I got out of the car to swing wide the cattle gate, allowing our car passage up the narrow mountain road. There was no sign to greet us, only “leave the gate as you found it” posted on a wooden placard beside the road. I slid the pin back into place, and we resumed our circuitous route into the hills.
After countless passive sheep and threatening potholes, the road gave up, ending at a signpost reading “Carrowkeel” but providing no hints as to which way to go from there. We pulled off into the mud, and after a few false starts set off up the windswept hills, assuming the tombs (like so many others in Ireland) would be on the highest ground. Carrowkeel. An ancient, sacred site, consisting of some 14 prehistoric passage tombs.
As we crested the hill, the first tomb came into view, first as a mound of rubble, then slowly taking shape before our eyes as a low, dark doorway came into view.
We lay onto our bellies and crawled on hands and knees across damp, ancient stone through the narrow passageways into the ancient tomb. We entered one, then another, amazed at the precision with which they were built, and at the honor of being trusted to enter here–unsupervised by government or park officials–to do no harm.
Constructed some 5,000 years ago, little is known of the Neolithic people who honored their ancestors in these elaborate tombs. This site, like so many in Ireland is not a museum. There is no entry fee, no glossy booklet revealing the secrets of what lies beneath these stones, no shiny visitor center to help decode your experience.
Just us, the sheep, and a rutted two-track winding up the mountain side.
And crawling through the mud into this portal through the eons? It was quiet, contemplative, melancholic, and huge. To see time strung out behind and before us, and wonder at what we will leave behind as our own confusing, yet I hope somehow sacred legacy.
What an honor to hold silent space here, in this sacred intersection of history, ritual, and the vast expanse of time.
When we take long trips like this one, we largely focus on free experiences. Because four to six weeks of paid entries would crush our budget in a hurry. So we spend our time exploring roadside ruins, hidden ancient sites, mossy forest trails, and other free-to-see locations and experiences.
Despite this strict and mindful budget, we did have a small fund set aside for memorable experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
My choice? Taking a ferry, then renting bikes for the day for exploring one of the Aran Islands. Indeed, it was a highlight of the trip for me. By the time time we caught the ferry back to Ireland proper, my face hurt from smiling. So much fun.
A priority on everyone else’s list: surf lessons.
Both Pete and Sage wanted to surf the last time we were in Ireland, but stormy seas caused by the leftovers of a tropical hurricane scuttled their hopes. This time, the weather was gorgeous, we had the time, and even Lupine was in.
So we aimed our rental car to the nearest waves, asked a few locals at a parent-child surf club who they would recommend we hire to teach us, then connected with Seamus McGoldrick (Sligo Surf Experience) for a couple of hours of surf lessons.
I opted to watch from the beach to capture a few photos of their adventure, and set this experience aside as one for Pete to share alone with the kids.
They spent the morning practicing on the sand, then raced to the sea to try out their new skills. And they had a blast.
I’m not sure when I’ve seen these three work and play so hard, smile so big, or sleep so deeply as they did after yesterday’s adventure. And now all three (of these landlocked midwesterners) are dreaming of the next wave.
I love the notion of the nutrients and minerals of this place are becoming a part of our very bones.
Our bodies are quietly growing blood and muscle and tissue from this very land, building us of this place before we leave for familiar soil once more.
By foraging, we’re taking Ireland–and Iceland before it–into our bodies where it will linger for so much longer than the sweet or sour or bitter taste on our tongues, weaving its essence into our cells through the magical dance of biology.
We’ll carry it with us for years. This place, in our own bones.
Since departing the Midwest in late August, we have foraged and consumed (and thereby made a part of us) crow berries, lady’s mantle, meadowseet, haddock, cod, kelp, bilberries, blackberries, blackberry leaf, elderberries, rose hips, rowan berries, old friends plantain, yarrow, nettle, and usnea; ripe rose hips and hawthorn and more.
From this free, found bounty, we’ve cooked up jams and teas; healing poultices and nourishing broths.
We’ve also consumed locally grown Icelandic thyme and moss, eaten fermented shark and sipped sweet raw milk; picked and munched fresh Irish apples, and purchased local chicken, beef, lamb, produce, and bread.
This place lives in us now. It’s a part of us.
We’ve fermented beet kvass and sauerkraut from fresh local veggies to add to our evening meals, and the sourdough starter that I have fermenting, is (in my mind at least) is laced with peat smoke and woven with yeast blown in on sea winds and bog rains.
All of this we bring home, even weeks after each meal was consumed.
But our favorite foraging of the trip is neither animal nor vegetable. It is mineral.
Before arriving in Iceland at the very start of our trip, Sage expressed an interest in crafting a batch of sea salt. Our Icelandic friends were happy to oblige. In the Westfjords, Pete and Sage gathered sea water using our friend’s boat, from the deep cold water of the fjord. Then we cooked it down in a roasting pan until the water was evaporated, finishing it in a dish in a warm oven.
What a delightful process it was! And the salt is delicious.
In Ireland I was excited to give it a second go, with hope of brining home two distinct salts from two different places, two different currents in the Ocean herself. And so we did. Off the western coast of Ireland, we headed back to the sea.
This water had to be gathered without the aid of a boat, off of the furthest reaches of Dingle Peninsula. Lupine–always game for a spontaneous swim–braved the sea to fill a couple of empty milk bottles, which we brought back to our temporary home to cook down in a nonreactive pan.
We didn’t make much, but just enough to fill a small, empty jam jar with the precious white flakes.
The resulting salt is rich, bright, and full of memories.
And the perfect souvenir from this journey overseas.
Through the months that follow, as we slowly use these two precious jars of salt in our soups and sautees, in fresh local veggies from our home across the sea, we’ll recall our journey here, and replenish these fare sourced minerals… deep into our bones.
Oh, what a delight to spin back toward the sea, for a few slow days of rest, sand, and
ocean before us.
Dingle Peninsula was recommended to us by our family and friends before our first trip to Ireland, and indeed we were glad to have come. So much so that this visit we returned to the very same cottage by the sea. Somehow, it was the tiniest bit like coming home. To a familiar view, familiar kitchen, favorite tea cups and favorite walks. Just what we needed, some 3 weeks into this journey.
Being the off-season, it was just our family, a few surfers, and one vibrant local power-walker (in her 70’s, perhaps?) that the kids affectionately nicknamed “Lady Strong Legs” on our last visit. How happy we were to see her and her dog out for their morning jaunts to the sea once more!
And here we whiled away most of a week–resting, foraging, knitting, and filling our spirits with sea, sand, and sleep.
And then? Northward once more! Toward County Clare, Connemara, and places more northern still.
More soon, dear ones! We’ve just two weeks yet to go.
After leaving that ill-fated Air B&B before bedtime, we found a quiet place to sleep (or rest, at least) beside the sea. We woke as the sun rose above the mountains, gently illuminating the Atlantic coast. Everything ached, but we were grateful for following our hearts and making space for intuition, safety, and honoring our truths.
And, indeed, it was certainly a memorable night.
We drove to the tip of the peninsula to stand beside the ocean, rubbing sore necks and stretching aching muscles. Then we headed into town for tea and Irish breakfast at a cozy tea shop in the center of town.
It was a restart, and a much needed comfort after a long, rough night with very little sleep.
Surprisingly, the day that followed was one of the loveliest of the trip so far, despite our lack of rest. We explored our way around the peninsula, seeking out-of-the-way ancient sites to visit: standing stones, stone circles, and slab tombs – all of them some 3,000 to 5,000 years old.
It put into perspective how small the tribulations of the previous day truly were.
Because in the context of 3 to 5,000 years time, one rough night is awfully insignificant, don’t you think?
We explored until mid-day when we found some upgraded lodgings, showered, and rested a bit before heading out once more in the mist and rain, searching for history. We returned at dusk, exhausted, soaked through, and ready for a proper night’s sleep (in beds!).
One of the reasons I longed to return to Ireland again was to spend some time walking these ancient paths; immersing ourselves in this ancient history. For touching the past with the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands.
This long day exploring did just that, and was rich with the history that I craved.
And with that, we are onward. To points further north on the Emerald Isle, as we slowly spiral our way around this country, this island, and through time in the selfsame breath.
More updates soon from points further along the road!
After our brimful week in Iceland, we headed on to Ireland for another month-plus of travel.
If you’ve been around for a while, you might recall the September that we spent here two years back, exploring our way around the country, following the Atlantic coast.
That trip inspired this one, as we longed to return and dive deeper into this fascinating, history-steeped land.
We revisited some favorite spots from our previous trip (including two days at the free and fabulous National Museum of Ireland), returned to our favorite Irish pub for sandwiches and stew, and even a sought out a jewelry vendor from last time, from whom Lupine and I each purchased a treasure when we were here before. Lupine was so hoping they would still be around!
Not only were they, but amazingly, they remembered her (and the rest of us) from our last visit. They recalled how well behaved and polite both kids were (something they told us the last time we were here as well), and might have said something about us being a “hippie family” but don’t quote me on that.
They shared wonderful stories, and we must have spent most of an hour with them before moving on with the rest of our day (with a new piece of jewelry each for Lupine and me, of course).
We set a few goals before returning to Ireland, to improve upon our last visit. One was to find local, organic produce instead of eating mostly plastic-packed, imported, conventional veggies from the grocery store.
And we did it! With a little noodling around online plus talking to our Air B&B host, we found delicious raw milk, vibrant local eggs, and fresh organic veggies. Even kombucha and live kraut. Yes! Such a triumph. We talked about food miles with the farmer, then loaded our packs with nourishing, local fare. Our bodies and hearts were delighted with the shift.
From Dublin we headed south to a spot that was the highlight of our trip last time: Mahon Falls and the Magic Road. Our first visit there was pure magic, and we hoped for more of the same this time.
We arrived, and were delight to find the towering bracken ferns, the gnarled fairy tree, and our delight in rolling our car uphill in neutral, as we had last time.
But the forest across the road from our favorite tree had been clear-cut (yes, it was a plantation, but the landscape was barren and it was something of a shock, despite the trees being a crop in their own right). Traffic was heavy on the road, unlike last time, and things felt a bit “off” as we wound our way up the valley toward the waterfall.
When we arrived at the falls we found–not the isolated, quiet valley we experienced last time–but a parking lot overflowing with cars, and people everywhere. It seemed arriving on a weekend with gorgeous weather made all the difference from our previous misty, windy, mid-week visit the last time we were here.
Nonetheless, we set off down the trail toward the beautiful falls.
We hadn’t yet reached the water when we heard an approaching helicopter, and were concerned to see it was mountain rescue. We watched with worry as it hovered over the falls, very near the spot where we scrambled up the hillside two years ago, and took this photo of our family (after climbing as high as we felt comfortable along the rocky, craggy slope).
A rescuer was lowered from the craft, and we watched with concern over the next hour, as a hiker who had fallen was airlifted off the mountainside.
It was heartbreaking to watch the scene unfold (for Lupine in particular), prying into this intimate and heartbreaking moment in one family’s life, as the scene played out before so many watching eyes.
To watch and wonder at what had happened, to worry for this family, to question what the outcome might be. One nearby couple told us that they heard that someone had fallen, and that it was “really bad”. Lupine and I hung back, sitting quietly behind a boulder and working on some calming breathing techniques, while Pete and Sage (who has a serious interest in a career as a paramedic or other rescue field) stayed on the trail and watched the rescue from a distance.
The next morning we heard the tragic news that, despite the effort, the hiker’s fall proved fatal.
Needless to say, we didn’t have a hike left in us after watching this scene unfold, and stepping aside to allow his distraught family to hike past us on their way out of the falls. We turned back long before we reached the mountainside.
Despite this being a spot that had topped our list of places to visit again, we let go of the idea of the day and hike we had planned. We were keenly aware that in losing our hiking day, we lost very little indeed.
What perspective that tragic event provided.
I can’t stop thinking about that hiker, his family, this terrible event.
So it was with a sigh that we left the south of Ireland and headed westward for the remainder of our trip. And with relief, the green hills took us in, and proved a balm for our worried hearts.
We found a magical fairy woods, hiked beneath towering pines, and foraged usnea from the mossy forest floor.
It was just what we needed to rest us for the chapter of the journey that was yet to come. Because, as it turns out, there were bumps waiting, just around the next bend.
Because our very next lodging left the intuitives among us feeling deeply uncomfortable. So we bolted before bedtime, opting to sleep in our car on a quiet, seaside road, rather than in a house that somehow just didn’t feel right. (Though “sleeping” is probably the wrong word, as I think we only managed 2 to 4 hours each.)
It was a great lesson in honoring our intuition, in following your gut, in doing the hard thing if it feels like the right thing. Even when you’ve paid for lodging. And from now on, shared housing is officially off the list.
As Sage put it, it was certainly an adventure, and a night we won’t soon forget.
Here’s hoping our next adventures come with a few less bumps in the road!
It’s difficult to express the shear volume of magic we managed to wrangle into our one short week in Iceland. Good gracious.
So much magic.
From foraging crowberries to fording mountain streams; from ancient historic sites that still ring with the Sagas to soaking in seaside hot springs; from roaring waterfall views to bleary-eyed, early morning northern lights: we dove deep and relished every minute.
After a couple of days on our own exploring the Westfjords, it was time to return to our friend’s cozy home to reunite, enjoy a final home-cooked Icelandic meal together, then pack our bags for an early morning departure.
But our adventure is hardly over.
We departed Iceland the next morning, not bound for Wisconsin, but headed for Ireland instead, where the bulk of our trip has yet to unfold. (Albeit at something of a slower pace, since we have a generous month here to slow down and savor.)
But Iceland? It’s still holding us, even as we settle in to a new rhythm and a new landscape here in Ireland.
We miss our friends in Iceland; we miss the hot springs and the history; we miss that haunting land and the warm welcome we received there. What a gift Sara, Siggi, and family gave us by sharing their world with us for a week! We enjoyed their spirits and energies to a person, and miss them as we spiral outward on the next piece of our journey.
Which reminds me: if you’re ever contemplating an Iceland adventure with your own family and would love a thoughtful, conscientious, caring host, we can’t say enough fine things about Sara and Siggi. They offer services for families visiting Iceland through their small business, Slow Travel Kids Iceland.You can also find them on Instagram if you care to follow along.
Honestly, traveling under their guidance was a game-changer for our trip, and I recommend them without hesitation.
And with that, Ireland awaits! But not before we snap our “first day of homeschool” photo for the year. The one below should suffice. (Though the day was rich with learning, it didn’t look much like school. But it rarely does.)
Happy adventuring, friends. We’ll catch up with you soon–from the Emerald Isle.
After our first couple of days in Iceland, we loaded our cars with supplies and headed into the Westfjords.
While tourism has exploded in Iceland in the past ten years, the Westfjords region remains largely off the beaten path, situated beyond the reaches of the popular “Golden Circle” of tourist highlights.
Our friends have access to a cottage there that has been in their family for generations. We headed out to this very special place (so different from, yet somehow reminiscent of our own four-generations old family cabin on the Wolf River), exploring our way through the highlands. We detoured along the way, getting out despite the rain and wind to indulge in some blustery photography, breathtaking views, swan cygnets, breaching whales, sunning seals, ice cream, and thousands of potholes.
At the family farmstead at last, we settled in to celebrate Sage’s birthday, to see more of this magical land, and to experience a few authentic Icelandic experiences (including seaside hot springs, cod fishing, Icelandic birthday songs, and even a taste of fermented shark).
We were there for Sage’s 17th birthday, which felt so special, so auspicious, so magical for this man-child of ours, somehow already on the cusp of adulthood.
There was even a birthday fishing excursion out on the the fjord, to haul in more cod than I have ever seen in my life. Back on shore, we gratefully cleaned the abundant pails of fish in the sunshine, then our hosts fried up a glorious platter-full of the freshest fish ever for something of an Icelandic shore lunch.
After dinner we headed to swim in a seaside hot pot (I don’t even remember what we called this. A hot tub? A seaside hot spring? You get the idea: it’s a natural hot tub beside the sea.)
In all, it was an over-the-moon magical weekend that none of us will ever forget.
Then Pete, suddenly 17 year old Sage, Lupine and I said farewell to our friends and headed out on our own Icelandic adventure for our final two days. Still in the Westfjords, but heading southward from the furthest reaches of the north.
We arrived in the wonderland that is Iceland early last week.
It had been a breakneck few weeks leading up to our departure, and we were so grateful to finally arrive, settle in, and exhale. Wifi-free for most of our stay, we were ready to savor this unplugged time, and eager to rest, explore, and reconnect with not only each other, but with our Icelandic friends as well.
Those friends, Sara and Siggi and family, took phenomenal care of us, somehow thinking of every small detail we might need or want from the moment we arrived.
From greeting us at the airport with glass bottles of fresh, cold water and a thermos of hot tea (brewed from Icelandic moss, arctic thyme, and angelica seeds); to snacks, naps, beds, and meals, we were in the very best hands. I appreciated these small touches so much, as we literally took the nutrients of Iceland into our bodies, and nourished our travel-weary systems with their minerals and magic.
After dinner the first evening we even embarked for a walk to the sea and a dip in the nearby swimming pool and hot tub fed by natural hot springs. It was the perfect start to our visit. Then back home we went, before collapsing into bed–exhausted and happy– for the first night’s sleep of our stay.
The next morning, the four of us set out on our own to explore some historically significant places in Iceland, that Sage has longed to visit for years. Þingvellir, Gulfoss, and the Lawspeaker’s Rock were places we wanted to see, before leaving the more popular “Golden Circle” area, for places more remote. And they did not disappoint.
After our day of solo exploring, we were ready to depart from these more touristy-regions, and head to the often-missed, yet breathtaking Westfjords. We loaded the cars and hit the road on our second full day, on the long journey to one of the most lovely places we have ever been.
I’ll share more from the Westfjords soon… Keep watching here, or follow along on my Instagram for a sneak peek.
This is a story about an epic family trip, but it is also a story about decision making and following my heart.
Some of you may recall that almost two years ago (and on something of a whim) I quit drinking alcohol. I wasn’t sure if I was pausing, quitting, or simply recentering, but it felt right in the moment, wherever it might lead.
This experiment, if you will, was not rooted in a concern for alcoholism or empty calorie consumption, but rather a needed pivot my trajectory. I enjoyed my daily red wine to a fault, I suppose, and wanted to refocus on what I desired in life more than the relaxation I felt when I enjoyed my evening glass (okay, two) of red.
It was a decision I made for three reasons: health, modeling, and budget.
I wanted to treat my body and my mind better than I had been. I worried that alcohol was bad for me, for my liver, for my nervous system. And I was right. I’ve felt great since I stopped. More hydrated, more rested, less stressed. I also have a family history of alcoholism, so daily drinking was something of a dice roll with fate. I didn’t want to risk it.
More importantly to me, I didn’t want to model daily drinking to my kids. With a pre-teen and a teenager, it seemed like a poor choice to model alcohol consumption as a daily part of a healthy life. (In honesty, they didn’t even notice when I quit until I told them, two weeks in. But it still felt good to model better choices.)
And finally, I wanted to stop my own hypocrisy of telling my kids we “couldn’t afford” things, while Pete and I slowly leaked our family’s spending money into bottles of red wine and 6-packs of fancy beer. We figured $50 a week was a generous average of what we were spending, which is a lot of money for us.
So together, Pete and I decided to pull back. And every week that neither of us had a drink, we would put that generous $50 in a mason jar instead of pouring it into our mug and glass.
And it added up with surprising speed. Frightening speed, really, when we consider how many years daily wine and beer was our norm.
If we don’t resume drinking again between now and Winter Solstice, we will have saved over $5,500 by making this one, small change in our lives.
What. The. Heck.
It’s hard to believe, really, how easy it was, and how fast it added up.
And so, logically, I wanted to do something really special with this surprise windfall. We wanted to celebrate our better choices with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Like, say, going back to Ireland for another month.
And so, why not? We are.
Back to Ireland for a second September. From Dublin to the Magic Road, Dingle to Malin Head.
We’ll return to many of our favorite places, and explore some new areas (and time periods in Irish history) as we work our way around the country once more.
Except I accidentally stretched our month into nearly six weeks.
Including one week with friends in Iceland.
Needless to say, we’re delighted. (And also a touch overwhelmed as we prepare our home, business, and lives for this epic journey.)
We depart in just over a week.
We have friends and farm-sitters to hold down the homestead and care for our pets, and an amazing team at LüSa to keep our business humming along smoothly in our absence. We’ll continue to work while we’re on the road, carving out time in the evenings and early mornings to tend to emails, marketing, newsletters, and the like.
What a privilege to have this freedom. To travel; to travel with our kids during what most think of as the school year; to be able to pull something like this off despite the thrift-store level budget that we live with.
It feels like something of a magic trick that we can swing it.
And how grateful we are for this team of kind souls at home and at work, who are making this trip a reality for us.
Why do we travel–and for such extended periods of time?
Drink deeply of this fleeting moment while we have the chance.
Because today, my almost 17 year old and 12 year old still want to homeschool. They still want to spend their days, hanging out as a family. And I love that. So hanging out with a family in Ireland and Iceland? Well, that sounds downright spectacular.
I’ll happily share postcards from the road here on the blog throughout our travels, and–with a bit more frequency–over on my @lusa_mama Instagram account. I hope you’ll follow along!
If you’re from Ireland or Northern Ireland and have suggestions of things we won’t want to miss, we’re all ears. We’re especially interested in ancient Ireland, Celtic sacred sites, and other Pagan or earth-centered sacred places on the Emerald Isle.
Until then, Slán go fóill!
We’ll see you in Ireland, friends.
P.S. This is the second time we will have flown in the past 17 years. But I don’t think the rarity of our air travel should cause us to ignore it’s environmental implications. We’re attempting to offset our carbon footprint by planting a grove of trees upon our return. I don’t know if or when we’ll fly again (on account of climate change), but tree planting for this reason felt like a small way we could do something to mitigate the impact our trip will cause. We’ll also be picking up litter throughout our trip (as we always do when traveling, or exploring close to home) in hopes of leaving the places we love a bit more beautiful for our having been there. Do you offset your carbon footprint when you travel? If so, we’d love to hear how.