In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I live in “unconventional” mode as I endeavor to figure out this new post-Dan reality. I try hard to be a good person, but after decades of taking care of everyone else first, these days I do what I want. I don’t feel bad about eating or drinking like a rock star, sleeping in or staying out all night. I don’t feel guilty about leaving home to live the life of a nomad. I don’t feel guilty that I haven’t got a clue where I’m going next or when/if I’ll ever come home. I don’t even feel bad about the fact that other teenagers who have shown up with nieces and nephews were warned not to be shocked by their Aunty Pirate who SOMETIMES sports a colorful vocabulary that could make a Marine blush. Before you lecture me, they hear it all at school. And I kinda DGAF.
But there is one thing for which I give many f@#$s. I’ve recently learned there is a group of young people who are watching my every adventure move. Their parents are sharing my travel stories (language cleaned up, of course), or they are following on their own. (Dear parents, rest assured I keep Instagram clean). I have heard that teenagers sit around sometimes and talk about what adventure I had that week. OMG!
This knowledge is overwhelming on multiple levels. For the first time in life, cause it sure didn’t happen when I was one, some teenagers think I’m cool. I’d high five myself, but what a freaking responsibility. I’ve said from day one of this adventure that what I want my nieces and nephews to remember about me is that I lived the #$!@ out of every minute and that no matter how scared I was, I never let fear stop me from pursuing life and love. I want them to learn that risks are worth taking and that making memories will always be more important than acquiring things. I want them to know that sometimes life is $hit for no reason (thank you Sheila for this quote), but we have a choice in how we move forward when bad things happen. If your kids are following along, I wish the same for them too. And, no promises, I’ll see what I can do about the language.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot about going with the flow and trusting my intuition as I navigate this new post-Dan reality. Unfortunately, there isn’t a process map for picking up the pieces and starting over, and I have had to learn to trust my heart to guide me. It’s something I encourage my fellow W’s to do as well. No one knows you, or what you need, as well as your heart does. As much as I try to live that way, every now and again I still need a reminder, and Oban was most certainly a beautiful one.
Oban is best known for its single malt distillery, but this Western port has got a lot more than that to offer. The seafood is legendary, and it’s the jumping off point to explore the Hebridean Islands. I did a lot of research for this trip, so before I left home, I’d put it on my list of possible home bases.
But when I passed through Oban a few weeks ago on my way to the Isle of Skye, I found it underwhelming so took it off my list of places to stay. That was shortsighted and dumb. Due to some scheduling limitations, and the encouragement of my friend (and Scotland expert) Gavin, I decided to go back. Yay me! (Or, yay my intuition and Gavin). Out of all the places in Scotland I’ve fallen in love with (which is most of the country), Oban is the one I feel I could put down roots and stay long term. I can’t believe I almost missed out on that.
So my dear W’s, trust your heart. Trust your instincts. Only you can decide where this journey will take you. And wherever that may be, it will be the right place for you.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Since I chose not to drive in Scotland, I relied on public transportation. Oban is a four-hour train ride from Edinburgh. The train ride was incredibly beautiful, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your trip through the Trossachs. TIP: The earlier you buy your tickets, the less expensive they will be.
I knew I wanted to stay on the Corcoran Esplanade, a short strip of super cute B&Bs right on the water and a five-minute ocean front walk to the center of town. I’d been referred to Kilchrenan House by my B&B Hosts at the Pipers Lodge when I was in Skye. Availability was an issue since I’d waited so long to decide where I wanted to go. So instead of a full week, I was only able to get four days. Four beautiful days! Book early, especially if you want to stay for awhile. I don’t think four days was enough and would have liked at least a week if not two. Frances and Colin are super friendly and welcoming hosts, and you can’t beat the amazing view of the ocean at breakfast, or the sunsets in the evening from the front porch.
If you tried to force me to choose between the ocean and the wooded hills and mountains, I couldn’t do it. Thankfully, in Oban I don’t have to.
The Inner Hebrides:
I decided to do a day tour of Iona, Mull, and Staffa, which are part of the Inner Hebrides. My scheduled tour got canceled due to weather the first day, but I was able to get on one the next day. Good thing, since it was sunny and the ocean was pretty calm.
It was freaking fantastic, although Mull was just a pass-through so shouldn’t be advertised as part of the tour. Staffa is the famous basalt column island that is home to Fingal’s Cave. I wish I’d had several hours here, but did get down to the cave and also had a chance to scramble around up top and enjoy the views.
Iona was stunning. Crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and the greenest fields I’ve seen outside of Ireland. If you like to hike, you’ll want to spend a whole day here. I’ve already decided on my next visit that I’ll need to overnight on Iona to fully explore the trails.
I’d been advised by fellow travelers to make reservations at EE-USK as soon as I got to Oban, which I did. Wow! The seafood and service were superior. And despite being a Table for One, I was seated at a window table so I could enjoy the best view they had to offer. Top notch, so be prepared to pay for it.
First of all, whisky in Scotland isn’t called Scotch and isn’t spelled with an “e” so please stop messaging me about typos. This whisky woman knows what she is doing.
Now on to the business of single malts. Oban grew up around the distillery. That means it’s an entire town centered on the production of an amazing single malt. It also means that the distillery can’t expand. Their Instagram boasts “great from small, ” and they rock it. Their copper stills are works of art, and I would encourage you to do a tour (even the short one) to check it out. Here science and art come together to make beautiful single malt babies. If you’re a whisky fan, I also recommend doing the four taster, since we can only get one or two of those easily in the US.
Beyond the tour, go across the street to the Oban Whisky and Fine Wine Shop and talk to James. He was able to turn his single malt hobby into a business, which is both cool and makes me a little envious. And he knows his stuff. In addition to the tasters and education, he gave me suggestions on which newer distilleries would be coming online soon, and which whisky bars in Glasgow would likely have the lost and silent stuff on my single malt challenge checklist. And, now that I know the Old and Rare whisky festival is a thing, it’s going on the bucket list.
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.
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.
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.
As I get ready to head out in search of global adventure, I needed to get a few last-minute checks off my Idaho bucket list. If you’ve never been to my adopted home state, you’re missing out. I’ve been blessed to see a lot of it and this weekend, thanks to some amazing friends, I focused on the Valley of Magic. (Okay, so it’s called the Magic Valley, but I like my version better).
I started at the Minidoka Internment Camp Monument. This has been on my list for a long time. This memorial to a blight on American history has huge significance for the Japanese American community. When I first moved to Idaho, I was surprised to learn that the Japanese Americans I met either didn’t celebrate their heritage (like we did in Hawaii) or didn’t know about it. The more I learned about Minidoka, the more that made sense to me. Why would you celebrate the very thing that caused you to lose everything and get rounded up and imprisoned like cattle? For those of you that don’t make time to read but want to learn more, I recommend the Dennis Quaid movie, Come See The Paradise. Not only an amazing love story, but a pretty good depiction of the time.
I also found it shocking that most Idahoans don’t know about the role their state played in one of the most regrettable acts in American history. Groups like Friends of Minidoka are helping to change that (if you want to support their efforts you can donate at minidoka.org). Heavy stuff, and a story that more people need to hear. My friend and fellow adventurer, an Idaho native, was there for the first time too and she was sad to learn about all of it. But it felt surprisingly peaceful to me as if the simple act of being there and bearing witness was enough to calm the energy of the place. The Japanese have a word called gaman, which is loosely translated as enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. In hindsight, I guess that attitude also helped get me through my dark days of grief, although the patience and dignity parts are questionable, so we’ll just go with enduring.
After the dusty camp, it felt great to spend two days on the water.
The first day we rented kayaks and had a leisurely float down the Snake River under the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls. Normally you’d see base jumpers off the bridge, but it was quiet there that day. The water was relatively smooth, and the wind wasn’t horrible. Overall a perfect set up for a beginner.
The second day a group of us kayaked down the Snake River in Hagerman to get to Blue Heart Springs. This little crystal blue oasis off the river is fed by underground springs. On a clear day, you can see straight down to the white sand bottom and see the bubbles percolating up to the surface. It was windy the day we went (not ideal conditions for a beginner), but the crystal blue water was still amazing. I never cease to be amazed at the beauty we can find if we make time to look for it. Blue Heart Springs is a Caribbean blue jewel in the middle of the high desert.
So for those of you that have been wanting to find an adventure of your own, it may be closer than you think. What’s waiting for you to find in your backyard? Live Now. ❤️
The Wandering Widow
Minidoka Internment Camp:
Bring your walking shoes and park near the entrance under the guard tower. Follow the paths and read the placards. Many have audio options of interview excerpts from people who lived in the camps. It’s free to enter and self-guided, but you’ll want to monitor the website to see if there are any activities going on while you’re there.
My favorite quote:
I will always remember my father’s statement on the eve of our departure to Camp Harmony. “I don’t know what will happen to us. I don’t know where they’re going to take us. I don’t know whether we will ever be able to come back here. But always remember, this is your country, and you must act accordingly.”
Kayaking under the Perrine Bridge:
Put in at Centennial Waterfront Park. We rented kayaks and all our gear from AWOL. They made it super easy. Make your reservation online, check in and sign your waiver, and then walk to the dock where some very nice young people will help you get all set up. You don’t even have to drag your gear, just hop in your kayak (or raft or paddle board or whatever) and have fun. We took a leisurely two-hour trip which got us past the bridge and allowed a leisurely return.
And if you need a quick snack while in Twin Falls, head downtown to Twin Bean, home of the best crepes I’ve ever had. The fact that they were named after Harry Potter has nothing to do with that, although my Gryffindor crepe was magical.
Kayaking to Blue Heart Springs:
I borrowed gear for this one, but you can rent in Hagerman and have them delivered to the “dock” at Banbury Springs. If you don’t plan on making a return trip, you’ll want to leave a second vehicle behind at Thousand Springs RV park so you can get back.
This was a four-hour trip for us. We fought wind and current in both directions (which is why I can’t lift my coffee cup today) so it took some of us a lot longer to get through. When you get to Blue Heart Springs, you’ll find a spot on the rocks to have lunch (don’t forget to pack yours) and enjoy the sunshine. FYI the water is COLD. Shock your system cold. While some of us did jump in, we didn’t linger.
Have you seen the movie Up? Dan and I used to say that it was the most incredible love story we’d ever seen, captured in the first five minutes of a children’s movie. That first five minutes wrecks me EVERY time. If you haven’t seen it, please have tissue handy as it’s a tear jerker. And maybe some Oreos. And if you have Oreos please invite me. The movie picks up after that, but damn those first five minutes! Never in a million years did we dream the movie was about us.
After the brutal reminder that someday is promised to no one, I refused to end up like the Carl you meet where the movie actually starts, miserable and alone and full of regret. I’ve had a lot of amazing people come through my life in the last few months. Each of these people helped me get a step closer to making the decision that brought me to today. They helped me realize that the new me IS Carl, the Carl that lets the balloons fly and heads off into the adventure he and Ellie never got to take together. The Carl that rips his house off the foundation (Holy Moly what a metaphor) in search of happiness. Does he find it? You’ll just have to watch the movie. (Don’t forget the Oreos).
So honoring Dan’s Live Now motto, and adding a new one of my own, I’m letting my balloons fly. Today I retire from a career and a work family I love beyond measure. I’ve ripped my house off its foundation to go in search of beautiful places, interesting people, and adventure. As scary as this is for someone who has played it safe all her life, it’s far more terrifying to imagine a life of regret if I don’t take the chance. I refuse to live a half life. So this widow is going wandering. And I don’t need to search for happiness, I’ll make my own.