Okay, so I know adventure and slowing it down don’t usually go together. But that’s what this week was all about. I still have 11 months left to go on this adventure, and I’m notoriously bad at pacing myself. Hey, this is all new to me. I’ve never had a vacation where I could take so much downtime and not feel guilty about it. Sleeping in, coffee in bed, and writing for hours isn’t something I’ve ever gifted myself with on an itinerary.
I chose to stay in Edinburgh and rented a cute flat in walking distance to both Portobello Beach and Arthur’s Seat. Each evening as I sat enjoying the view with a glass of wine, Arthur’s Seat (on my list to hike since my last trip here) would silently mock me through the living room windows. Whatever Dude, I’ll get to you when I feel like it. (Which I eventually did).
I took time to smell the flowers, walk on the beach, people (and dog) watch, and eat ice cream on the promenade. There is something about the ocean that is soothing to the soul, even one as unremarkable as Portobello Beach. But this island girl will take any beach she can get and be happy about it.
This week was also a good reminder that we need to make time to rest on our grief journeys (and life in general). Sometimes we are so eager to get away from the horrible emotions and feelings that we choose “busy” as a shield as we run pell-mell towards grief recovery. The truth is, those feelings aren’t going anywhere, but if you’re too tired to face them you won’t get anywhere fast, and it’s easy to start drowning again. So be kind and every now and again give yourself permission to take a timeout.
Walk on a beach.
And eat ice cream.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The super cute flat I rented was in Portobello. My Airbnb hosts (the same cool people who left me a bottle of wine when I checked in) were awesome! I’d mentioned how much I loved the beach, so they called one day to invite me to join their family beach walk out at Yellowcraig, a beach I wouldn’t have found on my own since it was about a twenty-minute drive away.
Their advice helped make this week so much better and relaxed, and they recommended all three of the pubs below.
Since it was practically across the street, I went for dinner almost every night I was there. The food was excellent, and the service even better. Light and bright, the vibe changed every night depending on whether there was live music or football on TV. It must have a loyal crowd because everyone knew everyone.
The Barrelhouse Bar and Grill:
After climbing Arthur’s Seat, I rewarded myself with lunch at the Barrel House. I was surprised with how many American items were on the menu, but the neon, “I am the God of Hellfire” sign above the bar was what drew me in since I knew there had to be a story there.
Right on the promenade, The Espy is home to the best cullen skink (seafood chowder) I’ve had in Scotland, a robust single malt menu and ocean views. A perfect spot for lunch during my beach strolls.
When was the last time you opened your box of treasures? When was the last time you took them out, held them in your hands, and went back in time? Sometimes on our grief journeys, no matter how well we’re doing, it’s important to take a timeout and honor the things you miss about your dearly departed.
That’s what I did this week. I hadn’t planned on it, but some of my new friends found that box of memories and dragged it out in the middle of the room for me, where I couldn’t ignore it.
Steve, Andrea and I were hanging out at the pub one evening. The singer that night invited people to come and dance on the mini dance floor she’d made by moving chairs out of the way. Steve dragged Andrea out on the dance floor and proceeded to shake his goofy groove thang. Andrea was a little self-conscious since they were the only two on the dance floor in this tiny pub.
I was laughing my a$$ off but told her how much I loved their love and that I thought it was fantastic. Dan danced like a dork (and there is a wedding DVD somewhere in storage that can prove it). He may not have invented the T-Rex dance moves, but he sure owned them. And lemme tell you, I would give just about anything to be able to dance with that goofball again, even if we were the only two on the dance floor and everyone was staring at us.
Somehow that memory opened the floodgates to all the little happy memories about things I miss. It was as if the contents of my treasure box got dumped on the floor so I could find and savor all the little ones that get buried at the very bottom like tiny legos or Barbie shoes.
Things like how he’d run around the house singing falsetto and opera just to be funny. Or how we shared the same adolescent sense of humor and could drag any event into the gutter with just a look.
I miss coming out wearing his favorite Boise State hoodie, only to see him roll his eyes and complain that he was just going to wear that. All the while knowing he secretly loved seeing me in it. Something he proved when it mysteriously showed up in my side of the closet one laundry day.
And I miss all the little thoughtful things he would do, despite being a knuckle-dragging cretin (his words, not mine). Like how my coffee was always waiting for me on the bathroom counter when I got out of the shower, or how he’d fuel up my car while I was still asleep. Or my favorite, how he’d throw my bathrobe in the dryer to warm it up for me on cold winter mornings to coax me out from under the warm blankets so I wouldn’t be late for work.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about these little things. I’m grateful Steve and Andrea helped me rediscover them. I’m grateful they danced and laughed that night. And I hope those of you still lucky enough to have your hubs with you remember that it’s the dancing that counts, not what you look like or who may be looking. Someday all you’ll remember is the joy of the moment. So don’t be self-conscious, just get out there and dance.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Someone recently asked me about the gang sign I use in my travel photos. Once I stopped laughing, I was able to explain that it’s not a gang sign, it’s the American Sign Language shortcut for “I love you.” I almost asked if they wanted the long or short answer, but decided they’d get the long story answer whether they wanted it or not.
A few years ago my best friend lost her daughter in a tragic car accident. Krissie died well before the word cancer ever showed up in our lives. Back then I was the one who didn’t know what to say or do, but my heart hurt for her grieving family. As long as we’d been friends, it wasn’t until her funeral that I learned their family custom was to say “I love you” before you parted. No matter what. Even if you were angry or didn’t feel you meant it, you said it. The preferred response was, “I love you more.”
So on that horrible summer day, the last words they heard each other say were I love you. Take a minute to think about that. Sometimes we don’t get the chance to say our final goodbyes. Sometimes even when you do plan for them, the universe cruelly changes the plan on you. Sometimes the last time we see someone is the last time we’ll see them forever. Sometimes the last thing you say to someone will be the words that echo in their heart for years to come.
So as we sat there at the funeral letting that sink in, Dan squeezed my hand, and we looked at each other. We didn’t have to say a word. We knew, starting at that moment, we’d adopt that habit too. We even called a family meeting to share with mom and the kids how important this was to us. We understood you don’t always get the happily ever after, we just didn’t know it was OUR ever after that was going to be cut short.
Krissie’s legacy was to help spread that message of love. A legacy that continues as I share this story with you. The last words my family and friends will ever hear me say to them, are I love you, or I love you more. There will never be any question about how we feel about each other. And since I can’t talk to them often from the road, my photos have to say it for me.
As we got close to the end the brain tumors stole Dan’s ability to process word meaning association and, eventually, his ability to speak. But the last words we spoke aloud to each other were, “I love you” and “I love you more.” Thank you, Krissie, for giving me that beautiful gift. I will treasure it always.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Special thanks to Krissie’s family for giving me their blessing to share this story and Krissie’s photo. Love you more! ❤️
Sometimes it’s best to just hand the reins over to someone else and go along for the ride. Can you believe I just said that? I feel like I should get a “recovering control freak” gold star sticker for that one. This week a tour worked out great since I didn’t have to worry about scheduling ferries or buses or lodging. Instead, I just had a whole lot of enjoying the views along the way and taking time to figure out my next stop. (Still undecided as I write this).
I guess you could say it’s a mini-version of this entire year and my Grand Tour of Europe. Where to go? What to do? Who do I want to be? When your only plan is not to have a plan, it leaves the door wide open for adventure.
I was blessed to be able to cross another item off my bucket list: to visit the fairy tale Isle of Skye. It’s the first time since Dan died that I’ve crossed one off the list that was just mine, not ours…kind of like this whole adventure. And you know what? It felt amazing!
I’ve had so many people comment that they wish they could be brave and do something like this. Here’s the deal. I don’t feel brave. I do, however, believe that choosing to Live Now takes courage. Part of me misses the easy routine of my comfort zone. The other part of me is in a near constant state of bliss to be in a completely new environment. Living now is the only option that makes sense, especially to those of us that have lost so much. We know too damned well that tomorrow is promised to no one.
Live Now doesn’t mean selling everything you own to go on adventures, although that’s what I’m enjoying. It means squeezing every last drop of life out of the minutes we have. It means to be present in everything we do. And I wish for all of us to have a life full of Live Now minutes.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The Isle of Skye
Visiting the Isle of Skye has been on my list for close to two decades. It didn’t disappoint. One of the bazillion things I love about Scotland is how the clouds and the light are constantly changing. It changes the colors of the landscape from minute to minute and, if you can stay put for a bit, you get a whole new perspective without even moving your feet.
Every time I rounded the corner, I’d think to myself that there couldn’t possibly be a more beautiful vista in the world. And then I’d go to the next place and think the same thing. Maybe it’s all the fairy magic, but it’s definitely beautiful.
The Orkney Isles
It’s a trek to get here, but it’s like being in a whole new country. Colder and windier, the Orkneys gave me my first beaches in Scotland. You know this island girl and beaches; when I see them, they make my heart sing. I don’t care if they are sunny and tropical or cold and windy. It was a bit too cold to put my toes in the sand and water, but I could have stayed and walked for hours if I wasn’t worried about being left behind.
The Orkneys are also home to Neolithic stone circles and Pictish archeological sites.
The ghosts of my Highlander ancestors must know when I’m back because it always works out that I have perfect weather. There aren’t enough words to describe the breathtaking vistas, so photos will have to do.
I didn’t realize we were going to stop at the Cairns of Loch Loyne. The first cairn was put there to honor Hugh Mackay. I left a few stones in memory of Dan. It was fitting since the Bains are part of Clan Mackay. There were so many stone piles, some with names and dates. To think that all these people had traveled here to honor their dead was overwhelming. It was moving and emotional and I bawled my eyes out for the first time since I left home. Actually, it was the first time in a long time so I guess I was due.
Since I had trouble narrowing down which photos to include, here are a few extras.
Let’s talk about the D word. No, not divorce. Not even death. I’m talking about dating–scarier than the other two combined, at least it can feel that way for a W. Ever wonder what it’s like for a W to go on a date? Grab a drink and lemme tell you. Take all the regular dating bull$hit and add a whole new layer of WTF.
Since I’m not the only W who has well-meaning friends and family encouraging us to get back on the horse or get back in the game, I thought it would be a good time to explain a few things to you.
For those who may have forgotten, it is NEVER, EVER acceptable for you to voice an opinion on if and when your W decides to date. For non-W’s, you may be surprised how much thought goes into this process. So much to consider, so many new rules, so many new risks. The longer you’ve been out of the game, the worse it is. And while there are a lot of articles about widows dating and what to expect from both sides, most I’ve read make me shake my head and wonder who comes up with this $hit? Reading an advice column that instructs guys dating a widow on what to do/not to do to get the most mileage is enough to make you grab a box of cats and never leave your house again.
So once again I turned to the experts in The W Club for a few things a W should consider.
“Am I ready?” is a hard question to answer, but if you’ve been thinking about it, then you probably are.
2. The Kids:
If you have kids, that changes things. They will have feelings and opinions. While those shouldn’t determine your decision, they are important. Sometimes push-back will come from your adult children or other family members. Try to remember that they are probably just being a bit over protective and that it’s not because they don’t want to you to be happy. Over the last year, I had my “I’m doing the best I can to figure out who I am supposed to be in this new post-Dan reality. I don’t need your approval, just your continued love and support,” speech ready to go if needed. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use it. Not once. I ❤️ my friends and family so much!
3. The New Rules:
The last time most of us went on a date you met people in real life, not on an app. Things have changed. When do you call? How many days do you wait? Screw these stupid rules! Life is too short, and we should be way past high school games. Having said that, safety is still a priority. Be smart about the people you meet and the choices you make.
4. The Widow Hunters:
As a blogger who has been open about my grief journey, it’s not difficult for the Widow Hunters to find me. Although you’ll be found anyway if you have a social media presence. What’s a Widow Hunter? Those are the Quagmires of the world who actively seek out widows, whether it’s because of a mistaken perception of inheritance or a weird conquest thing, they are definitely out there. Giggity. And they make it hard for other guys to ask a W out because they don’t want to be perceived as THAT guy. (Dear Nice Guys, please ask anyway).
If your date goes great, you may be hit with waves of guilt. Your brain knows you have nothing to feel guilty for, but your heart doesn’t quite get the memo. We’re not cheating on our spouses; they messed that up when they died. But since they are still a part of our daily lives it is hard to wrap your head and heart around it. God bless the good guys who are strong enough to handle this bizarre family tree.
6. The Fear:
What few people realize is that dating for a W includes a layer of fear, one we don’t often acknowledge to ourselves. No, not fear of intimacy, although that’s a post for a different day. I’m talking about the fear of loving and losing again. See what I mean about the whole extra layer of WTF? Imagine setting up your first date, only to have your fear center take over your brain and drag it down a wormhole of future painful what-ifs. For example, OMG what if the date goes well? What if I like him? What if it turns into a relationship? What if it turns into love? WHAT IF HE DIES? HOW WILL I SURVIVE THIS A SECOND TIME?
If you’ve never had anyone die on you, it may seem ridiculous that this thought would consciously (or unconsciously) cross your mind. But our fears are shaped by our experiences, and all W’s have this one under our belts. Again, God bless the good guys who are strong and confident enough to date a widow and all the widows who are brave enough to open their hearts to the possibility of loving again.
And, as always, special thanks to the members of The W Club for their insight and contributions to this post.
Is it possible to fall in love with a place a little more each day? At the rate I’m going, I’ll never be able to leave Scotland. After Edinburgh, I arrived in Stirling, a sleepy university town, and felt every cell in my body give up a big happy sigh. With a whole week to explore, I had the opportunity to slow things down and enjoy every minute of this town. How often do you go on holiday and get to spend a rainy day in a coffee shop or pub people watching for hours without feeling like you’re wasting time?
Just like everywhere else I’ve visited in Scotland, the people are friendly and welcoming. Out of everything Scotland has to offer, the people are what I love best. I’ve said more than once that with its rugged beauty and relaxed lifestyle Scotland reminds me of Idaho before the hipsters moved in, only with more rain.
September is a perfect time to visit. You can feel a hint of the crisp fall air in the mornings, and the leaves on the trees are just starting to turn even though summer flowers are still in bloom. A poet friend recently told me that all poets love the autumn. And while I’m no poet, the overwhelming desire to capture the beauty of this season is contagious.
My heart is well on its way to mending, but there is something about the fall that is cozy and snuggly and warm and nurturing. As my son-in-law likes to say, it’s sweater weather. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy it than Stirling. It became so comfortable, so quickly, I really didn’t want to leave.
The Wandering Widow
Stirling is so much more than a home base for other sites in the area, especially if you like the outdoors. I spent a week here and could have stayed longer.
If you’re not driving, Stirling is super easy to access by train and is only an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Navigating Scotland’s buses and trains are easy, even for someone like me who has “getting lost” as my super power. The town is also easy to navigate, although I confess to getting lost once when relying too heavily on my GPS instead of my eyeballs.
There are a few local historical sites to see, but if you run around screaming “Freedom” at the top of your lungs, you’ll be asked to leave. Kidding. But seriously, please don’t do that.
If you can only pick one thing to see in Stirling, this is it. It’s worth the 246 step climb up a narrow spiral staircase to the top for the breathtaking views. And if your only knowledge of William Wallace was Braveheart, be prepared to have your world rocked with the actual history of the man.
You can access the monument easily by bus from Stirling (about a twenty-minute ride) if you don’t want to drive. If you’re feeling extra Genki, you can also walk from town, but don’t forget you then need to walk (or shuttle) up a hill to get to the base of the monument.
Not my favorite castle in the world, but I’m easily bored with castles, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. My favorite parts were the gardens and the view. Shocker, I know. But it was interesting to learn about the famous unicorn tapestry. In case you didn’t already know, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, earning the country serious cool points.
In my humble-non-castle-stalking opinion, this one was a lot more fun than Stirling. Well known for its use as an on-location film site for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander, out of all the castle tours I’ve done, this has my favorite audio tour. Monty Python’s Terry Jones narrates and after each of the historical bits, are optional Monty Python details. There is something special about standing in a ruined castle hearing a Frenchman scream out that your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elder berries. Don’t take my word for it though, check it out yourself.
For you Outlander fans, the audio tour also provides filming updates from that Jamie guy.
The Dupplin Cross:
Venture out to Dunning and St. Serf’s church, and you can see the Dupplin Cross. It’s a Pictish stone carved in the shape of an Irish cross and is over a thousand years old. It’s free to visit, and the lovely docents will give you the history and point out important features, so don’t forget to donate before you leave.
The Bluebell Tearoom serves breakfast all day and has a gluten free menu, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. I loved that the hostess had been through Idaho, and we were able to chat about my home state.
The Friar’s Wynd is clean and bright, has great service, excellent food and is a great choice for a nice dinner.
The Smithy was a surprise. I wasn’t sure about trying it since my local friend hadn’t heard of it, but it got glowing recommendations for the “best food in Stirling” from another member of the Scottish travel group I joined on Facebook. I’m glad I tried it! It’s not far from Stirling Castle and is a light, bright cafe/tea house. The food was, in fact, the best I’ve had in Stirling and a great alternative to pub food. Everything was fresh and light (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.) and delish.
In Dunning, have lunch or dinner at The Kirkstyle Inn. I had a superb dish of sea scallops, green apples, and black pudding. I can’t explain why that combo worked, but it was so delicious I might have licked the plate had I been by myself.
The Curly Coo is a must visit for whiskey drinkers, for the 130 single malt whiskey options as well as meeting Miss Mandy, the sassy pants proprietor. She recommended Deanston (among others) since it’s local. (I tried to get to Deanston Distillery later in the week for their whiskey and chocolate tour but the day I attempted to go the roads closed to buses, and my ankle wouldn’t agree to the 8-mile walk).
I’ve been chomping at the bit to get hiking since my last visit in April and was fortunate to have a friend here take me out exploring. We managed to get in a hike to Loss Hill before an old ankle injury kicked in and removed hiking (and dancing) off the list for a few weeks, but it was worth it.
Loss Hill was beautiful, and the irony of the name wasn’t lost on me. It’s just behind Dumyat Hill (where Wallace Monument is) if you’re looking at it from town. The beauty of hiking in Scotland is that you just decide which direction you want to go and start walking. In the states, property laws are pretty strict, and as I’d rather not get shot, I’ve never trespassed over fences before. It’s an entirely different scenario in Scotland, and I climbed over a bunch of fences (including barbed wire) on this hike. I also got to hike in the peat bog, which was new and different (and coincidentally the part my ankle didn’t like). In the two and half hours we were out, we saw sheep, deer and the weather change repeatedly from blue skies to storm clouds and back again. Classic Scotland! The only thing that could have made it better would have been some heilan coos, but I have lots of time left to see those cute furry cows.
The Lodging: Shona’s flat was my first Air B&B in Scotland, and ideally located in the middle of town (a five-minute walk from the train and bus station, and a ten-minute walk to Stirling Castle). While I didn’t need a three bedroom flat all to myself, it was nice to have all the comforts of home, including laundry and wifi. She was a gracious hostess, and I would stay here again.
I did it. I waved goodbye and set sail for a new life of adventure. I can honestly say that this is the first trip I’ve ever taken where I didn’t stress about the last minute details. Calm is a new thing for me. I like it.
The loneliness that I was worried about hasn’t shown up yet. I’ve met amazing people, learned new things, enjoyed fantastic food and whisky, and am sure I look like the village idiot because I can’t get this smile off my face.
I had someone tell me before I left that I was running away. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Those of us on our grief journeys each walk our own paths. Mine just happened to bring me back to my favorite country on the planet. I hope yours takes you someplace that brings you joy and peace.
The Wandering Widow
After a long day of travel, consisting of 20 hours, four airports, and three flights, I finally landed in Edinburgh. I had a stupid grin on my face despite the long line at the border checkpoint and didn’t care how long it took. I was back!
I bit the bullet and took a taxi (they are expensive compared to public transportation), deciding that the time saved was worth it. I was exhausted and didn’t want to deal with taking the tram, even though that would have only been £5. Some things are worth paying for.
I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Brown’s Bed and Breakfast. My hosts, Marion and Norie, were welcoming and I liked them immediately. The cleanliness stood out the most, which is saying something. I don’t think I’ve EVER stayed at a hotel or B&B this clean. Ever. After chatting them up at breakfast each morning, I now want to adopt them as my new Scottish grandparents. If you come to Edinburgh, book early so you don’t miss out on their hospitality.
Norie recommended the Theatre Royal Bar for dinner since it was a short walk away, the food is excellent, and is “woman friendly” for a solo female diner like myself. It’s also incredibly beautiful. If you’ve read my previous Table for One Posts and are looking for a hilarious story, you’ll be disappointed here. The food and service were impeccable. I liked it enough I went back several times during my stay in Edinburgh. (Try the steak and ale pie!)
The next day I headed out to catch up on the things I’d missed on my last trip to Edinburgh.
First stop was the Potter Trail Walking Tour. This free tour lasts about an hour and highlights key spots that influenced the Harry Potter books. Richard showed up in full robes, handed out magic wands, sorted us into houses, and commenced with great story telling. They also offer a longer full magic tour geared for kids, so if you’ve got your little ones make sure to book that one.
The next day I trekked out to Palace of Holyroodhouse. The entire tour of this functioning palace is great and full of history and art, but spend the extra £3 for the garden tour. That was the best part for this garden geek. Learning the history of the garden, the plants, and how involved the Queen and Prince Charles both are in the design was fascinating. Plus, with a guide, you get to walk on the lawn and see things up close and personal, like a rare elm tree that was thought to be extinct.
As you hoof it back up the Royal Mile, be sure to have lunch or dinner at The World’s End Pub. Not gonna lie, this is my favorite pub in Edinburgh. The food is fantastic, and the staff is friendly and funny.
After watching the days tick down, it’s finally here. Today I wave farewell to everything and everyone I know and love; everything familiar and comfortable. And while I will miss them all terribly, my heart is full.
Do you remember the last time you felt butterflies? The good kind? The ones that remind you, deep in your belly, that everything and every minute and every person is full of possibility? Those fluttering wings have been keeping me awake at night, like a little kid on Christmas Eve.
I won’t lie, I also have some apprehensions. Can I really do this alone for a year? Did I pack enough in my one little suitcase? Did I pack too much? Will I finally learn how to read a euro map so I don’t get lost everywhere? And the one that occupies my over-thinking brain the most, will I be able to handle the loneliness? I’ve come a long way from where I started on this grief journey. Map or no map, I’ll figure it out.