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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.

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.

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!

Part of my “job” as a Mitchell Scholar is to write quarterly reflections on my experiences in Ireland.  Our reflections were published last week.  You can read mine, reposted below, and what the other scholars have to say, here.

I have a thing for birds. Last year, while living in Uganda, I became obsessed with identifying every weaver, hornbill, and crane that crossed my path. And although the birding is a bit less thrilling here in Ireland, I swoon every time I see a swan gently paddling down the canal that feeds into the River Corrib. So back in September, when Michael (Mitchell scholar), Jon (my husband), and I stumbled across a flock of 40 (yes, 40) swans while on a walk through the Claddagh, I knew that living in Galway would make me very happy indeed.

This year in Galway marks my second year living as an expatriate, and I find myself constantly comparing my life in Kampala to my life here. I’m sure you can imagine the many differences: in Galway, I wash our clothes in a spiffy little machine that resides in the kitchen. In Kampala, laundry was a chore I spent hours doing every week by hand (although, believe it or not, I rather enjoyed it). In Galway, every time the sun shines, I soak it in, because I know it won’t last long. In Kampala, I was constantly seeking out a patch of cool shade. In Galway, the language is English, and I manage to blend in, despite my painfully American accent and fashion sense. In Kampala, I struggled to use my hard-earned Luganda (the local language) correctly and became accustomed to the feeling of being watched. The similarities between my two adopted homes are apparent as well. In both Galway and Kampala, drinking tea is an important social custom, the soccer fans are zealous, and the people are so warm that you are immediately put at ease. Both Kampala and Galway have made their mark on me, and in Galway, I know that the process is still just beginning. Galway, with its twisty cobblestone streets, omnipresent street musicians, and sweet salt air, affords me with somewhat of a fairytale existence. It is easy to while away a day exploring the passageways near my apartment, in the center of the city, window-shopping when the weather is dry and escaping into a café when the rain inevitably begins again. And since Galway is a big tourist city, it’s easy to forget that I’m not actually on vacation; that I’m here to do work.

Work is definitely a big part of my life in Galway. Although at times it is frustrating to have my laid-back vacation bubble popped, I am so grateful that my program is turning out to be exactly what I hoped it would be. The MA in Gender, Globalization and Rights is a part of the Global Women’s Studies program at NUI Galway and is introducing me and my 10 classmates to the intricacies of feminist theory, the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, grassroots development methods, and how they are all connected. In other words: more than I bargained for, but in a good way. I am confident that what I’m learning now will be useful in the near future, and that’s a good feeling.

Although I love Galway, I have used the majority of my weekends to escape to other places in search of adventure. Traveling throughout the island of Ireland has been a main feature of my travel thus far, and I’ve spent time in Belfast, Cork, and Dublin with the Mitchells. In fact, tomorrow I’m taking a day trip to Limerick to learn more about Irish Aid and to pay a visit to Shane. I’ve also had the chance to visit London with friends from home, and Bremen, Germany, with Irish friends, Michael, and Jon. All of the travel has given me an excuse to improve my photography, a hobby I’ve kept up since my Uncle Cliff taught me how to use a darkroom in the fifth grade. Meanwhile, I am watching Jon and myself become more and more Irish as the days go by. Jon is starting to add “like” at the end of his sentences. I prefer “Dja know?” as it is awfully close to the old Minnesotan saying, “Dontcha know?” I’ve stopped complaining about the rain and started drinking tea several times a day. The familiar process of acquiring the idiosyncrasies of a place is beginning to happen to me once again.

I can’t write a about my first couple of months without mentioning my fellow Mitchell Scholars. So many words come to mind when I think of the group: energetic, social, well-read, empathetic, hilarious, loyal, open-minded. I’ve already had so much fun with the group, as well as with people one-on-one, that it’s exciting to think that we have much more in store this year. I feel especially lucky to have Michael in Galway with me, to share the joys of our Mitchell year, and look forward to having Rebekah join us here in January. To my fellow scholars: Here’s to many more weekends where we all sleep on the floor, meals that are cooked communally, days exploring whatever locale we end up in, and nights dancing to a certain Black Eyed Peas song.

I think it’s pretty clear that my life in Galway, and in Ireland more generally, is turning out to be pretty fantastic. Between the traveling, the perfection that is Galway, the Mitchell scholars, and my program, I’ve basically got it all. It is truly humbling to be a member of the Mitchell class of ’10, and I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity. But the cherry on top has got to be this: a flock of swans lives less than a kilometer from my front door.

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!

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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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