for a walk, and now I’ll have Griffin for company. 

The rain’s stopped, though the air’s still rich and damp.

I walk with him through one of the stone arches and into the magical woods. It’s deep and green and quiet. But after a bit, all the boy wants is to sit on the damp dirt path, play with the dirt and the leaves on the ground—and admire his filthy hands.

Since he makes no move to eat any this time, we can play this game awhile.

I take him back to the grass, and this is another happy time for him. Back we walk to cap our adventure with a round of mash-ups.

We had a fine little time. And Kat finished her painting.

Stunning.

Time to clean up. The castle’s offered to drop us off at Lydon’s in Cong where we’ll have dinner. Our driver tells us to order the chocolate brownie promising we won’t be disappointed.

The place is busy and bustling for a reason. Good food, good wine, happy service. Kat walks Griffin around outside, down to the river, out in the quiet sunlight that’s broken through the day while we wait for our meal.

The boy’s sharing my sea bass, and likes the mushroom and artichoke risotto. A lot.

I’m not a fan myself, so didn’t taste it first. He’s eating mushrooms like candy.

And all at once, without a sound or complaint he begins to expel streams of risotto. I’m quick enough to catch most in my hand—which occurs to me later is such a mom reflex. Here, let me catch your puke, baby, so it doesn’t get all over you.

He’s not the least bit upset, but Mom and Dad take him off to wash up and change. My hand didn’t catch it all.

BW samples the risotto, which he deems delish—but very rich. Too rich for our boy, apparently.

He comes back, cheerful as ever, and has a little chicken and some chips which work far better.

And we order the chocolate brownie, which is, seriously, an orgasm on a spoon. No chocolate for the boy tonight, but a taste of vanilla ice cream.

We walk home, walk off the meal, and take the path along the river, into the woods in all that gorgeous softening light. We pass a fisherman with his evening catch, and see more still casting their line in the River Cong.

It’s more beautiful than ever now, hints of gold flickering on the water, the sky moving to twilight, the woods deepening toward night—full of secrets, no doubt—and the path soft from the day’s rain.

And ahead, the castle’s lit, amber glows in windows, its silhouette regal against the night sky, the lake glimmering, just a bit.

Welcome back. Photo by BW

A lovely day in Ireland, just as it should be.

The wind’s fiercely vocal when I workout, and I see the sky’s layered again. But where it thins, blue peeks out, and bits of sun push through. Before I’m done, the light’s brightening at the horizon, and begins to bleed its way up.

I see three people standing and talking, and wonder did they travel together, or have they just met and share conversation on a pretty morning.

The boy comes to visit before his morning nap and gets a thrill as I’m actually doing a mash-up. Kat warns he might now expect me to get up and dance whenever I play them for him.

We’re going to head out again—sun’s out some—when he wakes so we can pack more into our last day in Ireland.

Nora


in today’s #RandomKatness:

Finished.

Mayo, Day Sixteen

The world’s full of drama outside the windows. Wild wicked wind that howls as it whips the trees and sends the fountain water spewing sideways. 

It whistles, sings, with thunder occasionally rumbling to add some fierce. BW spots a woman walking one of the paths who holds her umbrella horizontally toward the water.

I think, however she aims it, it’ll not do much good out there.

From inside,  cozy, dry and warm, it’s a terrific show.

The dry view. Photo by BW

Our plan for the day is to burrow inside. 

I pay a visit to JK&G’s room to see the progress on Kat’s painting. She’s adding falcons!

I don’t know if my snap of the progress shows the beginnings of them—in white on the sky—but her greenery’s taking shape.

This serves as today’s #randomkatness. Photo by Nora

This is going to be fabulous when finished, as it already is.

Kat, Griffin and I go up to the boutique. Stairs! Joy for the boy.

Inside the lovely little shop, he makes friends with some ladies. And I spot a scarf boasting one of those gorgeous falcons. How can I walk away from that?

I don’t.

Why not have a nice, leisurely lunch while the rain lashes at the windows?

We have a table right by those windows, so have our show while we eat.

Rain! Photo by Kat

Griffin and I share an enormous toasted ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette. He is a serious fan, sits on my lap and chows down on the bites I break off for him. Even with his help—and he gave me plenty—I couldn’t finish it.

Nap time for the boy after a bit of a walk around. BW has his book, and I decide to take a couple of these stormy hours to write. I hit the point I wanted to hit, start to pack it up, and here comes Griffin, fresh from his nap. And with him, the sun.

We won’t waste it.

The outdoors! Yay! Photo by Kat

We gear up, and all head out to the walled garden. Griffin meets young Rory and Shane on the way, makes more pals. The air’s daisy fresh now, the wind quiet. The storm blew in some warm, so it’s a lovely walk to a lovely spot.

Kat and Jason scout around—the boy wants some gravel and dirt—and they set up our traditional pano.

Soo..maybe not THIS much gravel, Mom? Photo by Kat
Yes! Flowers! Photo by Kat

It works, first take! Great fun for us.

Pano – Walled garden edition. Photo by j a-b

We take the long way home in the warm and fresh, the quiet light. See Cullen as we go by the falconry school. They’re about to fly one of their ladies so she can hunt for her supper.

Fortunately we don’t have to hunt for our own. When our walk’s done, we head down for dinner. The fish I choose is as fresh as the evening.

BW and cap off the evening streaming The Quiet Man. 

Soft and quiet to start the morning. Misty and calm, all grays and greens. With my workout done, the boy having his post-breakfast nap—after a quick visit to climb our stairs—the wind kicks up again.

We plan to go out, see more of the area, but we’ll wait for Griffin to rouse, and hopefully, the day to settle down a bit.

Nora

Mayo, Day Fifteen

Since the weather’s changeable my walk-abouts are short-lived. The misty rain breaks now and then, comes back harder, fades off to some sunshine.

From Kat’s Castle walkabout. Photo by Kat

With all those changes in light, in mood, you can see a thousand shades of green, muted shifts in the blue/gray tone of the water. How vivid the splashes of color from the flowers.

Kat texts that the fabric shop she drove out to hit the spot. 

In Galway. Photo by Kat

Time for lunch for the rest of us, and we get a generous booth in the handsome bar. I watch the bartender mixing chocolate martinis—not my sort of drink, but fun to watch, and so pretty.

Griffin arrives with Daddy, and he’s had a solid nap, is ready to see what’s what. He likes watching the bartender, too, but wants a bit of a walk. And there’s a table nearby with kids, so he needs to say hello.

Daily dose of Griffin. Photo by his Nana

We order him a little dish of avocado, always a favorite, and a small bowl of chicken soup, which he very much likes. I get a salad and share some of my goat cheese which also meets his approval.

It’s a cozy lunch, a fire in the hearth, a cheerful, hungry boy.

Kat should be back any time as we girls have a special treat lined up.

Aisling, who follows the blog, and runs a Paint Club here, saw that we often book these paint nights and have fun with them. She generously offered to gift us a session. Kat and I jumped right on that!

On Sunday, at the event, she and Kat chose a scene, worked out some details. I see the scene we’re to paint with admiration, and personal amusement. This beauty of this piece of Ashford—the stone tower, the walls, the sky, the river, the trees—is absolutely lovely—and I’m completely positive is so far out of my less than meager skills the gap can’t be measured.

Aisling, however, assures me I’ll do fine, and she’s good at what she does.

I’ve no doubt she is, but I also know I can’t draw a straight line.

But I’m game. Kat, I know, will create something beautiful—and I’ll have fun.

The castle’s provided us a room as the weather’s on and off rain. Aisling’s already worked up a painting for us to follow—beautiful! And will do another along with us, taking us step by step.

We start with sky. Okay, I can do sky (don’t know about clouds that won’t look like Griffin painted them). We have colors on our palettes, brushes, wipes, and she demonstrates how and what to mix.

She shows me a technique with a sponge for the clouds, and they come out pretty good. Not Kat level, but well above-average Nora.

Then there’s the river, and how to form it so the colors blend, so there are highlights, the illusion of ripples.

The tower—the grays and browns, touches of yellow mixed. And Aisling concedes I can’t draw a straight line and helps me there. Highlights again, it’s fascinating.

Kat’s slower as she’s doing some fine details. I honestly didn’t believe I could paint a stone tower that didn’t look like a blob, but Aisling IS good at what she does, and guides me through.

Artist’s hands.

There’s the wall, the road, and how form them so they don’t look like those blobs. Trees, bushes, touches of color, more dimension.

Kat doesn’t get to the greenery as she’s perfecting the rest. She has her own supplies at home, and will finish it there—or here with the supplies she brought with her.

Kat’s WIP reveal.

I look at what she’s done, and am just blown away. 

But I’m pretty impressed with my own bad self! 

Nora’s finish work reveal.

I won’t be quitting my day job, but I may approach our next paint night with a little more ambition.

We are very happy girls, all three of us. It must be rewarding to coach someone through creativity this way. And let me say, it’s just lots of fun. 

No matter how pitiful your skills, you’ll not only enjoy the experience, but very likely surprise yourself. Because I did both, I’m giving Aisling a plug here in the blog. Go to www.paintclub.ie and book yourself a treat. Better yet get some pals and make it a party.

Thank you, Aisling! Every time I look at my Ashford painting, I’ll think of you and a really enjoyable afternoon.

I can’t wait to see Kat’s when it’s finished because it’s going to be amazing.

Look familiar? From Kat’s walkabout.

From there, it’s straight to The Dungeon for dinner. BW and Jason are suitably wowed by our paintings.

We walk back to our wing a different way after dinner. Letting Griffin climbs stairs (a current favorite thing). He laughs and laughs as he climbs, comes to play in Nana’s room for a bit then off to bed.

Small boy, big staircase. Photo by Nora

Sometime during the night I woke to what I thought was singing, something high and sweet in the distance. I drifted off again to it, woke again later to the same sound.

And realized it was the wind singing at the windows.

It’s a blustery, rainy day—and still the gray of it is so soft, almost tender out the windows while I workout. The big tree I see is shivering and swaying, and little splotches of brightness over the river tease—will I, or won’t I?

Now the wind’s whistling rather than singing that sweet song. 

Griffin’s come for his morning visit. He’s got another tooth coming in, and had a rough night. But he’s happy this morning. Then seriously pissed off because neither his daddy nor I will let him have the fire in the hearth.

He settles for a climb up the short stairs leading to our bedroom, and his mood goes bright again.

He’s off to nap—and I expect his tired parents will do the same. BW’s settled in with a book. I may set up to work an hour or two, or grab a book to read myself.

With the whistling wind and the rain, it looks like a day at home.

Nora



A #randomkatness two-fer

Tiny tree of life.
Wonder why she took this one?

Mayo, Day Fourteen

Sometimes the universe offers a perfect day just to see what you do with it. I think we did pretty well.

For myself, those blue skies call me out. Kat intends to take Griffin for a stroller walk, but the boy goes down for a long, hard nap. I think being a social, active, cheerful baby, he needed recovery time from all the socializing, activity and happy.

Napping is hard. Photo by Kat

While his batteries recharge, I head out to the walled garden. It’s a favorite spot among many favorites for me here. It’s a lovely walk even before I get there with a kicky little breeze, happy skies.

Magic tunnel. Photo by Nora

I go through the stone tunnel that open up to magic. Another tunnel, this of vines, and lovely, lush gardens spreading, climbing, dancing a bit in the breeze. It’s quiet as a church but for birdsong with all those colors, textures, thick blooms. White benches sit here and there, an invitation I accept so I can just bask in company of the flowers and butterflies with the clouds above sailing along the blue, silent as ghosts.

In full bloom. Photo by Nora

For most of my visit, it’s mine alone. Others wander in now and again, to stroll along and snap pictures as I do. But for most of the interlude, it’s just me, birdsong, butterflies and busy bees.

Herb and veg garden with a rabbit guard. Photo by Nora

There are vegetables and herbs, too. I see dill taller than BW. Cabbage and kale and leek along with the  Black-Eyed Susan (a reminder of my own garden at home), astilbe, coneflowers, the fuzzy spread of lamb’s ear.

I know the work that goes on here to make this enchantment—I dig in the dirt, sweat and weed plenty. But it looks as if it just grows wild and wonderfully on its own.

There’s nothing like a garden for brightening the heart, body and spirit.

I want to take Griffin next time.

More strolling until a light drizzle falls (light and brief). Back out, as the boy (and now his dad) sleeps still. I walk over to Mrs. Tea’s gift shop to scout. I’m after two more gifts, and think I see them. But I want Kat’s opinion.

So back I walk in this gift of a day to find BW. After some discussion, we decide to have lunch back at Cullen’s and eat outside to take full advantage of this special day.

A man in search of lunch. Photo by Nora

It’s warm, actually warm and sunny and blue. Kat joins us—so do some bees, and one gets a little too intimate with Kat, stings her hand.

Contemplative Griffin. Photo by Kat

Some vinegar for that.

She helps me decide on my gifts—a very satisfying purchase—and our boys finally surface to have some lunch with us on Cullen’s pretty patio.

We take our time with it all before going back to suit up for our much-anticipated Hawk Walk.

For this I want a jacket as we’ll walk through shady woods, and it’ll chill no doubt as the sun lowers.

Kat straps Griffin in the backpack—though I guess it’s a front pack. The birds, we’ve been warned, are terrified of strollers. We wouldn’t try maneuvering one through the woods, but just in case.

Griffin’s well rested, well fed and ready for an adventure.

Cullen at the Falconry School prepares to give us one. 

I always love this part of our Ashford’s visit. Everyone at the school is so knowledgeable about the raptors, and their deep (and mutual) affection shows. BW generally stands as photographer on the walks, but this time Kat and Jason take that job so BW can have a chance to experience. He has Wilde, and I Mia.

Heading out with Cullen

Griffin is delighted with the birds, but behaves himself very well, studying them, watching them as we walk. I fall for Mia very quickly, and thrill to have a hawk on my arm again. Off they soar, just magnificent, to perch on branches and wait until our gloves are baited and raised.

And the sensation, the sight of having that gorgeous creature fly back to you, land so perfectly on your arm is indescribable.

We learn quickly that Wilde is clever. If BW inadvertently raises his glove arm a bit between flights, back he comes—and Cullen has to feed him as that’s how it works. Cullen explains Wilde is training BW.

He’s also not one to let a bit of dropped chicken go to waste. He’ll jump down to get it, gobble it right up.

Coming in…
for a smooth landing

Into the magical woods we go, and those amazing birds wing through the trees, find their perch, wait to be called. Sometimes we leave them behind a bit, so Cullen’s whistle and the raised arms call them to longer, lovely, acrobatic flights.

Along the path, through the woods toward the lake as Cullen’s tells us of the birds’ personalities—ours and the others. He know them well, and they obviously know him, too. A few times Wilde chooses my arm, beating Mia, and once they nearly land together before she hops to BW’s glove.

At one point it seems they spot some sort of prey in the bushes and brambles, so in Cullen goes with a big stick to try to flush it for them. No luck, but the birds seemed entertained.

Then we cross to the pier by the beautiful lake, with the birds on the opposite shore. We’re to keep our arms down, the bait hidden in our fists, then call them so we can watch their flight over the water.

It’s breathtaking.

They fly back, perch, soar across the water again. That wingspan! The grace, and agility as they skim over the water.

It’s truly a soul-stirring sight.

A boat comes by, someone Cullen knows. We wave, then move on.

Through the woods again, enjoying every moment and back to the main path where Wilde and Mia are rewarded with bigger pieces of chicken for a job well done.

The birds decide Cullen’s taking too long to produce their reward and make impatient noises, almost growls. Hurry up, man!

But oh-oh! As we approach the school a family—with a baby in a stroller round the corner.

Both birds freak—they weren’t kidding about the fear. Luckily, Cullen had tied the jesseys before the sighting, so the birds flap, flap, try to fly away, but have to stay put.

I can actual see the alarm in their eyes.

To complicate things, the family is French, with little to no English. They’re understandably baffled about why Cullen seems to want them to go back. I can’t pull out the French for stroller (could maybe have used pram) or bird, but Kat uses pantomime very effectively flapping her arms like wings, making a scared face, pointing to the stroller.

Crisis averted.

BW, Wilde, Cullen, Nora and Mia

Cullen tells us if the birds had been able to fly off, they probably wouldn’t have gotten them back until the next day. The fear’s real.

We’re given an extra treat when we get back to the school. A chance to fly Dingle—the gorgeous owl we met on our first trip here—maybe a dozen years ago.

Nora and Dingle

He is so beautiful, so regal. About 20 now, he strikes me as the king of his castle.

Here Griffin is stunned into love. He really likes owls and to see one, a real one, so close brings out happy noises. Dingle gives a wary eye to this creature—who would appear to have two heads and four arms as the boy’s strapped to Kat.

Dingle has an indoor flight area, so we try it.

I can hardly believe I have this amazing creature on my arm, that I’m looking right into those stunning amber eyes.

He takes his flight—oh what a beauty—but decides: Hey, this beam looks good, and perches there. He’s not hungry, Cullen explains, so isn’t much interested in flying back to me for a snack. Still we try once more, same result, but it’s a thrill to have that spectacular bird on my arm, to watch his flight.

And Griffin gets a chance for closer look as Kat dons the glove—and Dingle consents to pose on her arm for a photo. (Laura’s note: This says owl, but I have no photographic evidence of such.)

Hmmm, Mom likes this, I’m not so sure.

Ashford sends us ice cream! Still one more treat we enjoy as we talk about the birds. There’s a kestrel, just a little guy—who the school took in after a farmer saved it from crows trying to have some lunch.

Hello

So sweet, and what a good home it has before it’s released into the wild again.

It’s been perfect, start to finish. Thank you, Cullen, again and again. 

Wee head into Cong for dinner. Before it comes, Griffin, passes out, so naps on the bench between Nana and Mama.

He wakes to eat a bit, and we take the rest of his meal with us.

Revived, he finishes it at home, has some play time.

Then it’s time for bed after a wonderful day at and around the castle.

Soft and gray this morning, mists over the water, lacy and thin, quiet light, and some drips of rain while I work out.

Griffin came to visit while I did cardio, and I promised him a Shaun T session later. Off to breakfast, and now napping. Kat’s driving somewhere in Galway for the wool she covets. 

I’m going to clean up, then hope the weather allows me to steal the boy from his daddy—or share him for a walk down to the walled garden.

Nora

Mayo, Day Thirteen

A full day with beautiful weather.

Castle view. Photo by Kat

A phoner with Australia starts things off, then it’s off to the lobby to meet with the team from Little Brown. And Ashford’s huge and gorgeous Irish Wolfhounds. They’re just magnificent, sweet, friendly, perfectly behaved. (The dogs, though the team qualifies, too!) I wish Griffin had been with me as he’d have been thrilled.

Clara, Laura and Gina are here from England to run the show today, and I think it bodes most excellently for the day when they have a Diet Coke waiting for me!

A couple quick photos, then an interview on site for The Guardian to run next February—at the launch of In Death’s 50th book.

Allison (the reporter) and I have a mutual love and admiration for Mary Stewart’s works. More boding well as we both, obviously, have great taste in books.

It’s an easy half hour or so before we shoot some videos for my UK publisher.

Filming spots for LB UK. Photo by j a-b

Jason and Kat have put the scripts on Jason’s laptop, and this works really well. The vid guy has everything set up, and we get it done in good time.

Griffin joins us now and steals the show in his tartan outfit from Edinburgh. Honestly, that level of cute might be illegal in some jurisdictions.

Nana and her boy. Photo by Kat

We have a break now, so Jason, Kat and I take His Cuteness for a walk to admire the fabulous trees, take in those blue skies, and down to the stables.

This photo is next to the word Cute in the dictionary. Photo by Kat

The horses bring on the squeals and delight—and they’re also sweet and well-behaved as we give them some strokes.

We watch a stable girl try to lure a horse in the pasture, holding the rope behind her back. He’s like: Excuse me, do I look like a git? I know what you’ve got there. He runs, dodges, pauses, trots away again—I think he laughs a few times. And defeats her.

Hello.
I’m not sure what my humans are doing, I’ll reserve judgment, thought Griffin. Photo by Kat

We walk back to get some food into the boy before the event.

Down to The Lodge we go where the publishing and Ashford teams have everything set. I meet the delightful Kate Kerrigan, who’ll hold the conversation with me. My Laura’s already told me about the small world aspect. Laura’s Mayo cousin and Kate are pals. 

We have time to sit outside in the gorgeous and chat before it’s time to begin.

Griffin meets young Leo, and the two boys hit it off. I’m told they play in the gravel with Griffin set on moving said gravel to the path, and Leo patiently putting it back again.

Full house. Photo by BW.

Inside, readers have refreshments before taking their seats. We have a full house, and that’s just lovely. Lovelier yet, everyone’s so happy and cheerful. I hope we give them a good experience, because it’s certainly one for me to be here, to have this chance to meet so many readers who’ve come from far and near.

Kate makes it a genuine conversation—I like that it’s not just a question, an answer, next question. We talk, and that’s nice, nicer we have considerable in common.

There’s good energy to the day, the room, which makes it all fun for me.

We open it up for questions from the readers, and maybe it’s the Irish vibe, but that’s conversation, too. Easy, enjoyable—and I hope informative when it was meant to be.

I’m delighted and astonished to learn a young woman moved to Ireland after reading Born In Ice. She met her husband here, and found her place. Another woman moved here from Arizona.

Another woman, originally from Poland now lives in Edinburgh, and in the next small world department, works in the Starbucks where Jason and Kat got coffee several times.

I love the way paths cross.

With the manager of Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway. Photo by Kat

We end with a signing, and everyone is so patient. (Note from Laura: books provided by Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop) This gives me time to have bits of conversation one-on-one. Or two-or-so-to-one as we have a lot of Mums and Daughters, lots of sisters, lots of friends who’ve come together.

Nora, Clara and Laura (aka Team Nora – UK division). Photo by BW

It’s wonderful, beyond satisfying for me to feel like part of their relationships through my books.

My Laura has given the UK team the basic set up, as we use at Turn The Page for signings. So they’ve got post-it notes with names on the books, and Jason’s beside me to keep the flow going while Clara takes photos.

Gina (Team Nora/UK), a reader, Nora and Jason doing exactly what I told them to do. Commentary by Laura (Team Nora/US)/Photo by BW

It’s not only smooth from my standpoint, but fascinating to hear where everyone’s come in from. Dublin and France, the UK, The Netherlands, County Kerry (very near where we stayed) Clare, not far from our land there, Limerick and Cork and on and on. 

I meet some ladies who’ve stayed at Inn BoonsBoro in this lovely small world.

At some point during the signing, the skies open to rain, then it clears again so the green shimmers and the boats in the Corrib ride on blue.

An altogether wonderful day, and so many thanks for it to Clara, Gina, Laura (my Laura, too!) to Kate,  to Ashford, The Lodge staff, and most especially to the readers who traveled to join the day and made it so warm and welcoming to me and my family.

I loved every minute.

We have to say our goodbyes—hope everyone traveled well and safe. A break before we have dinner at Cullen’s. Good food, good wine, good service. A glass front rotisserie oven where chicken turns and fascinates Griffin. A walk outside where a boy and his dad ride bikes and cause more happy for our boy. 

He’s been a jewel all day.

A walk back through the pretty air, and it’s not long before bed.

Workout done, and I had blue skies once more. A man shaping the pretty shrubs in the sunlight, a fire simmering and the window open to let in the fresh.

Kat tells me Griffin slept till seven—uncharted territory as she put it. A lot of socializing and being adorable wore him out. He’s as cheerful as ever this morning—though displeased I’m writing this blog instead of putting Shaun T on for his entertainment.

He’s going for a walk, and I may clean up and join him to grab more of the blue and the green. Kat and I plan to shop here at the castle later.

And later this afternoon, our Hawk Walk! 

Nora


In today’s #randomkatness — the ladies’ warming spot of old restored to it’s historic look.


A note from Laura: If you were at the event yesterday and have photos, make sure you tag them on social media:
for Instagram: @norarobertsauthor @jdrobbauthor
#thelodgeatashfordcastle
for Facebook: @noraroberts @jdrobbauthor @norarobertsjdrobb

Or email them to me at LMReeth@gmail.com and I’ll disperse accordingly.

Mayo, Day Twelve

Gorgeous, gorgeous day. Breezy, brisk and blue. BW and I take a nice long walk around, through the forest, down the paths, around the gardens. The trees here are beyond magnificent, huge and fantastically shaped, some with branches I couldn’t span with both arms.

We head back to see the horses, and one’s by his lonesome in the stall. He watches us come as if to say: Come keep me company for a bit.

Keeping company. Photo by Nora

So we do.

Across from the stables spreads an island of rusty red hydrangea. I’ve never seen them this color—not pink, not rose, but red. I think they came out pinkish in my photo, but they’re red. 

I want some for my own!

A mare and a gelding—a white, a bay—munch, munch, munch grass in the pasture. Very focused on it. The bay stops only to scratch his back against a pole.

Photo by BW

We circle around back and spot a hawk walk group. The two falcons soar right over us, one low enough to just brush BW’s hat. They’re magnificent. We’ll be having our time with them Monday.

Jason’s got a night cough that’s kept him awake, and Griffin finally hit the I’m-really-tired wall. So while they take a serious morning nap, BW and I have a drink in the tea room. I order a mimosa.

It’s, hands down, the most amazing mimosa in the history of mimosas. Orange juice so fresh it deserves a good slap.

I enjoy every leisurely drop and wonder how I’ll ever drink another now that I know what I know.

Since the boys are still down and out, BW and I head to Cong. It’s such a pretty village, so proud of its The Quiet Man heritage. Steep, steep, narrow sidewalks take us up and up, and around to where a shop I loved sat. But it’s there no more. I’m so sorry about this as they had lovely things, interesting art, wonderful crafts.

But around we go again, and Kat texts they’re on their way. So it’s lunch, and we let them know where—at a very fine bar on the main road.

By the time they join us we’re ready to dig in. A high chair for the baby—Jason had said he didn’t think they’d have one because bar. I said, Ireland—and a colorful high chair is provided for the hungry boy.

A fine lunch, then a little shopping—and I spot ice cream. The boy and I will have some.

Up the steep, narrow sidewalk we go with Griffin sharing my ice cream and his mama wiping his mouth.

Then it’s back up the pretty, road, by the water—where we stop for Griffin to have his water fix. Happy! And on and up with those wonderful trees lining the road, past the curve and the stone church, and up and the land opens for the castle view.

Along the river. Photo by Kat

What a sight it makes.

On by the gates and in. The boy wants another nap. He’s had a busy couple of weeks.

So a lazy hour or so until he wakes ready to play.

We have a fire in the parlor which interests him—so I have him sit with me for safety. He can watch it from my lap, and since I solved the Beach Body issue, enjoy some mash ups.

We’ve decided on room service—give the boy an at home dinner.

We have it in K&J’s room as they have a bigger table. The waitstaff proves wonderful, cheerful as they manage to set up a dinner for five, entertaining Griffin.

A nice easy—delicious meal—quickly and efficiently cleared.

Griffin and I must have our nightly game of tickle and chase.

I decide to turn in early as today’s a big day. Slept like a rock for nearly eight hours. That’s seriously sleeping for me.

Hope my bigger boy got a solid night, too.

Up and about ready for the Little Brown team, and the tea. So looking forward to meeting the readers who’ll be there.

Looks bright and breezy out again. So happy with the weather.

Nora


#Randomkatness goes to the dogs

Kerry to Mayo, Day Eleven

We start out right on time and in wet weather. Wet or not, it’s a pretty drive. Griffin takes a ten minute bat nap, then enjoys the ride. Into Cork and in and out of rain and brightening skies. 

Lovely green hills dotted with sheep and cows and horses, divided by lines of clumpy green shrubs. Windy roads. Ooh, a big hay lorry, but Kat’s doing just fine.

We stop for diesel, and find a friendly orange tabby sleeping on the roof of a car for let. She wakes to greet us—thrill the boy, and ribbon through my legs for a pet and stroke.

Is it #randomkatness if Kat takes the photo of a cat?

Fueled up, and off we go. Now Griffin sings himself into a solid 50 minute nap while we weave our way into Clare. We’re heading for Tulla—Jason with navigation on his phone, BW with a map. Rising, rising, rolling hills, lovely farms and wide stretches of pasture.

I adore Clare. It’s the first place I visited in Ireland so long ago, and it woke that sense memory instantly. Ah yes, of course, this is one of my places. I know the light, the air. 

BW and I have been in this area often, but not on this particular route. We recognize the names of towns, remember time spent in them. It’s brighter now, that sweet luminous light. 

The boy wakes as we come into Tulla, and with Jason Googling find a stop for lunch at a place called Flapper’s.

Lunch spot. Photo by BW

It’s just right.

Irish veg soup and chips for me with a glass of house white that’s very nice indeed. We eat very well, stretch our legs a bit, and grab a few provisions from the market next door.

We made this detour to go by the land we bought years back—and Jason’s nav takes us right down the skinny road between the high hedgerows and bright orange flowers to the gate.

Hedgerows and skinny road. Photo by Kat

We have about five acres of green here on a lovely lake we lease to a farmer for pasture. It’s great to see it again, to show Griffin, and remember closing the deal with a handshake on the side of the road.

Family portrait by the land in Tulla. Photo by BW

Then we’re back in the car—another nap for Griffin, and into Galway.

Softer here, I always think, pastoral and peaceful, with those fields divided by gorgeous stone walls. It’s definitely brighter with blue pushing into the sky here and there, and actual sunlight burning through.

And now Mayo, and signs for Cong at last. 

Griffin wakes in time for the stop at the gate at Ashford and the drive through the deep forest. The castle stretches and rises up ahead, facing the water with its little green humps of islands.

And we’re home.

If I have any stress in me, it always fades off at Ashford.

Iron Dog/Delighted Boy faceoff. Photo by Kat

It’s beautiful, the staff wonderful and warm.

We’re taken straight to our rooms, and though we don’t have that family cottage here, we have a pair of suites that basically adjoin, so our own little enclave. 

There’s champagne on ice—and thank you more than words for that!—gorgeous flowers from the Little Brown team.

Unpacking to do. I’ve bunged up my wrist—likely lifting a certain young man—so that’s mostly on BW. Better today with some pampering, and that’s a relief.

I find a gift from the Little Brown team, and am simply thrilled. I have a beautiful bespoke scarf made just for me. I adore scarves, and this one’s stunning and soft, and will be worn often, treasured always.

Scarf designed by Lou Brennan. Photo by BW

We settle in, orient ourselves and change for dinner in The Dungeon. 

I have to say I’m amazed with Griffin. I’ve never traveled like this with such a young one, and he’s so easy, so cheerful. I have to think he must wonder now and then: Where the hell are we now? But he rolls with it.

And finds, naturally, another pretty waitress to flirt with, other diners to charm. He still manages to eat hearty. As do we all.

There’s live music tonight, and BW’s up for it. I’m simply not, so I turn in as he goes off to listen.

He’s full of the band this morning, so it was time well spent for him. As the eight hours sleep was for me.

Ready to go, Nana! Photo by Kat

Workout done, though I had to dig into my vid library and my Beach Body app won’t let me in today. We’ll deal with that later.

It’s a blue sky, sunny day. The water’s blue in response, and I watched landscapers planting more flowers early.

Going to clean up, walk around, hopefully down to Cong.

It’s a gorgeous day in a gorgeous place. 

Don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Nora


In today’s #randomkatness — more Dog/Boy!

Such a cheery list of services!

Kerry, Day Ten

Pretty day, and a quiet one for most of it.

After some energetic play, JK&G head into town. We plan to go in for dinner later, and I want to get that laundry and packing started.

Kat calls in the midst of it to let us know there’s a huge fair in town—mostly Travelers from the looks of it. The town’s packed with people, and there’s no parking as stalls now spread through the car parks.

Bustling town. Photo by j a-b
Choice of wares. Photo by j a-b

Change of plans. The gang will now pick up what we need to expand our leftovers into dinner at home.

So I get a good start on packing and gathering and organizing, and enjoy the view.

When they get back, Griffin’s already out for the count, so it’s nap time. I see what I can do about making meatballs for the left-over spaghetti. 

I do not like this stove! It’s a complicated PITA, and I need Jason to get the oven on for me. Kat got a lot of meat! So we’ll have a whole bunch of meatballs. 

Griffin’s up, and while Kat makes a cheese and broccoli soup, I take him out for a walk in the stroller.

He sings to himself as we walk down our quiet road. No jacket required on this balmy evening. There are three cottages on this stretch, and the one at the far end isn’t occupied.

So we explore, go around the path—spot an orange tabby that streaks away—and around to the patio.

Play ball, Nana? Photo by Nora

We stroll back, but since we’re both having a good time, do the circuit again.

There’s a fountain formed by a huge ball, and he very much enjoys. There are bits of a river view, but mostly it’s gorgeous stretches of land, green and green, and the rise of hills.

The air’s so sweet, the light so soft, and the baby’s singing quietly to himself.

A view down the river. Photo by Nora

Back in for about a half hour of chaos putting the meal together. Stupid stove!

But it all turns out just fine. We have meatballs and some spaghetti with marinara. Some pasta with olive oil and herbs, the soup, salad, garlic bread.

Nobody goes hungry, and we’ve made a heroic mess of the kitchen.

Jason bought pastries in town, but I have something Griffin and I will like more. An ice cream bar. He sucks that down.

He plays with Daddy while Mama attacks the massive kitchen clean up. But wait—he spies my tablet, and lets it be known he hasn’t had his daily dose of Shaun T.

The minute it comes on he grins. We watch every one, with him mesmerized and often keeping time with one hand. He’s not done, so I switch to Brazilian Butt Lift. Hey, pretty girls.

He’s satisfied with this, but wants daddy to hold him and watch, too. The boy’s tired. He’ll flop his head on Jason’s chest or shoulder, then jerk back, waving his hand as if to say: No, I’m still partying! Flop, jerk, wave.

Until a flop involves eyes closing.

That seems to be it, so up I go finish packing.

It’s not long before I hear Jason, and those little running feet. Revived, Griffin’s ready for the nightly game of run into Nana’s room, get a tickle attack, squeal outrageously, run, run back, repeat.

Our boy ends his day as happily as he started it.

Happy Griffin

Packing’s about done. 

Gray clouds are streaming across the sky, and the wind’s stirring up. Likely rain coming in.

We’ll miss our views out our cottage windows, and the long hallways up and down for Griffin to run. But it’s onto Mayo in the morning, and lots to see on the drive through Clare and Galway.

Jason’s finishing up laundry as they’ve about got Griffin down for the night. It’s all quiet now, inside and out.

I’m writing the blog now so I’m not rushed tomorrow. We’ll take our time on the drive, enjoy the journey.

Nora