68 years – 68 reasons to be grateful

October 11 is my 68th birthday. I’ve had – am having – a great life. Borrowing another idea from Laurie Buchanan, author of the soon-to-be-released Note to Self, and to recognize the years with which I’ve been blessed, I’m sharing 68 reasons why I’m grateful.

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. More than a house – a home
  2. My logical, practical husband who invariably has whatever I need
  3. My son and the happiness he’s finding in his life
  4. Two delightful granddaughtersCarol & Eliza on Tractor who give me so much joy
  5. Parents who loved me and gave me a solid foundation of values
  6. A lifelong love of education
  7. Hearing devices
  8. Glasses
  9. Living in an area with ready access to great medical care
  10. A positive attitude
  11. Readers who’ve supported my writing – and chosen to write and tell me what my stories meant to them
  12. Book club friends
  13. Bible study friends
  14. Lifelong friends and brand new ones
  15. My sister who’s living and another one I had for 58 wonderful years
  16. Good health
  17. The ability to travel
  18. The trips I’ve taken and the ones I see ahead
  19. Farmers
  20. The change of seasons
  21. My prairie and all the lessons I learn theremonarch in prairie
  22. Birds at the feeders and those in the trees
  23. Cheese
  24. The Percheron horses that pasture adjacent to our back yard
  25. The Internet and Google
  26. Libraries and librarians because Google doesn’t know everything
  27. Good editors
  28. The smell of lilacs
  29. Electricity
  30. More good memories than otherwise
  31. Curiosity
  32. Green trees, green grass, green
  33. Nurses like my sister and her daughter
  34. Teachers
  35. Authors who inspire me
  36. Our service men and women
  37. The police
  38. Summer tomatoes
  39. A deep freeze full of the bounty of our garden
  40. Hostas
  41. My washer and dryer
  42. My hair dresser
  43. A “good stick” at the blood bank
  44. October and the advent of cool weather
  45. April and the return of warm weather
  46. Chocolate chip cookies
  47. Vanilla ice cream
  48. Being ‘old enough
  49. Good health
  50. The ability to walk easily
  51. Colorful sunrisesIowa sunrise
  52. Thunderstorms
  53. Birkenstocks and Chacos
  54. Breathing
  55. All the colors of the rainbow
  56. Music of the 60’s and 70’s
  57. The breadboard my dad made me
  58. The smell of fresh-baked bread
  59. An appreciation for hard work
  60. My nieces and their families
  61. My smart phone
  62. Oakridge Neighborhood and all the places that help individuals, children and families in need achieve a better life
  63. Givers
  64. A good bed
  65. Children laughing
  66. My writing buddies
  67. A wealth of ideas for what comes next
  68. Another birthday

What things are you grateful for today? Leave a note with two or three.

How old do you feel? Time to Reflect.

Recently, I felt the need to journal and reflect. But where to start? I recalled a social media post I read a few months ago that offered a list of questions. As usually happens, though, I couldn’t recall exactly when I read the post or the people involved in the discussion.

However, the list included the kind of questions Laurie Buchanan, a holistic health practitioner and transformational life coach, shares on her blog Tuesdays with Laurie. I took a shot and contacted her.

note-to-self_finalLaurie generously sent a list of 365 questions that form the core of one chapter of her soon-to-be-published book Note to Self. From the book cover:

Note to Self is about offloading emotional baggage – something that’s especially important when we realize that we don’t just pack for one, we pack for seven of our selves – self-preservation, self-gratification, self-definition, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. Each plays a vital role in harmony, overall health, and well-being.

Exploring one question

I chose this question from Laurie’s list: How old do you feel?

To begin, I catalogued my physical aches and pains of the last three years, including how breaking my wrist caused me to go from healthy to  invalid. The transition occurred in my brain, since the wrist healed quickly, and I recovered full movement. The broken wrist became an excuse to exercise less, to question my balance, to move cautiously instead of with confidence, to begin to see myself as “old.”

Understanding I had no legitimate physical reason to feel old, the catalogue led to an exploration of what I’ve done to regain control of my health – from ears to feet to core strength to weight.

All this led to what society and the media have to say about age. What they say someone who’s nearing 70 years can and can’t do. The decidedly mixed societal messages caused me to affirm that how old I feel can be my own decision, not one imposed by others.

So then I journaled about what I want to be able to do with my life. A long list included things like playing with my granddaughters, traveling, hiking, riding bike, gardening, having enough energy to do whatever I feel like doing. All activities associated with good health.

Concluding that barring serious illness, “old” is a state of mind, I meandered into the positive sides of being “old.” I realized I’m Old Enough:

  • to have enjoyed a good long career doing something I loved.
  • to have made some good friends; to know what a friend means, and to value having and keeping them.
  • to have figured out (finally) what I want to do while I’m still able to do it.
  • to have made lots of mistakes, learned from them, and be young enough to make more mistakes, but maybe handle them better now that I’m old enough.
  • to know I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am, to live where I do, to have the life I have.

While feeling old may be a physically-imposed reality, barring that, feeling old appears to be more of a state of mind. I don’t “feel” 68 any more than I “felt” 40 or 17. If I even know that that means. Some comparative measure against others, societal expectations or my own, I suppose.

After pausing to reflect, I realize I don’t feel any particular age.

I feel like me.

The result of reflection

What a journey, Laurie’s question inspired – journaling for three days and returning in thought to the topic repeatedly since. After pausing to reflect, I realize how much of age is perspective. Reflecting reminded me again to be grateful.

Laurie Buchanan, author of "Note to Self"

Laurie Buchanan’s philosophy is “whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

If even half of the questions unlock such self discovery, I’ll be journaling not for 365 days but for several years. I pre-ordered Laurie’s book Note to Self and I encourage you to check it out too.

How old do you feel? What impacts your attitude about age? What tools do you use to reflect?

Making way for new – Prairie & Writing

We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.

Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.

  • There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
  • Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
  • There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they'll move on.

Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they’ll move on.

Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.

Prairie & Writing Parallels

I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:

  • Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
  • As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
  • In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
  • Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
    Prairie beauty - coming in two to three years.

    Prairie beauty – coming in two to three years.

Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?

The Mystery of a Mystery – M.K. Tod

M.K. Tod wrote and indie-published two successful historical novels set during World War I. Her newest novel Time and Regret – published this month by Lake Union Publishing – stays true to Tod’s historical expertise while branching into new territory – mystery.TodMK-TimeandRegret-22790-CV-FT

Writing in a new genre stretches an author, and as a fan of her historical writing, I’m pleased to report that Tod not only stays true to her historical fiction core but also does a fine job weaving in a mystery. To read my review, click here.

I asked her to share her thoughts on why mysteries are so appealing and how she worked that into her new novel. This is what she said.

The Mystery of a Mystery
by M.K. Tod

Attracted by the front cover, you take the book off the shelf, peruse the brief description on the back and decide, yes, this is my type of book. A mystery.

Mysteries conjure excitement, the thrill of danger, the nail-biting question of will they or won’t they solve it in time. And then there’s the thrill of sleuthing as you become the detective, the cop, or the amateur accidentally stuck in the midst of a crime.

My new novel – Time and Regret – is a mystery with multiple timelines and a romance to sweeten the deal. In writing it – my first mystery – I’ve had to think a lot about this genre’s enduring appeal.

What is it about mysteries that makes them so satisfying? Why do some people read almost nothing else? Author Melissa Bourbon Ramirez offers this opinion: “I think one reason people love reading mysteries is because they are a safe thrill, kind of like roller coasters when you’re a kid.  They’re a safe adventure, as well.  Just as in any other type of book, we get to visit exotic or interesting places.  You can see the dark side of people, but you know that justice will prevail.  Good will overcome evil.”

Author Nancy Curteman has a different take: “Mystery readers are intelligent people. The mystery story appeals to their sense of curiosity. They enjoy action. They love to analyze the psychological makeup and motivational drives of characters. Most mystery readers are as interested in how and why a crime is committed as they are in who committed it. Sifting through clues and red herrings as the story progresses adds challenge.”

Other reasons have been put forward: to understand the behavior of criminals and the criminal mind; to live the intense emotions involved in crime; to vicariously experience a world of suspense, secrets, excitement and danger; to create order out of disorder and justice out of crime.

And then there’s the detective—typically a flawed but heroic figure who overcomes major obstacles while often making a mess of his or her own life. We can see ourselves in this individual and we root for them to successfully solve the crime while resolving some of their own life problems.

Here’s the premise of Time and Regret.

Time and Regret: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and is suddenly aware that someone is following her.

When I set out to write Time and Regret, I didn’t fully appreciate the expectations involved. Gradually, I added more to the story: more subtle clues, more plot twists, more danger, more violence, more dead ends. I made my heroine more conflicted and gave her a difficult childhood and I added flaws to my other characters. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the ending.

Does it work? Will it satisfy the needs of mystery readers? Readers will be the judge because another thing I’ve discovered is that no two readers are the same—and that is the biggest part of the mystery of writing.

Find Time and Regret on Amazon:

Amazon US 

Amazon Canada 

Amazon UK 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Happy birthday, National Park Service

The National Park Service marks 100 years this week. One hundred years of preserving our amazing natural resources. One hundred years of educating people on our great outdoors. One hundred years of giving joy to the millions of people from all over the world who visit the parks each year.

It’s a good deal when the one having the birthday gives the gifts, though that’s what the National Parks are. A gift. To celebrate this anniversary, here are pictures from my recent visits.

Bryce CanyonUtah boasts a multitude of striking natural landscapes. Wind carves away earth to reveal the tall, skinny spires of rock called Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Canyon Lands UtahLooking down on Canyon Lands National Park, Utah, one gets the impression a dinosaur left its footprint.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TennesseeA mama black bear and her two cubs meandered in front of our car at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Acadia National Park, MaineAcadia National Park, Maine, offers rugged Atlantic Ocean views and tasty crab rolls in local restaurants.

Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaThe Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, provided beautiful vistas, hiking, and a whole lot of wind. I’m not posing so much as trying to control my hair.

Glacier National Park, MontanaGlacier National Park, Montana, in June? Maybe not the best choice. Snow clogged mountain roads while rains closed valley roads, keeping us indoors much of the time. Cloaked in mist and clouds, the mountains were still beautiful. And we did spot both a bear and a moose.

Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaWater should not have been a problem in Death Valley National Park, California, but a record-breaking rain of 1/4 inch the day before we arrived flooded the valley. This impressed on me better than any ranger talk that Death Valley has no river outlet. Rain sheets off the mountains and accumulates on the floor with nowhere to go.

Badlands National Park, South DakotaStriations in the hills of the Badlands, speak to millennia of geologic history. The first time I visited the Badlands – 40 years ago – I thought this must be what the moon surface looks like. At that time, there was no visible greenery. Since then, invasive plants moved in and patches of green are everywhere.

White Sands National Monument

Though White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, is designated a monument, not a park, it’s one of the most visually stunning places I’ve visited in the past few years. Wind moves the dunes a few inches every day, often covering the roads, which have to be plowed to enable traffic to move. The white sand created a visual/mental disconnect for me since I visited there in February when we still had snow in Iowa. It didn’t help to see other visitors snowboard and sledding down the dunes.

Since the National Park Service was established, it’s grown from the one park – Yellowstone National Park – to include over 450 parks, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and seashores. Whenever and wherever I travel these days, I check to see if there’s a national park or monument along the way. They’re always worth the time.

Are you visiting the National Parks? If you haven’t, I hope these pictures whet your appetite. If you have, which have you enjoyed the most? Please leave a note. Then go have a piece of birthday cake.

The Seven Year Dress – Devastation & Resilience

Today, I introduce you to Paulette Mahurin and her new WWII-era novel, The Seven Year Dress.

The Seven Year Dress covers one of the darkest times in human history from the perspective of one Jewish woman who lived to tell her story.TSYD-FRONT COVER The Seven Year Dress KINDLE(1) copy

The narrative tells how teenager, Helen Stein, and her family were torn apart as Hitler put in motion his plan to eliminate the Jews and other undesirables. With the help of one of those “undesirables,” a German boy who was also homosexual, Helen and her brother went into hiding for several years. Ultimately, they were discovered and Helen was interred in Auschwitz.

It was in that death camp that Helen suffered persecution, torture, and devastation at the hands of the Nazis. It was also in the death camp that she encountered compassion, selfless acts of kindness, and friendship. Ultimately, this is a story of the resilience of the human spirit.

The atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews aren’t easy to read about, but the story Mahurin tells in The Seven Year Dress is too important to miss. Click to read my review.

Telling stories for a purpose

Mahurin has written a number of books, most of them historical fiction. Her passion for telling stories supports another of her passions. The profits from all her books go to help rescue dogs from kill shelters. She tells me that so far this year, sales of her books have helped rescue 79 dogs.

More about Paulette Mahurin:

Paulette Mahurin lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.

While in college, she won awards and published her short-stories. One of these stories, Something Wonderful, was based on the couple presented in His Name Was Ben, which she expanded into a novel in 2014. Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction of the year 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015.

Links to Mahurin’s books & more

Purchase The Seven Year Dress on Amazon

Check out all of Paulette Mahurin’s books on Amazon

Find Mahurin:

Blog:

Facebook
Twitter:

Learn more about Mahurin’s efforts to help dogs

How have you chipped away at glass ceilings?

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” Hillary Clinton

NOTE – This is not a political post, so if Clinton’s name inspires you to rant, take a breath, relax, and hang with me as I muse in other directions.

Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle, Washington.

Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle, Washington.

The United States made history this week when a major political party, for the first time ever, nominated a woman to run for president. During her acceptance speech, Clinton made the statement above about ceilings, and I could not help but think about my own career and how many ceilings have broken since I entered the workforce in the early 1970s.

Back in 1973 when I joined the Soybean Digest staff as editorial assistant, I didn’t recognize what a major step my boss at the American Soybean Association took when he named me the first female editor of a national ag magazine. There were women home page and recipe editors, but no women editors of ag topics.

Yet, his willingness to push the boundaries only went so far. Each year when Secretary’s Day came around, the men took the (women) secretaries to lunch, and they invited me, too. Each year, I argued that I wasn’t a secretary so I shouldn’t be included. Each year he said I needed to go. Each year, I went along and enjoyed lunch with the other women. Then after lunch, I went back to the office and reimbursed him.

Every job I had in my career trajectory showed the challenge to shifting attitudes and acceptance of women.

As a member of the American Ag Editor’s Association, I participated one year in a panel of ag editors, including a (male) editor from Successful Farming magazine. During the panel discussion, that editor commented that his magazine would never hire a woman in an editorial position because a woman could never know enough about agriculture. At that moment I thought, Hey. I’m sitting right here.

In that moment, I was embarrassed, but also silent. He was completely comfortable saying what he did, and neither I nor anyone else challenged him. That was the time.

The upshot of this story is that nearly 10 years later, that same editor asked me to interview for one of the positions he’d said would never go to a woman at that magazine.

In my early years at CMF&Z (the marketing agency I worked at for 20 years), we pitched for a major national account. The agency knew that the prospective client would have a woman at the table, so it was agreed the agency needed one, too. And they wanted me to be that woman. Cool. Right? But I had specific instructions: Do not say anything.

I must say, I played my role perfectly. When I returned from that pitch, though, I vowed that I would never let myself be put in a position like that again. Nor would I let it happen to anyone who worked with me.

Over time, the attitudes of men at CMF&Z changed. Capable women were hired in account management positions, they led major accounts – including ag accounts, they were successful.

Men had to change their attitudes, but women did, too. Some women at CMF&Z felt that if one woman held an account management position, that was all there could be. Because I was there, they considered the path closed to them. That wasn’t true, of course, but only time could prove that.

I didn’t consider myself as breaking ground – or cracking ceilings – though I see now that I was. So we’ve come a long way, baby. All of us. And I agree with what Clinton said. When we break a ceiling, there’s upside potential for all of us.

What do you say? Have you broken ceilings yourself or helped someone else do it?

Unidentified flying objects inhabit prairie

The prairie is a strange and wonderful place. Each time I visit, I discover wildlife from both the plant and insect kingdoms I’ve never seen before.

I’m not nearly as good at identifying the insects that inhabit the prairie as I am the plants, but as I explored the prairie this weekend, my eyes were drawn to the insects as much as to the plants because the air was a virtual O’Hare Airport of flying creatures.

It’s gratifying to see so many varieties of milkweed in the prairie and to see butterflies enjoy the blossoms. My prairie is only a patch, but I’m happy to do my part to encourage these insect beauties.

Here are a few insects I captured with my iPhone. Obviously, I need a camera with greater magnification (and either a steadier hand or insects that will sit still) to get better images.

Orange butterfly on Whorled Milkweed

Orange butterfly on whorled milkweed.

IMG_1992

The first time I’ve spotted this little black & white beauty. Less than an inch long.

IMG_1994

Monarch on butterfly milkweed. Finally one I can identify.

IMG_1996

A lovely black and yellow dragonfly. Look closely to see how big the wings really are.

IMG_2004

We never lack for bees or black-eyed Susans in the prairie.

IMG_2012

Two Japanese beetles do what they enjoy most on a purple coneflower.

Japanese beetles

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The second thing Japanese beetles do – make lace out of plant leaves.

Japanese beetles

IMG_2022

Two insects in this picture. Very tiny. Very fast. This is the closest I could get.

I'm sharing this Rattlesnake Master because I love the make, how weird the plant looks, and it's the first time I've seen it this year. No insects visible. here.

I share this Rattlesnake Master because I love the name and how alien the plant looks, plus it’s the first time I’ve seen it this year. No insects visible.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little visit to my prairie. If you can identify any of these unidentified flying objects, please leave the details in a comment. If you can’t identify them, leave a note anyway.

After the fire – Beauty

We burned our prairie this spring, and the fire my husband lit spread rapidly through the dried residue of the previous year’s grasses and flowers. Within minutes, we were left with nothing but a bare, black expanse.

The prairie was bare, but not barren. Within a few weeks, green began to show and now, only two month’s later, all evidence of the fire has disappeared. In its place are a multitude of flowers and grasses. After a burn, flowers are actually more plentiful. and we may see flowers we haven’t seen before. Here are a few prairie bright spots since the burn.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it's stunning.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it’s stunning.

This is the first year I've spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

This is the first year I’ve spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower - beautiful in combination.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower – beautiful in combination.

A common milkweed blossom.

A common milkweed blossom.

Fire is a necessary element of a healthy prairie, and we burn ours every four years.

Have you walked in a prairie? If so, what was your experience? If you have not been yet, I encourage you to do so.  The prairie offers infinite beauty.

Language barrier? Don’t the Irish speak English?

International travel can be a challenge, especially if you don’t speak the local language or do so minimally. One of the advantages to traveling to Ireland is that they speak English, right? Yes and no. My recent visit to Ireland revealed a range of word play that gave new depth to the language I use every day.

Road signs in Ireland provide directions and a lesson in Irish.

Road signs in Ireland provide directions and a lesson in Irish.

Road signs are the first indication you’ve entered another world. The signs were easy enough to understand, but the words describing what a sign means the driver to do might be different. We say “Yield;” the Irish say “Make way.” “Entrance” becomes “Way In.” “Exit” becomes “Way Out.” Spotting these was a delight. All Irish road signs also come with a lesson in Gaelic. Just don’t ask me to pronounce it.

Then, there’s the accent. Early in presentations, each guide asked, “Can you understand me?” Most were easy. However, one man – a farmer who also served as tour guide in the other-worldly, sandstone landscape of The Burren – was more of a challenge.

Can you imagine farming on this landscape? Our tour guide raises cattle on The Burren.

Can you imagine farming on this landscape? Our tour guide (in the CIA cap) raises cattle on The Burren.

Shane Connolly spoke so rapidly and with such a strong dialect that I’m sure I caught little more than half of what he said. Yet he was one of my favorite guides. A wealth of knowledge on history, geology, botany, and agriculture, Shane caught us off guard, surprising and delighting as he sprinkled American history and political and cultural references throughout his talk. The consensus of our group was that Shane knew more about American history and culture than many of us. And we got his message, even through the accent.

Undertakers, Plantations, and Craic

However, the real mind-bending challenge was how words that mean something to me as an American mean something entirely different to the Irish. Two of those words are “undertaker” and “plantation,” which came into play as guides related the centuries-long English/Irish, Catholic/Protestant conflict.

For many years, the English government and Church of England, were intent on removing Catholics from any power. During the “Plantation period,” Catholics were removed from the land they owned and farmed and Protestants were “planted” on that same land as the new owners. These new owners “undertook” to farm the land they’d been given and in so doing became “undertakers.”

The injustices described came uncomfortably close to America’s own treatment of Native Americans and Blacks. My head swam each time the words plantation and undertaker were spoken as I worked to re-direct my brain away from the American South and death.

On a lighter note was the word “Craic,” pronounced “Crack.” In Gaelic, craic means fun or a good time. So our guide might say, “That was craic,” or “Ye’ll have great craic.” We found the use of “ye” instead of “you” charming, while this word craic always caused laughter since seekers of American crack are looking for a whole different kind of fun.

"Welcome"

“Welcome”

All this play with language caused me as a writer, to think about the authors who write about countries other than their own. Getting a story factually right is challenging under any circumstances. To add in the possibility that words do not mean the same thing at all adds a whole new level of difficulty.

We did encounter one sign that was always, only, in Irish. That was Fáilte. Fáilte means “Welcome.” Even without the translation, we all knew that word because we felt it so clearly from every person we met. No language barrier there.

Have you traveled to another country and encountered words and phrases that caused you to think about language differently? What was your experience?