Saturday, July 23, 2016

A difficult post to make

Just did the totals for a friend who asked. Did you realize I have 14 titles with Ellora's Cave Publishing, 9 self-published titles and 4 more soon-to-be self published titles. As Mystic Shade I have 6 titles out and as CF Duprey, I have one Civil War historical. That makes 34 titles in twelve years as a published writer.

That was written one year ago today. Today’s stats are different. Today I have only five titles still with Ellora’s Cave, 13 self-published titles and 8 titles as Mystic shade. That makes 26 titles currently in publication.

You’ll notice the lower number of Ellora’s Cave titles. I’ve been struggling with going public about this for the past several months but have decided I need to let my readers know what’s happening.

Ellora’s Cave Publishing gave me my start as a published author. They took a chance on me, gave me an editor, and my career as a published author was born. In those early days, the first decade of a new century, optimism reigned. Erotic romance was hot and I sold well. Well enough that the sales encouraged me to keep writing. Hence the 34 titles mentioned above.

EC has had its share of public scandals and there have been a few missteps along the way, but it has always done me right. It’s a small press, so I got to know the women who ran the company and that was important to me. But more than once I heard the sage advice from several of those women, “Remember, EC is a company and, in the end, it will make decisions for the best of the company. You’re an author, make decisions best for you.”

Being an author means taking control of your writing, it means making the best decision for each manuscript regardless of sentimental attachment. And so, when Table for Four’s contract was up with EC, I chose to try this new venture at Amazon and Smashwords and self-publish it. That action was just the one needed to give an older title a good boost. It sold well in the first year and continues to sell a couple of copies every month.

This had been a successful experiment, so when Learning Curve also ran out of contract, based on my increase in sales for Table for Four, I chose to also take the rights back for that book and self-publish it. It also did well, although recent sales have tapered off.

Publishing is like any other business. You have to constantly stay abreast of trends and Ellora’s Cave tried to do so. They accepted other genre, tried an appeal to a different audience, held conventions for readers and authors to meet. Unfortunately, none of these things worked as well as hoped.

How do I know that? Because Ellora’s Cave stopped paying royalties.

Yes, you read that right. EC is still selling books, but not paying authors the royalties they are contracted for. The last month I received monies for was June 2015.

What does that mean? It means, for the past year Ellora’s Cave has sold my books and not paid me for them. Not one penny.

I’ve been patient. My optimism has buoyed me all this year. Every week I think, “This will be the week they pay me my back pay.” I check my sales on Novelrank (which tells me how many of my books have sold on Amazon) and I see that my books are still selling – but I’m not seeing any money from the sale of my books that Ellora’s Cave holds.

So I made the decision last week to take all my Ellora’s Cave books off my website. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to promote books that enrich others while my income has taken a huge hit. Ellora’s Cave is making decisions that are good for its business; I must make decisions that are good for mine.

This past week Ellora’s Cave sent me a reversion of rights notice for five of my titles. Three I’d asked for, the other two I did not. As of July 30th, those titles will revert to me. These, along with three others that reverted to me earlier in the spring (two of which I asked for, one of which I did not), are currently regarded as “out of print.”

That means, of those 34 titles I’ve written, only 26 of them are currently available for purchase. Ellora’s Cave still owns the rights to five of my titles, but I will no longer mention them by name. I expect I will not ever get a check from Ellora’s Cave again. My optimism has run out. I doubt I will ever get the back pay I am owed and I suspect the company I loved will soon be out of business.

It’s a Catch-22, really. To tell you to not buy my Ellora’s Cave books. If you don’t buy them, they’ll never have the money to pay me. But if you do buy them, well, the money is going to someone else. It’s the reason I have been silent for so long. I do not want to put them out of business, but, as that sage advice said, I have to make decisions based on what’s best for my business.

Over the next year, I will take time to reformat, re-edit, re-cover the eight titles that are currently out of print. My plan is to re-release one a month as self-published books. Promise for Now will release in September, Stitches in Time (featuring new content based on my recent trip to Ireland!) will release in October. A boxed set of books I’ve written with a winter theme will be released in November and will include one of the titles EC just gave me back as well as other previously published stories.

As for new work? Tied in Knots, the sequel to Tied to Home is nearly done. I’ve seen the cover and love it. My goal is to self-publish it before the end of August, so keep your eyes out!

I said in the beginning that this was a difficult post to write. Actually, it was the decision to go public about no longer promoting my Ellora’s Cave titles that was the hard part. EC took a chance on me, gave me a career, and I will not diss them because of it. Choosing to not promote the five books still with them is a decision based solely on my need to be paid for the work I have done.

This post is one of the few I will both write as a newsletter and then repost to my blog and to Facebook. I wish Ellora’s Cave well and truly hope they find their way out of the morass and back into the limelight. And not just so I get paid, but because these women have put their blood, sweat and tears into a business venture that requires constant change. They’ve launched the careers of dozens of authors and I thank them for it.

Thank you for listening and watch for the re-release of the following titles over the next year (all are currently out of print):

Secret Submission
Submission Revealed
Cabin Fever
Writers Unblocked
Promise for Now (coming in September)
Stitches in Time (coming in October)
Devil in Winter (coming in November’s boxed set)

As always, play safe.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - final thoughts

Final thoughts

Steven and Oscar in Dublin
On our last day in Scotland, we talked about the things we'd learned from this adventure. Some we already knew and the trip simply brought home the lesson more clearly. Others were brand-new learnings - like vocabulary. Oscar Wilde said (and I paraphrase) That the English and the Americans are two cultures separated by a common language.

And he's so right. No highways, but "motorways" or "divided carriageways". No waiting in lines, but keeping an orderly "queue". Several times I was asked if I wanted a "cuppa" (and I always said yes to tea) and we often went "straight on" when our GPS wanted us to follow the same road for a distance.

We learned some new Irish words as well. On the roadways, whenever you came to a curve (which was every 200 yards or so!), the word "Slow" was printed on the road's surface. On the particularly sharp curves, the words "VERY SLOW" appeared after the initial warning. And north of Galway, the words "Go Mall" were there instead. Didn't take but one curve to realize they meant "Slow your rear end down!"

Jupiter's Beard growing wild on a wall in
We learned that "failte" means Welcome and is pronounced falcha. That "cead mille failte" means a hundred thousand welcomes and that, when you get north of Galway, you better read Irish, because few of the road signs are in English. I'm very glad Amanda Bates turned me onto Duolingo - because I could read several of them!

We both learned that bed and breakfasts are better than hotels. This was one we already knew but have decided more firmly. And we now know that three nights in one place is better than two. In Scotland, where we had only two nights in each hotel, we found ourselves doing more driving and less experiencing. Staying put longer (four nights is probably even better, we'll have to give that a shot!) allows us to see more deeply, and we learned we prefer that over just a surface-level visit.

Culloden Moor
Steven learned how to drive on the left. The first half hour was the hardest but he said that, only in the last two days or so did he feel like he didn't have to be hyper alert every single second. That he could relax a little and just drive.

He also had a philosophical understanding that occurred. Standing on Culloden Moor, he was struck by the universality of suffering. That a battlefield in Scotland and a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania can have the same solemnity because of the blood spilt. It isn't only war, however, that creates the suffering. He got the same vibration in Pompeii. But during this trip, he started to put it all together.

As for me? I learned that I like haggis. Really! I would eat it again. I learned that I pack well. Could've done with swapping a short sleeve for another long-sleeved shirt but other than that? I think I've got this down.

Speaking of down, I now know I have to plan a down day every so often. About every five is a good number. And by "down day" I mean a day where nothing is on the agenda other than maybe a stroll (not even a walk - a stroll!) and reading a good book or having conversations in pubs with strangers.

Printed on the streets of Dublin to remind
tourists which way the traffic comes from!
I learned that being a passenger in a car driving in the left lane takes more than two weeks to get used to, even after Steven got comfortable.

I learned to bring paper maps. Lots and lots of paper maps.

And I learned, or rather re-learned, that I like traveling with Steven. He gives me good adventures, sometimes when I'm hesitant to take them. I like to allow room for serendipity and so does he; we make a good team.

I will close this reflection with the words neither of us will ever forget from our driving adventures in Ireland and Scotland, the words Steven heard me utter over and over again, usually in panic as the stone walls and hedges of the roadside came too near. But it makes a philosophical statement as well. And so...farewell and

"Watch yer left!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Days 15 & 16

Day 15 - Words of the Day: Solemn, Impulsive,

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 went down over Lockerbie, Scotland. On board were several students from Syracuse University who were returning from a semester abroad. Among them were several of Steven’s friends.

I knew our visit today to Lockerbie would be emotional; what I didn’t expect was that it would be emotional for me. I remember the night we heard the news – we were living in Waterloo, both finishing up our Master’s degrees. Up until that moment, every incident of terrorism was apart from us. It didn’t touch us in any personal way.

And then it did. We knew people who had died at the hands of terrorists. The world had shifted.

Such a place of peace...
The Garden of Remembrance is a beautiful place on top of a hill. The sun was out today and a breeze kept us from getting too warm. We met some two couples from Carlisle who remembered seeing the explosion and the resulting damage. They had been driving by and simply stopped to pay their respects. I’m not sure that they weren’t angels sent when we needed them.

There is a cottage at the entrance to the cemetery that gives the history of Lockerbie. It also houses the Book of Names, one page for each person who was killed. The docent inside told us a great deal about what happened on the ground and showed us a quilt that was made at the 20th anniversary to commemorate the event. It’s quite beautiful and holds a great deal of symbolism.

So a heavy morning. Very emotional for both of us.

Now remember, this is Steven’s day entirely. He gets to pick what happens next. I have to give him a huge shoutout and a big thank you for choosing to drive a bit further – we went to England!

Yep. We were only 20 miles or so from the border and there are no border crossings between Scotland and England, so we went on down the motorway with the intent to find a place for lunch. I mentioned that Hadrian’s Wall should be close by, so we put it into the GPS, found a nearby Roman fort and Steven said, “Let’s go!”

Hadrian's Wall where it meets the old Roman fort
So off we went, traveling on country lanes to find our way to this ancient fort that brought a certain poetry to our trip. Last year we started our trip in Rome and this year we ended our trip here with a visit to a wall and fort built by Romans.

The fort commands a wide view of the valleys on either side. Most of the structure doesn’t exist any more, just foundations. The wall is also far shorter than its original fifteen feet high. Over the years locals (and some not so local) took advantage of the already-quarried stones and used them to build their own houses and castles. Now it’s only four feet high – at least along the section we viewed today.

The escarpment that will one day
swallow the fort

And in another hundred or so years, the fort will be lost. There’s an escarpment that’s creeping closer and it’s expected to swallow the ruin sometime in the future. Glad we saw it when we did.

Took the scenic drive back to the hotel and stopped in a small town for lunch in a café that was tucked down a side street in a little alcove. Good lunch of ham and egg quiche (for me) and a hamburger (for Steven). Then back on the road and arrived at the hotel shortly after 5:00.

"Welcome to Scotland" sign
- might as well have been
going from one state to the next!
Early start tomorrow – our flight leaves Glasgow at 8:30 in the morning. Next stop, Toronto!

Day 16 - Flying home!

Got up at 4:30 this morning to be out of the hotel and on the road by five. No trouble getting to the airport in Glasgow although finding the key drop turned into a mini-adventure of its own.

Boarded and taxied for at least 20 minutes. How do I know that? 'Cause I glanced at my watch and promptly fell asleep. Woke up and asked Steven if we were airborne yet. Nope. Dozed a bit more and then woke up for the liftoft. Been awake ever since.

We passed over Greenland on our way home!
I will tell you, Toronto's Pearson airport is a LOT nicer to get through when you're not stuck in a wheelchair. No issues getting our bags (we checked them for the flight home. No hurries this time) or finding the car. Walked right to that puppy without hardly a hesitation. All we had to do was put the ticket in the machine on the way out, pay up and head for home.

Except I couldn't find the ticket. Steven thought I had it, I thought he had it. A frantic search of the car and all our bags yielded nothing. A girl drove past and backed up, wanting our spot. Steven told her we were looking for our parking slip and she said that, if we went to the ticket booth downstairs with our boarding passes from the first day, they'd charge from there.

Those I had. So we drove down, found the customer service area -- totally unmanned. Closed up with only two machines where you can put your card and pay in advance. BUT! Steven found a button to push for assistance. The woman on the other end was very kind and acted as if this happened every day. I suppose in an airport that size, it might.

Anyway, the charge was high, although still low enough that it made financial sense to fly out of Toronto instead of Rochester. We saved about $800 doing it this way.

Didn't turn my phone on until we crossed the border - which was very uneventful. That's always a good thing. When I turned it on, it lit up with a bunch of messages. Called my parents to let them know we were back and texted the kids to let them know we were on our way.

Stopped at Byrne Dairy to pick up milk (since we made sure we'd used up all we had before we left) and I switched to drive the last bit home. Why? Because I wanted Steven to be in the passenger side when we pulled in.

You see, unbeknownst to him, while we were away, the kids painted the garage as a Father's Day gift. At first when we pulled into the driveway, he thought what was different was the fact that the side garden had been cleaned out (which it had). Only on a second look did he realize the garage had a new coat of paint.

Now ready to collapse, although I'm trying to stay up as long as possible so the jet lag isn't bad. But it's now 8:30 PM Eastern and I've been up since 11:30 last night. So closing this adventure for the moment... Good night and love to all!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Day 14

Day 14 - Fort William, the Jacobite train and Loch Lomond -- ALL of Loch Lomond

The word for this morning and afternoon is Serendipity. 

The word for the evening is Frustration.

All Aboard!
No breakfast this morning; we needed to leave by 7:30 and, on Sundays, the hotel didn’t start serving until 8:00. We shrugged it off and headed out for Fort William and The Jacobite train – the very same train and route used for the Hogwarts Express in all the Harry Potter films. I’d gotten the tickets months ago. The first class seats (like the ones Harry and friends ride in) were sold out even then, but we got comfortable seats in what, in the US, would be called a dining car – two seats facing a shared table.

Steven got us hot chocolates as we waited for the train, and a shortbread covered in toffee to munch on. Soon we were on board, facing front, excited for the adventure we were about to take.

Barbara and me (in red and purple)
Because there are only the two of us and the train is sold out by this time, we knew we’d be facing two strangers. I’m pretty shy; thank goodness Steven isn’t. A couple about our age slid in across from us and within minutes we were gabbing away like old friends. Truly! They were wonderful people (she’s a librarian; he’s an accountant and a train fanatic – an anorak they are called; volunteers to wear those bulky coats and clock the trains to make sure they’re on time). At one point she and I were discussing various authors and I gave her my card.

Well. She got all flustered for several minutes. She’s read two of my books! I was floored. We had a great laugh about it and I signed the back of the card for her. We took a picture together, too. J

So it was a nice boost to my ego and cemented our friendship. From then on, the four of us chatted and took pictures of the scenery and had a great time. We separated in Mallaig for our hour and a half stay there, then met up again in seats on the opposite side of the train for the ride back to Fort William (this way now they were facing forward – and we got to see the views on the other side returning).

I loved the apparent chaos and colors of these nets!
Mallaig is a very small town on the Irish Sea side of Scotland. Its economy is mostly from tourists and the fishing boats. For lunch I had fresh prawns – the first time ever I’d eaten prawns. I always thought it was just another name for shrimp – but they’re smaller. They were wonderful. A lot of work to get to, but tasty to eat! Steven isn’t a seafood kind of guy, but he tried the Coronation Chicken – which had a sauce on it very different from anything he’d ever had before.

By the way, I need to go back and add to yesterday’s entry: at lunch yesterday in Inverness, I ordered haggis, neeps and tatties as an appetizer. It’s just a small portion of what is usually a larger meat. I’ve been wanting to try it, but didn’t want to order a whole portion and then not like it. So this was the perfect opportunity.

Suffice it to say, I LOVE haggis. It’s just sausage with some really cool spices. Neeps are mashed rutabagas and tatties are, of course, potatoes. If I could get it in the States, I’d have it a lot!

Back to today.

So we had a great time on the train. Serendipity came into play in our meeting two wonderful people and in getting to eat a new food (prawns and Coronation chicken). Next stop – East Kilbride and our hotel.

Loch Lomond
We did really well coming along the A82. Absolutely stunning scenery, including a beautiful glen, and then another and another and another. The rain had started but it only made them more beautiful, the mountain tops slowly being veiled by the lowering clouds. We stopped to take many pictures, none of which will do the sight justice.

About a half an hour from our hotel, we hit a stop. The road ahead was closed because of a fatal accident. This is a road that dips and turns as it follows the coastline of Loch Lohman – a road with very narrow lane and no shoulder on either side.

There was no clear detour, so we chose a direction at the road closed part and found a restaurant not too far down. Serendipity again – we’d been driving for two hours and here was food and a break when we needed it. Our waiter was a Chris Hemsworth look alike and wore a kilt. Yum! We stayed for an hour, hoping the detour would be open when we finished.

It wasn’t. The road had been closed since half one (1:30) and it was now nearly six. We can only imagine what they had to do to fix the road. Our prayers are with all those involved.

One part of a beautiful glen we discovered on the
eastern side of Loch Lomond
Of course, this meant our hotel was now a lot further away because we had to go down the other side of the loch. Now mind you, we were less than a mile from the southern end of the lake at the detour and going around meant going all the way back that winding road to the north end and coming back down through Stirling. Yes, that means we traveled all the way around the circumference of Loch Lomond. 

Once more we got to within a half an hour of our hotel and got a message that there was a traffic problem ahead. We decided to listen to her (female voice GPS) and followed the new detour. It added only five minutes to our trip, so we’re good. At this point we’re tired and having to work at finding the positive, but we’re managing.

And then she tells us to get off the motorway onto a ramp that doesn’t exist.

It USED to exist, but is currently under construction and is just a pile of dirt. We spend nearly an hour driving in circles trying to find our way to some spot that will get us moving in the right direction. By now Steven’s been driving for over three hours (thank goodness the sun sets late and while its raining, it isn’t dark) and the Word of the Day has changed to Frustrated. I think if we had to go around one more roundabout we were both going to be carsick.

Nerves were frayed, tempers short and the positive had been left at the last roundabout by the time we finally found the hotel. We got checked in, took our bags up through a serpentine maze of stairs, doors and turns for no reason, getting lost not once but twice trying to find the damn room.

But find it we did. In silence we entered. Steven took his bag over to his side of the bed and left it, dropping on the bed in exhaustion. I left my bag, kicked off my shoes and plopped next to him, intending to give him a hug and apologize for being snappish. But we made the mistake of looking each other in the eye and it was all over for both of us. The chuckled turned to unrestrained, uncontrollable laughter that didn’t stop until both of us had tears in our eyes and were gasping for breath.

Yes, it had been a crappy end to a beautiful start but heck! We were in freaking Scotland!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Days 12 & 13

Day 12 - Travel Day!

Left the hotel by taxi at 9:15. We’d originally planned to walk the 1.5 miles to the car rental but after yesterday’s half-marathon, we decided the taxi was the better option. Got to see the statue to Sherlock Holmes, which is a surprising thing to find in Edinburgh. But it stands near the spot where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It’s relatively new, having been erected in 1991 and stands right across the street from the car rental.

Some misunderstanding about what we’d ordered, however. The clerk didn’t have us down for a GPS unit or for extra insurance. When we’d made arrangements for this trip with Linda, we’d asked for both in both countries. Had it in Ireland, but it was left off the Scotland rental. Steven gave him the credit card and added both pieces. We’ll talk to Linda about it when we get back.

We ended up with an onboard GPS unit and for once I’m glad to have it. I haven’t been able to find a decent roadmap of Scotland and hoped Hertz would give us one as they did in Ireland, but no luck. Just what I printed out from Google before we left. So good on the GPS.

Camelot...or rather, Swamp Castle. Or is that Castle Anthrax?
No, wait! It's Castle Leoch!
Took an hour to get to Doune Castle and, once there, Steven giggled the entire time. This was a highlight for him. Why? Because it was the shooting location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the audio tour is narrated by Terry Jones. Lots of audio clips from the movie tossed in among the history of the actual castle. Built in the Middle Ages (around 1250) it is the oldest building we’ve visited on this occasion. Only the standing stones at Lough Gur are older.

This courtyard should look VERY familiar to
Outlander fans!
As for me, Doune Castle has a different movie connotation: it is the shooting location for Castle Leoch in the Outlander series. To make it even better, there are certain parts of the audio tour that have been added specially for the Outlander fans – read by Sam Heughan himself. So the castle was a hit with both of us. J

Back on the road again. Still two and a half hours away from our next hotel. Took a bit longer than that because of road construction and because the A9 is actually more like Rt. 15 used to be: a two-lane road interspersed between several divided highway sections. So lots of slowdowns and the constant checking to figure out what kind of a road we were on. And, like Ireland, the two-lane sections had little to no shoulders. So a slow ride north to Inverness.

But we arrived safely and are now in the Highlands! The hotel is pretty classy (but no upgrade this time) and we had dinner in their dining room this evening, mostly because we’re both too tired to get back in the car and drive into the city. Expensive and classy with nouveau cuisine. Interesting experience to have in the Highlands of Scotland.

Day 13 - a solemn start, a frustrating middle and an exhausted finish...

Inverness and environs day. We started out for Culloden Moor, not sure what we’d feel when we got there. This wasn’t our battle. We have no relatives who fought here, no nationalistic ties, not even much in the way of knowledge about the battle.

Culloden monument
But as we walked the battlefield, listening to the explanations on our audio guides, Steven came to understand just how ubiquitous war is – and how hallowed the ground becomes when the blood of so many seeps into it. We spent quite a bit of time comparing it to Gettysburg and our experiences there, where you can feel the dead still lurking on the field.

And the battle tactics weren’t all that different from Gettysburg, either. Pickett’s Charge was across an open expanse with no cover – and all uphill. Those who did manage to make it to the top were tired and not fighting at their best. The Jacobite Charge across Culloden Moor was long, with no cover and through bogs and water up to their knees. Highlanders came yelling all the way, expending energy they really needed to save for the actual fight. I spent a great deal of time wondering why they charged at all. The distance between the two armies was considerable. Why not wait for the British to come to them?

In any case, it was a moving experience and we left the battlefield with a new appreciation for peace.

cairns and one smaller one. Some may have been used for burials, but mostly they were for ceremonial purposes. The roof has long since caved in on all of them; archeologists have removed those caved-in rocks to allow examination of the insides. You can walk through the entrance “hall” into the inner chamber now.
One of the larger cairns
Clava Cairns was just a few miles down the road in a small dell. We had to take a rather winding single-lane road to get there, our narrowest yet, but Steven’s getting to be a pro at this. There are three large

Each cairn, once it was closed by the builders, had a ring of standing stones placed around the outside. One of these is cleft in two and is the inspiration for the stone Claire Beauchamp Randall steps through in Outlander. While Crag na Dun is fictitious, Clava Cairns is not and we took a lot of pictures.

Into the city of Inverness for exploration and lunch. By now it was nearly noon. The city is larger than I thought, probably about as big as Binghamton, NY (I had figured about Geneva size. Quite a difference.). We parked in a parking garage – another new driving experience for Steven! Exploring the city center on foot was far easier – and it upped my steps for the day (just over 10K for me today).

Every place we stopped in, however, was full with no tables available. It was after 1:30 before we found a place that had space. Steven asked the maître‘d why the crowd and he told us Rod Stewart was in town. He has a concert in Inverness tonight and people had come early to make a day of it.
After lunch, we headed down to Loch Ness. We really weren’t going to take one of those tourist-trap cruises, but the sun is shining for the first time since coming to Scotland and we couldn’t resist. Too nice a day to stay on shore.

Luck was with us and we went out with a pilot from the Loch Ness Project. This is a group that, since the late 1960’s, has investigated every sighting to determine if there is a monster or not in the lake. While he never said so, the pilot is pretty sure there is not. He even had a sighting himself that, twenty years later, they figured out using advanced methods of photography. It seems there is a formation the ducks make that, at times and in certain lights, can look like a serpentine monster with a humped back. But it’s just ducks.

Our only sunny day in Scotland. Hubby and I on
Loch Ness
And that we saw. A single duck came over to the boat to say hello. We called her/him Nessie and were satisfied we’d seen the “monster.” As I said, it was a gorgeous day to be out on the lake and we felt privileged to be taken out by such an authority (He’s done several dives deep into the lake with the project and knew a huge amount about the various natural phenomena that masquerade as Nessie).

The broom represents Culloden, the
stone is from Clava Cairns
By now we were ready to go back to the hotel and decompress. We saw a lot while here and tomorrow is another travel day. If we ever do this again, I’m going to stick with three nights in each place (at least) rather than two. Steven is painting – the broom is in full bloom here and is spectacular and I am journaling.

Oh! This is the furthest north we’re going this trip – I checked but it’s not the furthest north I’ve ever been (that honor still belongs to Fairbanks). However, the sun will set at 10:19 this evening and rise again tomorrow at 4:18 AM. While that sounds like six hours of darkness, it isn’t. The sky never gets totally dark. I’ve crossed two items off my list of Things to Do Before I Die: go to Ireland and see the sun not set. Yay!

Early bedtime tonight because tomorrow is Harry Potter Day!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Days 10 & 11

Day 10 - Goodbye, Ireland but hello, Scotland!

Sad day today – we had to say goodbye to Ireland. Truly, I loved our visit here. Our hosts, Mary and Tom, at Cnoc Breac have been wonderful and, remote as it is, there is a wildness about the Atlantic coast that speaks to both of us.

And yet, all is not lost. Today we also head for another country, another adventure! We left the B&B around 8:45 this morning and took the N59 back down to Galway. One of my concerns for this leg was getting through the city since, last time, it was congested with heavy traffic. But I needn’t have worried. Yes, we hit some traffic, but not nearly as bad as a few days ago.

Really the only original part of the
fort in Athlone.
We stopped in Athlone for two reasons: one to visit the castle and our primary reason: for lunch. Because it was just a bit before 11:00, we decided to visit the castle first and then eat.

I’m afraid it was a bit of disappointment. The round tower is still there, along with the battlements, but the displays inside didn’t tell the story I wanted to hear. Unlike the museum housing the Book of Kells, this display didn’t quite hit it.

And disappointed in lunch as well. We passed over half a dozen pubs – all closed. By this point it was noon, so we decided just to get back on the M6 and eat at the airport.

No trouble finding the Hertz drop-off point or the shuttle to take us to the terminal. We waited to eat until we got through security and had pizza on the other side (somehow we just couldn’t bring ourselves to eat at the huge Burger King). We were quite early for our flight, but I’m glad we had time to spare. No stress!

 Short flight – only a little over an hour. But we got off late by 15 minutes, so landed late.

And then it got…interesting.

No one with a placard with our name on it when we got through the maze that leads to the lobby (by the way, didn’t have to go through customs because we came from another European country. Yay on the speed, pouting because no Scottish stamp on my passport). We waited for several minutes, then Steven borrowed a phone from another driver awaiting passengers and called the number on our voucher.

He was told we were in the wrong place, that we had to go across to the car park. So we did. No one there with a placard, either. Back to a different waiting area. Steven called again and the person on the other end said she’d have the company call us direct. A few minutes later, his phone rang – we were close when we were in the car park. We just had to go around another corner and across several lanes of traffic to get to the booth where drivers were assigned.

Our fancy digs in Edinburgh!
But we’re here now and the doorman called us by name. We must be the last people to check in tonight. The woman at reception (whom I think is French) told us we’d gotten an upgrade and so we’re on a private floor and need to use our key in the elevator to get up here. The room is large, elegant and sinfully luxurious. Loving it!

Not doing anything else tonight. Long day. Tomorrow is the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat and whatever else we can cram in. We’re in Edinburgh, Scotland!

Day 11 - Edinburgh

It’s now 5:30 and I have logged over 20,000 steps. That’s ten miles. Steven has a few more than me because he went to the gym this morning and ran two kilometers on the treadmill. Silly him!

The breakfast at the hotel is a decent Continental breakfast with various Danishes, cold cereals, “lunch” meats, and toast. If you want something more, there’s a charge. After the past three days of Irish breakfasts, we decided we were fine with the Continental. An Irish breakfast, btw, consists of at least two slices of bacon (which resides in a middle ground between Canadian and American bacons – half is Canadian and half American), two or three links of pork sausage (which I didn’t like – too mushy in texture), a slice of black pudding and a slice of white pudding (I preferred the white over the black but the black wasn’t awful. Steven didn’t like either), a half of roasted tomato and a coddled egg (which is over easy in America). If you were keeping count, that’s four meats, a vegetable and an egg.

Clock on the Royal Mile -
notice the nearly-empty
So you can see why we were ready for a lighter breakfast! We ate and headed out and up the Royal Mile. We’re near the bottom of it and, for those who don’t know, entirely uphill from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. And feels longer than a mile.

We knew we were early – it was only 8:30 – but we headed out anyway. It was actually fun, since mostly the only people out at that time were the delivery men (and women) and people on their way to work. Few tourists.

Steven by Mons Meg - that cannon is HUGE!
But we found those when we got to the Castle at the top. By now it was nearly 9:00 but they wouldn’t even let the queue form until 9:30. So we went in search of the Writer’s Museum, which we found tucked away in the Lady Stair’s Close, and which wasn’t open yet, either. Back to the top of the hill.

By now it was almost time, so we just waited. We were among the first in and boy, am I glad. We walked around, skipped the museums and looked at everything else, including the biggest cannon I’d ever seen. The Crown Jewels of Scotland are housed there and we ended up going into the exhibit from the end by accident. I’m glad we did, though. The story was told from the Stone of Destiny through the various iterations of the “Honors” as the jewels are called. By the time we reached the vault to see the actual items, we had a good idea of what they were and what they mean to Scotland.

Looking through the Lady Stair Close
to the Writer's Museum
Back to the Writer’s Museum for a visit. It’s free and dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. A lot of the first and third, not much for the second. But there was a third floor we didn’t get to, so he might’ve been up there. Again, spiral staircases that were narrow and steep. Coming down from the second floor was a big sign to watch for the “Thieves’ Step” or the “Burglar’s Step.” Homeowners deliberately made one step higher than all the others. Everyone in the family knew which one it was, burglars didn’t. Any thieves that broke in would, theoretically, trip on the uneven stair, making their presence known. Must’ve worked because several of the houses in the Old Town have them.

St. Giles - you can see it was a rainy day
Along the Royal Mile is St. Giles Cathedral. It’s a Presbyterian church that’s VERY old and absolutely beautiful. Still active today, it is open for visitors so we went in.

We wandered around admiring the architecture and some of the more modern liturgical art when I got a nosebleed. I get them now and again but I’m thinking this one was because I’m a Catholic in a Presbyterian church. J

There was a children’s choir practicing in the center opposite the pulpit. They were quite good and I sat to listen and Steven wandered a bit more. After a few minutes more of practice, they sang “How Can I Keep From Singing” in its entirety. With the gorgeous acoustics, the notes reverberated and amplified beautifully. What a treat!

The song ended and Steven came back to where I was sitting, a huge grin on his face. I thought it was about the music and it was, but not in the way I thought. He’d met one of the parents of the kids singing – turns out they’re a choir from a church in Texas on a European tour. They’d just gotten to Edinburgh and had a concert in a half an hour. But the best part? The man Steven spoke to, who was about our age, went to East High School. In Rochester, New York! He grew up in the Corn Hill area, though, so he was a product of the busing solution tried then to desegregate the schools.

Talk about a small world! To go five thousand miles and meet someone from my old neighborhood.

Time for lunch! Walked down the Royal Mile and bypassed several restaurants that offered full meals. We’re still thinking we need to eat lighter today. Found a place called the “Filling Station” – serving American food. Wings, hamburgers, and wraps along with club sandwiches. So yes, we ate an American lunch in Edinburgh, Scotland. And it was good.

Back to the hotel to regroup and drop off a package (I found a wool wrap for myself). Not there long before we were off to Arthur’s Seat.

Hard to believe you're in the middle of a city!
Arthur’s Seat is this hill that’s at the other end of the Old City of Edinburgh from the Castle. It’s behind Holyrood Palace and legend paints it as a possible place for Camelot (which, sorry Scotland, I don’t buy. But you’re entitled to wishful thinking). It’s an extinct volcano and I wasn’t going to let that stop me from getting to the top.

After a false start on the wrong path (that was far steeper than I could manage for long), we found the right one and started around the Salisbury Crags. Easy-peasy. We walked for ten minutes, though, and realized the final leg was going to be VERY steep. Steven’s stomach had started giving him rumblings, too, so we made the decision to say, “Today, this is far enough.”

The Abbey ruins at
Holyrood Palace, the Royal apartments when the Royals are in town, is at the base of the hill right beside the ruins of an old Abbey. There were two parts to see, the Queen’s Gallery and the Palace itself (including the ruins). The Gallery hosts special exhibits of paintings from the royal collection; currently they’re showing several Dutch Masters, including a Vermeer. Spent over an hour in there, partly because we happened on a tour group that was being given a special lecture on one of the paintings. Of course, we stood in the back and listened. He gave a marvelous critique of the painting by Pieter de Hooch and I wasn’t even bored!

From there we headed to the Palace. The King’s Rooms, the Queen’s Rooms, separated by the Gallery – all quite impressive. Today when the Royal Family visit, they stay on the third floor rather than the second, however, so these rooms are museum pieces. Except for the Gallery. This is still a functioning State Room (knighthoods are dispensed here, for example).

The highlight of the tour is visiting Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedroom. Good history told through the audio guide, so I was looking forward to it. But we got hung up in the Queen’s Bedroom below her chambers. The room kept filling, but the warden at the door wasn’t letting anyone through (Really. The docents are called wardens). We stood for nearly ten minutes before we were told to go back a different way to go up to the chamber.

When we got there, we realized why. Off behind the red ropes was a tourist with an icepack on her head. The stairs we didn’t take were a spiral staircase with uneven steps. I’m sure she tripped and hit her head. I felt her pain. She was in good hands, though and, with any luck, will only come away with an egg on her head and nothing broken!

Our guides on the pub crawl
Back to the hotel for a break before our pub crawl. Never been on one before. This was a performance as well as a move from pub to pub. We started at The Beehive, a pub just down the way from Robert Burn’s apartments when he lived in the city. Two guys, one taking on the role of the upper class, the other of the lower, telling the story of several famous Scottish writers. It was highly entertaining and we walked about two miles on the tour, plus a mile to it and a mile back. All together, I’ve walked about 12 miles today! No wonder I’m tired.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Ireland & Scotland - Days 8 & 9

Day 8 - a dream comes true

When I first started teaching in 1979, I saw a picture and fell in love with the place. Didn’t know what it was or where, but it took my breath away. A gray-white castle with a green mountain backdrop, the reflection of both gazing upward from a lake so still it might’ve been a mirror.

I kept that picture for my entire teaching career, using it in writing exercises as a visual prompt many times. Sometime later, a few years after I obtained the picture, I discovered the name and the location of such a beautiful spot. And today I went there.

Kylemore Abbey
and yes, I took this picture!
Kylemore Abbey started as a private residence, was sold then lost in a gambling bet, and eventually became the home of the Irish Benedictine nuns, who promptly started a school for girls that existed until 2010. At that point, they had to close the school because the repairs needed were far more than they could afford.

The nuns still live there, but as more and more tourists discovered the beauty of the Connemara Mountains, they opened their property to visitors and the admission fees keep the place in good shape. I doubt there will ever be a school there again, but I stood on the shore and looked across the lake at the castle that has entranced me for years. Another circle in my life has closed and that makes me feel quite contented.

It rained off and on while we visited, mostly just misting. We walked the walled Victorian Garden, which is set off from the kitchen gardens by a stream surrounded by trees and bushes. The kitchen gardens are in two parts and those are separated by the longest formal border in Ireland. Why? So the high and mighty Victorian Lord and Lady (and the later owners, a Duke and Duchess – you know, the Duke who lost the property in a gambling bet) wouldn’t have to watch the lowly workers out harvesting the vegetables that would later be served to them in the dining room by servants expected to blend into the background.

Oops. Letting my egalitarian attitude show through there…

We left Kylemore in our first downpour. We’d planned to hike in the Connemara National Forest (which used to belong to the Abbey, but they sold it off in the 30’s to raise money – and to preserve the land), but the rain deterred us. Hard to climb a mountain when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you.

So we went to Clifden instead and did some shopping. Walked around the downtown area and bought a few souveniers. Steven got some ice cream. We’d eaten at the Tea House in the Victorian gardens at Kylemore Abbey, so I wasn’t hungry. Plus we’d bought some fudge and I’d had a piece of that in the car.

The tide is nearly out - that's Omey Island to the back
Omey Island was on our way back to the B&B and we were close to low tide, so we took a detour. I’d read about it online – at low tide, the ocean leaves a strand—a stretch of open land that’s underwater at high tide. This one is very wide and you can even drive your car across it to reach the island. Since low tide was still about a half an hour away, we didn’t attempt the crossing by car, but got out and walked it on foot. Glad we didn’t try. The ocean hadn’t completely receeded, leaving a stretch of about forty feet across and a foot deep. We watched a couple cars give it a shot and each made it over, but it was close for a few of them. The sand keeps shifting in the water and it just grabs at the wheels, not letting them necessarily turn in the direction you want. Better to use foot power!

On our way back to the B&B we saw a sign for Cleggan and decided to go that way rather than all the way back to Clifden and out again. Let’s just say it’s a good thing the Lord watches over fools and tourists.

Yes, this is an actual road. Not a driveway.
I’m posting a picture of the “road” we ended up on. When it became obvious this wasn’t going anywhere but to the ocean, we turned around and headed inland. Took another road – that was better but still not right. Came to a T intersection and there was a young man unloading a car in a driveway. Steven stopped and asked how to get to Cleggan. I was so proud of him!

Anyway, the young man pointed in the direction we should take and said, “About three miles that way.” Interesting that they measure in miles here. He’s not the first to use that measurement. The signs are all in kilometers. In any case, we tooled along for less than a mile and the road again came to a T. So much for the kid’s directions.

We both agreed on a direction and drove some more. These are barely roads, you have to realize. Mom and Dad will remember Wayne Place? This road was narrower. Not even a driveway width.

But we kept going, sure we were headed correctly and soon we came around a curve and I saw the B&B on the opposite hill. The road dipped down, curved a few more times and sure enough, came up at the foot of the lane that runs to our home for the next two nights. Yay!

There was a great deal Steven wanted to paint today but the rain made it impossible. He’s now sitting in the living room with a table covered in newspapers as he paints from a picture on his cell phone. I’m finishing here and I think we’ll go back to Oliver’s – the pub in the village where we ate last night—and have dinner. I just might have to get the Hack again.

Later -

Ended up at the Pier Pub. Good food, I couldn’t finish the cod because it was such a large piece. But service was very, very slow…

We’re for bed, even though the sun is still up. Long days here – and it doesn’t get full dark because we’re so far north. :)

Day 9 - Down time

Late start this morning. Breakfast at 8:00 as always, but we’re taking it slow today. We’re tired. Been doing a lot of walking over the past week! So just a walk along the lane this morning.

This cow watched us until we took our picture with her.
Only then did she lose interest.
Oh, and its raining...can you tell?
Just a walk along the lane. Right. This is Ireland, not walking the Ontario Pathway. Cows to the left, Connemara ponies to the right…here I am, stuck in the middle with Steven. I can’t think of a better place to be. J

So there’s this island just across the way – there’s a ferry goes over twice a day and comes back twice a day. It leaves here at 11:30 and 4:00 and comes back at 1:30 and 5:00. The island is Inishbofin and has a rich history of conquest and piracy. We’d decided to take the early ferry over and spend the afternoon.

Except I’m exhausted. Couldn’t figure out why and then realized, on all previous vacations I plan in a “down” day – a day to do absolutely nothing. At Disney World, that means spending the day swimming in the pool (Steven and the kids) and doing laundry (me in the air conditioning). For a cruise, that’s built in as an “at sea” day.

But this time around, I forgot that. For each place we’re staying, I drew up a list of possible things to but very few of them were must-sees. Glenquin Castle, Kylemore Abbey and the Cliffs of Moher were on the must-see list – everything else has allowed for seredipty. Inishbofin is serendipity.

But marriage doesn’t mean having to do absolutely everything together. While we both enjoy it more when we can share it with each other, the reality is, sometimes we need to do our own thing. So Steven’s on his way to Inishbofin and I’m staying at Cnoc Breac to write and relax. He’ll be back on the 5:00 ferry with tons of stories (and at least one painting, I’m sure) and we’ll go together to dinner, both of us refreshed in our own ways.

Later –

What a wonderfully relaxing afternoon! I wrote about 1200 words on a new story and then read a Regency romance all afternoon. Shortly after noon, Tom (our host) came in and lit a peat fire in the small stove here in the living room (the lounge, to be more accurate). Just after that, Mary (our hostess) stopped in and asked if I’d like some tea and a sandwich. I didn’t want to put them out, but she insisted it was no trouble at all, so I had a ham and tomato sandwich and two cups of Irish tea. Marvelous afternoon to sit curled up in a huge comfy chair watching the rain and wind outside the window.

I told Steven he should be able to charge more for this
painting because, you see those white specks? That's real
Irish rain that washed his paint away as he tried to
Because yes, it rained most of the day. Steven came home soaked, but having painted two new pieces while on Inishbofin. He made a wonderful post about it, so I won’t repeat it here.

Off to Oliver’s for dinner again. Then “home” for a quiet evening. We’ll pack tonight because tomorrow we leave early and head for Dublin to catch the plane to Edinburgh!