Jill Stahl Tyler: Savoring the memories of Irish smiles

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Sometimes, it seems it is better if I go into things with few expectations.

On our way home from Spain this past August, we had a "bonus" trip. It turns out that the cheapest and easiest flight option in and out of Spain was not out of Boston, as I had assumed it would be. Instead, it was out of our normal airport, Hartford — via Dublin.

Truly, it's genius on the part of Ireland: offer Americans flights out of smaller airports as a way into Europe — by passing through their country. What American won't at least think about adding a day or two (or more), and including Ireland in their itinerary?

We wanted to see the famous Emerald Isle countryside. From a horseback perspective, ideally. And sheep. We had to see sheep. Working dogs with the sheep. Parks? Gardens? Waterfalls?

In the end, I hired a guide, whose name was Alan. His well-deserved nickname was "Mr. Google," and we did appreciate his incredible wealth of knowledge on every topic. We had 36 hours — so it needed to be special. While Spain had mostly been about reconnecting with people, Ireland was to be "real travel," a time for just my three kids and me. That's pretty rare, actually.

Sometimes travel just seems like a lot of work. There is the packing and the unpacking. There is the constant adjustment of having to compromise what you want to do with your traveling companions. There is the negotiating out who sleeps where and shares a bed with which sibling.

But then sometimes there are moments when things just feel ... right.

And when that happens, I think I must do more conscious "memory taking," stopping myself to mentally note the moment. I take photos, yes, and I enjoy that. But it seems more and more important to catalog these other times, to tuck them away to pull out later and feel all that was good at that very precise time.

I have these "snapshots" now, lodged in my head. I see us all getting up after only four hours of sleep, united in our commitment to make the most of the day, with the kids all working together to get out on time.

I hear son number two peppering our guide with questions, soaking in the answers, and coming back for more details.

There's the scene of two brothers climbing on the rocks near Ireland's largest waterfall, reaching back to help their sister and making sure she didn't slip.

I see my two blond boys rushing quickly, all around the landscaped grounds of one of the world's most highly regarded gardens — just like they always have. And I remember the peace I felt about the pace my daughter and I took, taking photos and listening to the historical information on the headphones.

I can still feel the water rushing under my "wellies" as my horse splashed through the creek; I hear the voices of my kids on their horses ahead of me. I see the delight on my kids' faces while the sheep dog puppy stares down her charges, and the old dog follows the whistles to perfection.

I recall their cackles of laughter when they finally understand the jokes made by the farmer in his strong brogue.

I'm logging them into my head under "Irish smiles." They can be savored again later, for time stops for none of us and I can see it rushing ahead of me. They are reaching the ages where their schedules and lives will make it hard to do this type of trip again.

But for now? I smile. With the memories.

Jill Stahl Tyler is mother to three: a college sophomore, a high school senior and an 8th grader. She believes in all travel being a great education. She sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.

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