Celebrating 500 Adventures!

A rare selfie in Greensboro, Alabama

This is my 500th blog post on Adventures of American Julie. I am thrilled to reach this milestone. I began blogging in 2011 with my midlife crisis that took me to New Zealand for almost 6 months in Redesigning Forty Nine . Since August 2013 when my first blog post went live (without a photo!) I have been blogging as American Julie with accompanying social media posts on Twitter and Instagram. I’ve explored my interest in cycling and viewing penguins. I have checked out bookstores and wool shops around the world. I have rediscovered Iowa cousins and visited friends in Australia and Sweden. Blogging adds depth to my experience and motivates me to explore deeper and wider.

There are so many places I want to go: Tierra del Fuego, Svalbard, Cape Town, Antarctica, Tasmania, and more. Plus I a few states remain in the USA to visit to hit 50 plus Puerto Rico! God willing I will share my adventures with you!


Peadar Kearney Quintessential Irish Pub

My very first solo trip overseas was to London and Dublin. London was a tough slog as people are just not very friendly. I treated myself to the Royal Mews and all the other things that previous trips I’d been deprived in the negotiations with friends over itineraries.

When I arrived in Dublin I immediately felt welcome and relaxed. I would order my half pint of Guinness at the bar and someone would hear my American accent and start a conversation. I had an absolutely fabulous time. I really loved the Irish peoples love for group singing in pubs. It doesn’t happen every time. Every time it did happen I would sit  grinning and join in if I knew the song. At that time in the mid 90s the Dubliners I met LOVED John Denver so we sang a lot of “Country Roads.” It is an uplifting experience and that is not the Guinness talking.

When Tevis and I got to Dublin he confirmed a meet up with a friend who he met when working in Mountain View. We met up at a pub on the edge of Temple Bar in Dublin–Peadar Kearney. It is smallish, even so we were able to grab a table. Deeper in the bar a live band led the crowd in a sing along. I smiled wide. I love Ireland.

Searching for Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland


I confess that I have not read any of the Game of Throne books or watched any of the episodes of the television adaptation, but my son has and as we were traveling together, I did a fair bit of research to include it in our plan.

We arrived in Dublin at 5 in the morning and we planned a big day of driving from Dublin to Belfast via Derry, Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills. There were a number of places where Game of Thrones filming features the town or landscape, including Ballintoy 12.5 miles east of the Giant’s Causeway. Described in a guidebook as a “picture-postcard harbour”, it is featured as Iron Islands’ Lordsport Harbour. I found mentions like this throughout the guidebooks I consulted. None of these places is quick and easy to get to and on a winter’s day when the sun sets just before 5, we had to prune them from our plan.


I also found a smart phone app that promised a kind of scavenger hunt for Game of Thrones sites. On closer examination it turns out that there are a series of carved doors inspired by Game of Thrones that make up the destinations on this app.  If you had lots of time and you are using Game of Thrones as your organizing principle then you may be interested.


We settled on Castle Ward Estate, a National Trust property, that doubles as Winterfell in Game of Thrones. This was a great choice because it was interesting in its own right and yet Tevis got the bonus association with Game of Thrones. We were able to fit in as a small detour as we drove from Belfast to Dublin. The cafe offers a delicious selection of sandwiches if your visit coincides with lunchtime. The entrance fee is 8 pounds.

P.S. You may have heard the term “overtourism” or the idea that so many people are flocking to places made popular by social media that they are destroying what the very thing they love. Such are the Dark Hedges that double as Kingsroad on Game of Thrones.



Remembering CS Lewis in Belfast

CS Lewis’ Childhood Home

Growing up in Belfast is one of the things I’ve always found interesting in CS Lewis’ biography. His childhood was well before the Troubles and his family was obviously well off. Perhaps his fascination with myths and fairy tales was influenced by growing up in Northern Ireland. When he converted to Christianity he became an Anglican–not a Presbyterian as many Northern Ireland protestants or Catholic as it carries the political weight of the Irish question.

At the same time I just really enjoy all of his writing and have loved reading everything by him or about him. In a quick trip through Northern Ireland I didn’t have as much time as I hoped to indulge. I read about the CS Lewis Trail and I made a note in my journal. My timeline got squeezed and I did not make it. So I was delighted when we finished dinner with friends and Belfastian Peter offered to give us a tour of the Habitat for Humanity houses we helped build and I had the presence of mind to remember that he lived close to CS Lewis’ childhood home. It was our first stop!

The CS Lewis Trail is another reason to return to Belfast, as if I needed one!


Pacific Grove in Winter

Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA is popular with families and others year round.

I received the Monterey Bay Aquarium e-newsletter announcing the Member’s Night and made a hotel reservation right away. I figured that on a random Saturday night in January it would be quiet. While it is less busy than this last weekend with the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach, it was still lively.

Traffic on Saturday was congested at various points between Sacramento and Monterey. I reached Monterey in time for a late lunch at Gianni’s Pizza in New Monterey. I checked into my hotel (not worth mentioning) and walked to the Pacific Grove coastal walk for some fresh air. It was beautiful at Lover’s Point.

Beach 1: the family beach

The first Lover’s Point beach is the most protected and perfect for families with young children. The water is c-c-c-old but there is plenty of sand. This beach is also closest to a snack bar and coffee shop.

Beach 2: Good for body paddling out to the surf.

The second beach at Lover’s Point provides access to the surf if you are interested in paddling out or surfing. The first two beaches have stairways to make access easier.

The third beach didn’t reveal itself until I walked a bit further along the beach walkway and looked back. It is a sliver of sand between the rock face and the waves. It is a beach for teenagers and others who like daring each other to dash in the surf.

Pacific Grove is a wintering site for a diminishing Monarch population.

Lover’s Point is the perfect destination for a family walk and picnic or a bike ride. There is some parking on the street and is a good stopping point if you are driving around the peninsula on the coast road. Or it can be a rest stop if you are walking from Asilomar to the Aquarium.

I decided one night is not enough to warrant .a 3.5-4.5 hour drive one way.  A sign of my age, sigh. When I was a teenager I would drive that much to spend the day at the beach. Then with children I needed at least an overnight. Now I want more than one night to recover and to justify the carbon footprint! One thing for sure, Pacific Grove is worth the effort even in the dead of winter.

Finding Momo in Sacramento

IMG_6861I wondered: Is Momo going to appear with his person Andrew Knapp in Folsom or on Folsom Boulevard? Luckily there are only two Incredible Pets stores in the Sacramento Area with one being ON Folsom Boulevard. Who is Momo? Oh I can’t wait to share. He is a very clever Border Collie who hides very effectively in the most wonderful locations. His person snaps photos and creates books where you can “find” him. Think “Where’s Waldo” with an adorable black and white dog.

I am a fan. I preordered this book to add to my collection of three books plus a board book for children. My grandson and I enjoy finding Momo.

IMG_6863I was pretty excited to be one of the last people to see Momo and his person photographer/author Andrew Knapp at Incredible Pets. Andrew signed my book and posed with Momo for photos. It was a very satisfying encounter. If you want to find Momo yourself there are a few stops left on the Little Left Coast Book Tour.

February 12 at 7 pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA

February 16 at 2 pm at Hicklebees in San Jose, CA

February 19 at 7 pm at Healthy Spot in Canoga Park, CA

February 23 at 3 pm at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA

Find Momo at one of these events and follow @AndrewKnapp on Instagram.

Learning to Look, Afresh

IMG_6685Taking a walk with my 2 year old grandson always results in looking at the familiar landscapes with fresh eyes or seeing things I never noticed before. My neighborhood library is in an elegant home donated by Ella McClatchy. It is on the ironically named “Poverty Hill” surrounded by mansions. (And in a flood prone community it is a more desirable place to build.)

One morning my grandson and I explored the library upstairs and down before venturing into the neighborhood. Cal loves to run and I can stay apace through quick strides and distraction. “Look at this, Cal.” is one of my favorite tricks to give me time to catch up. This is how we discovered there are six lions living near the library.

Can you find the “Mickey Mouse” on this snake? Sacramento Zoo 

“Part of normal human development is learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, sound–but to function, we have to ignore some of it. The world still holds these details. Children sense the world at different granularity, attending to parts of the visual world we gloss over, to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant. What is indiscernible to us is plain to them.” Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking (p. 26)

IMG_6472Travel can also refresh our ability to see. First, we notice so much more of everything wherever we go because it is unfamiliar. And then we see our own familiar home with fresh eyes and appreciation when we return.

9781683691068One of the other ways we can train ourselves to see more of the rich detail in our lives is through “Eye Spy” type games. Cal and I love Momo books. Momo the border collie hides and his person Andrew Knapp snaps a photo. There is a series of books for all ages and one children’s board book for hardier viewing.  The latest book is Finding Momo Across Europe and it is delightful!