Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Day in Moher and the Burren

This post is part of my British Invasion 2014 series. For all posts in the series, click here.

For our third day in Ireland, we took the Moher and Burren tour with Extreme Ireland led by the friendly guide, Mac. Our first "stop" was at Ollie Hayes Bar in Moneygall, famous now because President Obama stopped in for a pint a few years back. Frankly, I didn't find it very interesting (especially since it was about 7am, so it was closed), but the flower boxes above the bar were beautiful.

The main attraction for the day was the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced like "more"), but as we came to expect from Extreme Ireland, there were several other intriguing stops along the way. Plenty of them on this day, especially!

The first was along the River Shannon in Limerick, where we had a perfect view of King John's Castle. Well, one of them. Apparently there's more than one "King John's Castle" in Ireland. 

The site where we stopped is famous for this rock:

The Treaty Stone is where a peace treaty was signed between the Irish and the English after the Battle of the Boyne in 1691. It was later installed on this pedestal to prevent the stone from being ruined by people.

Then it was on to the Cliffs! They were beautiful. So much green and blue!

The tower was closed, so I got a little artsy with the doorway.

After a few minutes around the tower, we headed to the other end of the cliffs, following this path:

That photo above seem familiar? It's been in a few small Harry Potter.

I call this next shot my Nike Ad.

We didn't see any of the puffins that are known to live on the cliffs, but we I did get a little gutsy and live on the edge for a few minutes!

After a while exploring the cliffs, and using the free wifi to post some awesome shots to Instagram, the tour moved on to lunch. We stopped in Doolin to eat at McGann's Pub.

McGann's is this warm little pub with some pretty good food. They've got these police, fire, etc. badges all over the walls near the bar. At first, we just thought it was cool decor. But looking closer, we noticed some familiar names. Many of the badges come from the towns near my home in Massachusetts! According to the bartender, there's a McGann's in Boston, too!

The next stop was in the surreal Burren in County Clare. It's this vast space of limestone overlooking Galway Bay that makes you feel like you're on another planet. Because of how the sun hit the limestone,  the colors of every photo I took came out differently!

Someday, I'm coming back and doing what the lady (that you can't see very well) in the middle of this next photo is doing: Sitting in the rocks, with a book and a drink.

I feel like this should be the alien landscape in some Doctor Who adventure.

From the Burren we went to Corcomroe Abbey, built sometime in the 11th century. Like many other spots in Ireland, it's a beautiful, slightly ruinous chapel that is now home to a graveyard.

What set this one apart, for me at least, was what our tour guide said when we got in: that there's a crypt you can stick your hand/camera in and maybe get a picture of the bones inside. He said he never believed this rumor until he recently saw another tour guide's photo, but that no one on his tours had captured them on film...or whatever the proper term is today.

So I made my way over to the crypt, going to the narrow space between the crypt and the window:

In this space just a little wider than my body, I got down on hands and knees, as Mac directed me to the ground-level opening in the center of the grave. At his instruction I nervously put my hand, camera attached, into the tiny hole, blindly pointed my camera to the left, and clicked. On my first try, this is what I came away with:

Look! Bones!! A skull!! Others took turns, all unable to get a glimpse of the elusive bones, then I went back for another chance. Stuck my hand in and shot at a few different angles, and wasn't disappointed. 

A full skull! What I assume is a femur!

I have no idea why there's a hole in the crypt, but this was a cool, albeit a bit morbid, experience. And I'm proud to say that me and my point-and-shoot got the shots no one else, with any camera, was able to get! Mac seemed pretty happy, too.

Thank's to Mac's tour guide buddies, we had an unplanned stop. There was a new chocolate factory up the road, so it was kinda mandatory that we stop. Hazel Mountain Chocolates was a cute little place, but seemed a bit pricey. However, it smelled delicious, and you could watch the chocolates get made, so it was a fun extra stop.

Our tour for the day wrapped up in Kinvara, an adorable little town on the water that is home to Dunguaire Castle and the annual Hooker Regatta.

According to Mac, the castle is owned by a wealthy English woman who now lives there and opens it up for banquets. A future goal of mine is to go to one of the banquets. Also to own a castle.

Hookers, for the unenlightened, are boats similar to this one, ancient in design, and prized by many Irishmen. Another goal is to go for a ride on one of these hookers.

The colors of the buildings here are beautiful.

This day was a bit dreary weather-wise, which caused some sleepiness and motion sickness, but overall it was another fabulous day in Ireland!

Disclaimer: I am not cool enough to have affiliate links or sponsors (at least not yet). All opinions are strictly my own, and all links are shared because I think they're awesome.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why I'm Not Taking the Ice Bucket Challenge

I had hoped to get through this fad without being nominated so I wouldn't have to look like a jerk for not doing it. But I did get nominated, so rather than just come off like a loser, I'm writing this post to share why I'm not doing it.

For those of you unaware, the Ice Bucket Challenge works like this: if you're nominated by someone, you have 24 hours to either dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100. Why? To battle ALS, of course! What, you didn't automatically connect ice water and ALS?

If you know me, like, at all, you know I'm all for some good awareness campaigns. There are several issues near and dear to me that I will raise awareness for all the time, even with silly campaigns. But I have a problem with this one. It strikes me like that "make your status the color of your bra for breast cancer" thing that appears every few years on Facebook. It's funny, but there's not a whole lot of difference-making that comes from it. Kony 2012, which get's all sorts of flack, had more impact than this one, from my perspective.

The way I see it, the majority of the participants are not actually learning about ALS or helping out in any way. Most of the people being nominated are teens and young people, meaning they don't have the $100 to donate, so of course they're going to dump ice water on themselves. Plus, taking the challenge (and posting in online as the proof) bumps up their social media image and makes them look good (not that I'm anti-social media. Hellooo. Have you met me?)

True awareness is about more than "hey this thing exists". It should be educating people, saying "this exists, this is why it's bad, here's what we can do about it". Have I always done the awareness thing well? No. It's something that I'm still learning and changing my views about. The older I get, the less I want to just take silly challenges or share a link, I want to really make a difference. Those things are good places to start, but let's take it further. Let's make it a lifestyle of caring, not simply a 30 second post. Maybe then we can actually change the bad things in the world.

Also, I don't want to be bullied into financially supporting a cause. It shouldn't be a punishment to support a great organization. People should be donating because they believe in the organization and what they're fighting for. And for me personally, I'm very careful about who I give my money to. I don't just throw money at anyone, no matter how good your story is. I want to know that you are actually going to use my money like you say you are. I'm going to do my homework to make sure you're a trusted organization. You are not getting my money and support until I look into you and approve. I gave up chocolate because I don't approve of the slave labor involved. Chocolate. I've written term papers about how delicious and necessary chocolate is, and I gave it up. So yeah, you have to work a bit to earn my monetary support.

Now, if you've taken the challenge, are going to take it, or think it's a good thing, that's fine. This isn't an attack on you, so please don't take it that way. Many people I love have done it, too. I'm writing this to make you think, and to challenge you to go further. Take the challenge if you want to, but do so in the way it was intended. Take a few minutes to educate yourself and others about the disease. Share a fact or two before you dump the ice, and link the ALS Association or another organization in your post. Make a donation, regardless of the presence of ice. But if that education/donation piece isn't part of your Ice Bucket Challenge, then it's no different from the stupid milk or cinnamon challenges from a few years back.

Whatever the cause, whatever the challenge, take a moment to think before you go after it. Is it something you support? Great! But is that action going to make a difference? Is it paired with tangible change? Go out there and raise awareness and support for the things you are passionate about in a way that will turn the world upside down.

And if you're really concerned about your social media presence, just imagine the things you can post all the time if you're living a life that really makes a difference.

Endnote: I am not against raising awareness or funds for ALS. It's a horrible disease and should go away. But I'm a nurse. I see many ugly diseases and painful deaths daily. I also am more aware than I want to be of child sex trafficking, FGM, forced labor, sweat shops, the LRA, starvation, children being beheaded, and so many other atrocities in the world today. As someone who cares, a lot, I've come to know I cannot save everyone or stop every bad thing. I choose to spend my time, energy, and money supporting a few different causes and organizations doing awesome things in the world. I believe that each person, unless you've got unlimited funds, has to decide which few things our of the thousands to wholeheartedly support. For some, that's ALS. For others, it's Compassion or Invisible Children or the Red Cross. I don't care what you support as long as it's something. Stand for ALS, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. Stand for hope and change, not fads.

What do you think of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Have you taken it? Have you had the same thoughts I have? Share with me in the comments!

Friday, August 8, 2014

"The Death of the Wave"

This is, at first glance, your typical dystopian novel: the world's gone to hell so now it's up to a few nobodies to lead a rebellion and save it. In this book, the nobodies don't even have names, just numbers or words given in place of names when they passed their exams.

The premise of this story is interesting. The concept of the arts being forbidden and becoming the tools of rebellion is beautiful. The more-than-human overlords and the standardized testing that determines your fate is perfect dystopian story fodder. The idea of heroes who are broken and deadly is what makes for pop culture win. The story itself is attractive (if you get rid of that random, unnecessary incest). However, the things that make this book unique are the same things that ruin it for me: it's written in unrhymed prose from the points of view of seven main characters.

The writing style or the switching characters alone could have been very intriguing. Telling the story from several perspectives then bringing them all together sounds fantastic. But the combination of these two techniques, and the execution made for a difficult and confusing read. Just when we'd start getting to know a character, start to see behind their facade, it would switch to someone else. We would never get to really know the characters very well at all. I felt like the main character, Author, is the one we know the least, and much of the book is from her perspective!

It was very hard to keep everything straight in my head. I'm not stupid, but there were many things I didn't get until I read the time line after. Which is another thing. If you require a character guide at the start, and a time line at the end (which sums up what the entire book spelled out), your story might be too complicated.

I hate to give negative reviews, especially when there's so much potential in the story, but I cannot recommend this book. It was too confusing and jumbled.

Not Recommended, 1/5 Stars

I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.
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