Ireland — Belfast and Dublin

I had plans to continue to post about my continuing travels daily but, well, then we got to the city and our rhythm changed. No longer were we with friends in the sleepy countryside where I would draw up some thoughts before bed and complete them in the morning. Now, we were on “city time”. So, here’s some thoughts about these two cities separated by international border, history, culture, and sense of self. Yet, they both remain very much Irish.

Belfast is heavy. The weight of the city’s more recent history (recent in these terms means decades) permeates the nooks and crannies. One thing I failed to mention in previous posts was that in driving through the small towns in the North, one would frequently come across a town where every light and flag pole was draped in British and Council flags. Towns that were very clearly loyalist. Towns for whom The Troubles, as the decades long years of clashes between British/Loyalist forces and the IRA are called, have not passed. You could tell the Catholic towns. There were no flags. They were unassuming. As if trying to hide their true identity. Because they were. It was as if the fight were not largely settled. That’s because it never has been and no where was this more stark than in Belfast. To be in Belfast is to be in constant awareness that “peace” is a very shaky and delicate idea. That it is still an idea that in practice is only supported by walls and barriers between the sides that close at night. Where, if not for the walls the bricks and bombs would continue after the politicians turned off the lights. Where Banksy shows up and paints his million dollar graffiti next to your honored war dead to point out that such ideas exist only in a vacuum but has and will never truly belong to those who die to secure it. Especially those who fight to “win”. And these are two sides still fighting to win.

That said, Belfast is a vibrant city attempting a comeback despite this general air. It seems to be trying really hard to move towards a better future. We only had a day and took a hop on/off bus tour which is an excellent way to get a sense of the city when one has limited time. The guide we had before our first and only hop off was cheerful and peppy. Perfect for seeing the parliament building, museums, churches, and other light attractions. We got off to wonder around The MAC museum which is eclectic and slightly cheesy. When we got back on though, we had the perfect guide for the part of the trip that took us through the Catholic and Protestant sections of the city and the Peace Wall that still stands between them. He somberly and deftly explained the major points of the conflict both past and very much present and did his best not to let his loyalty to either side show (though my very smart wife could tell immediately and had to explain to me how she knew). I came away with a real sense of gravity and truly heartbroken for those still having to carry the weight of such generational divisions in their daily lives. I had not planned for it to affect me so deeply. Such is the nature of compassion.

Dublin on the other hand, is light. It is a bustling city full of love and Irish pride. They are very much a tourist city and embrace it with every pint poured and note of traditional music played out of every city center pub. We mainly stayed around this area of the city and played good tourists ourselves. Stopping into sweater shops and paying way too much for food. The one exception is when we got in the rental car and took a trip to L. Mulligan, Grocer; a fantastic meal (perhaps, best of the trip) , incredible service, best beer selection in Dublin, and very kid friendly. Afterwards, just a few blocks away, we found The Cornerstone, a very packed pub that had traditional music and allowed kids in until 10pm. They were even warm and friendly when it rounded time for Beatrix to leave. In fact, I could write a lot more about just this pub experience alone and may save it for a later post. So. Much. Fun.

But, most of our time was actually spent walking. Dublin is a very walkable city and we only used the car for a few hours that one night. We otherwise just left it in the lot near our hotel. One could spend a whole day just ambling and taking it all in and be perfectly happy doing so as we were every time we did.

I think it is common to feel like one never gets enough time in a place when on vacation and that is certainly true of my time in Ireland. I’d say even more so. I felt very at home there. Like the part of me that is Irish (DNA wise I’m about 17%) had finally reached home. As if a longing had been sated. And now, on the plane home as I write this, I feel that part may have stayed behind,in a pub or in the glens, refusing to leave, and hoping I’ll return to find it again one day.

I will, mate. I will.

Ireland — Day Three Thoughts

The thoughts arising during my vacation in Ireland continue…

  • When conversing with, or listening in on a conversation in Ireland, you will find that it eventually turns to friendship and family. Now, perhaps that is due to the small town I’m visiting for now, and the fact that everyone in the town is either one or the other. But, I would like to think that, ultimately, friends and family are what Ireland is ultimately made of. Hence, even the humble visitor like myself becomes, by default, one or the other.

  • “Aye” is my new favorite all-purpose punctuation mark.

  • I learned there is an underground society that conspires to fill their diesel car engines that should be filled with “black” (fuel that is meant for cars) with “red” (fuel that is meant for tractors) because they believe it is virtually the same but red is significantly cheaper.

  • There’s some good hiking trails to be found in Glenariff Forest Park. Beautiful waterfalls and nature’s splendor all around. A trek up the nicely maintained paths will reward you with a lovely cafe at the top where you can enjoy simple traditional Irish fare while gazing at a gorgeous view.

  • The Guinness really is better here.

Next up: Belfast.

Ireland — Day Two Thoughts

Continuing thoughts from my trip to the Emerald Isle..

  • My wife and I have never watched Game of Thrones. Yet, many of the sights we’ve seen and places we are going have been filmed or otherwise served as inspiration for the show. Many of these once relatively unheard of and serene places have become overrun by the Foreign Selfie Brigade. They are easy to spot pouring off of the large tourist busses in their “Winter is Coming” t-shirts. Therefore, instead of snorting and mumbling disparagements under our breaths at them, my wife and I have set a goal of joining in the fun by taking our selfie at as many of these places as we can. We thought it would be funny to do a blog post of Game of Thrones selfies having never seen the show with witty captions like “we have no idea what scene or season this is but we asked some random American and they told us something about a shadow lord and some chick’s dragons so here we are in front of these caves”.

  • I was able to see Scotland only 12 miles across the sea from where I stood today (it is in the background of the picture of Beatrix at the tip of the post). It then becomes obvious how the two places are so connected by culture and language and family and song. They might as well be neighbors.

  • The Irish believe in meat. Not with the zeal and fervor that Spanish believe in it. More like the Methodist believe in God, with a quiet steadfastness of purpose towards what’s right. Meat, to the Irish, is what’s right. It makes breads more right. It makes the humble potato more proper. It adds glory to the plate it rests on. Just as one can find God in everything, so it is with meat in Ireland. Vegetarians here might well be considered atheists. The Irish know they must exist but they are unsure how one could be so lost. They may throw an option for them on the menu in case one might darken their doorway. A curry, perhaps, they’ll think. Perhaps they may offer them some chips and a salad. But, that’s all they have to do to consider themselves in godly treatment of even the lowest sinner. Bacon, if snuck into said salad, might one day finally convert them after all.

  • If you are not of these lands, and love music, find a cafe to sit in, remain quiet, and just listen to the conversations around you. The Irish accent is the most musical of sounds. It’s like the chattering of angels.

  • Even the rain here, thus far, has been gentle and sweet. Never harsh. Like a soft wet kiss from mother nature.

Now to the pub for a nice dinner and some whiskey.

Ireland — Day One Thoughts

Here are some thoughts from my first first full day in Ireland.

  • The photo above is the view from the kitchen window at our friend’s place where we are staying. Heaven.
  • Major sights seen today were; Dunluce Castle (stunning), Bushmills Distillery (so much fun), Giant’s Causeway (a whole new respect for the power of natures beauty), White Park Bay (breathtaking), and The Dark Hedges (mysterious and amazing).

  • This particular part of Ireland where I currently am (a small seaside town in the North) is perhaps the only place I’ve ever visited where every sight, every town, every view, in any direction, could be on a postcard. It’s almost unbelievable. Dream like.

  • You may remember my bit of nervousness about having to drive here. We got “upgraded” at the car rental place from a compact to a small SUV. Now, under other circumstances, this would be fine. But, I was already wary of having to drive a manual (for the first time in years) on the “wrong” side (and, thus, shifting with my left hand in reverse direction) on very narrow roads because we were driving from Dublin to our small seaside hamlet to stay with friends, so… Let’s just say it was a less exciting upgrade and it took every bit of white knuckle concentration and my wife screaming “TOO FAR LEFT!” at me from the passenger seat for us to make it to our final destination in one piece. That said, since now having driven all day following a “native” in her SUV with ours from sight to sight, down these narrow roads, I’ve become scarily comfortable with it. I’ve gotten so used to it so fast that I’m now a bit worried that I won’t remember how to drive “normally” when I return to the states.

  • You will hear this from anyone who visits the Emerald Isle but you won’t believe it until you are here: The people of Ireland are the friendliest people on the planet.

  • Everything they say about the weather is also true. Cool (except when it gets suddenly warm), Rainy (except when the sun comes out of nowhere) and Windy (except when it’s suddenly calm). That said, if you are properly prepared (bring a good rain jacket and leave the umbrella at home, lest you wish to lose it in the wind), you won’t care a bit because you are in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with the friendliest people.

  • This is one of the best days we’ve had in a long time.

Ireland — My Pre-Trip Preparations

My wife, daughter, and I are about to embark on an eight day trip to Northern Ireland. My daughter and I have never been. My wife has visited many years ago but stayed mainly in the south of the country. Therefore, this will largely be new to all of us. We’re very excited.

We will be spending the bulk of the time (five days) staying with friends in the seaside village of Cushendun. It is about an hour north of Belfast and near many other interesting sights so I imagine we will be doing a lot of sightseeing while there. Then, we will spend the final three days in Dublin before the return flight home. We’ll be renting (hiring) a car at the airport to drive to our final destination. Yes, that means a manual transmission, as automatic ones for hire are more rare and more expensive. Yes, that means I’ll be driving and shifting on the “wrong” side. No, I’ve never had to do so before. Yes, I’m a little nervous about that (but those that have done so tell me you catch on quickly).

There were a few preparations I’ve needed to make before leaving on the trip…

Normally, when traveling overseas, my wife and I take the opportunity to be semi-disconnected. We generally don’t buy SIM cards for our phones and simply rely on wi-fi where we can get it to check email, download maps, etc. For many reasons (not the least of which is the driving we’ll be doing) on this trip we’ve decided to get SIM cards that will work in Ireland ahead of the trip so that we can stay connected. I found this guide on TidBITS to be most helpful in doing so. I pretty much have done exactly what that article explained.

I’ll be trying out a new travel bag on this trip as well — a Pakt One. I took it along on a three day trip to our family cabin earlier this week and really liked it. I’m looking forward to see how it does for a longer trip.

Some of you may remember I did a video of my light packing methodology about ten years ago (seems like yesterday) and maybe I’ll take the time to throw together a video of what I’m packing these days soon. The basic ideas have not changed and, because we are staying at a friend’s house, we’ll have access to a washing machine for the bulk of the trip so that will be nice.

That said, the broad strokes of what I cover in the video remain the same; I can pack a lot less because much of what I’m bringing is designed to wash easily and dry quickly. My socks and t-shirts are all merino wool so that means I can get at least a couple of days wear without needing a wash at all. All of my undies are from Uniqlo’s Airism line so super light weight, comfortable, and pack down to next to nothing (five pairs of the mesh version balled up together are not much larger than a softball. With a pair of jeans, a couple of pairs of Proof Nomad travel pants (the best I’ve ever tried and I’ve tried a few), three long sleeve button-ups I can rotate around, a sweater, and a hoodie I basically have a capsule wardrobe that fits nicely into this bag. I even still have room for my rain jacket, a hat, my minimalist toiletry bag, etc. I can even fit in my laptop, a small notebook, some pens, and other items. The Pakt One is perfect and purpose designed for one bag travel.

Other pre-trip preparations have included…

In all, I’m very excited for this trip and think it will be an ideal way to close out the summer as a family and return refreshed and prepared for the beginning of the school year (which for us starts as soon as we come back). I’m sure you’ll be seeing me post more than a bit more about our travels along the way.

Becoming Someone Who Fights for Their Life

There is so much to love and learn from in the latest issue of Craig Mod’s newsletter (Ridgeline issue 027) that I could quote a comment on the entire thing. That said, it was the following paragraph I hand-copied into my journal this morning:

It’s not that I wanted to go on a long walk, it’s that I wanted to become more of a walker. A walker in the professional sense, the committed sense. Or — zooming out further still — perhaps not even become a walker but become someone who fights — within the flimsy framework of their own life — for extended stretches of thinking-time. And not just fights but believes in the fight, the value, of that time, and believes in what can come out of it.

This can apply to all things. For example, I’ve been historically off and on about keeping a journal. My most recent success with being consistent with doing so has come from adopting a similar mindset as the above. I decided I want to be a Journaler instead of someone who keeps a journal. A seemingly minor yet very important distinction. One is simply an act that you perform. The other is WHO YOU ARE. I’m casting a vote for that identity every single time I commit pen to page in this manner. I fight for the time in my day to be that person.

Seriously, Craig’s is another newsletter that brings tremendous value every single issue. Well worth a place in your inbox.

Proof Nomad Pants — A Brief Review

I’m fairly picky about travel clothing. In general, I like to pack light, taking only what I absolutely need, and would rather wash something and let it dry overnight versus packing another same or similar item.

For over ten years, I’ve had a couple of pairs of Patagonia pants, also called “Nomad”, for this purpose. They’ve served me well. That said, they certainly leaned more casual in appearance. They were more of a hiking pant that one could use for travel as well. One could not get away with wearing them with a sport coat and have that look good. They were fine with a tee shirt, polo, or casual button down but paired with a dress shirt they just looked silly.

I’ve been on the lookout for a pair of travel pants that looked just as good dressed up as dressed down. Pants that I could wear with a blazer, shirt, and dress shoes as easily as I could with a t-shirt, hoodie, and sneakers. Basically, travel pants that had all of the features one would expect (stretch, DWR, lightweight, wash and dry fast) but looked like nice chinos.

I’ve finally found that in the Proof Nomad Pant. I own two pairs in different colors and could not be more impressed with every detail. According to the website they are, “Constructed from two-way stretch Japanese Toray twill that breathes easy on long trips”, which I’ve found to be very true.

I’ve now taken these pants on two separate trips (one of which involved two different climates) and these pants have exceeded all expectations. I wore them around New York City during a windy and cold January weekend. I walked around Miami in 80 degree heat and humidity and, later, during a rainstorm. Then, I took them with me for another long weekend in NYC in April with moderate spring temps, a day of rain, and sunny skies and mid-50s for the rest. They’ve never let me down.

I’ve dressed them up with a blazer, shirt, tie, and nice shoes. I’ve dressed them down with a casual button down, sweater, and sneakers. I’ve worn then to nice dinners and casual food stand lunches. I’ve worn them lying in the grass in the park, walking on the beach, and to Broadway shows. They’ve never looked out of place.

They are lightweight and comfortable. I’ve never felt they were too cold or warm because they regulate temperature very well. They move and stretch comfortably. And, in anything besides a heavy rain storm, water has just beaded right off of them. Even in that heavy rain they dried quickly once inside and never felt clingy and clammy when they were wet.

They have a nice, well hidden, zippered security pocket in the seam of the right hand pocket. It’s a full pocket and once zipped can’t be seen easily, thus your belongings always feel secure.

In short, these are the best, most versatile, travel pants that I’ve ever owned. In fact, they can easily be everyday wear and I’m betting I’ll find myself reaching for them in the morning when I have nowhere further to go than the grocery store.

How I Build Websites (A loose manifesto)

Here’s some loose and evolving thoughts about how I build websites. I’m mainly writing this for my own use and something I can point potential clients to about what I believe in. It may be of help to others as well. I’ll continue to update this post as other ideas/thoughts/statements/beliefs come up.

  • I believe in simple, clean, fast, purpose built websites. I will not be clogging up the pipes with vapid stock photos or meaningless cruft. The websites I build have one purpose — information delivery. I build and design them to fulfill that goal. If you want fancy, you can find that everywhere and pay a price far higher than I charge for it. I don’t do that and those that hire me hire me because I don’t do that.

  • Before I even begin to build a website for a client, I engage in a deep conversation around two simple questions: Who is coming here and what are they looking for? I design the entire site around the answers to those two questions.

  • Anyone coming to a business website is looking for information. With the answers to those two questions in mind, I build for the purpose of delivering that information to those people with as few clicks as possible (preferably none).

  • Every time you add a page you add work for the visitor. One more barrier between them and what they want. One more thing they have to look for. One more thing they have to click. One more opportunity for them to just give up and leave. Therefore, make it as few pages as is possible and sensible.

  • An example of the above that I often give to clients during our initial conversation is restaurant websites. Almost every restaurant website could be two pages. Home page: Hours, location, number to call for a reservation or further info. Page two: Menu (In HTML, not PDF, with prices!). Thats it. I can’t think of a single restaurant website that I’ve seen that needs more than that. Yet, almost every restaurant website I visit is way more complex than it needs to be.

  • These days, almost everyone is coming to your site from a mobile device. This is especially true if your visitors are from outside of the United States. Build with that in mind (not only mobile friendly/responsive but especially choice of font types and sizes). Test everything — every page, every link, etc. — on a smartphone. Make it look good there.

  • Most businesses should hire a copywriter and editor long before hiring a web designer/builder. In fact, most should worry far less about the design of the website. People are coming for information, not how pretty it is. Focus on the words first.

  • Towards that end, I’m not building a custom theme or messing around with some premium framework. I build using one of the WordPress default themes and making customized modifications to that using a child theme (Additional CSS, FTW!!!). The advantages being that it is always kept up to date and compatible with the latest versions of WordPress and can be easily fixed if there’s an issue without blowing things up. That also makes it easy for any other web person you might hire after me. Future proof is a feature.

  • Remember, design is not how it looks. Design is how it works.

If you’d like to see a site I built that incorporates most (if not all) of these principles, check out: Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism – We make the case for Moral Capitalism.

A Reading Plan for 2019

Last year, I publicized my reading plan for the year. Overall, I’m very happy with the number of books I managed to read (20) and the quality of what I read. There are some aspects of the plan I wish I’d been better at but that’s a small regret. I enjoyed almost everything I picked up with few exceptions. So, instead of changing that plan, I’m expanding it. Here’s the things I’m adding…

  • Read what I have. No buying new books and, any that happen that come in, ignore them. Go to the books on my bookshelf instead. I have so many good books hanging around unread. Such a backlog of things I wanted to read “someday”. Well, that someday has come! All the books on my Amazon Wishlist have been removed in service of this cause and I will add none to it, lest new ones show up unexpectedly.

  • Reading is reading. Magazines, newspapers, Instapaper, etc. all count towards the goal of reading more. Especially long form articles, features, and stories. I have a backlog there as well and aim to dig through it. I also aim to figure out a way to account for those things on the list.

And, as with last year’s plan…

  • Read more paperback books, specifically mass-market sized ones. The books you read are the books you can easily bring with you. And, especially in the winter months here, every coat I own has large enough pockets to easily slip one in.

  • Replace boredom with books. In the check out line, in the waiting room, while my daughter is in her classes. Assuming I’m good about having a book within easy reach per above, I’ll fill these sorts of times with reading one.

  • Bias towards fiction. If you look over my reading list of the past several years, you’ll notice I tend to bias towards non-fiction. The reason is that I’m a curious learner and reading non-fiction fuels that. That said, every time I do read a fiction book for escape and entertainment, I always feel like i should do so more often but then fall back into my habits. The truth is, I read fiction a lot faster and enjoy the escape when I allow it. Therefore, I’m going to intentionally bias towards it and see what happens.

  • Read more classics (including ones I’ve read and would like to read again). Not the least of the reason being that many of these are easily available in a smaller, mass-market size where recent paperback are less so (in general, these are trade-sized).

So, there it is. I’ll reference this throughout my reading year. As always, you can see what I’m currently reading on my Now page. I also regularly update the list of the books I’ve read as I finish them going back to 2012 (!).

Why Subscribe to One More Thing?

A reader of my newsletter (Hi Minnow!) recently asked me the following question:

This is off topic, but i have this immense inertia to start a newsletter. Yours is inspiring in the sense that you’ve taken away the agenda and just made it a place where you can share your heart. What’s been the benefit of this for you both personally and professionally?

I thought about this a long time (over a month) before I sent my answer but I feel like what I said sums up why anyone might want to subscribe to it…

The benefit is that I feel this best honors the reason why people might subscribe to my newsletter versus simply and solely reading my other work (books, blogs, etc.) I started by asking myself what makes “one more thing” from me worth the time and attention? How can I give people any more than what I already give elsewhere?

The answer to this question was to go deeper and more personal. A person’s inbox is a private space where relationships are formed. Therefore, people only invite in people they trust, respect, and wish a deeper level of engagement. People they’d like to get to know better. This is what I try to deliver with my newsletter.

Because of that, I reciprocate by giving those who read it the same level of respect, trust, and engaged relationship readers give to me. I respond to every reply I receive (even if it sometimes takes me a while) and consider those that read my newsletter friends.

So, I guess that’s the best answer I have. It helps me form, maintain, and cultivate friendship with all that subscribe. And, in that way, it helps me both personally and professionally because in my line of work there is little hard distinction between the two.

So, if that’s something that resonates with you, I invite you to read the archives to get a further sense of what I offer there or to go ahead and subscribe.