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The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief

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Adventure Part 5: Oban and the Inner Hebrides

A Wandering Widow Post

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.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.

THE DETAILS:

Getting There:
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.

B&B:
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.

Oban:

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.

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Fingal’s Dogstone

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No matter how much it feels like we died with them, somewhere deep inside our hearts life still stubbornly persists.

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For Jacob, who loves fall foliage.
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Fattest sea chicken ever!

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I’ll never see blue and orange together without giving a silent cheer to the Boise State Broncos. Sometimes not so silent.
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Dunollie Castle, all snuggled in for fall.

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.

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An early morning departure from Oban.
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Sunrise over Oban.

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First view of Staffa. I may have been jumping up and down on the boat.
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Fingal’s Cave.

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My inner geology geek was in full squee mode.
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Can’t get enough of this.
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Again, again, again! Can’t wait to go back.
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So much life in such a harsh environment. And so pretty.

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.

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I still can’t get over the color of the water here.
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TARDIS!
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View from the nunnery.
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Heilan coos. Can’t get enough of those bangs and big dopey eyes.

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If you like to hike, you’ll need at least a full day here.

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Beyond my skill set, but total props to the dude that was getting ready to go out that day.

The Food:

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.

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The Whisky:

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.

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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.

James

 

Good-Bye Half Life. Hello Adventure.

A Wondering Widow Post

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.

Photo credit to Disney-Pixar

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).

Photo credit to Disney-Pixar

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.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow 

#LiveNow #NoHalfLife

✔️ San Diego Comic-Con

A Wandering Widow Post

It’s funny how you can live somewhere and never do the things other people travel there for. I lived in San Diego for years, but never went to Comic-Con. A few years ago, during an especially funny episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dan and I decided that going to SDCC should be on our bucket list. Since we’re both kinda geeky, it sounded fun. Plus, how can you go wrong in San Diego? So my friend, an SDCC veteran, helped me get badges to the biggest geek party in town.

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You can never go wrong in San Diego.

And it was a party. It’s a good thing I’m retiring in a few days because I’ll need a week or two of naps to recover.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. In case you’re thinking I’m a huge jerk for taking a vacation right before I retire, this bucket list trip was on the books before I made that life altering decision. Live Now.

Here are my Top 5 Comic-con Takeaways:

1. You can definitely do it as an SDCC virgin, but having someone help you learn the ropes is easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of SDCC blogs that can guide you along. Read them. Learn from them. When you are advised to bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, and backup batteries for your phone, do it. And be prepared to walk a lot! We averaged around 20,000 steps a day, and that was with a LOT of breaks at San Diego’s finest eateries and drinkeries. (Breakfast on the patio at Mary Jane’s gives you a lot of people watching and celeb spotting opportunities. And Whiskey Girl has my stamp of approval for any time of the day).

I’d add a small umbrella (for shade) to the list for those long outdoor lines. It was unusually humid and I didn’t reapply sunscreen frequently enough, so brought home a lovely stripey sunburn.  I can’t imagine how hot it was for those in full costume and makeup. I bow down to their dedication and commitment to their characters. And the cosplay didn’t disappoint. 

2. Don’t wait until AFTER you have your badges to book your hotel. Rookie mistake! We ended up paying a premium for a divey motel. I was told that most San Diego businesses close to the convention center make over 30% of their annual revenue during Comic Con. I don’t doubt it. Price gouging is the name of the game. It was still worth it, just be prepared and budget accordingly.

The entire Gas Lamp District gets into the Con spirit.

3. Don’t stress if you don’t get badges for every day. Enough events are happening around the convention center that you will have plenty to do. I found that some of my favorites were offsite and didn’t require badges at all.  Bladerunner 2049 was my favorite, and not just because of the Johnnie Walker whiskey bar at the end.

 One of the things I loved best was that the whole town gets involved, taking it from mere convention to super festival.  Hotels, trains, and trams were all wrapped and decorated appropriately.  And there were lots of themed marches and displays supporting shows or movies.  We participated in Nerdist’s Wonder Woman March but also got to enjoy History Channel’s Viking funeral march and Outlander’s exciting outdoor entertainment.

4. Keep your patience and a sense of humor. Everyone else is just as excited to be there as you are, lines are inevitable. Make new friends. And don’t be put off by the 2-3 hour waits…the lines move faster than whatever the end-of-the-line-keeper tells you.

If it’s your first time, be prepared for sensory overload. It was worse than Vegas for me, and I couldn’t figure out what to look at with all that color, lights and noise everywhere.

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5. Enjoy yourself. SDCC was amazing, but the best part was being able to spend time with friends.

I loved that everyone connected with the Con was respectful and still able to have a good time. I lost track of how many languages I heard spoken–this is truly an international event. It is also family friendly, and it warmed my heart to see so many parents bringing their kids. But folks, please leave your dogs at home as this is an anxiety ridden event for Fido. 

I can’t wait for next year!

The Bucket List Part 2-The People You Meet

A Grief Recovery Project Post

Have you ever noticed that you meet people at certain times in your life and it seems like a plant? Like they were specifically put there for you to meet and learn from at that exact moment in your life? I hope so, because it’s freaking awesome. I’ve been blessed more times that I can count with people who have crossed my path that I NEEDED to meet. My recent trip to Europe was no exception, and I believe Dan made sure I’d happen upon these wonderful people so I could learn from them. My guides represented the past, present and future. It was like my own personal A Christmas Carol.

Steve and Linda–Ghosts of Christmas Past:

On their post-retirement world travel adventure, these two represented everything that could have been…the future Dan and I could have had. High school sweethearts, I fell in love with their love. Just being around them made my heart happy. Oh, and ladies if you ever need a good wingwoman at a pub, Linda is your girl.

Chrissy–The Ghost of Christmas Present

A random meeting at the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play brought me Chrissy. She was sitting in the row in front of me, another single. As we were waiting for the play to start, she turned around and said “Happy Easter”, and we started chatting. I’d already been pretty teary eyed, so my tragic story kinda came pouring out. Instead of turning around and pretending she hadn’t talked to me, she opened up and shared hers. She’d lost her sweet little girl a little over a year ago to cancer, and Harry Potter was a huge part of their time together. (Check out the letter she wrote to JK Rowling, but make sure you have tissue handy). 

You know I’m not normally a hugger, but I’ve never wanted to hug a stranger more than when I met Chrissy. We laughed, we cried, we bonded over a shared love of Harry Potter and our losses to that thief cancer. Meeting her on my first full day in London was a gift. I was struggling with being there by myself on our dream vacation, and to meet someone on a parallel grief journey was comforting. Someone else was sitting alone in that dark packed theater and KNEW and UNDERSTOOD what I was feeling. It was so amazing, and it took away the loneliness of being there alone.

Oh, if you ever have the chance to see the play, do it.  I’ve seen a lot of plays over the years and this was special. I promised to #keepthesecrets, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one. I’m ecstatic it’s opening on Broadway next year.

Norma–The Ghost of Christmas Future:

If there is anyone I’d like to be when I grow up, it’s Norma. She is brilliant, feisty, brave, kind, and a widow of 14 years. In her 70s, she routinely travels alone and leads a life so active and independent it makes me tired to just think about it. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t keep up with Queen Sassy Pants if I tried! She is my in the flesh reminder that life goes on, and that it’s what I choose to make it. She made me laugh with her dating advice, tales of her adventures, and watching her watch the Kilted Yoga video for the first time. Meeting Norma was inspiring and energizing.

On a side note, when we were first dating Dan put me in his phone as Sassy Pants. It’s not a coincidence that the first thing I thought of when meeting her is, “what a sassy pants!”

There were many more people I met on this bucket list trip that influenced my life in a profound way. So much so that it makes me wonder, if everyone we meet teaches us something, what am I teaching to those who meet me? 

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

✔️ His Bucket List Gift

A Grief Recovery Project Post.

Do you remember when my grief counselor told me that if I stopped going to our favorite places or doing the things we loved, it would actually make Dan disappear and not help me feel better? Well, Dan and I had been planning this Harry Potter bucket list trip to Europe for years. We never got farther than planning and dreaming, but we knew that SOMEDAY we were going to go. When Dan realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the trip, he made me promise to go anyway. That promise was one of the many gifts he gave me to help me get through my grief journey.

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It was a gorgeous morning at Stonehenge. 

 

So I booked the trip and headed out solo. I figured if I were having a bad day I wouldn’t have to mess up anyone else’s itinerary. If I were by myself I wouldn’t have to explain why I was crying or laughing as I thought about him and wished he was there with me. And I underestimated the amount of crying I would do: saying goodbye to my dog; in the airport bar; in the boarding area; on the plane…you get the idea. I lost track of how many times I broke down in tears, but crying myself to sleep alone on our dream vacation became the norm. It’s a good thing I got over crying in public a long time ago, because there was plenty of that too.

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Glastonbury Abbey in England, reported to be the burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

 

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The beauty of getting lost is finding random art galleries down random alleys.

 

But I wasn’t really solo. Dan was there with me, watching out for me and pulling strings. I’m sure he intervened when I was able to get tickets for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, despite it being sold out for a year. And I give him full credit for the unseasonable picture perfect weather every single day that made Ireland look like the tropics! And he sent me little messages to remind me he was there and I was going to be okay.

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The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.  I’ll be back to hike the cliffs.

 

And I met amazing people, did amazing things, saw amazing things, drank (a lot) of amazing whisk(e)y, and the night before I was supposed to go to Scotland I had a full meltdown and started packing to come home. I’m not sure why that was the trigger, other than visiting Scotland was what we’d talked about the most. We both have Scottish ancestry, and there was just something about Scotland that called to us.

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I’d dreamt about Loch Lomond several months before making the trip.

 

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Dan came through with perfect weather the day we visited Loch Lomond.

 

So there I was in my hotel room a blubbering mess trying to figure out what to do. My little sister convinced me to stay, and I’m so glad she did. Scotland was magic. Somehow just crossing the border changed everything. I let go. I felt like I’d come home. It was everything I’d expected…windy, rugged, and beautiful. I’d actually dreamed about Loch Lomond a few months before taking the trip. Imagine my surprise when I got there and recognized it as the place I’d been dreaming of. And as I was standing outside in the highlands, cold wind whipping my hair around, I was laughing like a crazy woman. At that moment, I remembered. I remembered what it felt like to feel joy-pure joy! And happy. And at peace. And with hope for the future. It was like those highland winds ripped off all the grief and survivor guilt baggage I’d been carrying around and I was suddenly weightless. Dramatic, I know, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

Crazy highlands woman.
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I left my heart in the highlands.
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Clava Cairns, not far from Culloden Moor. No Outlander sightings that day, but you can go right up to the cairns and stone circle, unlike Stonehenge.

And here’s the big shocker.
I met someone!

Me. I met me without the weight of the world on my shoulders–the me that is going to not only survive but thrive in this new reality. I met the me that can cry and laugh at the same time and still enjoy life–the me that can look fear and loss in the eye and keep going. I met the me that was the wild crazy laughing woman in the highlands. And I think Dan somehow knew that would happen and that’s why he made me promise to go.

Taking this trip was terrifying, but I’m so glad I did it. And I can’t wait to go back.

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The River Spey, one of Scotland’s greatest natural assets.

 

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Edinburgh, Scotland. 

 

I’ll be back!

Table For One-The Euro Edition

In my earlier Table For One post, I discussed not waiting around for someone to invite us out.  Widowhood doesn’t mean having to hide out until you have someone to go out with. That has hangry written all over it.  I just completed our big bucket list trip in Europe and encountered a whole new table for one scenario that I couldn’t wait to share with you. Mostly because it’s so bad it’s comical. 

There are many things Europe does better than we do, but taking care of solo diners isn’t one of them. Or at least not solo female travelers who like to venture off the beaten path.  I don’t mind dining at the bar, but sometimes a W just wants to enjoy a lovely meal at an actual table. After spending three weeks across the pond, I was horrified and then amused at what would be offered. It almost became a game to see how bad it could get. My favorites include:

  • The hideous corner table where I was made to face the freaking corner like a naughty five year old.
  • The “it’s just you?” when asking for a table, followed by the big sigh.
  • The quick dragging away of the offensive “extra” chair.
  • Being ignored as soon as my food was delivered.  DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT must be part of the training manual.

Sadly, one downside of traveling solo means there was no one to capture the many WTF faces I tried very hard to control.  

As if this weren’t appetizing enough, this is where a table for one is a punishment. As a courtesy to the restaurant I won’t name them here.

There were some notable exceptions to the rule, my favorite being Hams Hame Pub and Grill just outside of St. Andrews Old Course. This lovely pub was clean and spacious and the staff was lovely.  It was all “Madam” this and “Madam” that.  Madam could sit anywhere she damn well wanted and received lots of smiles and attention by the staff.  Madam left feeling like a princess and not an outcast to be hidden away.  Madam likey. Check out Hams Hame if you are ever in St. Andrews.  Excellent food, great whisky options and a beautiful staff with amazing service.

So, my Dear W’s, keep trying until you find a place you like that makes you feel like Madam and not an embarrassment.  And remember-nobody puts baby in the corner.  Not even in Europe.

Cheers!

The Bucket List

Dan and I worked on our bucket list for years, but that work was limited to talking, dreaming, and writing it down on an actual list.  We saved, paid bills, took care of my folks, and did the responsible stuff. We didn’t start checking things off the list until our oncologist gave us a six-month deadline.   We cashed out retirement accounts and crossed as many off the list as his increasingly failing health would allow.  Don’t get me wrong, over the years we did some amazing things, just not all the things we’d dreamed about.

In the weeks and months since Dan died, I’ve taken a sabbatical from many things that were “ours” together.  I stopped going to our favorite restaurants.  I sold the dream retirement home we built.  I took a year off from cheering on the Boise State Broncos because we met at a BSU football game and that was our thing.   I’ve taken a break from all the things that have become too painful for me, even though I know he wouldn’t approve.  

My grief counselor gently advised that not doing anything we loved was about the same as erasing Dan from my life. That was unacceptable. So I made myself a promise to live the bucket list.  Some of those trips will be stateside, but many are overseas.  This is how I choose to honor his Live Now motto. This is how I choose to honor him.  And this is how I choose to honor myself.  This widow is wandering.  Look out world, here I come.

The last time I needed my passport was on our honeymoon in Belize. I never got around to changing my name. So now I have to submit our marriage certificate with the renewal. *sigh*

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