United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

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Reflection

With the trip over, the write-ups of each section of our journey completed for posterity, and the passage of a little bit of time, it seems appropriate to engage in more the type of post I most enjoy writing: free-flowing/freestyle reflection and thoughts about the trip and the experiences.

One of the most interesting things for me was the validation of a long-running feeling that I was never entirely sure would play out as I imagined: Ireland (and to an extent Scotland) felt like home. I’ve long held to the statement that I feel Ireland calls to me in an entirely inexplicable way. As cliched as it will seem, take the traditional blessing and images below and consider the feelings/thoughts that they invoke; follow that exercise up with a simple set of questions: is there a place that seems to call to you (whether spending as much time as possible there or just wanting desperately to be there for some period of time), and why?

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

May God be with you and bless you,
May you see your children’s children,
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness,
From this day forward.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home,
And may the hand of a friend always be near.

May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
— Traditional Irish Blessing

Influencing Thoughts for Another Trip

Thanks to the experiences of this trip, I already have some ideas on how I would prefer to experience a future trip. Importantly, I truly believe the way this trip went was absolutely perfect for trying to get a sense of the region in the time we had available, and would not change any aspects of a “first trip” as a result. Being exposed to a wide variety of environments and sights, however, make me want to have a follow-up trip with the idea of spending a few days based in Glasgow (with excursions in and out of the city, but returning to the same place each night) with a few days based in Belfast in a similar fashion, before winding down with a couple of nights back in London. While it is uncertain whether or not that trip will materialize, it is definitely something to consider if we make our way back to the British Isles.

Wrap-Up

Over the course of this series I’ve hit the highlights on what made this an important trip, provided the high-level overview of what we did along the way and some of the thoughts that went into making those decisions, and generally captured things in a manner that allows me to go back and reflect on the journey. I also touched on some of the emotional aspects and memories that are now a part of who I am. Something I have yet to be able to adequately capture, however (except in imagery, which is my medium of choice for many things anyway these days), is what overarching impact the experience has had on me in as broad a sense as possible. Those familiar with my past writings will find the following, in essence, a “return to form.”

 

Anxiously I make my way through the underground labyrinth to the designated train that will carry me onward, to my first glimpses of the city, marking the beginning of this adventure. I don't try to make sense of the names or places, or how to know where I'm going, and instead I simply follow Emily's lead.

Images of the city flash by as the train takes us away from the airport, many of which are reminiscent of any large city anywhere in the United States. I begin to wonder why London is such an attractive place for so many given the scenes flashing by, though I know better than to judge any location by the first things I see. After all, imagine driving through Ensley and using that to form an opinion of Birmingham as a whole.

The unusually warm air feels like a weight against me as I feel my shirt slowly being soaked through. Certainly the backpack full of photography gear isn't helping matters any, but the lack of cooling on the train amidst a sea of bodies is compoinded by much warmer than usual weather. I hope the forecast is correct and that temperatures will be more friendly for the rest of our trip.

We arrive at our stop and exit into the midday sun, navigating across the River Thames and finding the hotel that would be our refuge for the night. After a brief respite we embark upon our initial exploration of London, and I quickly begin to realize why so many desire to be a part of the city.

The contrasting views of ancient architecture and modern buildings set within a modern society elicits a certain amount of cognitive dissonance; the mind attempts to create an image of what could have been overlaid by what actually exists. Everything becomes instantly etched in my mind as I lose myself in the marvels of the city. From the seemingly mundane to the extraordinary, I revel in the experience of the city.

Suddenly I feel as though I am transported through time as I walk into our bedchamber suite, though there are reminders of our lack of time travel interspersed throughout. Cool air flows in through the open windows as I slide my fingers across the cool stone walls. Surely this must be the peak of our journey; to play and sleep in a place where the infamous Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn also slept seems surreal., only to be topped by the views of the formidable Castle of Edinburgh.

Nothing prepared me for the sheer joy of looking out over Edinburgh from atop an ancient volcano, however. The wind repeatedly assaults me, threatening to send me tumbling over and over. I choose my hand and foot placement carefully as I climb around the summit.

In the blink of an eye I find myself staring out at the beauty of the Wicklow Mountains, marveling at the vibrant richness of every visible color. Water trickles through a nearby stream, bringing the perfect sensory experience of peace and meditation in a way that could never be imagined or expressed before.

The Cliffs loom in front of me as the wind pushes me back slightly from the edge. Waves crash against the coastline as seagulls squawk. The tranquility of the sunrise sends me into a trance…

Everything has happened so quickly that I have yet to process it all. For a short, fleeting moment, I’m home.

 

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

Posts and related media in this series:

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Saturday, August 31st

Picking up where we left off on the Scotland post, we made our way to the Edinburgh Airport, through dealing with RyanAir’s bag check and security, and boarded our plane to Dublin. There were a couple of minor hiccups during that process, most notable of them being the complete lack of information on how the folks at Edinburgh wanted your bags/items separated into the bins for security screening, and therefore causing us a bit of a delay. This did make us cut it close getting to the gate in time, but since there was not an issue it isn’t really worth going into detail. Upon arrival we made our way to the Avis counter to pick up the keys to our rental, and with a little confusion about where to go we finally made our way to the correct car park and started our journey out of the city. Saturday was, in essence, a “drive around and see stuff” day, with a very loose itinerary: Wicklow Mountains, Rock of Cashel, and make it to our Airbnb (Connoles Gatehouse). In preparation for our trip I had at least plotted out some points as a rough guide for the road trip, just to have some idea of how long we could spend with random side trips and at a couple of points along the way.

Rough Outline from Road Trip Planner

Our first point of interest was to enter the Wicklow Mountains. From the very first area we stopped I fell in love with the Irish landscape, and the awe and excitement only continued to grow with each passing moment. Never before have I visited a place that I found so breathtakingly stunning, so diverse and intriguing, and so strongly calling to me as the place I should stay, and yet every portion of Ireland we visited reaffirmed those feelings time and again.

We spent a lot of time just driving down rural roads, making random stops to enjoy the views, and wandering around. It took a little bit to get used to driving on the narrow roads, not so much because of the roads being narrow but because my point of perception (the right side of the vehicle while driving on the left side of the road) was simply different. Factor in needing to shift with my left hand instead of my right, and it probably took the better part of a couple of hours to really feel comfortable driving around. By the end of the trip, however, I will say that I felt like I was driving more like a local than a visitor. Embedded below is a video clip from one stretch of road that was particularly enjoyable to drive.

During the course of our travels, we stopped at the Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre for lunch (and, of course, a tasting flight of their whiskeys). The food was excellent, and I found the 15 Year Trilogy expression to be extremely enjoyable. It still does not top my preferred Irish Whiskey, but it is one I would definitely purchase if I saw it in one of the local stores.

Continuing our journey we spotted many castles and gorgeous vistas, taking it all in as we made our way to the Rock of Cashel. Part of the reason this was our choice for stopping and exploring on our journey related to its proximity to the route we would need to take to reach our accommodations for the evening, though its historical significance made it extremely appealing as well. From Discover Ireland:

The Rock of Cashel is an ancient royal site of the kings of Munster and first attained importance as a fortress. Its origins as a centre of power go back to the 4th or 5th centuries. Two of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with the Rock of Cashel. They are St. Patrick whom according to legend, arrived in Cashel in AD 432 and baptized King Aengus who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler. The second was Brian Boru, he was crowned High King here in 990. He is the only king who was able to unite all of Ireland under one ruler for any significant period of time.

As we left Cashel dusk was fast approaching, and so we made our way to our accommodations in Fanore. Although we could not see the landscape well by the time we arrived, the sound of the ocean and the perfect weather reassured us that the view in the morning would be as advertised, though we were not prepared for it to be so absolutely gorgeous once the sun crested the horizon in the morning. I cannot recommend Connoles Gatehouse highly enough, and I will look for no other place to stay in the event we make our way back to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Sunday, September 1st

After enjoying the sunrise at Connoles Gatehouse, we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher. I have no words to adequately express how majestic, awe-inspiring, resplendent… let’s just say spectacular… the Cliffs of Moher are in person. Though this is a running theme for much of our trip, it seems that (of what we were able to see and visit) I have the most difficulty describing how profoundly gorgeous I found Ireland compared to the rest of our journey.

After leaving the cliffs, we ate lunch at StoneCutter’s Kitchen and then made our way to Moher Cottage for coffee and fudge. I highly recommend both locations.

We continued to explore Liscannor before heading back toward Doolin, spending the rest of our day exploring The Burren Region and the Wild Atlantic Way. Two videos will be linked below, a clip of the waves crashing against the coastline at one of our many stops (because I enjoyed the peacefulness of just watching and listening), and a timelapse of the view from our cabin as the sun set over the Atlantic.

Monday, September 2nd

Monday was, perhaps, the dreariest day we encountered during the entire trip. Not only did we have to leave a place that was absolutely perfect to travel back to Dublin, but almost the entire time we were in Dublin there was a light rain. We went to the Guinness Storehouse first and enjoyed learning more about the history of the famous stout, as well as enjoying an absolutely spectacular meal in one of the on-site restaurants for lunch. I have had many variations of Guinness stew, and I can unequivocally sat that the best I’ve had yet was at the Guinness Storehouse.

Leaving the storehouse, we went to Dublin Castle before proceeding to Trinity College and the Book of Kells exhibit. While I certainly understand concerns about photographing important works, the one disappointment for this portion of our trip was that no photography was allowed in the Book of Kells exhibit. Regardless, it was still enjoyable, though overpriced.

We did not have time to explore further, as we had a flight to catch to return to London. If you missed the details about the remainder of our trip, the second post in the series (England) covers the first few days and the last two days.

I can easily say that, while I fell in love with Edinburgh and what little we were able to see of Scotland, my heart definitely belongs to Ireland. Emily made the right choice in having Jacob stay home with her parents, because if he had been with us there is a very, very good chance I would have found a way to stay.

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

Posts and related media in this series:

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Thursday, August 29th

Picking back up from the previous post in this series (England), after visiting Liverpool and taking a tour of Anfield we made our way back to Liverpool Lime Street Station to travel to Edinburgh Waverley Station. This particular leg of our journey would prove stressful, though knowing what we know now it is not nearly as big an issue as we thought it would be at the time. Our train from Liverpool Lime Street to a connecting station, where we were to change to another train to take us the rest of the way to Edinburgh, was cancelled due to lack of available personnel to staff the train (there was a major incident somewhere that impacted train operations across the board). Being accustomed to the way things operate in the United States, this created significant cause for concern: our tickets were non-refundable, all of the trains were operated by different companies (though all a part of the same system, which plays its part in our story shortly), and there was not another connector scheduled to the same station where we were to meet the train that would take us to Edinburgh. We started asking the staff at the station what we were supposed to do and how things worked in a situation like this, and I cannot help but heap as much praise as possible on all of the people who operate the railways in the United Kingdom (and support personnel, and anyone affiliated with making this type of situation a non-event). We were told to take the next train to another station, and from there take the next available train to Edinburgh. It did not matter who operated the train, just provide our original ticket and an explanation of the events that transpired, and we would be accommodated. I won’t lie, I was surprised this was the answer. I was even more surprised to learn this was exactly what the process is in the event there is a transit issue.

If you are from the United States, take a moment to appreciate that concept. Imagine your flight being canceled, and you were told to just go grab a seat on another flight, regardless of carrier, to your destination. I realize this is not exactly the same, but that’s the concept in a nutshell. I cannot think of any mass transit operation in the United States that would even begin to suggest something like that to a traveler. Instead, every incident I can think of would be met with re-ticketing (potentially at a fee) and a complete change in itinerary. Instead, we were actually able to still connect to our original train to Edinburgh, though at a different station.

There was one other hiccup that caused us some concern, which was the loss of power in our train as we were close to where we would need to disembark and hop onto our connector to Edinburgh. After a delay of fifteen minutes or so, we were back on our way and were still able to meet our connecting train (it had also been delayed, thankfully), and so our trip was not hindered.

After arriving in Edinburgh, we made our way to the flat we had elected to stay in for the two nights we would be in the city (link to the Airbnb listing), and we were greeted by an absolutely phenomenal view of Edinburgh Castle.

For those that know mw, it is no surprise that our first task, once we unpacked what we would need and did a quick walkthrough of the flat to know where things were and be prepared for a relatively early morning, was to find a local pub and order a scotch whisky. It should also come as no surprise that the first one I ordered was from one of my favorite distilleries, though not my favorite expression from that distillery: the Auchentoshan 12 Year. Once the sheer enjoyment of enjoying a dram of scotch, in Scotland, in a local pub (which was actually right outside our flat, the White Hart Inn is well worth the visit) had truly registered, the next important task had to be performed: asking for a recommendation and trying a scotch I either had never heard of or, at the very least, had never tasted. The first recommendation ticked both of those boxes, and I enjoyed a dram of the Glen Scotia Double Cask expression. I found this Campbeltown scotch to be exceptionally pleasing and smooth on the palate, and would place it in my list of go-to selections for general enjoyment.

Having fulfilled two major requirements for our short time in Scotland, we made our way back to the flat for some rest after a relatively long day.

Friday, August 30th

Friday seemed like a day we might not make it through everything we wanted to experience, yet at the same time was not planned very heavily. In the end we did make it to everything we had on our list to see or do, though.

We started the day with Edinburgh Castle, which was just as awe-inspiring and majestic as one might imagine a castle, situated in the middle of a city perched high on a rock, could possibly be. One piece of advice for those who want to get a few photographs of the castle without having a hundred people in your shots: as soon as you get through the admission gates, make your way as quick as possible to the courtyard area where the crown jewels are located. You will have a few minutes, at least, without the area being packed with visitors.

Beyond the spectacular views all around the castle and the simply amazing weather, we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the castle as a stronghold, residence, and prison. After taking some time to peruse the on-site whisky gift-shop, we began our journey down the Royal Mile (the individual streets that comprise the Royal Mile, from west to east, are Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand; sometimes referred to as Edinburgh's High Street, the Royal Mile is almost exactly one mile long and connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace).

As we meandered, we stopped in various places and ducked into various closes (the Scottish term for an alley) to see the city from many different angles. By the time we made it about halfway to Holyrood Palace we decided to stop and have lunch at the Tollbooth Tavern. I was slightly unsure of whether to try haggis or not prior to our trip, and ended up watching a video by The Broonfords entitled “Talking Haggis with The Haggis Box” (YouTube link) that made me decide I would absolutely try it. Unfortunately, due to the timing of our visit, the folks at The Haggis Box were on holiday, and we found the Tollbooth Tavern adjacent to where The Haggis Box has their shop set up. I wish I knew how the two compared, but I can definitely say the haggis from the Tollbooth Tavern was absolutely excellent, and I highly recommend it!

After lunch we continued our exploratory meandering toward Holyrood Park. The next item on our agenda was to hike Arthur’s Seat. I should pause for a moment and add a note here: while we were in Edinburgh the wind was blowing at a pretty constant 20ish miles per hour. While it felt absolutely wonderful to me, it did make some aspects of our excursion a little more challenging, such as being strong enough to knock Emily over once as we hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat. As a result, we did take a little more of a roundabout route to the summit, just as a precaution.

The views from our hike were breathtaking. I easily fell in love with Edinburgh before we even made it to Holyrood Park and started toward Arthur’s Seat, but the hike and views from our trek made me love the city even more. Below I’ve included a short video clip recorded at the top. Just listen to the wind!

Just a quick video to hear the wind at the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh (August 30, 2019)

As we made our way back down to the Royal Mile it started to sprinkle, and we elected to stop in The World’s End to have a pint to see how long it would last. By the time we finished our drinks it was no longer raining, and we made our way down another street for coffee at the Edinburgh Press Club (definitely recommend stopping by for coffee if you’re in the area!) before continuing our journey back toward Edinburgh Castle.

We had finished our hike earlier than expected, and the next item on our itinerary was to have a tour and tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience. We decided to go ahead and make our way there and see if we could go through early or if we needed to meander longer and come back at our scheduled time. Luckily they were not very busy when we arrived, and were able to move our time slot to the next available tour.

The tour itself was somewhat gimmicky, though still interesting. It does provide a decent idea of what the traditional scotch producing regions are known for and the official classifications of those regions, as well as an opportunity to see the world’s largest collection of scotch. The guided tasting was enjoyable, and anyone who would like to understand some of the subtleties between scotch whiskys will definitely learn a thing or two. The real treat, however, was in being able to enjoy a number of assorted scotch whiskys in their lounge.

As I previously mentioned, Auchentoshan is one of my favorite scotch distilleries. My favorite expression, at least prior to this trip, is the Three Wood, and the 18 Year expression I also found enjoyable (though I felt it not worth the price given how fantastic the Three Wood is). I found a new favorite, however, in Scotland. The Auchentoshan 21 Year expression was phenomenal. It definitely will not become one I am able to enjoy often, but I highly encourage everyone who enjoys scotch to give it a shot the next time you see it at a bar/pub.

Auchentoshan, 21 Year

After making our way back to the flat, Emily went to bed and I elected to go back out and just walk around the nearby area. I definitely was not ready for our time in Edinburgh to come to a close, but the next morning was an early flight to Dublin, and I was quite excited for the next leg of our journey.

I meandered for a short while, just taking in the sights and sounds of the city, before finally heading back to the flat. Edinburgh, you definitely made me wish for more time, though I am quite glad I even had the opportunity to experience even a fraction of what you have to offer!

Saturday, August 31st

We elected to use Uber to catch a car to the airport in Edinburgh, which was definitely the right call to make (from a cost perspective) over utilizing a cab (it was raining lightly, and neither of us wanted to deal with hiking back to the train station and getting to the airport that way). We made it to the airport with enough time, or at least we thought we did, and ended up with delays in security and having to run the last little bit to our gate to catch our flight. While not ideal, we didn’t miss the flight, and made our way to Dublin.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series: Ireland!

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

Posts and related media in this series:

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

Monday, August 26th and Tuesday, August 27th

Our journey began in the afternoon on Monday, August 26th with a flight from Birmingham to Atlanta and a scheduled connection to Heathrow that would depart Atlanta a little later than 7PM Eastern. Unfortunately, our flight from Birmingham to Atlanta was significantly delayed, resulting in not arriving in Atlanta early enough to reach our gate before it was closed (though the plane was still on the ground, which begs the question of why airlines do not offer better customer service when issues arise, especially when the flight and connection are operated and booked by the same airline, but that is an entirely separate topic). Luckily, there was another flight roughly two hours later, and we were moved to that flight with minimal friction. This meant we would arrive in London roughly two hours later than expected, but since we intentionally kept plans light for the first day it had no significant impact.

Once we arrived in London and made our way through the airport, which was around 11:30AM or so local time if I remember correctly, we identified the correct train to head toward our hotel. We’ll revisit this topic later, but it is worth noting that I initially found everything about determining which train line I needed, where to stop to change trains, and how to determine where I even needed to go a bit overwhelming and confusing at first. Since this was not Emily’s first trip to London I had no need to try to figure it out and simply followed her directions. In retrospect, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the transit system faster than I did (I didn’t really take the time to learn anything about it until our return leg), because once you understand the transit system, everything else about the city makes more sense and is more enjoyable.

Our accommodations for the first night were at the Bankside Hotel (one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection of hotels). We chose the hotel for three primary reasons: proximity to what we wanted to explore and see on the first day, hotel accommodations mean there was a place to drop off luggage even if the room wasn’t ready for us upon our arrival, and we wanted to use points to stay in a really nice hotel for one of our nights anyway.

Entrance to the Bankside Hotel.

After getting settled and taking quick showers, we made our way out of the hotel, walking along the bank of the River Thames, on a meandering path toward Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Our plan at this point was pretty simple: find coffee, make our way to Tower Bridge, and just explore the area until our allotted time to go to the top of The Shard that evening. After being in an airplane and dealing with travel in general for a fairly long stretch, it was nice just to roam around and not have any set agenda.

I am not entirely certain why Tower Bridge became my favorite landmark in London, or why it captivated me as much as it did as a whole, but as we explored the area I continued to move to glimpse the iconic bridge over and over. Before heading up to the top of The Shard to watch the sun set, we enjoyed a couple of drinks from a couple of different places during our meandering, and ended the day with dinner at The Anchor after we left The Shard (I definitely recommend their fish and chips!).

Looking out from The Shard toward Tower Bridge.

Wednesday, August 28th

We started the day with a trip to Borough Market to try Monmouth Coffee (definitely worth a visit!), and had breakfast at a little place in Southwark called The Table Cafe (also highly recommend!). I do not remember whether we had a specific time for our train to Bristol or if it was just whichever one we hopped on, but we were not rushed to pack and make it to the station. However, we knew we wanted to explore Thornbury Castle a bit once we arrived and we were going to be back in London toward the end of our trip, so it made sense that we did not spend a lot of excess time in London that morning and made our way to Thornbury with plenty of time to explore the castle.

First, a little backstory on Thornbury Castle. From their website:

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, built the castle during the reign of Henry VIII, though he wasn’t able to enjoy it for long. After being betrayed to the king by a disgruntled servant, Stafford was arrested for high treason and executed on Tower Hill. Henry claimed the castle for himself, spending ten days here while on his honeymoon tour with Anne Boleyn. It remained royal property until the death of his daughter Mary I, when it was returned to the Duke’s descendants.

For two centuries, the castle was unoccupied, falling into ruin. In the 1850s, it was saved and turned into a family home. Its more recent occupants have included the Howards, the Clifford family, Kenneth Bell MBE and the Baron and Baroness of Portlethen.

Nestled in the small town of Thornbury, arriving at the castle felt much like traversing a portal to another world. Although obviously updated in many areas, the look and feel of the estate was exactly what we had in mind when looking for accommodations that did not feel like a hotel within a shell of a historic location. The doors to each chamber still used skeleton keys, the stone walls were exposed everywhere, ivy grew along the exterior walls in many places, and an oddly satisfying touch involved the repurposing of the old bell cords used to summon servants or staff into light switches within the rooms. The only possible knock against the experience would be the rather lackluster supply of hot water, which was entirely expected when considering the feel of the rooms as classic bedchambers was retained while remodeling to include such a modern amenity as indoor plumbing.

We rounded out the evening with dinner and drinks at a local pub (Royal George), which was excellent. I highly recommend their crate of beer food, which included bacon-wrapped sausages and fried macaroni bites.

Thursday, August 29th

After breakfast at the castle Thursday morning, which was absolutely phenomenal, we made our way back to Bristol Temple Meads Station to head to Liverpool and our tour of Anfield before making our way by train to Edinburgh, Scotland. The one aspect of the trip I kind of feel like we missed out on was having more time to explore the city of Liverpool, as the little bit of time we spent roaming around yielded a very friendly and interesting city. Regardless, visiting Anfield was a phenomenal experience that could only be topped by being able to be there on a match day.

We’ll pick back up on Thursday’s events with the next post in the series, starting with our travel from Liverpool Lime Street Station to Edinburgh Waverley Station. For now, we’ll fast forward to landing at Gatwick Airport on Monday, September 2nd, for the return leg of our exploration of London and our return to the United States.

Monday, September 2nd

Our return flight from Dublin to Gatwick was uneventful, and upon arriving back in London (albeit rather late) we made our way to our accommodations for the next two nights: a nice, quiet flat we found on Airbnb (link to the listing). By the time we arrived and unpacked it was late enough to just go on to bed, leading us to our final day of exploration in London.

Tuesday, September 3rd

With one day left to roam, we chose to visit all of the highlights one might expect any tourist to have on their list: Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben (Big Ben was, unfortunately, undergoing major renovations, therefore the clock face itself was the only portion truly visible), meandering along the river to see The London Eye and Whitehall Gardens, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, exploring the British Museum, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, and then returning to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London before making our way to the Victoria Palace Theatre for a showing of Hamilton. Interspersed throughout, of course, were random stops for food and drink, though I would like to specifically call out the Whittard of Chelsea Tea Bar and Pancs Cafe in Covent Garden as two phenomenal places to go that are well worth a visit, especially if you are looking for excellent tea or hot chocolate (Whittard) or something just different enough to eat (Pancs) to truly provide a rememberable experience.

Side note for my friends and former colleagues from Apple: yes, we stopped in the Apple Store at Covent Garden!

While it may seem that I am glossing over the aforementioned exploration as a checklist of sorts, I assure you each and every moment was enjoyable and well worth seeing. In general, there just is not a lot to really say about each location. The experience of being there, of seeing such wonderful architecture and being immersed in the history of the city, is something that provides a very personal and objective experience for each individual. I fully believe it would be an injustice to try to encapsulate those feelings into a post here.

Going back to the topic of the transit system briefly: this was the day I finally took the time to learn what the different train lines were, how to glance at the maps and figure out where I needed to fo, and how the lines related to the city. Once I understood the trains, everything about London suddenly became easier to understand, more enjoyable, and I actually started to get why the city could provide a draw for people to live there. It wasn’t until we were getting to the end of our trip that I actually appreciated what London had to offer. Don’t make my mistake. Understand the transit system and the different zones of the city on the first day of your visit.

Hamilton

Emily chose everything about seeing a show in London, but it really comes as no surprise that the show she very much wanted to see was Hamilton. The Victoria Palace Theatre was the venue for the show, and given my lack of experience with theatres other than the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, I’ll let others decide how it compares for themselves. I will say I found everything about the experience enjoyable, including the layout of the theatre and ease of getting in and out of the building, and I felt the seats were comfortable enough.

Where the experience truly shines, however, is in the performance itself. I cannot begin to say enough good things about the cast and their performances, or how truly magnificent I found everything about Hamilton to be from the perspective of just watching a show (never mind the excellent writing, choreography, stage design, and mesmerizing range of styles). I have a really hard time deciding whether I think the opening number (Alexander Hamilton)) or My Shot was more captivating, and Right Hand Man is very close on my list.

One thing that I imagine being significantly different between seeing Hamilton in London versus seeing it in a theatre in the United States, though this is merely an assumption, is the raucous, hysterical laughter of the British audience for each of the parts of King George III. To me, the audience involvement, simply by way of reaction, to those portions of the show made them drastically more enjoyable, and something I will definitely always remember.

Whether it is the nature of Hamilton itself, simply the difference between actors on stage versus the screen, or simply having a tie to the story via the shared history of our nation, many portions of the show were highly tempestuous. From a strong sense of motivation to become someone better to the longing of wanting to leave behind a better world for my son, the underlying story of Alexander Hamilton is as apt now as it was during his time.

Wednesday, September 4th

Finally, it was time for us to once again don the trappings of responsibility and begin our trek home. With an early enough flight and rather persistent threats of rain, we didn’t really have time to explore anything else and simply took our time packing and making our way to Heathrow. As soon as we made it to the airport I was ready to be home, though I would have definitely “forgotten” to get on the plane if Jacob had been with us instead of being at home with Emily’s parents.

United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

Normally I am not one to care about celebrating birthdays. I’m good with the “happy birthday” messages and well-wishes and calling it a day. I turned forty this year, though, and Emily decided that meant it was a milestone that should be celebrated in style. I knew she had something planned, but I never imagined the surprise in store for me. Before we delve into the trip itself, I want to provide a little bit of backstory on what made this trip such a huge thing for me, provide a little bit of information on some things I learned preparing for the trip, and provide the high level plan for the trip we mapped out. Part two of the series will start to go through the trip itself (and depending on how long that post gets it may be continued in further posts).

This is what I received in a gift bag for my birthday!

Let’s start with what makes this such a big deal for me: I have always felt a strong desire to relocate to the British Isles without having ever visited. It was, and remains, a dream. There is no rational reason for this desire, or why I have always felt as though the region seems to be calling me home (especially given that I was born and raised in the southeastern United States, so it is a completely manufactured feeling), and yet it is a feeling that has only grown stronger with time. When I pulled the little plane out of the gift bag I was expecting something like Boston, Chicago, or New York… one of the cities Emily and I have talked about wanting to explore together. I immediately teared up when I saw London on the slip of paper. This was it. I was finally getting my chance to see if the region I felt so strongly about would be able to meet the expectations I had manufactured in my imagination and dreams.

Even my wildest expectations were blown away.

Immediately I became anxious. I was anxious about being able to fit in the highlights I felt I needed to see if I only ever managed to get this one trip to the region. I was anxious about being separated from Jacob for so long and by such a distance. I was anxious about everything that needed to be considered and handled prior to the trip in case there were any issues or problems. And yet, I was ridiculously excited.

Over the next couple of weeks we formed a list of “must-see” or “must-do” items, as well as a list of “like to see” or “like to do” items. It became apparent quickly that we would need to travel light to accommodate our list, as we would need to do a lot of travel in the British Isles. We made the decision that we would travel without any checked baggage, taking only what could be carried onto a plane. There are a few items that were purchased that made this significantly easier for me to manage, given that I was going to lose a significant amount of space by carrying my camera equipment (two camera bodies and three lenses, which roughly equated to all of the available space in my “personal item” bag, limiting everything else I would need to take to be able to be packed in a single carry-on that could be stowed in the compartments above the seats on any airplane). I won’t go through all of the items in detail that made this easy to accomplish, but below are links and brief highlights for the things that really made a huge difference in making such light packing for disparate weather conditions, terrain, and needs possible:

  • Allbirds Merino Wool Shoes (link)

  • Aviator Jeans (link)

  • Icebreaker Merino Wool Clothing (link)

  • Xero Hana Canvas Shoes (link)

I elected to invest in a small selection of merino wool clothing items for three reasons: thermal-regulating properties, anti-microbial properties, and weight. This proved to be an invaluable decision, as I was able to rotate three shirts, combined with a couple of different lightweight outer layers, throughout the entire trip without issue. Allowing the shirts to simply air out overnight on a hanger was all that was required to eliminate any odors picked up over the course of the day, and the shirts never felt as though they were unclean. The Allbirds wool runners allowed me to comfortably forego socks when wearing them, meaning I could pack two pairs of wool socks for use with the Xero shoes and perform a similar “airing out” of the pair that was worn when wearing the other pair.

Two pairs of shoes was a necessity simply so that I would not find myself forced to wear shoes that had been soaked through and not had time to dry, given the likelihood of encountering rain during our travels (though this ended up not really being an issue, I did not want to risk ruining my enjoyment of the trip if it had been). As already mentioned, the Allbirds shoes were comfortable without socks, but even more important was the fact that my feet stayed comfortable whether it was hot or cold outside, meaning I knew I could count on them regardless of what the weather conditions were like each day. Similarly, using wool socks with the Xero shoes felt the same, and both pairs of shoes could be flattened pretty easily (and were very lightweight), making it much easier to pack everything into a single carry-on.

Finally, I elected to try a pair of so-called “travel” jeans for this trip, and while these were not necessary I am quite glad that I purchased them (I was looking to replace a pair of worn-out jeans regardless, so these weren’t really driven by the same thoughts as the other items above). The Aviator jeans proved to be extremely comfortable regardless of weather conditions, dried quickly if they did get wet, and and offered some extra flexibility that I was glad to have during the trip (specifically having the hidden pockets allowed me to keep Euros and British Pounds separate easily, and allowed me to keep my wallet and phone more secure when I felt the need). The jeans are so comfortable, in fact, that they have become my preferred pair for everyday wear.

Jesse at Thornbury Castle.

Planning the trip itself actually ended up being fairly simple, though figuring out the logistics of travel and accommodations took a little bit of time. Going into planning, there were a handful of absolutes that formed the basic framework of the trip: explore London, explore Edinburgh, explore some of Ireland’s natural beauty, see Anfield, and see Hamilton. We just had to figure out what it meant to us to “explore” those areas. To get started, we did what any rational traveler might do: we googled things like “London in a day,” “Edinburgh in a day,” and “must-see Scotland, Ireland.” In fairness, Emily had been to London and Dublin before, so there was also some level of experience in what might make for an enjoyable trip. The basic framework became: stay in a castle that feels like a castle, see iconic London locations, explore the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, plan a road trip in Ireland and spend a day exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, see Anfield, and watch Hamilton in London. Although it seemed like a pretty tall order for a nine day trip (might as well be seven when you count the travel on both ends), we managed to hit all of the highlights on our list while also squeezing in a few little extras. Outlined below is the general itinerary of the trip, and in the next post I’ll start with more details of each day’s adventures:

  • Monday, August 26th - Travel

  • Tuesday, August 27th - Arrive in London, explore, stay in the Bankside Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection)

  • Wednesday, August 28th - Train to Bristol, exploration of and stay at Thornbury Castle

  • Thursday, August 29th - Train to Liverpool, tour Anfield, train to Edinburgh, stay in an apartment with a view of the castle (Airbnb)

  • Friday, August 30th - Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, hike Arthur’s Seat

  • Saturday, August 31st - Fly to Dublin and pick up rental car, Ireland road trip, stay at Connoles Cottage (Airbnb) in County Clare

  • Sunday, September 1st - The Cliffs of Moher and the Wild Atlantic Way

  • Monday, September 2nd - Drive back to Dublin, Guinness Storehouse and general Dublin exploration, fly back to London, stay in a London flat (Airbnb)

  • Tuesday, September 3rd - Explore more of London, watch Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

  • Wednesday, September 4th - Travel

Posts and related media in this series:

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)

AppleTV 4K and Irresponsible Design

When upgrading my television last year, I never paused to consider not upgrading my AppleTV as well. After all, I’ve used Iterations of the device since the first one, and have always found it appealing for my needs. After this weekend’s adventure, however, I’m rethinking placing any amount of faith in Apple’s “digital hub for the home.”

While watching a video on YouTube (specifically the Falcon Heavy Test Launch, since my son is in a multi-month phase of wanting to watch the same five rocket launch videos every conceivable opportunity possible) the picture froze after an accidental press of the Siri button. No big deal, this is a public beta, I’ll just reset (FYI, reset is pressing and holding the menu and play/pause buttons simultaneously). As the device rebooted I received an error on the screen. An abnormally vague warning triangle with the URL below of “support.apple.com/appletv/restore” printed below. Ok, I thought to myself, no big deal, it’s a beta, I’ll go look at how I restore the device.

Cue eerie foreshadowing music. The instructions for the AppleTV 4K are copied below in their entirety:

If you have an Apple TV 4K

If you see a  while trying to update the software on your Apple TV, or see a black screen on your TV and flashing LED light on the front of your Apple TV, contact Apple Support.

I thought, ok, maybe it’s an over the air restore. That would make sense. I’ll call.

Spoiler alert: it is literally a ship your AppleTV to Apple to have the device restored. Not even an option of going to an Apple store and swapping the device same day. No option of restoring the device at home. Nothing.

The pure stupidity and anti-consumer nature of this situation infuriates me beyond the capacity for rational thought.

Were I a normal person who did not have a “backup, non 4K AppleTV” available, I would have absolutely no television access to anything for a minimum (absolute minimum) of the three days required to, hopefully, have the device shipped overnight, inspected and repaired within one day, and shipped back overnight. Realistically, I expect a week. Whomever signed off on shipping a device to consumers where there is absolutely no possible way to return to an operable state within a 24 hour period (which is something even the cable companies at least normally get right) except by purchasing a new device; especially when trying to become the central point of access in the home, wins the crown for piss-poor, anti-consumer design (at least for now). Not to mention remote access to HomeKit would be down for multiple days…

Apple, this is beyond unacceptable for a company that, usually at least, prides itself on quality and consumer experience.

Photo Challenge: Obsession

If you’ve never heard of Lightbox Photography Cards, it would not be surprising. The concept is fairly straightforward: pick a card from the deck and use it to inspire a photograph or photo session. Today’s theme is “obsessions.”

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I elected to use the challenge to convey multiple interests in a very small subset of images. I’ll provide a hint: eight distinct interests are conveyed in the images below. Anyone think they can identify them?

 

An Interesting non-Kentucky Bourbon

Every once in a while, a delightful surprise reminds us why labelling and categorizing things according to some component of its composition is a fundamentally flawed line of reasoning. Sometimes that reminder happens with an interpersonal interaction, sometimes it occurs when consuming media, and sometimes, when you least expect it, that reminder comes from remaining open-minded about trying different whiskeys. Sometimes that reminder comes from a not-so-delightful surprise as well. Enter Gentry, a bourbon from the Charleston, South Carolina area that should not, ever, be anywhere near your list.

Coming in around $40-50 per bottle, Gentry’s profile and character are simply not worth the expense (and not good unless your preference is bland, with a burn, that you prefer to mix, and then there are much less expensive options). This is where the reminder that labels are misleading, both literally and figuratively, comes to play, and serves as a reminder that we should always look beyond the label throughout all aspects of life. (I’ve written plenty of short snippets regarding labeling theory and the emphasis we place on the wrong things, but I may devote an upcoming article to the topic, so if you are interested, stay tuned).

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Honestly, if you want a decent “mixer” bourbon, go for Old Forrester, Bullet, Jim Beam... all are drastically better than Gentry, are all good bourbons in their own ways, and are significantly less expensive.  

The Whiskey Experiment

I embarked upon a journey through sampling assorted whiskeys over the past couple of years. From the classic Scotch Whiskys to Bourbons, from Irish Whiskeys to the recent Rye boom, and anything that looked interesting to try, I chose not to limit any categories until I understood more about what I liked and did not like. I do not proclaim to be more than an enthusiast, and still do not really know that much about whiskey in general to be completely transparent, but this has been an interesting enough experiment and journey that it warrants finally sharing some of the things I’ve learned. We’ll start with a bourbon that I am currently enjoying: the Henry McKenna Single-Barrel offering, barreled in 2009.

Before delving into this particular bourbon, a little backstory about my experiment is probably in order to better understand the probable gaps in knowledge that will be evident. My first experience with whiskey was subpar, to say the least. It seemed to be nothing more than a liquid designed to burn anything and everything it came into contact with, leaving the drinker wanting to chase it with a gallon of something smooth and flavorful to counteract the destruction. Knowing that my first foray into drinking beer was similar, and that the truth was simply that my first beer was just a bad beer for my taste preferences and likes, I expected that the millions of people who enjoy whiskey surely are not simply drinking it to simulate guzzling bleach. Naturally, this meant that I would just turn back to rum and vodka for decades before making the decision to figure out this whole whiskey thing.

Interestingly enough, a trip to the Jack Daniels Distillery rekindled my interest in exploring what it was that makes whiskey such an appealing drink to so many people, mostly because the production process was so intriguing. I decided to start with, rather obviously, a Tennessee whiskey, a scotch whisky (specifically Glenfiddich), and a bourbon whiskey (Maker’s Mark). Since then I have tried many, many different whiskeys from many different distilleries (large and small), and have generally discovered that I enjoy whiskeys that fall into one of two general categories of flavor profiles: smooth (such influences on flavor as vanilla, caramel, toffee, etc.) with a spice note, or lightly smoked/peated and smooth. As always, there are occasional exceptions that I find that do not fit in those broad categories, but that should provide a general baseline for understanding what types of whiskeys I may choose to write about.

Back to this post’s whiskey of choice: Henry McKenna SIngle-Barrel.

From the Heaven Hill Distillery’s website, this bourbon is named for “Henry McKenna, the Irish immigrant who adapted his family's whiskey recipe to work the grains he found in Kentucky. Henry McKenna is the longest aged Bottled-in-Bond available today, resting in the barrel through 40 Kentucky seasons.” I’ll copy their tasting notes at the end of this post as well, for those who just want a simple summary.

Generally speaking, I tend to prefer my whiskey chilled somewhat (as in served over a single, massive block of ice or with whiskey stones). When trying something new I also make certain I try it neat to see which way works best for me. The Henry McKenna is one I prefer chilled, which I expect to be a result of the extra little bite from being 100 proof, though it was definitely smoother than I expected when sampled neat.

As with every whiskey I have ever tried, my first sip reminded me of napalm and bleach, and had me unable to keep from grimacing slightly (on the inside). With the first sip out of the way, I was ready to see what this bourbon had to offer. Bringing the glass to my nose I paused, the subtle hints of vanilla and oak were easily detected; in fact, so delightful was the smell of this bourbon that I paused a bit longer and simply enjoyed its aromatic profile for a moment. With my next sip I was met with the warmth of honey and oak, dancing with my tastebuds like two teenagers on a hormonal high at a rave; there was a definite underlying smoothness that I knew would continue to be brought out as the liquid chilled a bit more, and a subdued bite that was almost apologetic in the way it presented itself and then disappeared.

To say this is a good bourbon is quite an understatement, though what else would you call a bourbon that hits all the marks of what you expect and want it to be? I could call this a really good bourbon, I suppose, and maybe even borderline great, but for me a great bourbon is one that makes me want to keep a stockpile of it on hand. While good, and one I would absolutely purchase again, it is not one that makes me want to find a consistent source for it. I should note that while price influences this judgement as well, and the Henry McKenna is currently very inexpensive, thereby making it a much better buy than my preferred “greats,” there is a lack of something in its flavor profile for my personal preference. As a result, although I would rank this somewhere in the range of 4.6 / 5.0, it still does not quite hit my arbitrary and subjective category of “great bourbons.”

Continuing with my dram, I enjoyed the consistently smoother profile as the ice began to melt just a little, and the liquid reached a slightly chilled state, which would therefore be my recommended method of serving/consumption. For those interested, the Peak four cube ice tray (link) is my preferred size for my single cube.

Tasting Notes

  • Color: Warm golden amber

  • Aroma: Vanilla, caramel, oak, and a light herbaceous note

  • Taste: Smooth oak, sharp spices, honey and sweetness

  • Finish: Long, sweet and spicy

Back in Black

Just in case a reader is too young to get the reference, the title is a nod to AC/DC. 

After a rather lengthy hiatus from writing, social media, and even news to a large extent, I’ve resurrected my web presence with a nice, new look, tweaked content, and even pulled in some old writings. In addition, my portfolio and branding has been updated (and looks great), and I’m looking forward to writing again.

Stay tuned. My random musings and exploration of life through creative works are back!

White American

November 9, 2016. Think about it for a moment. Recognize that this marks a day when people believing they are espousing messages of inclusivity and hope began to turn into the same people they believed they were fighting back against for a long time. Stay with me, and hopefully we can both agree on how absurd so many comments and thoughts have been over the past two days.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first: I am a white male. I grew up in rural Georgia. I am married and have a son. I received my undergraduate degree from Columbus State University and my Masters from the University of Cincinnati. I am the demographic many of you have decided to lump into one singular category since November 8, and the fact that you are relying on stereotypes and broad categorical labels is just as much of a problem now as any other issue present in this country. You are doing exactly what you accuse me of doing on a daily basis simply because I am not female, or a person of color, or identify as a non-heterosexual male. You are labeling, blaming, and lashing out at me without any legitimate reason, simply because I am different from you.

There are absolutely racist white morons in this country. There are issues that we face in this country that stem from the systematic oppression of others. There are plenty of things that you and I would agree emphatically on if we were to discuss things over a cup of coffee. There is one fundamental difference, however, in our views: I wholeheartedly believe that everyone is equal and that our society should be shaped in such a way as to make that clear, whereas I do not see that belief from you.

As long as we continue to separate ourselves from each other, especially through systems of classification and labels (such as African-American, white, or homosexual, just to pick some examples) we will continue to create and reinforce stereotypes and societal divisions that we will not overcome. As long as we view our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and strangers we encounter as “x label” instead of viewing them as fellow Americans, we are lost. As long as we blame others and find fault with them in some way, we have failed.

I get it. You're frightened because the person that has been elected to lead this country has shown us that he is misogynistic, authoritarian, homophobic, and bigoted. What you seem to be forgetting, however, is that judging or labeling others by any demographic is exactly the problem you feel you have been facing, and now you are responding by doing that very thing to me.

We are in this together. I'm scared of what the coming days, weeks, months, and years will bring as well. Let's start by looking at each other as fellow human beings and figuring out how we make a positive difference, from the ground up, in a country where we have (for far too long) looked for answers from the top down.

Waning Hope

I'm tired. If I discuss racism, inequality, or really any social issue, I'm ignored or told I cannot possibly know what I am talking about from my position of privilege (I am a white male). Instead I get to watch from the sidelines as wave after wave of rhetoric and uninformed drivel gets spouted at the American public as if there is no possible way any other view is worth considering, and watching the pendulum of bigotry and divisiveness swing from one side to the next.I truly hope that one day people open their eyes and understand the most basic concept required for us to be able to move toward an honestly better Society: labels and classifications of people cannot continue to exist, or we will always have issues with discrimination and inequality.As long as we reinforce the notion of self-identification with a particular group, we divide ourselves based on similarities to others. We create the very divisive structure that we claim we want to see eliminated. Unfortunately, many do not want to see these structures removed from Society. How else can a political nominee measure demographics to try to mobilize specific groups to vote? How else can an insurance company classify individuals to "customize" rates in order to preserve their bottom line? How else can social constructs negotiate for preferential treatment or special privileges? We have grown accustomed to the power struggles among groups of people, when we should be tearing down these constructs and forcing one simple question onto everyone: what is best for the human race?I certainly cannot claim to have all of the answers or to have a roadmap leading us from our current struggles to the promised land. I know, without the slightest doubt, that our first step is to honestly look at each other as equals instead of looking at the idiotic notions of separate classifications of people based on any physical trait. Unfortunately, as I get older, I realize the likelihood of seeing my dream come true becomes less and less likely with every passing year. Maybe, at this point, I have to just keep the world from changing me instead of hoping for change in the world.

Things My Son Taught Me... Seven Month Edition

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Prior Post(s) in this series:

  • Things I've Learned Since Becoming A Father

Ask any parent what it is like to have a child and you will probably hear some variation of "it's such an amazing experience; I don't know how to describe it," or "I've never experienced such love and joy." There is a large amount of truth in each of those answers and their assorted variations, but every parent leaves a lot of things unsaid. There truly, and I mean that with all sincerity, just are not proper combinations of words in any language that can convey what it is like to have your own little spawn creating a whirlwind of... not terror... umm... well... crap. We'll come back to that thought. Maybe providing some lessons I've learned first will provide enough background for us to come up with the ending of that statement together.

Lesson One: "If I can reach it, I can try to eat it."

I knew a kid was prone to putting anything into their mouth and at least trying to bite it a few times. That hasn't surprised me. What has surprised me, however, is that pillows are the greatest thing ever invented for trying to eat. Consistently. To the point where my son's excitement to see the pillow and lunge for it, jaws agape, like a little vampire diving onto a plump, chunky human after weeks of fasting seems to be normal behavior to us now.

And hard plastic? You would think that would be tossed aside quickly in favor of any number of hundreds of other items we now possess, but a hard plastic toy seems to be the second best option. Lesson learned. The more logical the thought of something being a highly sought after chew toy, the less likely my son will choose to chew on it.

Lesson Two: "I will show you the true power of the digestive system."

Chemical warfare. There is no other phrase that even possibly encapsulates the odors a child can produce. I have smelled many, many things in my lifetime that were unpleasant, and even borderline unbearable. There are times when my son will turn, look me dead in the eye, and then let rip the most unholy of odors while laughing maniacally (ok, in fairness, he just smiles and giggles slightly, but I interpret that as the infant equivalent of the Joker's hysterical laughter in this situation).

Not even a group of adult males binging on Taco Bell and Krystal after a night of liberal consumption of libations can compare to the destructive power of an infant's normally functioning and fully operational digestive system. Lesson learned. Invest in gas masks, febreeze, lysol, and powerful vortex fans to push airflow throughout the home...

Lesson Three: "I can still be ridiculously cute, and you will still fall for it."

I'm pretty sure every parent has the same basic idea bout their own child. Genetics should require such behavior. Seriously, if my son was not as cute/handsome/adorable as he is, I can see how ignoring him could be an option. Or donating him. Or trying to return him to the hospital. Being adorable has to be the baby equivalent of a genetic defense mechanism, ensuring parental attachment and continued survival into adolescence, when parental investment is too great to scrap the project and start over.

Seriously, how could you not fall for this face? Lesson learned. Your child possesses innate kryptonite to keep you from trying to pawn him/her off.

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Lesson Four: The joy of watching a child grow, and the happiness they bring, really cannot be explained.

Think of the following string of descriptors: excitement, apprehension, confusion, joy, fear, frustration, exhaustion, love. Yeah... children are an emotional train wreck slamming into a psychological roller coaster at the apex of the first hill. Every milestone is a combination of excitement that the minion achieved something new and apprehension at how this new skill translates into getting into something you haven't thought of yet. The classic example is learning to crawl, because as a parent you become ecstatic for a fleeting moment that your child figured out movement (a complex concept), followed by the immediate realization that your child is now capable of getting into things that you used to place safely out of reach (and the dread that comes with realizing your child can now stalk you). Lesson learned. Kids are wonderful, you just have to learn to focus on the positive moments.

Lesson Five: There is a different kind of love a parent possesses for their child, and it should not be in any type of competition with the love each parent holds for their significant other.

This is one of those things that tends to be overlooked, and yet is absolutely an important distinction to make. The love I feel for my son cannot be explained. I didn't choose to love him, I just did. I didn't find him attractive and court him, he just showed up and I was smitten. I can't choose not to love him (well, ok, technically I could...). On the other hand, I did seek out my wife. I found her attractive and courted her, wanting to spend the rest of my life with her by my side. These are both manifestations of love, but they are absolutely a different kind of love from one another. Neither is stronger than the other. While this isn't necessarily a lesson my son taught me, and I'm taking a break from the humorous aspect for this point, it's something that has become that much clearer having a child. Just keep this one in mind and make sure you focus on both relationships properly, ok?

Lesson Six: Fear is a strong emotion. It will test you.

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering...Come on, did you really thing I wouldn't work that quote in when I decided to add a point about fear to the list? Children will test your ability to overcome fear. How close do I let him crawl at light speed toward the edge of the couch before I stop him from diving head first onto the hardwood floor? How big a bite do I let him keep of that teething wafer, or whatever solid food we're trying today? Am I putting the fracking car seat in correctly or does it just look and feel like it is correct, lulling me into a false sense of security?

I'm suddenly an overprotective father. How? I've never been overprotective that I'm aware of. It is a constant line I have to remind myself to be mindful of, and force myself to accept some things as part of the learning process. It isn't always easy. Lesson learned. Having a child will make you suddenly question the safety of everything you are doing, even though you know full well you did plenty of stupid stuff as a kid that should have killed you.

So, how do we finish that statement I couldn't figure out how to finish earlier? Well, I'm not so sure we need to. After all, we've made it this far without the proper combinations of words to describe the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations, the sheer excitement and mind-freeing angst of raising a child. What's another few hundred years before trying to come up with another way to describe it to someone else?