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If we haven’t posted in some time (and we haven’t), it’s because we’ve been busybusybusy.

Busy working on our dissertations.

Busy tending to our little garden.

And most recently, busy bouncing around all over Ireland with our visitors, my Dad and Uncle Cliff.

Cliff in Howth, Co. Dublin

Dad in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

Dad and Jon at Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

Jon, Dad, and Cliff at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.

More photos to come from the trip.

But now, back to busily working away on dissertation stuff!

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Apart from furious paper writing, the past week has been almost completely defined for me by the craziness of the Icelandic volcano. Now that the chaos has subsided a bit, I thought I’d reflect on all the ways we’ve experienced the volcano’s effects over the past week.

  • If it weren’t for that stupid volcano, Jon and I would be enjoying time with his mom and grandma, here in Galway, at this very moment. They were due to arrive on Wednesday this past week, but their flight was cancelled. We are just sick about not being able to see them, but there was nothing anyone could do about it! We are slightly consoled by the fact that we’ll be home in the US in just about two months. But we are missing both Cindy and Vanesse this week!
  • We had one unexpected guest for a night, which was a pleasant surprise! A friend of mine from Northwestern, Robert, got stuck in Ireland for almost a week. We hadn’t seen each other since graduation, so it was really great to catch up face to face. I got to show off my beautiful adopted hometown and hear more about Robert’s life in Los Angeles. Robert is a budding travel writer/movie maker, and is documenting his epic Europe adventure (and other travels) here. Check it out – he’s hilarious! – and I’m sure he will be a household name someday.
  • Michael (my fellow Mitchell scholar/dear friend in Galway) got to spend a whole extra week with his visiting friend, Ryan, while he was in travel purgatory here in Ireland. Poor Ryan was the best man in a wedding which took place yesterday, and worked so hard to get home in time for it. He ended up getting a flight that would bring him home to Chicago just in the nick of time… so we trust that he eventually made it!
  • One (of many) sad local stories we heard: An older gentleman in Ballybofey turned 80 last weekend. He was born in England but settled in Ireland. To celebrate his big day, he had all of his relatives flying in from England and elsewhere: kids, grandkids, brothers, sisters, cousins. Everyone. Of course, all flights were cancelled and no one could come. Apparently, he held the party anyway, but was devastated that his most dear friends and family were an island away. Breaks your heart just thinking about it!
  • The market for flights has been all messed up ever since the volcano. Jon still needs to buy his one-way flight home, and the prices have jumped pretty significantly – we’ll have to wait for them to drop a bit. And Ryanair has used this as an opportunity for a big promotion – over the weekend they advertised dozens of flights at only 3 euros each way!

All in all, it’s been a pretty crazy, surreal week. Full of stories about the strange ways that this volcano (and by extension, air travel) has affected our daily lives. It has brought people together in unexpected ways (seeing Robert again!) but also kept people apart (Cindy and Vanesse). And it has reminded us that, although we’ve been able to use technology to do some pretty amazing things, Mother Nature is still boss.

Yesterday the FDIC orchestrated the closure of AMCORE Bank in Rockford. Harris Bank out of Chicago will now take ownership of its assets and deposits.

Although it sounds like AMCORE played a lead role in its own demise (see the Rockford Register Star reporting on it here), I can’t help but be sad about the situation. AMCORE was more than just another bank for Rockford. It was a locally-owned institution that for 100 years had taken a leadership in the civic life of the community. A Rockford Register Star editorial puts it this way:

“The bank’s reach was vast. Not only was it one of the area’s largest employers, it also sponsored races, charity golf tournaments, regional spelling bees and Adopt-a-Soldier programs, to name just a very few. It lent untold leadership talent to nonprofit boards and organizations.”

It was also one of the few companies that stayed loyal to the idea of downtown revitalization. The summer I worked for Rockford Urban Ministries on 7th Street I learned this first hand. AMCORE’s 7th Street headquarters single-handedly sustained several restaurants and shops, giving the business district energy and hope.

As the focus of discussion zeros in on national debates about economic recovery and Wall Street reform, AMCORE’s closure reminds me about the civic fabric that is being so deeply frayed in local communities around the country.

1) Today I turned in my LAST essay for my coursework!  From here on out, all I have to think about and read for is my dissertation.  I’m so happy/relieved!

2) Yesterday, I was on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  While reading, I remembered that I had submitted a “View from My Window” photo from our apartment in Kampala, way back in April.  I had never seen it posted on his blog, and assumed that it didn’t get posted at all (after all, he claims that he gets hundreds of these photos a week).  Then, I noticed the little search bar on the right, which I had never thought to use before.  Sure enough, I typed in “kampala” and… found my photo as the View of the Day for May 26!  So it was published after all.  How exciting!

Living far away from home sheds new light on the value friends and family have for a full life. To viscerally miss someone(s), although painful and even harmful, is quite an educational undertaking.

Its this realization, I suppose, that led a particular quote from one of Isaiah Berlin’s letters to jump out at me recently.

Isaiah Berlin was a British diplomat and philosopher during the mid 20th century. Some would call him the century’s preeminent thinker. I’m not yet convinced of that, but this doesn’t take away from the joy that comes with reading his letters. In an age where curt emails dominate written discourse, its fun to think about someone spending so much time writing thoughtful letters.

The quote that caught my attention came from a letter Berlin wrote to a news correspondent named Morton White in 1970. According to the editor of Berlin’s letters, Henry Hardy of Oxford College, Berlin wrote that “Life is not worth living unless one can be indiscreet to intimate friends.”

After reading this on a Google Books version of Hardy’s volume, admittedly, I grabbed for my dictionary. Indiscreet is one of those words I know the approximate meaning for, but not the precise one. My Mac dictionary tells me that it literally means showing too great a readiness to reveal things that should remain in secret.

Good point, Isaiah, I thought after checking the meaning. The value of old, close acquaintances is that they give you the benefit of the doubt. There is a basis of trust that comes only from history which allows you to say things you may not fully mean or haven’t fully thought through. I think the value Berlin sees in this is that people have an intrinsic need to “think out loud” among trusted others…it allows us to sort ourselves out and practice becoming in the context of a community.

As I often do after reading something that gives me pause, I did a google search for “Berlin indiscreet friends” to see if anyone had written more commentary on the quote. Doing so revealed something interesting. Depending on the source, Berlin’s quote is written using either indiscreet or indiscrete. Which is correct, I thought? Quickly realizing I would probably need more than an internet connection to answer that question, I started to think about what the second use, indiscrete meant. On this, my Mac gives the literal definition of not divided into distinct parts.

Mmm. Well, whether or not Berlin meant to, I think he provides us with a double entendre that pretty accurately sums up the value of intimate friends. They allow you to be fully open (indiscreet), and fully whole (indiscrete). In short, they allow you to be free. And since freedom is intrinsically valuable beyond measure, I think Berlin is quite right to say that “Life is not worth living unless one can be indiscreet/indiscrete to intimate friends.”

Right now Jon and I are skyping with our Ugandan friends: Stephen, who is studying at Notre Dame, in the US, and his wonderful girlfriend Winnie, who is working in Gulu, Uganda. We are recalling memories of our last double date at an Indian restaurant in Gulu and talking about current events in Uganda. Stephen is sharing some of his thinking about some new ideas he has for projects in northern Uganda. Winnie  keeps asking us when we are coming back.

I’m struck by how much joy these little interactions give me. To be able to hear both Winnie’s and Stephen’s voices while we are on completely separate continents feels like some sort of miracle.

A little bit of simple joy for my Wednesday afternoon.

We just returned from a spectacular weekend up in Co. Donegal with our friends Laura and Avril. Avril was gracious enough to invite the three of us up to her family’s home in Ballybofey for a night and then to the family’s vacation cottage in the wee village of Kilcar for the next two nights.

We were treated to some home cooking from Avril’s lovely mom and enjoyed beautiful weather in Ballybofey. We took a nice long walk around the family land with Avril’s adorable dog Millie, and simply enjoyed being outside and not thinking about assignments for a couple hours.

Me, Avril, and Jon enjoying some wine after our walk around Ballybofey.

On Saturday, we headed to tiny Kilcar, a tiny village situated right on the Atlantic ocean and in the shadow of a beautiful mountain, Slieve League. Our host and chauffeur, Avril’s dad John, asked us to help with a chore as soon as we arrived: moving his flock of sheep from one field to another. Of course, we said yes. I was very hopeful that I’d get the chance to grab a sheep and snuggle up with it. If I only knew what was coming my way…

yes, you are seeing that right... me and a precious little lamb.

While moving the sheep, two young lambs were moving a little slowly and got scooped up by John. He passed them off to the four of us for a couple of minutes of cuddling. Turns out the twin lambs were born just THREE HOURS earlier! Needless to say, I was in absolute heaven. Dream = come true.

Laura and a little lamb.  Note the umbilical cord!

Laura and a little lamb. Note the umbilical cord!

Jon, me, lamb. Ecstatic.

After much nuzzling and squealing, we returned the lambs to their (understandably upset) mama.

While the lambs were definitely the highlight of our first day in Kilcar, we still had lots to do to finish out the day: Laura tried her hand at driving a tractor, we took a 2 hour walk and hung out on the seashore with the tide coming in, and devoured a lovely stew. Then it was out to experience Kilcar’s nightlife at the John Joe pub. We knew we’d be noticed as outsiders, but weren’t expecting to hear someone utter “Who are THEY?” approximately four seconds after we walked in the door. We enjoyed a couple pints and headed home to get some rest for day of fun number three.

Day 3: Climbing the great Slieve League mountain. They’re known as the highest sea cliffs in Europe (although it seems that title is contested), and we started the hike around lunchtime. It was a gorgeous day and a perfect hike. We took our time, taking lots of photos of the incredible cliffs and the sapphire blue sea, and stopping to enjoy the view whenever we felt like resting a bit.  Afterwards, we headed back to the house, exhausted but happy.

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County Donegal has officially won my heart.

Spring is finally making its way to Galway!  This photo was taken over a month ago, on a randomly gorgeous day.  Since then, we’ve had a lot of rain, some snow, a couple rounds of hail, and generally chilly temperatures. But it’s getting better now – buds on trees, flowers blooming, temperatures rising…

To welcome spring in, we’ve planted a little herb garden in planter boxes on our back porch.  I’m terrible with gardens, so we’ll see if we can keep everything alive! Photos to come.

In days before my heart was sore
from wondering what if, what next, and what for.
But today that was swept away
by the sights on the prom at Galway Bay.
A boy’s carrying a sand pale, and old boy’s telling a tall tale
and a hooker’s preparing to set sail.
At the foot of the palm tree, a smiling white Westie
is unleashed and invited to run free.

Diane, Lauren, and Julie test their jumping skills outside of the Louvre in Paris

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in Ireland (or, as the Irish tend to call it – Mum’s Day).

Luckily, we were able to celebrate it with Lauren’s mom Julie, who was visiting us along with her sister Diane. Julie and Diane’s trip, which included 4 days in Paris, was one of the most enjoyable weeks of our time in Ireland. It was also the fulfillment of Julie’s lifelong desire to visit Paris. Making it to Paris is the second life goal Julie has accomplished so far in 2010. Last month she moved from Minnesota to Naples, Florida!

Towards the end of Julie and Diane’s visit, I learned that my mom successfully achieved ‘ordination’ in the United Methodist Church as an elder. This is similar to a teacher achieving tenure, and is a very difficult status to achieve within the clergy. Mom’s journey towards ordination began almost a decade ago when she started a course in clinical pastoral education (CPE) that ultimately led her to seminary.

As I settle into my ‘quarter-life crisis’ and contemplate the many competing pressures of adulthood – money (particularly debt), family, vocation, belief, politics, friendships, etc – I take inspiration from the recent activities of my ‘mums’.

In their own ways, they have both shown the courage to follow their passions in the face of uncertainty. And, in doing so, they have provided their kids with an example of how to live in the same way. So, for Mum’s Day from Ireland, we say a big ‘thanks a million’. ☺

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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