The Ireland of My Dreams

As I type this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Ireland. We are about halfway through our vacation. I like that the Europeans call these trips “holidays” since the root of the term is “holy” and “day” and was reserved for church-sanctioned festivals and celebrations. Time off of real life is sacred and important, might we even call it holy?

I did minimal research about where to go and what to see before we arrived. For some reason, and the first time ever, I wanted the trip to come to me and reveal what I was supposed to see. When we went to Paris and London, I knew much of what to expect since I had been interested in visiting those cities since time immemorial. With Ireland, at least for me, it’s a bit different. There are some very famous sites that were recommended time and again. But there aren’t a lot of major landmarks; certainly there is nothing like the Eiffel Tower that is plastered on all sorts of home decor and clothing. I had little familiarity, also, with the geography beyond Dublin and Belfast. What I do have on my side is a good bit of study in the history of Ireland and the rest of the UK. But that was about it.

So I arrived in Ireland mostly interested in seeing what I think of when I think of Ireland: rolling green hills, crumbling ruins, ancient churches, white cottages along the seaside, and lots of sheep.

It took a few days into the trip to really see that kind of Ireland. I was not surprised by Dublin’s sprawl, worldliness, and development. It is the capital city after all and I had been told it would feel much the way many big cities do. We actually shaved a day off of Dublin activities in order to move further into the rest of our plans more quickly. Belfast didn’t surprise me, either. It reminds me of many of the big cities in the Rust Belt of the United States, just with bloody civil war thrown on top. Once a manufacturing giant and more recently trying to recover and find a new identity in the years of peace in the last decade and change. I enjoyed every minute in these old cities and will continue to enjoy the other bigger cities we stop in- Galway is next on the tour.

For whatever reason, though, my heart is drawn to the never-ending green of the country. We’ve been blessed with abundant sunshine and the colors are glorious. I’ve never seen more shades of green in my life and the blue of the sea and sky stops my breath. That is the Ireland of my dreams, the Ireland that has existed before time and perhaps part of the motivation to fight to claim such a special place. From Vikings to Romans, English crown, Scottish settlers, and even Hitler, it seems like everyone has wanted a piece of Ireland. And now I wanted my part but I wanted to tread forth with respect to the past, to take what the Emerald Isle was willing to give with appreciation.

 

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A big part of the appeal of travel for me is the chance to feel connected to things that are simply beyond your previous grasp; beyond your thoughts of identity. I like feeling small, though I never feel insignificant. Standing on a mountaintop with few souls other than the sheep today, I felt at once ancient and newborn, small yet extraordinary in the role I get to play in this life. If every day is a gift because nothing is guaranteed, then what a massive gift-wrapped present to open!

I’ve heard the phrase “Erin Go Bragh” for my entire life and only in this trip have I come to understand, in a small taste, just what is meant by it. Generations of my ancestors have whispered it, shouted it in battle, and wished for their nation’s unity and peace. The Ireland of my dreams is alive and well. May she live forever.

A Year Ago Today Taught Me a Powerful Lesson

Do you remember where you were a year ago today? Maybe you do, maybe not. Sometimes we plan the days of great significance in our lives, like wedding dates and even planned c-sections. Other times, life rolls out a surprise and you mark down something on the calendar inside your head because you know you’ll remember it forever. You mentally record all the details as it unfolds in the hopes that someday you’ll appreciate all of it, learn from it, and share the story.

Last year, on this day, was one such day for me. And it has taken an entire year to be able to write about it here.

It started a few days before on a Friday. I was in the final stages of wedding preparations, making wedding favors at the kitchen counter. Jim had just left to pick up dinner. The phone rang and I picked it up only because it was my Mom. Anyone else would have had to wait. Before I even heard her voice, I knew something was wrong. When she started talking, I could tell she had been crying. She apologized for the “worst phone call with the worst timing ever” and told me that my beloved Grandma had collapsed hours before and had been taken to the hospital and then transferred to another, bigger one. I didn’t quite understand how bad things really were until she told me, “Honey, she is fighting for her life.”

Grandma was on life support and in a coma. All we could do is wait and see.

A rushing sound filled my ears, the walls closed in, and I fought to breathe. In that moment, I had the crystal-clear realization that she was already gone. She wasn’t coming back. What did she have to fight for? Her health was declining, she was the last of her siblings living, and she was exhausted every time I saw her. I could usually cheer her up in the past but it had gotten harder and harder. A thousand memories rushed by, along with all my hopes of what was still to be. I wanted her to be a great-grandmother. I wanted to visit her again and bring her photos of my honeymoon. I wanted her to frame a photo of me in my long, lace gown and tell me how happy she was at my wedding.

Jim came home shortly thereafter to find his devastated almost-wife. He promptly dropped the bags on the counter and cried with me. We bemoaned the cruel Universe and its terrible timing. Jim promised to drive me to her bedside to see her before the wedding. We hoped that she’d wake up before the wedding but in my heart of hearts I knew what would happen.

Eventually, I had to get up and keep working. Those wedding favors weren’t going to make themselves and it was the perfect mindless task to sink into and cry my way through. I muddled through the weekend, including a video shoot on the beach in Michigan, and even went to work. On Monday, I spent all day at the printer getting escort cards and programs ready. I looked like a zombie and I felt worse. I was grateful for big, dark sunglasses.

A year ago today, Tuesday morning dawned and as promised, Jim drove the 3 hours while I assembled programs on my lap. The whole family ended up coming down that day, and the only thing harder than my own grief was to see the pain etched in the faces of those I love most. I brought with me the embroidered handkerchief that was to be her wedding present from me and wept like a child. Grandma was confirmed brain dead by the neurologist just as we arrived and the crushing blow of that news reverberated through the room. The decision to remove life support was quickly and unanimously agreed upon and we all held hands and waited.

Grandma’s body had strength and fight left, though I believe her spirit had long departed. She continued breathing on her own, surprising all of us, until everyone had gone home. Eventually, she went home, too.


I still wish she had been able to come to the wedding. It has taken most of this past year to accept it and learn from it, even though the initial anger faded.

Some would point to this event as proof that timing is merely arbitrary and cruel, God doesn’t exist or at best is a mean old man, and there’s no reason to believe in anything beyond us.

I have taken quite the opposite approach. If you’re willing to learn, even from the seemingly cruel and awful things that happen in your life, you will be richer for it. I choose to take the long view and keep an optimistic perspective. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. If Grandma’s health was failing and she expressed desire to “go home,” how blessed and lucky am I that that timing was before my wedding and not in the midst of it? As hard as it was, I cannot imagine recovering from her collapsing during the celebrations.
  2. In some sense, she was there all along and I felt her with me stronger than ever. After we came home Tuesday night, I stayed up until almost 4 a.m. working on wedding preparations. At some point, I felt her nudge me and tell me to go to bed, which turned out was just around the same time her body finally stopped fighting and let go. I had a terrible time sleeping in the nights to come and begged for a good night’s sleep so I could physically survive the wedding. I felt her sit next to me on the bed, the way she did when I was small, and I slept soundly.
  3. Her death actually served to make the entire weekend more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. The ceremony was so special and deep that people still comment on it regularly. The speeches were incredible. Everyone bonded much closer together and rallied to make my day special. I learned just who really has my back when I need them and I won’t forget it. I am still so grateful and forever indebted to certain people.
  4. The gratitude I feel on an everyday basis is much higher than it was before. Every single day is a gift.
  5. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was marrying the right person for the right reasons. It was a powerful reminder that I don’t take for granted. It is also incredible motivation to appreciate what we have every day and love each other better than before.
  6. Finally, I had focused entirely on manifesting the wedding of my dreams and I got it, down to the bagpipes and bridesmaids in green, wildflowers, and my long, lace gown. It was featured on Style Me Pretty, just as I had hoped. I got everything I asked for and beyond.

A year ago today, I knew I was about to learn something powerful. Grandma taught me a great many things, but none so great as this.

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My last photo with Grandma at my wedding shower.

 

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That Redhead Adventure: Jumping Off A Cliff in Jamaica

I jumped off a cliff last summer, right after my wedding.

I landed in the ocean, which I highly recommend. :)

Cliff Diving at Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead

You can do it, too, if you ever happen to be at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Jamaica. Rick’s Cafe is legendary for being one of the oldest establishments on the coast, having great sunset views, showcasing lots of live reggae music, and (of course) cliff diving. There are multiple spots to jump and always quite a crowd watching and cheering. Boats from resorts along 7 Mile Beach stop to take in the show as well.

Rick's Cafe in Negril, Jamaica. Cliff diving, reggae, sunsets.

image courtesy Things To Do In Jamaica

I thought about doing it on our previous trip to Negril and didn’t get around to it. On our honeymoon, though, I was bound and determined to check it out. I was feeling particularly fearless after a wedding week that included my grandmother suddenly dying and a thunderstorm that nearly tore apart the outdoor venue. I had walked through a personal hell the likes of which I’d never experienced before and I came to the reasonable conclusion that I was made of titanium. I also have a sick need to challenge my fears, which include deep water and heights.

Cliff Diving Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead

“What am I thinking?”

I watched others jump and come up unscathed, including a man who resembled Santa Claus who jumped while wearing his strap-on sandals and made the most painful smack as he hit the water. Well, that was it. If he could do it, so could I. I gathered my courage and made my way up to the platform, with my husband wishing me well and hoping that this wasn’t the shortest marriage ever.

Cliff diving Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead
Cliff Diving Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead

There are skilled locals who jump from even higher points on trees and other areas but the highest place that most people jump off is 35 feet in the air. At 10.6 meters, this is slightly higher than the tallest platform that skilled athletes dive off of competitively. I have since told my doctor this story and he asked me if I’m crazy. Spoiler alert: YES.

There’s a warning sign just at the top of the cliff which basically warns you to turn back now or else:

Cliff diving warning sign at Rick's Cafe Negril | That Redhead

I asked the “lifeguard” up top what his advice was. He said to make sure to jump out, and try to get completely straight so that I’d go straight in the water and nothing went in at the wrong angle. Also, make sure not to follow the guys at the bottom into the caves for the “special tour.” Sound advice. I took one last deep breath and leapt.

Cliff Diving Rick's Cafe Jamaica | That Redhead
Cliff Diving Rick's Cafe Jamaica | That Redhead
Cliff Diving at Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead

Quite the leap, eh? I’m pleased to say that I DID manage to get my legs together before I hit the water. There’s barely any time to realize you are falling before you hit the water. And then the impact is noticeable and stunning. I nearly lost my bathing suit top and even though I was holding my nose shut, water still got up my nose and into my head. Call it a free nasal rinse if you will. I managed to squirm back into my bikini before I surfaced. I ignored the offers to take the cave tour. Rumor has it it is dangerous and you will likely lose your valuables, not that I was wearing my wedding ring when I had this jump in mind! I left all that in the safe in our resort room for most of our adventures in Jamaica.

I emerged victorious, exhilarated and most importantly, unscathed. I felt great and I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? Probably not. It was a once-in-a-lifetime daredevil move that suited where I was in my personal development. I don’t know that I’ll need to do that again and take that risk. Also, the rest of Rick’s Cafe wasn’t that impressive so I can’t imagine we’ll be back.

Cliff Diving Rick's Cafe Negril Jamaica | That Redhead

A note to the reader: In my reading to write this blog I have come across stories of other people who weren’t so lucky. People have been seriously injured and at least one person has died from bad jumping technique, the influence of alcohol, and the lack of preparedness for disaster at Rick’s and rural Jamaica in general. That Redhead in NO WAY advocates hurling yourself off of a cliff; you are responsible for your own choices. There are definitely risks involved in this adventure and my doctor says don’t do it. :)

Learning to Like House Centipedes…Or How the Universe is Teaching Me a Lesson Today

OMG. House centipedes. Is there anything worse? They’re the million-legged creatures that come out at night in old houses when you’re too groggy to smash them and dangit, they’re fast. I’ll spare you all a photo to accompany this entry. You’re welcome.

Having seen cockroaches many times in my city-living, foodservice-working life, I will concede that those things are worse. Sidenote: I’m not even sure how I’m going to get through typing this entry without barfing. Seriously.

Apparently it must be house centipede season as we near the autumn. I’ve seen one or two every evening for the last week or so in the house. They dart across the floor and I commence the shrieking and flailing but always have to kill them myself since Jim never makes it over fast enough to get them in time. The horror. Predictably, Jim, who loves to play devil’s advocate with me, keeps asking questions. “Why are these things so bad? Why are you so scared? Why are they so gross? It’s just a bug, Christiana. We live in an old house now.”

For the record, I would like to say that those are NOT the right questions to ask your traumatized wife who just ruined a perfectly good shoe with twitching bug legs and guts. I can never wear that shoe again, it must be burned. No amount of cleaning will cleanse it from touching the creepiest bug in the world. Jim is lucky that I’m not throwing the shoe at him, truly.

Last night, after a particularly late evening at work, I got home at almost 1 a.m. only to see one of those cursed jerks running across the floor. I started whacking at it in vain and Jim sleepily emerged from bed. “What are you doing out here, bowling with rocks??” He chastised me for making so much noise over something so silly and returned to bed. I figured it was high time to Google these things and find out what they are, what they want, and how I can make them go away.

Mike Dooley said at the weekend conference I just attended that he believes that the Universe has a sense of humor. He asked if anyone else thought the same way. I raised my hand. I’ve experienced enough to know that sometimes my answers appear in humorous ways and other times my butt has been kicked with a benevolent smirk from above. Yep. The Universe is a prankster for sure.

I read a couple of articles. To my chagrin, I have found no good reason to continue whacking and smashing these creeptastic bugs. Would you believe that they are almost entirely benevolent?! I’m freaked out by a bug who is actually keeping my house cleaner, because it preys on everything from spiders to ants, termites, and bedbugs. It even cleans its own legs like a cat. Its venom is rarely harmful to humans because it is too weak to pierce human skin more often than not. If you happen to find one strong enough, it will produce nothing worse than a bee sting-sort of bite. The only way to get rid of these things is to seal up cracks in your house, reduce clutter, reduce humidity, and get rid of the smaller bugs that it preys on. Jim is right that we live in an old house so cracks and smaller bugs are likely here to stay. We don’t have a lot of clutter or humidity.

GREAT. THANKS A LOT. Apparently, I’m supposed to learn to appreciate these things and not smash them while shrieking. I told you the Divine has a sense of humor. In my reading, I came across a tidbit that says that some people actually keep these things as pets.

I think it’s safe to say I’ll draw the line there.

Another New Agency!

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I have more fantastic news!

I have been signed to another new agency, and this time for on camera acting, theater, and voiceover. I am already represented as a model by multiple agencies.

This is a huge step forward for me and should mean a lot more auditions- which means That Redhead could be coming to a television near you. :)

Break open the champagne, kids!!

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