A Homeschooler in the Harbor

Little unknown or unmentioned fact about me: I used to be homeschooled.

From 3rd through 8th grade I learned from my parents via the Calvert curriculum, took classes with other homechoolers in a co-op, joined homeschool groups for knitting, choir, and even went to museum events specifically for homeschoolers. Oh yeah, and there was even a homeschool prom.

One of my favorite memories of homeschooling was getting to travel with my parents and learn along the way. Whenever my dad had business trips my mom and I would piggy-back along, and I’d become immersed in the city’s history and culture. During the day my mom and I would go to museums (history and art lessons), walk through parks (nature lesson), and visit the churches (architecture and culture lessons). In the evening we’d meet back up with my dad and go to dinner and try new cuisines and local fare.

In a way, this exploration and curiosity about new places has never left me, although at the moment I’m strapped for cash and time to continue these adventures to new places. Which is why when I do get the chance to see something new, even in a city I’ve gone to school in for 3 years, I get so excited and happy.

Just like this past weekend!

My parents came down for the Dean’s List Luncheon and we spent some time at the Inner Harbor, soaking up the sun and history of the USS Constellation.

Dragon boats galore at the Inner Harbor

The majestic sloop, USS Constellation

It was just like old times: learning the history of the ship, going aboard and watching a gun demonstration…The history nerd inside of me was quite content.

Right before he made the cannon go off

Captain's quarters

My dad really enjoyed himself, he’s a big fan of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin books, and got a kick out of showing me all the parts of the ship and which sail does what and where the Orlop deck is and everything. It was so nice to be out in the sunlight, catching the smell of the ocean on the spring air, feeling the slight sway of the deck beneath my feet, and enjoying the time with my parents.

Mom and Dad enjoying their stroll on the pier

It was so sunny!!!

I never thought I would say this, but I kinda wanted them to stay a bit longer. Ever since freshman year I’ve reveled in being away from home and spending a limited amount of time with my parents. But this weekend I was actually reluctant to see them go. Maybe it’s a maturity thing, maybe it was the previous rough week, or maybe it’s just nostalgia. Whatever it is, I’m glad I’m at least able to recognize how thankful I am for my parents. Not just for giving me their time and energy both growing up and now, but also for their constant encouragement in my education.

People always ask if being homeschooled gives me an advantage. I don’t think I can answer that yet. But I know it definitely shaped my love of independence, reading and higher education, and new experiences. So, thank you, Mom and Dad. You’re the best.

*And for those of you who want to know (and I know you’re out there, I got asked this all the time when I was homeschooled): No, I did not wear my pajamas to school. I got dressed every day.

A Weekend Filled with (Dutch) History

As I’m writing this, snow is falling gently, adding to the afternoon’s quiet peacefulness. My ‘balsam & cedar’ candle makes the aura of Christmas even more pronounced, in case you missed the wrapping paper and ribbons lying on the floor. Oh, and don’t forget the Christmas Jazz I’ve been listening to.

You could say I’ve settled into being home quite pleasantly. (The clothes I washed yesterday already have cat hair on them. Oh yes, I’m home.

But, as much as I would love to expound on the advantages to being home early for the Christmas season, what I really planned to write about was my…(drum roll please) Trip to Amsterdam!

You have no idea how psyched I was to find out the art history course I took at UCC included an optional trip to the Dutch capital. So excited in fact, that I bought my plane ticket before the trip was fully confirmed by my professor. Which of course guaranteed that not enough people from the class signed up to go and I was left with the (slightly terrifying) circumstance of traveling to  a foreign country the day after Thanksgiving by myself. Luckily Erin swooped in and offered to come with me, which made the weekend all the more fun and adventurous.

I need to point something out that I’ve noticed since traveling during this semester:

Europe is old. Compared to the US at least. I mean, you hear that all the time, but you don’t really get it until you stay in a hostel whose building is 400 years old. Or you walk out of a 19th century train station to gape at the surrounding buildings that look like real life gingerbread houses (but more sophisticated). Really.

For example, one of the many opera houses of Amsterdam:

The Rijksmuseum:

A shopping mall:

But getting past that phenomenal architecture to the contents of those buildings. Amsterdam is a city filled with history, and to keep track of it all, there are over 50 museums. Erin and I only made it to 5, but oh man, it was an experience.

The first one we went to was the Diamond Museum – I had no idea Amsterdam has such a history with the precious stones. It was really cool to see them being cut (at Coster Diamonds) and then learn about the whole mining and development process. The museum also had some pretty nifty displays:

Yes, that is indeed Van Gogh’s Starry Night with diamonds glittering in the sky. Speaking of Van Gogh, the museum dedicated to him is a must-see. Yes, I am a huge fan, but even the casual museum-goer would enjoy the rooms bursting with color, expression, and would gain a better understanding of the man behind the brushstrokes. On Friday nights they even have live music and are open till 10!

One of my favorite museums I went during my time abroad would have to the Rijksmuseum, which Erin and I visited the following day. I of course took the obligatory picture in front of the “I amsterdam” sculpture:

The museum is beautiful both inside and out and filled with amazing treasures:

The Netherlands have a rich trade history, hence the room full of model ships.

It's so simple and elegant!

 

The streets of Amsterdam are filled with unexpected delights, like street artists doing their thing:

Dutch waffle shops:

Stores like the “Otherist” featuring truly other-worldly object like preserved insects, fancy briefcases, pre-WWII glass eyes, truly unique salt and pepper shakers, and art prints of Cthulhu-like creatures (sorry, no pictures).

Erin and I also went to the Tulip Museum (very small), and a canal tour at night, and on my final day I visited the Amsterdam Museum which offered a very comprehensive history of the city with fun, interactive displays. But that was after I took a nice morning stroll around the quiet streets and went to Mass:

Dutch aged cheddar cheese is Mm-mm, perfect!

Tulip market

Art market

 

The church I went to Mass at - gorgeous inside!

 

I think Amsterdam was one of my favorite cities so far, even though trying to pronounce a language with words that have 10 consonants and 3 vowels is pretty difficult (and embarrassing). Despite the cold, I’d really love to go back. All that art and history right at your fingertips, yum!

(Insert London Reference Here)

This morning I amused my roommate to no end by trying to speak. And by trying to speak, I mean croak out an explanation of the communications project I was working on, only to have my voice break half way through a sentence and cause Julia to chortle into her coffee.

Yes, it is indeed that time of year again. The common cold creeps upon unsuspecting victims whose weary immune systems are vulnerable after weeks of personal stress, upcoming final papers, and a weekend excursion to London.

I think it was really that last bit that brought me down with the sniffles, but I don’t regret it one bit! London was…London was beautiful. London was filled with adventures, from strolling through Hyde Park and Baker Street to seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower. London doesn’t feel like home, as Ireland does, but it fills me with possibility and wonder and joy and great expectations.

I’m afraid I have to say that London beats Paris. Because let’s face it, the following experiences I’m about to share with you will always bring a smile to my face.

As previously mentioned, Hyde Park and Baker Street were our first stops in the city, after quickly figuring out the London Underground of course (it actually isn’t that difficult – it’s way more straightforward than NYC). A brisk stroll through the park brought us to the construction of a winter carnival, which my friends and I got super excited about until we realized they wouldn’t be opening till next week. Bummer. But, we did manage to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the Serpentine!

Our quest for 221B Baker Street proved to be unfruitful, however, as the actual set where productions of Sherlock Holmes is elsewhere in the city. But, we did come across a Beatles paraphernalia shop which was oddly appropriate for the next day’s adventure to Abbey Road.

After witnessing an undercover cop chase down a man in handcuffs, we decided to head over to the Tower, eating a breakfast of baguette sandwiches along the way.

As you can see, we couldn’t have asked for better weather, the sun gracing us with warmth and beautiful lighting for shots of Tower Bridge.

It was really cool to walk around in a place filled with so much history. Just think of all the kings, visitors, and yes, prisoners, who came there through the centuries! We saw so much: the Crown Jewels, the armory, the minting process, the King Edward I’s bed chambers, gargoyles galore, and of course the ravens! (btw, I had no idea they were so big)

Our day continued to follow a historical theme as we made our way to the Globe Theater after winding our way through the London streets. This, I think, was Erin’s favorite part of the trip. I mean, walking past this:

to get to this:

had her jumping with joy. I know, I know, the Globe actually burned down centuries ago, but the theater that stands there today is historically accurate, even down to the method of construction! Our guide even told us that audiences still stand to see the plays, and participation (within reason) is allowed, just like during Shakespeare’s day. I would love to be a part of that someday, to be such an active viewer of one of his works.

I seriously thought my day couldn’t get much better, I mean, seeing historical places, right? Well, being the foodie I am, my evening rocked compared to the daytime activities. Rocked as in That was one of the best meals of my life ever. Hunger may be the best sauce, but add a little wine, good friends, and a delicious desert, and you’ve got the makings of a feast. I ate what was possibly the best fish n chips of my life, followed by sharing a desert platter of chocolatey goodness and raspberry peach cobbler (with apple sorbet!). Looking around the table at my friends, sharing in their laughter and good spirits is a memory I will always cherish.

To top off the evening (and walk off desert), we set off to view Big Ben, the Eye, and the Houses of Parliament in all their lighted glory. We also came across a telephone booth, and yes, we took the obligatory tourist pictures!


Despite coming down with a cold, London was truly an amazing experience and I sincerely hope I can return someday.

*Stay tuned next week for my day adventure in Cardiff!

Getting It

“I just have five more gen ed classes and the next three years will be all neuroscience and chemistry.”
“What!?!?! Five? Only five? I have like, I don’t know, fifteen!!!”
“Hahahahahaaaa, sucks for you.”

That is the rough summary of a conversation between me and one of my best friends last year. We had been talking about graduation requirements while enjoying the shade of a nearby sidewalk cafe on a hot summer afternoon.

To be honest, my reaction to “Sucks for you” was “Mmmm” as I sipped my drink. Because if you think about it, wouldn’t you rather be doing what you love sooner, instead of having to balance core (gen ed) classes with your major/minor requirements? As I reached for a french fry from the basket between us, I tried to remember when a core class at Loyola turned out to be something I “loved” without knowing it.

Maybe I had missed something, a discussion in Theology that really got me to think about a global issue, a poem in English that inspired me to write one of my own, a lesson in CompSci that made me appreciate the complexity of the web*. At the time, I couldn’t come up with anything. Don’t get me wrong, I liked those classes, loved them even, but nothing stood out that made the core at Loyola “essential” to my understanding of “the bigger picture.”

And then last semester happened.

I don’t know if it was the combination of classes, the professors, or just the content, but suddenly everything started to click. Every week I had a Eureka moment of “Oh my God! We just talked about this author in my other class! And he relates to both classes! Ah!”

Here’s a less vague example: My first core History class started with the Renaissance, as did my Art History class. Throughout the semester we’d be covering the same time periods, but focus on different aspects of society and I was able to see how politics and cultural trends directly affected the art world, in every era. My Art History class covered the 1970s feminist contributions which were later discussed in my Life Drawing class because the representation of the female nude is a huge point of contention. That Life Drawing class also had assigned readings relating to philosophy and the concept of what makes us truly human which my Philosophy professor ensured we discussed when we read Plato’s Timaeus. Those connections made those classes worthwhile. I was excited for whatever came next, knowing that it might relate to a different class.

You don’t get that in high school, and you definitely don’t get that in all colleges. There’s a lot of early specialization in state schools, and if there is a core, you don’t have to take 2  classes of Theology, Philosophy, English, History, and Social Science, courses which teach you to think in totally unexpected and different ways.

Unexpected. That’s the best way to describe it, I think. We’re reading Frankenstein right now in my Lit class and Rousseau in my Philosophy class. Suddenly the debate about human nature and man’s “natural state” takes on a whole new meaning. I just learned about comparative cost in my Microecon class and boy does that change my rate of procrastination!

Maybe it’s pure luck that my classes are working out this way. Maybe my attitude has changed from last year and I view classes differently now. Maybe I’m just paying more attention.

No matter why this change has occurred, what’s important is that it has. Last year I was frustrated at not seeing how my classes tied into each other. I was forcing that connection the Loyola brochures advertise as an advantage of the core. This year I see, hear, and understand those connections. I finally get it. And it’s beautiful.

*For the record, since this chat with my friend, I have realized all of those possibilities are true.