Meet my dessert concoction, created a few weeks ago and long since vanished. It came into being at an ice-cream social that took place Wednesday evening of the Catholic Writers Guild conference in Somerset, N.J., the first week in August.
I took a picture of it because, well, I do weird things like that, but I’m glad. Looking back on the summer, and the past month in particular, it feels representative of how life has been lately. There’s ice cream, chocolate syrup, some whipped cream, a small pile of fresh strawberries, and best of all, that cherry on top — the kicker.
I went to the conference ready to forge new connections, firm up old ones, and solidify my place in the world of faith writers. It was a wonderful experience. But some of the best parts of the trip happened in the in-between times — between meals, between workshops, between bullet points in the itinerary.
I’ve shared already on Peace Garden Mama how the visit allowed me to meet up with my fifth cousin, Elly, whom I’d just met online four months earlier.
That came at the tail-end of the trip. A few days prior, however, I enjoyed dinner with my first cousin, Nick, who, just six months ago, moved to the Garden State with his bride, Maggie, to continue his successful career as a wine salesman.
I was in high school when this guy was a little dude. He and his brother, Chris, were more like nephews than cousins. So it was pretty wild for me to see him all grown up. It had been a few years since we’d had anything that could be called quality time.
He treated me – the cousin who once changed his diapers – to dinner at a very nice, new restaurant in the area called Social. Our salad encompassed fresh mozzarella, basil, olives and tomatoes. Yum! We also shared a gnocchi dish and a chicken entree.
The visit with Nick, the chat with Elly — these moments were the cherries on top of an already blessed adventure.
It was also neat to talk with Nick about Elly, to realize that she was just as much his fifth cousin as mine, and to share a few details of her recent ancestral finds.
And then, in the middle of our conversation, a small-world moment happened when we started talking about our Irish heritage. Nick mentioned something linked to our family in the Old Country called Castle Strange. When I heard him say it my heart skipped a beat. Elly had mentioned such a “castle” not long before in an email. I’ve since learned it’s not a castle the way we think of them, but an estate where Nick’s and my great-great-great (something like that) uncle, William Byrne, used to run a successful veterinary practice.
Technically called Castlestrange House, the estate was burned years ago, and only a Celtic rock remains to mark its past existence, but the stone is a protected national monument. There’s even a Wikipedia entry on the rock here.
Nick’s mom, my Aunt Betsy, later led me to some other information about “Uncle Willie,” including that his wife, Aleen Isabel Cust, was the first woman to qualify as a veterinary surgeon in either Ireland or England, back in the early 1900s.
This is all to say that life is truly a grand adventure, and you never know what you’re going to get when you put yourself “out there,” when you take a risk, ask a question, make a connection, let a cousin know you’re in town, let another know you exist.
I went to a writing conference and ended up with much more.
Now this past weekend I had the great fortune to attend another conference, closer to home this time but with more neat stories, connections, and inspiration to hold close to my heart.
And yes, more ice cream, too!