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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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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!

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.

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’. ☺

some of Galway's Christmas decorations

Merry Christmas from Galway!

On this, our second Christmas away from home, we tried to celebrate as best we could. Last year, at least, Jon and I had my dad, uncle Cliff, and friend Matt with us to celebrate. So it was still a family affair. This year, though, we were on our own. Lucky for us, Shane (a Mitchell scholar who studies in Limerick) took a bus up to Galway on Thursday to join us in our celebration.

Just before Christmas, Ireland was hit with a little bit of snow – which is quite rare. We were hoping for a white Christmas, but instead we got a frosty and foggy Christmas eve.

fog on Christmas eve morning

It was really a beautiful day. The ice/snow had frozen to the still-green leaves of plants and to barren tree branches, making the world around us feel a little more magical and Christmas-y.

To make up for the fact that we were away from home, we attempted to do as many fun Christmas things as we could. On Christmas Eve night, we lit a fire in the fireplace, opened gifts from my mom (which is our tradition from that side of the family), and baked Christmas cookies. We headed over to a midnight church service at our local Anglican church (where Christopher Columbus is reported to have once prayed), and welcomed Christmas with candlelight and carols.

Shane and I bake cookies on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning, we woke up and opened presents. Shane was wise and brought his gifts from his family to our place, and so we all had something to unwrap. We opened gifts in the tradition of my family: from youngest to oldest, one at a time.

After the gifts, we made a big brunch of crepes with all the fixings: berries, bananas, nutella, lemon and sugar, and whipped cream. After recovering from the big meal, we went for a long walk along the ocean with Michael (another Mitchell scholar) and his family, who are visiting him.

Christmas morning breakfast

Christmas dinner was another big cooking adventure – red wine, prune, and thyme chicken, with garlic green beans, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Everything turned out well, despite the fact that most of it was a first-time attempt.

Throughout both Christmas Eve and Christmas day, Shane, Jon, and I all made frequent use of Skype to be a part of our families’ Christmases far away. I opened my presents in front of the video camera so that mom could watch. Jon was a digital participant in his family’s gift unwrapping session as well. Between the three of us, we chatted with numerous uncles and aunts, grandparents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. What a relief it was to have the technology to help us feel a little closer to those we love and miss.

This year’s Christmas was peaceful, full of sweets, and full of love, despite the fact that our families were an ocean away.  As much as I look forward to spending Christmas with my family next year, I think I will always look back at this pleasant Christmas fondly.  Nollaig shona duit (merry Christmas!) to you and yours this week.

Last minute shopping on Shop Street in Galway.

Proud parents Francis and Muireann with baby Liam in the pram

Sitting, taking tea in a house in Dublin a couple weeks ago, I was greeted (in the thickest of Dublin accents) with, “Oh! It’s the great Parnell!”

What a welcome!

After three years, Jon and I were reunited with the MacCumhaill family, back in their lovely home in the cozy outskirts of Dublin.

Allow me to back up. In the summer of 2006, I traveled to East Africa for the first time to do research on fair trade crafts for my senior thesis. I happened upon Uganda Crafts and spent a month there as a volunteer and researcher. I was lucky enough to meet Muireann, an Irish woman who had been working with Uganda Crafts for 6 months.  Muireann was engaged to a Ugandan man at the time, and we hit it off splendidly from the beginning. After a month exploring markets in Kampala, hanging out at each others’ homes, and having a few nights out on the town, it was time for me to leave Uganda. Muireann told me that if I ever happened to come to Ireland, to let her know, and I told her I would do just that.

A couple months later, Jon and I realized that we needed to use some flight vouchers we’d earned earlier in the year. We also recognized that Thanksgiving break was on the horizon. On a whim, I checked flight prices to Dublin. Lo and behold, they cost almost exactly the amount of our travel vouchers. I got in touch with Muireann to see if she thought her family might take us in for a couple of nights, and I got even better news: Muireann would be in Dublin at that time, not in Uganda! Elated, I booked our tickets and counted the days until our trip.

When we arrived in Dublin, Muireann took us under her wing. We stayed with her family, the MacCumhaills, and they welcomed us as if we were long lost relatives. We ate most of our meals with the family, and got to know everyone over delicious Irish dinners. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were.

After three years, Jon and I found ourselves back in the same living room. So much had changed for both families: Jon and I were married and had spent a year in Uganda; Muireann and Francis were now married and the new parents to beautiful baby Liam, and made the move to Northern Ireland; older brother Fionn had been married a month prior. But gathering together again, it was like we had never left. We heard an update from Fionn Sr. about how business was going, and looked at wedding pictures with Fionn Jr.. Siobhan joined us for a walk around the botanic gardens, and Eimear chatted with us about school. I left their house feeling warm and fuzzy all over, grateful for the exuberant welcome the second time around.

Beyond the entire MacCumhaill family, it’s been EXTRA good to spend time with Muireann, Francis and Liam. Last weekend, they came to Galway, and we had the chance to catch up in more depth, especially about Uganda-related topics. And, we also had the chance to eat a lot of good food, and have a few pints out. In two weekends, Jon and I will visit Muireann and Francis up in Northern Ireland, where they have a house out in the country. We’re excited to go!

The past couple months have been wonderful, in that I’ve been introduced to so many great new friends. But this reunion with old friends has brought me at least as much joy.

Muireann and me on the Ha' Penny bridge in Dublin, 2006

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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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