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Since we left Ireland, my life has been sort of a big, beautiful blur.

Leaving Ireland was, as expected, nearly impossible to do.  Saying goodbye to our idyllic lives by the sea and our lovely group of Irish friends was really, really sad.  We tried our best to keep our chins up and to enjoy every last second – all the while working on our theses and packing up another year of our lives.  We did take some time to check a couple of things off of our list, including spending an afternoon at the historic Tigh Neachtain pub with friends.

A perfect June afternoon at Tigh Neachtain

After a teary goodbye at the Galway train station, we were off … on our way to our whirlwind tour of America.

First stop: My hometown of Mahtomedi, Minnesota.  We made it just in time for my dear friend Hilary’s wedding, and spent the week both working on schoolwork as well as catching up with family and friends.

We had a lovely time with family, and loved seeing Grandma M and her newest quilts.

Next: Rockford, Illinois.  This time, Jon’s family and friends (and don’t forget those pesky theses).  We crammed a lot of quality time in with parents, grandparents, and our adorable little nephew.

Ryne's got a golf club in his hand - he LOVES to play golf!

Next stop: Chicago, Illinois, for a very quick hello & goodbye to our dear friends Becca and Sam. As luck would have it, we’re finally in the US  just as they’re on their way to South Africa for a year.  Good thing we have that wonderful kind of friendship that you can just pick right up where you left off.

Becca & Sam, Lauren & Jon reunion

Next? Naples, Florida, and then the Everglades, and Miami, Florida.  Jon and I were so excited to visit my mom’s new home in beautiful Florida.  Moving to a warmer climate has been one of my mom’s lifelong dreams, and it’s been so much fun for me to see her in her element in Florida.  Unfortunately, we STILL (!) had thesis work while we were visiting the tropics, but at least we could escape our punishing academic work by going to the beach.

Miami beach.

Well, we’re not done quite yet.  Next, we spent a week in Washington, D.C. We got to attend an annual Mitchell Scholar party and officially started the job search by doing informational interviews.  In between, we visited with friends and worked on theses.  And then… after many months and a final all-night session, I FINISHED MY THESIS!  It’s officially printed and turned in.  I am just waiting to hear back whether or not I’ll pass! 🙂

(I neglected to take a single photo in DC… not like me, but my mind was very much elsewhere).

Right now, Jon and I are sadly separate.  He is in Rockford, putting the finishing touches on his thesis and spending more time with family, and I am back in Florida with my mom.  The big news here is that she just got an adorable puppy: Mabel, a teeny tiny Italian Greyhound.

Me & Mabel

Although the last couple of weeks have been spent solely in the US, we’ve seen so much it seems like we must have left the country a couple times.  We’ve had moments of quintessential Americana, like catching a Saint’s Baseball game with my dad, watching a small-town fireworks display with Jon’s dad, and walking along the Washington DC monuments at night.  We’ve also seen the diversity of American life: I talked with my friend Tena about her Somali students in Minneapolis, visited a wedding shop in search of a traditional Korean dress with my sister in Chicago, and enjoyed Brazilian food in Miami for Jon’s birthday.

Overall, it’s been a beautiful blur of a couple of weeks.  We’re still not quite sure what’s happening next in our lives – where we’ll be “settling down” or what jobs we’ll have, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted.  Until then, you can be sure that we’ll be savoring our downtime in the good ole USA.

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We visited the gorgeous Ross Strand beach while driving the Ring of Kerry with my dad and uncle.  I love the red in the sand and mountains and the blue sea and sky!  It was a gorgeous day.

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!

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.

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A little over a week ago, 10 of the Mitchells and I boarded flights headed to Brussels.  We were going with the intent of learning more about the many, many workings of the European Union.  We were graciously hosted by the Irish Permanent Representation to the EU, the group of people representing Ireland in all parts of the European Union.

During our official tour of the EU, we got to sit in on the proceedings of the European Parliament, enjoy a lunch with the US Ambassador to the EU, learn about the many different committees and groups that make up the EU machine, and get to know some lovely Irish people in the civil service in Brussels.  The European Union gets a bit of a bad reputation for its unwieldy nature, and it’s hard to disagree with that in some ways.  The decision making process is long and complicated – but that’s part of the point.  The EU system is designed to ensure that decisions are made with a high level of buy-in from all member states.  It also tries to walk the oh-so-fine line between bringing Europe together around shared interests and becoming the United States of Europe.  It was great to learn about all of this from a closer perspective – and now I will understand so much more when reading the news about what’s happening in the EU.

After the EU portion of the trip was over, we had a couple days of free time to enjoy Belgium on our own.  A small group of us took a train to the neighboring city of Bruges, which is a huge tourist destination.  We wandered the cobblestone streets, watching boats cruise down the canals and tourists wander in and out of souvenir shops.  It was a lovely, sunny day and we celebrated that fact by eating outside and meandering in the sun; no big to-do list for us.  That night, we explored a bit more of “real” Brussels (the non-EU part), and got to see the beautiful Grand Place all lit up at night.

On Sunday, there was more wandering around – a farmers market, checking out some of the cool Art Nouveau architecture around town, eating fresh bread.

We took the tram out to see the Tervuren Africa Museum, which was a museum created by King Leopold to create interest and support for his “project” in the Congo, around the turn of the century.  Of course, King Leopold’s Congo project was essentially to force the Congolese people to work as slaves, with Leopold taking the profit from the vast amount of rubber and ivory exported out of the country.  All done without Leopold so much as stepping foot on the African continent.  (I highly recommend the book King Leopold’s Ghost for the story on the Belgian Congo.)  For this reason, the Tervuren museum is really interesting, as they have maintained the exhibits as they were originally designed.  We only had one short hour in the museum before we had to rush off to the airport – but I was really glad I got to visit.

All in all, a productive trip!  Made better with lots of Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer, frites, and the company of the Mitchell crew!

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’. ☺

This was our motto throughout Ellen’s visit to Ireland. Thinking of getting another pint of Bulmer’s at the pub? Go ahead – you only live once. Should we go to Blarney castle despite the snow and the fact that the roads are nearly impassable? Probably, since you only live once. Chat with some intoxicated guys (who all seem to be named Paddy) about politics on your way home at night? Well, you only live once.

We were so lucky to have Ellen visit us for 2 whole weeks, while we were on break and feeling relaxed after a nice Christmas. We tried to take advantage of the time off from work to explore, but came up against an old enemy when trying to make plans: the weather. It’s been a while since the weather has prevented us from doing much – after all, Uganda is pretty much perfect all year long, and we visited the midwest in its prime over the summer. And although I didn’t think the weather was really that bad, Ireland was definitely not prepared for it. So we took advantage of as much as we could, and when we were doubtful about whether or not to go ahead with a plan, we asked ourselves the question: “How many times do you live?” The answer: just once. And we had a blast. Exhibits A and B:

Blarney Castle, beautiful in the snow!

a lovely view of Dublin from the top of the Guinness Brewery.

Ellen really made some tracks around Ireland during her two weeks. We spent a couple of days in Dublin, mostly sliding around on the icy sidewalks and thinking about our next cup of tea. We also visited Christchurch cathedral, the Dublin Writer’s museum, a couple of cute pubs, and paid a visit to Muireann and Liam. We had the pleasure of being accompanied by Michael and his friend Jackie, who was also visiting him.

After Dublin, we took a quick trip to Cork and got to spend time with another Mitchell scholar, Jon, and explore the pleasant city. We also made a (very quick!) trip to Blarney Castle, which was breathtaking in the snow… but also VERY cold. Ellen later took day trips to the Cliffs of Moher and to Sligo.

And how can we forget our time in Galway? We did some great ‘traditional’ Irish stuff with Ellen – traditional music at the Crane Bar, dancing at Monroe’s Tavern, walking along the Promenade, and meandering through town.

All in all, it was a fantastic two weeks, and so great to have Ellen here with us. Since we lived together until I moved to Uganda, it was just like old times. Having friends like Ellen come through has reminded me and Jon how lucky we are to have such incredible people in our lives. And it has given us the opportunity to get outside of our normal Galway routine and live a little more. We are blessed indeed.

we'll miss you Ellen!

a gorgeous streetscape in Rome, complete with motorcycles, graffiti, and that beautiful orange color.

We recently took a post-finals week break by booking cheap Ryanair flights to Rome for a couple days.  This is my favorite photo from the trip – I think it captures Rome perfectly.

Belfast. Germany. Cork. London. Dublin.

My past five weekends have been a little crazy. Every weekend I’ve been in another city; sometimes in another country. It’s true that I was voted “most likely to travel the world” in high school. . . However, I generally tend to do my traveling a little bit more slowly than this. Or at least stay somewhere for a week. That being said, the past five weeks have been exhilarating, fun, and at times a little stressful.

One of the highlights of the past couple weeks (and the reason for a couple of the trips) was having friends Laura and Jordan come visit. The four of us make quite a set. We have matching initials (well now that we’re all married at least), we all like to eat … a lot, and we have reached a level in our friendships where it is ok to tease each other about being cranky. Now that’s love. Laura and Jordan hung out in Galway while I slaved over a paper, without whining even once that I was neglecting them. Instead, they explored the city on their own and made a trip to the Cliffs of Moher (ask them about the wind!). During the weekends, however, we escaped little old Galway for some bigger cities: London and Dublin.

st. paul's cathedral

It was Laura’s, Jon’s AND my first time in London. And boy, did we ever cram as much as we could into our four days there. From walking around its diverse neighborhoods, to seeing Big Ben, the Rosetta Stone, and St. Paul’s Cathedral with our own eyes, we were a foursome on the move. And we managed to fit in as much coffee, food, and dessert as our stomachs could handle. Of course, the trip did have its hiccups. The London Underground closed down basically all the subway lines we needed during the weekend. We got lost within the financial/diamond district during lunchtime on Saturday, when NOTHING was open and we were hungry. Etc. The little snafus add up to the beauty of travel, in my opinion, and always lead you to places you would’ve never seen otherwise.

laura and jordan in london

enjoying fall colors in Hyde Park

temple church door

gorgeous door at Temple Church

albert's gate

beautiful details of the gate surrounding a memorial to Prince Albert.

Having Laura and Jordan here to be a part of our lives in Ireland, to visit the university and cheer me on as I finished my fourth paper in as many weeks, was such a pleasure. Getting to do London (and a bit of Dublin) was the cherry on top. It was sad to see them go!

This coming weekend we’re staying in Galway. Mostly. There will be a quick trip to Limerick thrown in. But after five weeks of cross-country or out-of-Ireland travel, Limerick will be a breeze. Please do check out our Picasa site to see photos from these, and other, adventures!

You’ll have to excuse the tardiness of this post – I have a number of posts I want to write on some of the traveling I’ve done in the past couple weeks and haven’t yet had the chance to actually write them. The rest will come soon, promise.

A couple weekends back, fellow Mitchell scholar Michael and I made the long trip from Galway to Belfast. The trip was organized around the opportunity to see the play The Beauty Queen of Leenane and to meet the show’s star, Geraldine Hughes. The Mitchell gang gathered from all corners of the country for the show, which was just about as devastating (maybe more so) as The New Electric Ballroom, which we’d seen a couple weeks prior. In addition to the play, the Mitchells explored Belfast and had a lovely fall weekend. One of the big highlights was our trip to St. George’s Market, a Victorian-style, indoor market with all the fixins: fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish, crafts, plants, and more. Additionally, a variety of curries, crepes, smoothies, and chocolate was sold throughout for eating on the spot and musicians played throughout the afternoon. We wandered around the market for hours, and all the non-Belfast kids got really jealous that the Belfast people get to experience it every weekend.

belfast spices

just one of many stands in St. George's Market

We spent hours wandering the city of Belfast, and it was interesting to note the subtle differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the North, you rarely see the Irish language, and you definitely never hear it. Very different than Galway, which is in the heart of the Irish language region of the country (called the Gaeltacht region), where Irish is often seen and sometimes heard as well. Additionally, protestant churches are much more visible than in the Republic, as is a more evangelistic ethos. Belfast has a bigger-city feel than I was expecting, and while there were some of the quiet signs of a post-conflict area, it was hard to see much evidence of the Troubles.

One of the legacies of the conflict that is visible, however, is the use of murals throughout the city. Belfast is known for its murals, which signify support for various political groups active in the conflict. We took a walking tour around Belfast and caught a glimpse of some of the murals around town.

basque mural

one of a group of murals dedicated to solidarity with other "underdog" groups, including those in Basque country.

paramilitary mural

mural showing support for a paramilitary group.

The weekend in Belfast came to an end with a night of dancing. A perfect way to complete a weekend exploring a cool city with a group of my newest friends.

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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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