Sláinte Series: The Ambassador’s Residence

The capstone of our Irish adventure one year ago was a two-night stay with my in-law’s dear friends, Kevin and Dena O’Malley.  The same Kevin O’Malley who has been serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in Dublin for the past two years.  The Ambassador’s official residence is called Deerfield, and it is located within Phoenix Park (the public park in Dublin, roughly a bit larger than New York’s Central Park). Here is a cool New York Times article about the residence from 2009, and here is Wikipedia for all you nerds out there like me who appreciate political history and ambassadorships.

Take a moment to let that sink in.  We. Got. To. Stay. In. This. House. Where. Presidents. Have. Stayed.  And Bing Crosby.  In twin beds, nonetheless!  Next door to where President Kennedy slept!

I should back up.

The origin of our trip to Ireland came from Brian and I wanting to take a five-year anniversary trip abroad, perhaps to Ireland or Scotland, coincidentally around January 2015 when Kevin and Dena took residence in Dublin.

Editor’s Note:  Kevin and Dena have been close friends with my in-laws, Dan and Kathy, for more than 40 years beginning with Brian’s mom Kathy and Dena attending nursing school together.  Here is a cool St. Louis Magazine article about their journey and life now as an Ambassador family — it relates to many of the photos you’ll see below.    Everything in the article is true, but couldn’t fully prepare us for the experience of staying somewhere that uses china with President Obama’s official seal and has 24-hour security circling the property.  Surreal and and awesome understates it.

It was especially exciting that Kevin became the Ambassador to Ireland somewhat unexpectedly and invited visitors to stay whenever schedules allowed.  Talk quickly escalated about us traveling with Brian’s parents so they could visit their friends while Kevin was in office, and making the trip a 10-day excursion of places we all wanted to visit while celebrating Brian and my 5th wedding anniversary.

So we planned.  We watched The Quiet Man to prepare.  We planned some more.  We coordinated with Dena for the best time to visit.  I can’t be sure, but we probably ate some Irish meals just to get us more excited.  Our final itinerary had us touring the entire country traveling clockwise around the coast and ended with a two-night stay with the O’Malley’s in their quaint cottage in Dublin during the last two weeks of July 2015.

Ireland route

Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of our destinations; I really loved being in the Irish countryside and traveling through smaller, awesomer cities.  But, the Jameson in my ginger ale was ending our trip in Dublin with family friends in a residence where a select few people ever get to stay, a place with amazing American/Ireland history attached to it.  It was too wild for words.  Did I mention a that Jean Kennedy was also an Ambassador to Ireland?  Well she was.  So there.

There is a whole album from the photos I took during our two nights at Deerfield with the nicest family on the planet if you want to check them out (with captions of what you’re looking at!); below are just a small selection of my faves.  I got to spend about an hour roaming the 62 acres alone while the rental car was being returned and a tour can be found through the link above.

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This concludes the seven Sláinte Series posts.  Feels good to finally have them complete; a year later is better than not at all.  If you’re heading to Ireland and need some suggestions, I’m your lass.  Sláinte!

Sláinte Series: The Kennedy’s

History was the theme of our Ireland trip.  Did I mention I love history?  Especially Kennedy history.

I’m not entirely sure how much influence I had on the planning of our touring activities with Mom and Dad Schaeffer, but I’d like to think Brian and I had at least 75% input as we worked on the trip itinerary.  One viewing of The Quiet Man and some around-the-kitchen table sessions with three bottles of wine formulated some necessary to-do’s about two weeks prior to departure.  Casual planning at its finest.

It’s hard to pick a favorite history lesson because there was so much badass stuff to go around:  the Titanic museum in Cobh, intricate  and beautiful castles, insane Guinness family-owned homes, charming century-old landscaping and cobblestone streets.  And Muldoon.  (Seriously, someone bring that stuff to America. You’ll thank me.)  But there was something I really wanted to do beyond that.

The Kennedy’s

I knew of a famous trip that took President Kennedy to the homestead of his Irish ancestors in June 1963.  It so happened this site was on our route around the coast of southeastern Ireland.  That homestead is now a museum and preserved memorial of the visit to the birthplace of John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy (the namesake of the baby they lost just a few months later).  The family still farms there today.

After our walking tour of Waterford the first day in our we hopped into our four-door Citroen, our trusty van/car/go-kart, and headed to the homestead in Dunganstown in County Wexford.  Below are my photos of the museum and property…seeing the genuine notes and memorabilia was a humbling experience.

These Sláinte Series photos aren’t the best of the trip, but it was one of my favorite activities.  Those who know me probably find my Kennedy obsession a bit strange, but it was evident that the Irish are equally fascinated with the Kennedy family – they were everywhere.  And me?  I loved it all.

Sláinte Series: The Architecture

It’s been four months since the last Sláinte Series was published, and we’re coming up on the anniversary of our journey (and my 33rd birthday, ahem).  I had grand plans to get at least three more Sláinte Series posts written before the anniversary had arrived, and come hell or high water, it’s going to happen.  Read my lips.

After seeing the themes of my photography during the Ireland trip, we’ve seen the doors, the floors, the scenery and greenery, and now we arrive at the buildings, cathedrals, light fixtures and attention to detail.  So. Much. Detail, and this is just a sampling.  There is an easy and elegant way about Ireland — they embrace natural textures, materials, and beautiful design.

On deck for the sixth Sláinte Series?  The Kennedy connection.  In the hole?  The capstone….the Ambassador’s Residence…still hard to believe this amazing trip actually occurred.  Remembering it a year later still makes me proud and happy. To see the entire trip, go HERE, if you just can’t wait.  Otherwise, hold tight until the finale.

 

Months 2-4 on the Accutane train.

I’m into my fifth month of isotretinoin treatment.  Month one wins as the yuckiest, most self-esteem-killing month thus far but I was cheered up by the nice feedback and support I received about my vanity’s plight.  My friends could relate, but most of them were smart enough to do this treatment as teenagers.  Bravo, pals.  I envy you and your foresight.

I know these posts would’ve been a lot more effective (enlightening? gross?) if I could’ve shown month-over-month progression pics.  But, I just couldn’t bring myself to document three months of heinous self-consciousness.  I don’t want to remember it that well.

The second month was slightly less traumatic with only nine blemishes but I still felt hideous.  I tried to wear glasses a lot so people would maybe look at those instead of the fresh scars that dot my cheeks.

Month three continued trending downward with three cysts and before month four began, my Absorica dosage was increased by 10mg.  The oil in my body was apparently not going without a fight.  The positive result of more pills and more side effects?  ZERO cysts in month four.  ZERO.  I’ve can’t remember the last time my face didn’t have at least one blemish coming or going.  That incredulous feeling, and the subsequent lack of terrible, painful cysts has been making this hellish treatment worth it.

Month five is in full swing and I’m well past the middle point.  I was told at my last monthly dermatologist appointment I have to be acne-free for three months before I cease medication.  1.5 months already down!  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…..

The amount of pills I’m taking right now is insane and I’m admitting it.  The 3g of vitamin C I’ve been prescribed has been helping renew my skin to heal fresh scars, slowly but surely.  The Absorica and the other vitamins I’m taking to offset the side effects of scarred sensitive skin, joint lubrication, and balancing the bacteria in my body total 14-16 pills on a given day.  Tack on a couple more for my regular batch of meds and it’s a wonder I have room for food at all.

That’s a joke; I can eat food with the best of ’em.  Especially food with chili and cheese.

Positives?  My skin is dry but not as terrible as I imagined, probably because  I am diligent about moisturizing and wearing SPF.  My skin tone is evening up and all my hydrating potions seem to suffice.  Time in the sun has been reduced, but not canceled altogether as long as I’m wearing sunscreen.  And a hat.  And I’m somewhat in the shade.

Negatives?  My joints feel like the Tin Man before he got the oil.  The stiffness and aches have been pretty severe; a side effect, I’m told, that occurs most frequently in women over the age of 30.  It’s sucky and I feel arthritic.

Seven more weeks….

Sláinte Series: The Greenery

See what I did there for 4/20?  I’m so clever.  But really, let’s just legalize it.

I was 16 when I first traveled to Ireland.  That trip is deserving of an entirely separate post maybe later, but as a young lady, I remember desperately wanted to preserve my memories about the things I saw…how beautiful the landscape was, how green and vibrant the colors were. In July 2015, things were positively in technicolor.  It was exactly as I had left it, except better.

Sadly, the instant cameras I packed overseas in 2000 took pretty crappy pics.  The photographer probably wasn’t that great either at the time, and probably too busy flirting with boys and wearing the shit out of her Doc Martens with jeans that were too long.  I’m thankful my skill and equipment (and wardrobe) has improved since then.

Behold, some of the flora and landscapes, and a whole lot of greenery.  These images are were taken from coast to coast; at historic sites, our hotels, the Tralee golf club, and a ton of land once owned by the Guinness family in multiple locations.  Sláinte!

P.S.  I want hedges and mature gardens like this in my backyard, big time.  Someone tell me why I can’t have 8 foot tall boxwoods or a mossy rock retaining wall with 500 year old stones right this instant!?

 

Pizza Face

How do you start a blog post about zits?  There’s no elegant way to do it.  It’s been eating at me though, and I feel as if I’m in front of an AA group ready to talk about it – hi, my name is Kacey, and I have nodular acne.  I am four weeks into an intensive treatment, otherwise known as isotretinoin, Accutane, or in my case, Absorica is the drug I’m taking.  (This is the part where you say in return, “Hi, Kacey” and acknowledge you won’t judge me too hard.)  

Upon telling friends that I’m doing this treatment, I explain a few things if they want to know.  The response I’ve gotten a lot is “I don’t recall your skin being that bad!“.  I smile, say thank you, and tell them they just haven’t noticed it.  But if they look closer, I see them seeing the breakouts and scars.  It’s not a bad thing and I don’t take offense – don’t get me wrong.  So many people tell me they’ve done this treatment too, know someone close who has, or wished they had but their skin cleared up on its own.  I appreciate the empathy.  I’m my own worst critic most of the time.

My skin during the teen years wasn’t great, it worsened after college when I lived in humid, gross Florida, and grew more terrible in my late 20’s.  For the past few years, my cheeks and chin have been marred by scars. Doing this six-month treatment is something I should’ve done years ago.  I didn’t until now because of the stigma around how severe the medication is, and because I wanted to try everything under the sun to treat it before going to extremes.  Really giving it all a college try was really stupid of me in hindsight.

I can’t count the amount of different products I tried or articles I read.  I got peels and facials that promised to clear my pores.  I changed my soaps, detergents and the order of my routine in the shower to ensure my towels and shampoo weren’t the problem.  I took countless doses of  antibiotics.  I look at pictures of myself and see only the discoloration and uneven surfaces.

Now, with a face full of cystic scars and my self-esteem being far too negative, I hit a breaking point in late November and made the dermatology appointment.  I wrote “ready to start Accutane” as my reason for coming in and my doctor laughed.  It took a month after that to take the consecutive monthly blood tests necessary to begin the treatment.  Upon attempting to fill the script, my insurance was declined at the pharmacy.  Petitioning my insurance company to cover the medication because I was over 26 years of age was a fun experience.  I finally began my twice-daily medication on February 1.

Let’s talk side effects.  My dermatologist warned me that the first month would be the worst as the medicine pushed all the oil and junk to the surface.  Doctors are so smart.  My face has never been more scarred than it is right now.  While most people aren’t staring at me as much as I think they are, I believe it looks like I have meth face (I don’t).  I feel the need to explain myself more often than not.  I counted 16 blemishes just now.  No kidding.

On top of the  open sores blemishes on my face, my skin is in the process of drying like the Sahara.  The corners of my mouth are cracked even though I have tubes of lip balm and moisturizer with me at all times.  It’s a very strange contradiction happening to my bod right now.  This, I’m told, is perfectly normal for the treatment, and something I will be dealing with until August.  Oh, and no sun exposure, so the 2016 pool season may take a big hit.  I noticed this week my scalp has dried and begun flaking.  Super!

The plight of Accutane doesn’t rest with dozens of physical side effects.  I have been explicitly warned that depression is likely.  The label reads, “ABSORICA may cause serious mental health problems.”  No sugar-coating;  this is a case of truth in advertising.  I was a sad and crazy person these first few weeks of treatment.  Not that it’s gotten a lot better, but I’m recognizing my peaks and valleys a little more.  This pairs nicely with the anxiety medication I’ve taken for several years now.  I’ll see how month two goes.

Why put myself through this?

It’s not all about vanity (although I’m openly quite vain sometimes; did you see this blog post dedicated to my acne?).  My reasoning for finally doing this treatment is mostly about my sense of self-worth.  It’s not that I’m NOT confident about so many things, like my killer legs and my ability to name every 1990’s country song within a few notes.  I know I’m a smart girl with an impressive antler collection above her fireplace.  I have a lot of favorite things about me but that’s for another time entirely.

I see people every day with beautiful, smooth skin and I’m envious.  I know how much better I felt on the rare occasion when my face wasn’t plagued with multiple, painful cysts.  It’s sucked big time to feel so bad about my skin for so many years, after having tried so hard to take care of it on my own.  I’m optimistic, despite a rocky start.  No mo’ pizza face.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I forgot to mention the headaches and the joint aches.  Those are fun too.

Sláinte Series: The Falcons

There were a lot of things that made our Ireland journey unforgettable.  I’ll get to sharing many of them, but the first experience is one that will hardly be topped.  As we were researching things to do while at Ashford Castle, we casually looked at the activity section on their website.  The moment I saw it, it was a non-negotiable excursion.  Falconry.

I have this thing with birds.  I’m what you would call an amateur birder, someone who watches birds and in extreme cases, can identify them in the wild.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Good Year”, you understand what I’m talking about.  If not, go watch it!  It has Steve Martin in it!

I’m not so dedicated as to know their whistles and calls, but birding was something my grandfather and mother instilled in my young heart as far back as I can remember.  I have two birding books in my kitchen window for immediate identification.  For those really close to me, you know that I have a giant red-headed woodpecker tattoo on my right shoulder to commemorate the first birds I remember watching and identifying in the backyard of my grandparents’ home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then in my childhood home in Higginsville.  Most people find this hard to believe that I have a huge bird tattoo, but alas, it’s true.  And now the internet knows.

Back to the hawks and falcons.  Brian and I were totally pumped to have this hour-long experience on the grounds of Ashford Castle at the Ireland School of Falconry, on top of actually staying one night in the 5-star hotel that is Ashford (more on that later).  We booked our Hawk Walk with giddy anticipation and on the morning of July 26, the day after I turned 32, we set out during the one dismal morning of our trip to walk in the woods with our very own Harris Hawks at the Ireland School of Falconry.  (Please ignore the tent/raincoat I’m wearing in the pics below; flattering ponchos are hard to find.)

We turned over the cameras to Brian’s parents, met our guide, and then our hawks, a brother and sister duo named Joyce and Wilde.  We were told about their history and what to expect, as well as given instruction for releasing and flying our new friends.  Brian and I set off on our walk, stopping every so often to release the birds with a step and a thrust of our arms forward where they took off to the trees to hunt in pairs.  They returned to us with the bait of raw meat, and I kid you not — Wilde and I really bonded.  At least we looked each other in the eye more times I can count and our guide was convinced that he was quite comfortable with me.  I’d like to think we were soulmates.  Sorry Brian.

We traipsed around the woods for an hour or so, releasing and calling the birds back while watching them communicate in the trees, hunting for rodents and rabbits.  These small hawks can actually take down large jackrabbits with their claws by snapping the necks and spines of their prey.  They are weighed three times daily to determine proper flying weight and their diets are carefully monitored.  Our guide explained that these birds can be trained, but they are quite the opposite of dogs and horses who feel obligation to their owners.  Birds merely tolerate training and do certain things when they feel like it, or when their stomachs win the battle over their minds.  They also must trust their handlers immensely, and they are very keen to recognize moods, body language, and voices.  A prime example – one of the guides and and a falcon went for a routine, daily flight and the bird refused to come out of the tree for three days.  Their option was to wait until he was ready to return; no amount of coaxing was going to do the trick.  Understandably, training raptors like this is an exercise in patience and longevity.  Our guide had been working with Joyce and Wilde since they were four weeks old.  Fun fact:  Joyce and Wilde are from Colorado.

After what seemed like only minutes and not enough time at all, our group headed back to the School where we put Joyce and Wilde back into their multi-bird aviaries.  They were to sit for several hours digesting the food from our walk.  Wilde even drank his water in our presence, which leads me to further believe he should’ve come back to Missouri with me.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case and our excursion was over.  I sulked.

While I look a little angry in the photos, know that I am in deep concentration and admiration of the bird on my arm, while trying to not scare him with the crazy grin I wanted to have plastered on my face.  I loved every moment of our Hawk Walk, and am now a lifelong admirer of raptor birds and the complexity of their capabilities.  The photos below were taken by our parents who weren’t exactly comfortable with my camera but they capture the jest of how awesome the the experience really was.

Sláinte Series: The Floors

Taking pictures of your feet on a floor isn’t a novel idea but there were too many fabulous tiles, paths, and carpets in Ireland not to take dozens.  Behold; the flooring will amaze.  Or at least it amazed me at every turn.

 

Sláinte Series – The Doors of Ireland

The trip to Ireland this past July is too much to write about in its entirety – it would take me hours.  Therefore, I will be posting a series of photos from our 10 days there, many of which had a common theme.  A full library can be found HERE, complete with captions of where these pictures were taken and the subjects therein.  I can’t express just how unbelievably wonderful this trip was, so I count on the photos to do it for me.  So many times I was without words so I decided it best to let my lens do the talking.

The first series is of the many beautiful doors, from Waterford around the country and back to Dublin.

 

Hello. It’s me.

Thank you, Adele, for the perfect post title.

In a year when I started a new job, the idea of writing in this blog after late nights at my office was overwhelmingly daunting.  If you were a loyal reader, you probably noticed, given the four whole posts for 2015.  Not my finest effort.  If you are reading this because I instagrammed about it, welcome.  There are 10 years worth of stories and anecdotes here so enjoy!  But be gentle.  My writing has been a progression.

Work was all-consuming last year, and will continue to be much of this year in a different way (more on that later).  After back surgery, two knee surgeries for Harper, being generally over-stimulated by the mountains of photos and half-finished projects I wanted to make perfect, I took an unofficial break that grew from weeks to months.  A break where I felt guilty and anxious about NOT writing every day.  Would you believe it?  I didn’t know what to say.  Major writer’s block and major internalized pressure wasn’t a great combo.  By not writing, I felt like I wasn’t doing my life or experiences justice, so that made me feel even worse.  I was squatting in blog purgatory.

Seven months went by, and further behind I felt.  Even after the trip of a lifetime to Ireland, I couldn’t wrap my head around what I wanted to say in a public forum…let alone publish any of the 1,200 photos I took without editing them and having them perfect.  Then I had about 700 more photos after that from other things.  To this day, I still have Christmas photos needing attention.  For what?  For my own sanity and feeling caught up.  Does anyone care besides me?  Nope.

My boss tells me I’m a perfectionist and it’s not something she said in praise.  It only took her a few months to point out my shortcomings, and that took its toll as well.  It’s hard to hear honest criticism and then have the balls to acknowledge it, and even more to consciously change some of my ways.  It was a year of self-realization and a whole lot of reflection to see I was mis-managing much of my time, in nearly every aspect of this life.  It was an ugly cycle of self-pity and feeling behind the curve.  Good news? It took some time but I feel a ton better and more productive than ever.

After several months came a December that was filled with sorting, cleaning, and catching up.  I’m actually still in the middle of it.  Goals and objectives were set (at work).  The new year came and went.  Quiet resolutions have been made.  I’m still creating different habits, but here I am.  Ready to try again after some time off.

My job requires me to be submerged completely in all things marketing.  My opinion of media and what people are calling “news” has grown more cynical.  I believe blogging has changed (I posted a link from Dooce in my last post that really summed it up).  Self-promotion is behind every coincidental story.  Sales pitches hidden between factual content haunt me.  I refuse to click on articles that mention the Kardashians.  I can now pinpoint drip marketing campaigns in my sleep.  I’m still purposely sidetracked, but in different ways.  Taking a break was probably the best medicine to refocus and understand why I even liked writing and taking pictures at all.

I’m not going to make any big commitments about writing.  There are no scheduled posts or produced content.  But I will be doing more, because I have a lot of things to share.  I’m going to make time to put them here.