The Throwing of The Cake

This past Sunday marked an event that is deeply important to my little family, the annual throwing of the cake.

It started five years ago, when we lost my brother.  While I would love to say he was lost in a mall and we found him an hour later, unfortunately that is not the case.  He died much too soon, but of course everyone dies too soon when you love them and don’t want them to go.

Six weeks-ish after he died was his birthday, September 28th.  I was having a hard time, and of course so was my daughter.  We couldn’t stand the idea of letting his birthday pass with nothing.  It was a small celebration, with a homemade cake and a loud off key version of ‘Happy Birthday’ sung by all, but it was a comfort.

Since then we haven’t let his birthday pass without celebration.  The day of his death is hard, and always filled with anger and sadness that he is gone, but we take his birthday and celebrate the fact that we had him in our lives at all.  It has become almost more important than the birthdays of the people we know who are still alive.

Oh, and we throw cake.

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One year we were able to celebrate his birthday on his hill, the place where we spread his ashes.  A few of us got together, and I baked cupcakes.  We sang, we ate, and then we decided to share with our beloved brother/uncle.  All the leftover cupcakes were thrown overboard down the hill to be “Uncle Sean’s” share of the cake.  The daughters thought it was so much fun, it became a rather important part of the celebration.  Sure, they get to eat cake, but they also get to take a piece and throw it as hard as they can, without fear of getting in trouble.

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Maybe this is not how normal people remember those they have lost, but who wants to be normal anyway?  It is much more fun to just pick up the cake, and throw it as hard as I can.

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5 Banned Books to Read

I had a pin on my purse for a time, that read “I read banned books.”  One day, while driving in the car my twelve year old daughter asked me what it meant.

Now, Big One is generally a smart kid.  She gets good grades, reads almost nonstop, and is planning on going to Oxford one day.  The pin seemed straight forward enough, with very basic words.  I wasn’t sure what was confusing her, since I know she is smart.  The fact that she was asking genuinely confused me because I had no idea what could be tripping her up.

First thing I did was make sure she knew what banned meant.  She knew of course; she understood what every word in the pin meant, but she couldn’t figure it out.  The idea that a book could be banned was so far out of her range of thought she could’t understand.  Why would anyone ban a book?  How could someone do that?

We had a long talk about it, but I loved that my daughter found books so essential to life that she could not comprehend a book being taken away from her.

I LOVE banned books.  I hate that people feel the need to ban them, but I love reading them.  It is a little nerdy rebellion anyone can do.  I know I am a little behind, as Banned Book Week was technically last week, but here are five books I think are worth breaking the ban and reading.  Enjoy your little rebellion, and break some rules, the smart way.

(Small note, I have only included banned books I have actually read on this list.  There are many more to read and some of them might be even better than the ones I list here.  Take a chance and enjoy every rebellious moment.)

1.The Scarlet Letter  by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I originally read this book in high school as part of an assignment.  I found this to be oddly empowering; a woman in 1850 having a child on her own and taking all of the criticism.  There was no blame placed on the father, in spite of the biological need for two people to create a child.  It was horrible, the skewed way she was treated, so differently from how the men were treated.  As a high school student, growing up surrounded by that same double standard, it effected me.  I saw how she was treated and I hated it.  Apparently, when it was banned, there was feelings that they handled the situation poorly.  They should have been more remorseful, Hester Prynne should have been treated worse, and at one point it was considered to be pornographic.  Whatever the bad, I have fond memories of this book.

2. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Come on, who doesn’t love this book?  It is fun and crazy and honest to the emotional feelings of a small child.  It is hard to figure out how to deal with your emotions at times when you are an adult, let alone when you are still growing and developing.  Unfortunately, that was part of the problem.  Some thought this book was a little too dark for children and disliked the honesty of a child being that angry at their parents.

3. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman

This makes the list mostly because I am currently reading it, and was not aware it was a banned book.  I am only halfway through and have been enjoying it.  There is a mix of religion, science, and witchcraft all in the middle of dimension jumping and war.  It is engaging and in some ways completely believable.  Religion has been at the center of many wars, and there is no reason not to believe it would not be at the center of at least a few fictional wars.  And sorry to the very religious people in this world, but lets be honest, the religious groups are not always on the right side of the war.  However, the work was seen as an attack on religion, and was confirmed as at least partially true by the author.

4.Where’s Waldo by Martin Hanford

Where’s Waldo was a book I deeply wanted when I was a child.  I’m not sure why, but these were considered the absolute height of coolness in my Elementary school.  If you had one of these books, you were amazing.  There was just so much stuff to find, not only Waldo, but other things as well.  Apparently these other things were the problem.

5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

While not banned in the completely traditional way this boot makes the list for a couple of reasons.  First, I did like the book and the movie is currently sitting on my shelf waiting for me to have some time to watch it.  Secondly, this book was recently banned, just within the last week.  It has not been banned on a national level, just within a school district and only for the middle schools in that area as far as I know.  The worst part of this banning?  I can sort of agree.  I am not for censorship in general, but I have a middle school child.  Big One is in seventh grade, and is interested in several books which I have refused to let her read due to a sexual element.  She is smart, and she could probably handle it, but she is still a little young to be thinking about those topics.  Maybe it is because in my Mom brain she will never think of things like that.  In a couple of years, yes, I will let her read it.  I am not banning it forever, but just for now, in the same way the school district is banning the book.  This is not a banned book per say, simply a book that is being saved for those who are within the proper age range.

Branching Out

I have been at a creative impasse lately. My writing has been slow moving, and I am including the blogging on this point, and my sewing has been a bit of a non activity latterly. The last thing I worked on with my machine was a pair of pants that needed a waist adjustment.  I needed a little bit of pick me up, something that would allow me to stretch my creative legs.

Luckily for me, I was able to sign up for a pottery class.

Pottery has been something I have wanted to try for a long time.  My high school gave pottery classes, but my schedule was always too full to take one.  In retrospect I probably should have skipped drama one year and tried something new, but it is too late to change that now.

I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.  Or the present.  Whatever.

I’ve only taken two classes so far but it is a lot of fun.

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Look what I made!  A wonky cup thing!

Alright, so that was just my first class. I did not accomplish much, but I managed to center the clay and make this thing.  This picture is from before I did any trimming or anything, so it looks a little better now.  I guess I should have taken another picture, but my hands were in the clay mot on my phone.

That wasn’t all I made.

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Look!  A bowl!

Okay, this is a little wonky too, and my teacher told me I pulled the walls a little thin.  But he also told me the ability to pull the walls thin was an okay thing, so I’m choosing to look at it as a good.

I haven’t done much.  In two classes I have managed to make exactly two things.  The others in the class have each made more, and some of it is better than what I have managed to make.  But I am going to try to finish this class without being too hard on myself.  Maybe I need to let myself slow down, and work at whatever pace feels natural. And hopefully at the end, I will be happy with what I have done.

50 Books-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Here we are again.  Another week, another book marketed off the list.  I know some of you may be noticing the difference between the finished dates on my master list, and the subsequent posting.  It seems as though the best way to keep things consistent is to schedule a few of these posts, and then when I have a longer book which may take longer to read, I do not have weeks without updates.  This also means I am writing this a couple of weeks before it will actually be posted.  This is probably the closest I will ever get to time travel, so I am going to enjoy it.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

This is another book from the free book app on my iPad, and clocks in at 383 pages.  It is worth noting that the bookmark says to read Huckleberry Finn, whereas my copy is listed as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  While I was pretty sure they were actually the same book, I did a google search, just to make sure. No one seemed to feel there was a need to specify that they were indeed the same book, which seemed to me to indicate it was a slightly dumb question to ask.  I also learned it is likely an easy book to use if you want to cheat on homework as most of the sites I saw seemed to be offering free or cheap essays on the book.

Have I read this book before?

No. When I was younger I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer several times, probably due to the movie Tom and Huck staring the adorable Jonathan Taylor Thomas. (Hey, I was 12, all right?  Give me a break.)  I did enjoy that book, but as my crush was on Tom Sawyer, I never bothered reading Huckleberry Finn.

What did I already know?

This book takes place after Tom Sawyer.  I might be seen as a sequel, but it is focused on Tom’s friend Huckleberry Finn.  Much of the book involves Huck and a runaway slave on a raft heading down the river.  As it was written in another time, the language used is very different, and would be considered offensive to many people now.

What do I think now?

I liked this book, but I liked Tom Sawyer better.  Maybe it is the nostalgia talking, but I think it was better.

Huck Finn is the unrefined, wild child.  He was raised by an abusive father, and not only was not made to go to school and learn, but he was actively encouraged not to go.  He is traveling with a runaway slave, who was also uneducated due to his status in society.  They spoke with poor grammar and pronunciation as well as implied accents.  This means there are many places during the book where I would need to stop and think for a few minutes just to figure out what they were saying.  Additionally, I liked the characters better in Tom Sawyer.  Perhaps it was the actual character of Tom Sawyer (okay maybe a little of the crush is still there) or perhaps it was the characters of the king and the duke, the conmen who play a brief part in the story in the middle.

I think one of the largest factors in my hesitation for full love of this book is the strange story arc. Huck and Jim runaway at the same time.  They spend months drifting along, everyone in their home town believing Huck to be dead and Jim having a reward for his return.  They have little adventures in a few towns, and meet a few people, but they also leave a few stories feeling unresolved.  Most of the time they are traveling, I wasn’t sure what the point of the book was.  It wasn’t clear what the end would be; would the end involve them deciding to go home, would the end have them drifting on, or possible the end coming when they reach the end of the river.  When the end came however, and gave resolution to the two runaway’s fate, it seemed to be the obvious and inevitable end.  I almost felt as though I should have seen it coming.  I does make me think I would enjoy it a little more reading it though the second time.

Should you read this book before you die?

I might like Tom Sawyer better, but this is also a good read.  In a time where racism was at a peak, and the views on slavery were very different than they are today, this is a story that shows a human side of the story.  In some ways it might paint an almost rosy picture of what life was like for a runaway slave, floating down the river and having adventures, but it also draws attention to a time period many Americans would rather forget.  Of course we are not proud of a history of slavery within our country, but we cannot ignore the truth.  The book shows a runaway slave who only wants to be free and with his family, showing other people compassion, risking his own safety and freedom for others, and still being treated poorly by most people he encountered.

Now, to take a small trip away from the historical to the science fiction front.  I’m off to have an adventure with The War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells before diving into another large one, the His Dark Material trilogy by Phillip Pullman.

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This will be a big one, as it has been said, a well written book is never long enough.  Happy Reading!

Look Around

I’ve been in Belgium for almost two years now.  Sometimes it is great, other times it is less fun.  When things are going well I dance around my kitchen, I smile even when I am home alone, and notice the flowers in the yard.  When things are not going well, I curl up with my tea and binge watch Netflix.

In an effort to make things go well, I have been working to get out of my house.  It’s not that things cannot go well inside, but, well, simply put, getting out of the house gives me a reason to wear pants.  Sometimes I need that.

The other day, I was out for a walk with a friend. We were walking around my neighborhood, down a road I had not been on before, and talking.  We went around a corner, and were greeted by a beautiful sight.

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There is a pond less than a mile from my house.  Quite a large pond for that matter.  Two years, and I had no idea this was right by my house.  When I mentioned it to my husband, he simply shrugged and said he had known it was somewhere.  Apparently our town is named “Large Pond” and I had never known it.

The worst part about this?  This is not the first time I have been ignorant of something amazing in my own backyard.  Moments like this, I realize there may be a slightly uncomfortable truth that I need to accept.  Perhaps things are not going well because of me.

If I had been sitting home, watching things other had done, I would have missed out on something that had been right there all along.  But when I get out and look around I find the world can be amazing.

In Someone Else’s Words

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I’m having a hard time finding my motivation lately.  It may be the changing weather, as it gets a little colder.  It might be something else entirely.  Who knows?  All I know for sure is I would really like to lay on my couch and fall in and out of sleep as I curl up in a quilt alternately reading books and watching Netflix.  Maybe I am a little lost, but I am still reading, so I can only hope I find myself soon.

50 Books- The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Oh, it is such a relief to be reading books I am enjoying.  I knew when I took this on I would have some books I disliked, but it is wonderful that so far, the bulk of the books have been ones I can consider pleasant.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

This 295 page digital copy was found on a free book app on my ipad, the same one where I read Ulysses.  Just as a small spoiler, I have a few other books coming for this app.  I have been trying to get a link for it together, but seem to be having trouble locating it again.

Have I read this before?

I had read the first thirty pages or so a few months ago, but had not finished the entire book.

What do I know?

Before the first reading I only knew a few things from seeing the movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  First, the painting ages, not the man; second, I was absolutely certain it was The Portrait of Dorian Gray.  It has been rough constantly correcting myself on the title

What did I think?

I am torn with this book.  There are some genuinely good parts, where the writing and the story seem to mesh perfectly to draw you in and keep you reading.  The obvious homoerotic beginning, wherein the men who will or could become mentors to Dorian Gray wax on about his youthful beauty seemed a bit long to me, but also set up the desire for him to stay flawless.  The first moment where he notices a change on the painting, and all of the implications for his life.  The truth of the painting; it not only holds his youth, but every mark that would be on his soul.  These parts are wonderfully written, brilliant, and thought provoking.

Then there are parts where I can’t help but stare at the book in disbelief.  It seemed to me as though the juiciest bits had been left out.  I know it is a sign of the time when it was written, but it was disappointing.  Instead of following his downward spiral, the book talks about the rumors spread about Dorian Gray, but even the rumors are vague.  You hear about people dropping him as a friend, and the supposed horror, but it is all speculation.  Perhaps that is intentional, to allow the reader to insert their own horrors.  I personally would like a few details; I don’t need them all, just a few more to show the progression from his first act of cruelty to the worst and final act.

I think this book would be a fascinating read if it was written in a more modern style.  While there is much to enjoy already, I think a version written where less time was spent discussing the beauty of the man, and more time was spent on his actual progression into a man who will do unspeakable acts would be wonderful.  Unfortunately, I fear a modern version would actually be a mindless action movie where he uses his new ability to not age to become a superhero.  Sort of like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but without the rest of the league.

Should you read this book before you die?

As torn as I am with the book, I will recommend adding this to future reading lists.  The problems I have with the book are those of style, and everyone has a different preference for the books they read.  I think the commentary this book makes on a preoccupation with beauty, and the prejudice that creates is fascinating.  No matter the rumors that were made against him, people were still not completely convinced they could be true because Dorian Gray was just so pretty.  I also think it is an interesting statement on what human beings are capable of; when the story begins he is a very attractive and innocent 17 year-old.  However, as the story unfolds, there is little of that person left, except the image that was once captured in a painting and is allowed to live on through a twist of fate.  It is more than a work of science fiction or fantasy, it is an interesting psychological statement, and one that deserves consideration.

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So, of course, I am still reading away.  As promised last time, I am currently working my way through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which will be followed by The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Happy reading everyone!

Being Original

Today is a great day, which means I am willing to share something not so great.

Over the weekend, my husband decided that he was not going to wait until February to buy me a graduation present.  Since I spend so much of my time working on my computer, which was slowly inching closer to death, he decided we would drive 2 1/2 hours to buy me a nice new one.

It’s amazing.  The battery lasts longer a half hour, the internet does not randomly disconnect, and I have not yet had the system turn off while I was in the middle of working.  Sure, there are a few quirks to get used to, such as a different keyboard making me constantly misspell words, but overall I am very happy now.  I almost look forward to doing my homework because it means I get to play with my new toy longer.

All right.  I spent a minute bragging, now it is time to even out the universe.

The more I dive into the world of writing, hoping to one day be able to turn it into something that could be considered a career, the more I am forced to put myself out there. I know it is strange, but if I expect others to read my work, I need to let them actually READ my work. I have to open myself to critique and be willing to listen and actually consider their words in my future work.

Critique is one of my least favorite parts of the creative world. I know many people tolerate it, and some even love it, but I am one who hates it.  So much of myself is put into my writing, it is hard not to take it a little personally when someone insults it.  I’m working on it, but I am who I am.

As part of working on my hatred of critique, I have begun working on beta reading for another author, hoping that being the one responsible for giving the tough love will help me accept both perspectives.  Giving the critique is not easy either, and it shouldn’t be expected to always be what a person wants to hear.

The other large part of my working on my issues, is learning to share some of the critique and accepting not only that is was said, but also looking for elements of truth in the commentary.  I’m not going to share every piece of criticism I receive, because I expect to receive quite a bit over time.  Instead I thought I would share the worst thing that anyone has said about my writing.

A few months ago, I decided to work on my short story writing a little.  I know it may come as a surprise, but I tend to be a bit wordy, making short stories a difficulty for me.  It was a weakness I wanted to work on, so I put myself out there a little, wrote something up and put it into an online group to get a little feedback.  The first comment told me my story was ‘not very original.’  They then went on to say my topic had been done many times, in very similar ways, and there was nothing special about this particular story to make it stand out.

Now I might be taking it  little personally, but I have to say I think ‘not very original’ is perhaps the worst insult that can be given to a creative work.  If they had said derivative, I might have been able to take that in a constructive manner as it is possible I meant to make others think of specific other works.  To say not original instead implies that the author is incapable of thinking of something new or creative.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect every idea I ever have to be the most brilliant I have ever had, or to be completely incomparable to anything else.  There are 7 billion people on the Earth; it is reasonable to assume that at least one of them has had an idea similar to mine, and perhaps they might even do it much better than I could. However to not only say something is not original and them tear apart additional elements of the work is going a bit far for basic critique.

(Insert calming breaths.)

Sorry.  I know I am taking it personally again.  I had to wait a while to write about this one, and apparently I am still not calm and rational about it.  This critique hits hard, partly because it feels personal, but also because it is not constructive.  Telling someone their idea is not original, or any other general statement of quality, is simply stating you don’t like it.  There is no suggestions for how to make it better, which means it is not actually helpful.  Now if they had said ‘your idea is similar to many others, perhaps you could change something in the way you tell it’ or anything else, it would have turned into constructive criticism.

I know, I know, I am starting to get worked up again.

So, now it is time to make me feel better.  What is the comment you have heard (to you or someone else) that got to you?

50 Books- Frankenstein

 

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Only six weeks in, and six books finished.  Ugh, I feel like I should be much farther! I can’t tell if it is simply because I am only beginning or if I should actually be farther, but I suspect the later.  Some of these books are a little harder to tackle than I thought, and many of them are much longer.  I’m sort of glad that I decided to keep a page count as well; even if I end up reading a smaller number of books this year than normal, I think I might just even out in page count.  Of course I have never kept a yearly book count before, so I’m not sure how many books I read on a normal basis, only that I used to have books I would finish in one day occur more than once a week.

Oh well, moving on.  For anyone who is new to this feature, I am working my way through a list of 50 books you should read before you die in one year.  This is an attempt to learn more about writing, feel more cultured, and have the bragging rights next time I am in a crowd of literature nerds which comes up much less often than I would like.  If you want to see the whole short trip, start here!

 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

I cannot remember exactly when and where I purchased this book.  I’m pretty sure it is one of the books in my collection I ran across in a BX bookstore on a base somewhere and put aside to read at some point.  I am certain however that this book has 213 pages, so at least I am sure of something today.

Have I read this before?

I meant to, but never got around to it, like many of the other books on this list.

What do I know?

IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

Sorry.  It had to happen at some point here.

I actually have never seen the classic movies (unless you count Young Frankenstein as a classic.)  Mostly what I know is the common knowledge from movies.  Frankenstein is the Doctor, not the monster.  The fire adverse monster is made in a lab, gets out, and terrorizes people mindlessly.  There are many different versions, but the common monster look is the tall, lurching, green guy with stitches  randomly across his skin and bolts in his neck.

What did I think?

I don’t even know where to start.  This book leaves me speechless.  Seriously, while reading I did a lot of grunting at my family and waving them away since they were interrupting my reading time. 

This book is so much more than a tale about a mindless killing machine.  In fact, reducing it to that is insulting.  This book is about the pursuit of knowledge and scientific achievement.  It is about a man who works to achieve greatness and is driven mad by the results.  It is about the outsider who is desperately trying to fit in, and is angry that they never will. 

This is considered to be one of the greatest horror novels, but to me that seems to be a bit simplistic.  This is not just a horror story; this is a story that delves into the psychological and philosophical.  This shows the devastating results that can occur when one acts without forethought.  Frankenstein examines the ideas of man, and God, and creation in a way that makes sense; it is not some far away concept, it is relatable and understandable.  Even as the monster kills, you understand his actions.  I could even find a level of sympathy.

I know I am not necessarily making sense as I ramble on.  I honestly do not know how to explain why I found this book to be so amazing.  All I can say is it spoke to me, and I am glad I listened.

Should you read this book before you die?

Read this book when you are making a hard decision. Read this book when you are questioning the humanity of man.  Read this book when you want to think.  Read this book when you want to feel better about your own decisions.  Read this book when you have messed up. 

Just read this book.

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I almost feel a little breathless right now.  I wasn’t expecting to add any new books to my personal top ten or even my top fifty, but I fell deeply in love with this book.  Not only am I glad I read it, but I am sure I will read it again.

Unfortunately, I must move onto the next one and hope I can find something that gives me even a fraction of the joy I found in this one.

As I said before, or at least as I meant to say before, after Frankenstein, I am moving onto The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  I have no picture, since I am reading an ebook version.  I could give a picture of my ipad, but somehow I don’t think it will have the same punch.  After reading about the picture, I pan on a trip down a river with Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  Hopefully after a couple of these shorter books I will have the energy to tackle another long one.  This is definitely a marathon, but it’s not my first.  I know how to take the pain.

Happy reading!

Wandering

It is an unfortunate truth that I go through periods of extreme writers block. 

No, that’s not quite right.  Writer’s block usually indicates to me that I have part of the plan, but I can’t quite make it work.  It isn’t a problem with generating ideas or even finding words to write.  It is a complete hopelessness. 

I become struck with the overwhelming futility of my efforts.  Very few people are able to make careers from creative pursuits, and I become instantly certain I will be one of those who cannot make it work.   Nothing I ever write will be good enough and all of my ideas are absolute crap.

On a regular basis, I force myself to plug away and churn out something; it doesn’t take away the problem, but it is better than nothing.  So far, the only real fix I have found is travel.  I take a trip, even for a couple of days, and do not write, or even think of writing.  When I come home, I am refreshed, invigorated, and what is more, inspired. 

It may be no secret that I am currently in one of my low points, which may explain the skipped posts, and posts that I fully admit could be much better written.  I am fortunate enough to also have a chance to take a vacation next month, as soon as we can decide where to go.

The original plan was a long drive through Italy, however we are reevaluating the original plan as it was full of potential problems that were already stressing me out.  Now, we are discussing where we should go instead.  There is a part of me that would love to go back to Scotland or Ireland again, maybe hitting North Ireland this time.  We have also discussed Romania, Greece, and Spain.

I am now seeking advice.  If you could go anywhere in Europe to find inspiration and fun, where would you go?