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.

Missing the Emerald Isle

It’s almost been a week since I returned and as much as I’m enjoying good strong coffee and Christmas movie marathons, there are things about Ireland that I already miss. Although a few of them are seasonal, like the less obtrusive Christmas and holiday paraphernalia, some of them are of a more permanent nature.

Time for a List!

  1. That Irish Accent. When I was in Cork I was surrounded by people with Irish, German, French, Dutch, and English accents. I hung out with Americans in and out of class, but I still spent a good amount of time with very mellow non-American accents. Being back in Jersey has made me understand why people say Americans are loud and, well, easy to poke fun at. Don’t get me wrong, I know I have an accent (I drop my constants constantly), but I’m still getting used to my parents making “cawfee” in the morning.
  2. Respect for Pedestrians. Coming from the tri-state area means you’re used to all sorts of drivers, and if you visit the city often enough you know you have to book it across the street if you don’t want to get run over, even if you have a green light. I originally thought I’d have major issues in Ireland, with them driving on the opposite side of the street and everything. But honestly, they are some of the most polite drivers in the world. They actually wait for you to cross the street, and they don’t stop within a hairsbreadth of you or trigger a mini-heart attack while you speed walk past a sign that says “pedestrians have right of way.”
  3. Sense of Anonymity. Cork may not be a big city, but it’s large enough I wouldn’t run into 10 people from UCC I knew while grocery shopping. Coming from a small town where that happens on a regular basis really made me appreciate the just-right size of Cork. Not too big so I can walk to classes and stores easily, and not too small so that everyone knew my business.
  4. Food Quality. Especially the dairy products. I don’t think I had ever seen so many brands and types of butter until I went to Tesco in Cork. It took up half an aisle. I’m not kidding. The Irish love their butter, and they know you get what you pay for. I have been completely spoiled on fresh eggs, fresh butter, fresh milk, fresh cheese, fresh meat, fresh everything. If you shopped at the English Market you’d be guaranteed low prices and great quality while supporting local farmers and shop owners. My parents cook almost all our dinners from scratch, but I’m still going to miss buying a bushel of carrots with the green leaves still attached.
  5. Chips. Not Fries, Chips. You haven’t experienced Ireland properly until you have some chips at Jackie Lennox’s, Chipsy King, or, honestly, any place that cuts their own. The Irish have perfected chips: light and fluffy on the inside, crispy and crunchy on the outside. The only place at home that can compete from home is Cream King, and it’s only open in the summer, so I’m kind of bummed about that.

What I miss most of all, or rather, who I miss most of all are the people. The Irish are extremely friendly, outgoing, and have a very quirky sense of humor. From shop owners to students you’d be greeted with a smile and wave, and I can’t tell you how many times a 5 minute conversation turned into an hour discussion. I know I’ll stay on contact with my friends via Facebook and all, but those group invites to see The Hobbit and Merry Christmas Wishes tug at my heartstrings a little. Hopefully I’ll be back soon!

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!

The Beginning of the End (or not?)

Hello again! I know it’s been forever since I’ve written, and I really do apologize. Between the experience of celebrating Thanksgiving in a different country, to visiting Amsterdam, to writing two 4,000 word papers (that’s about 15 pages, double spaced) and getting through two exams, it’s been a bit busy here. Not to mention the usual adventures in Cork with my friends.

Originally, I was planning to write this on the plane ride back to the States, but the weather seems to be conspiring against me – my flight was one of thousands to be cancelled due to the snow storm blowing through the east coast this weekend. To be fair, it isn’t too pleasant here, either. As I’m writing this the wind is howling through the alleyway, pushing up against my window and seemingly trying to get into my room to introduce me to its new best friend, Sideways Rain.

So now I have an extra day to reflect on my time here, to ponder over my experiences, and to share some sort of insight with you.

Honestly, that scares me a little.

I’m not…I’m not ready to leave yet. Or rather, I’m not ready to leave permanently. I’m kind of excited to go back home: to see my family and friends, to enjoy the snow (instead of rain), to snuggle with my cats, to read my leisure books, to sleep without an alarm, to knit, to, to…to do everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do those things here, too. But a little bit of home would be nice. Especially a little bit Baltimore, because I’m really missing that right now.

But back to that ‘scary’ part.

I think a large part of me doesn’t want to sit down and analyze my time here because that would mean it’s “over.” It would mean accepting that I may never come back and see all the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with. It would mean fully realizing I’m almost 3/4 through college and have more questions than answers about my future. Studying abroad has given me so many more possibilities to think about, not just in regards to traveling outside the US, but also to where I see myself in the future (I’ve been toying with the idea of Washington and Oregon).

So maybe I’m not totally ready for a tell-all blog post. Give me a week or two to filter and adjust – then I will be. In lieu of that, I propose a few other posts to break up the introspection:

  1. Adventures in Amsterdam! SO MANY PICTURES. Really. It’s an amazing city.
  2. 10 Things I’m going to miss from Ireland
  3. 10 things I learned from study abroad

I look forward to writing again over the next week!

Photographic Exposition Continued

If you’re wondering why this post has such a familiar title, it’s because this post highlights yet more of my travels in the Emerald Isle. And yes, these pictures are very green!

On the first of our day trips we went to West Cork and hiked amongst the ruins of three different types of Irish dwellings and an ancient stone circle (which also included a dwelling of sorts).

Behold! A brief panorama of historic Ireland!

You can see the ridges of the rings of Garrannes Ringfort here

A glimpse through the trees surround the ringfort

Mossy boughs

 

View from the ringfort - you can see the rise of the mountains in the distance!

Ballincarriga Tower House windows and side wall

Our friend the raven continually interrupted our professor when he tried to lecture!

 

Coppinger's Court - Although not much remains, you can see how it would command the landscape back in its heyday.

Peeping through the windows of the ruin

Erin, Kelsey & I enjoying the sun!

 

I love these flowers; they're so beautiful!

Pathway leading up to Drombeg Stone Circle

A sunny circle (getting a picture without people in the circle is almost impossible)

 

Fulachta fiadh - contains a hearth, pit to heat water, and a mini-well

 

Glorious view of the fields and ocean!

Photographic Expositions

Yet another week has gone by in the land of green hills and gray skies. And what a week! After the hectic mess of midterm papers and traveling I gave myself a break and took it easy. So I actually got sleep, had fun with friends, and started to sew my cloak for the Medieval Renaissance Society banquet in December.

While I don’t have any photos from these escapades, I do have many other photos to share from archeology trips earlier in the term! So without further ado, I present to you…

The Beauties of Newgrange, Monasterboice, and Dublin!

This ancient tomb is older than the pyramids!

Entrance to the tomb - at the center is the rock with the famous celtic tri-circle deisgn

More decorated rock lining the side

Walking up to Monasterboice - home of the highest Irish cross

High Cross

Round tower at Monasterboice (with prof lecturing)

 

Detail of the High Cross

Looking through the ruins of Monasterboice

Dublin Lamp posts are so pretty

Inside Christ Church

The architecture is so gorgeous in Dublin!

Clock tower in Dublin

Dome of the National History Musum

Celtic pin in the National History Collection

Aristic Getaways to Dublin and Paris

As you may have heard, I have a thing for art.

Don’t ever give me a ballpoint pen in class ‘cause I’ll sketch all over my notes if I get distracted. My bedroom has become a mini gallery from the number of postcards that plaster the walls. As for museums themselves…well, sometimes it’s like I died and went to heaven. Which has happened twice in the past two weeks.

What, might you ask, could have caused me to smile uncontrollably when I entered the art galleries in Dublin and Paris?

Well, first off, being in Dublin and Paris (The purpose of which I’ll get to in a minute). Secondly, actually understanding the contents of the rooms. I love art for its beauty, but I also have a deep appreciation for the subtleties of hidden messages and the artist’s conveyance of social commentary or capturing an individual’s private life. It’s really cool when I get to see a piece I’ve learned about in class, or, in the case of Dublin’s National Gallery, am writing a paper on.

But I suppose I should probably explain why I was in Dublin in the first place, right?

Well….

I went to my first gaming con! Cons (conventions) in Europe are different from the US – it’s a lot more about spending time with cool people in a chill environment than cosplaying and attending panels. While I was at the con I learned a bunch of really cool games, like Resistance and Saboteur (SO MUCH FUN – but don’t play with loved ones ‘cause they’re all about lying/tricking people), and added to my collection of buttons and kooky earrings.

I love calligraphy, so these are perfect!

I also invested in some shiny dice!

On one of the days I wasn’t gaming, two friends and I went into the city to explore. After a blessed cup of coffee and access to free wifi at a cafe near the city center, we walked around the neighborhood of Trinity College and eventually decided to split up to visit the National Gallery and History Museum.

 

The Irish National Gallery is fairly small, but the pieces it has are no less spectacular than those at the BMA or the Met. Some of my favorite artists have work displayed there, like Sisley and Vermeer. I feel like seeing one of your favorite pieces of art is like meeting an old friend. You’ve seen them so many times, looked at every single feature, but every time you encounter them you discover something new to love.

Metsu's paired paintings

This feeling of greeting an old friend extended to my visits to the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The Loyola group trip to the City of Light included a tour of the Louvre and a chunk of free time to visit wherever we wished, which in my case involved a 3 hour stop at the largest collection of Impressionist art in the world.

I never thought I’d get to see these masterpieces!

I love Van Gogh’s work. I just kept smiling to myself the entire time I was in the room with his paintings.

After hours of staring at gorgeous works of art, Erin and I strolled down the Champs-Élysées (thank you high school French teacher for getting this song stuck in my head) and took the required tourist photos at the l’Arc de Triomphe.

Even on our final day in Paris, I was surrounded by art, this time in the form of the beautiful architecture of Notre Dame. Oh Mon Dieu! C’est encroyable! C’est magnifique!

I had never realized how large it was. I mean, just…HUGE. Huge and breathtaking. I feel like everything in Paris is breathtaking. From the Louvre, to the food, to the architecture (to the smell of the subway even), the whole city is an experience in itself. I can only hope that I will return one day to see it again.

Romantic Ruins

Hello again my dear readers! First, click here for a playlist of fall music that’s keeping me going on these chilly days. Selection includes: The Head and the Heart, Iron and Wine, Vampire Weekend, Olly Murs, Feist, some other awesome people.

I hope all is going well wherever you are, be that Maryland, New Jersey, Ireland, or anywhere else in the world!

And speaking of Ireland…you know what Ireland is full of? Like, besides sheep. And greenery.

Castles!!!

Well, maybe I should clarify. Ireland is chock full of castle and fort ruins, but no matter how much they crumble, they are truly beautiful.

Here are some photos of Trim Castle and the glorious views from its ramparts, Co. Meath near Dublin (where they filmed Braveheart, no less).

Second stage of the castle's expansions

Approach to Trim Castle

Secret Staircase

Side View

Beautiful Land

Watch Tower

Ugh, so pretty

Can't you just imagine magical creatures living here now?

Landscape Surrounding

Landscape Surrounding

 

Church in the distance

Ruins in the further distance

Nature reclaiming the land

 

Short and Sweet

There are a few things I’d like to say before presenting the topic of this post:

  1. While studying abroad generally allows traveling to many new places, it doesn’t mean it happens every week.
  2. Ireland’s system of only 1-2 exams/papers as assessment holds all students responsible for pacing themselves and not going crazy when they have multiple papers due the same day as their group flight to Paris.
  3. By the 2nd month of studying abroad, you start to miss stupid things about the US, like peanut butter and easy mac (even if you can cook (healthier) homemade mac n cheese).

What I’m trying to say is: Classes have fallen into a routine and I’m not always doing something spectacular on weekends which is why I feel like I don’t have a lot to share with you and therefore don’t write as much.

*dramatic gasp for air after run-on sentence*

Ssssooo…..I plan to make it up to you guys by sharing the plethora of photos I have over a number of shorter posts. This way you guys get to see what I’ve been up to in detail and won’t get bored with my longer ramblings. One of which will be coming soon! Next week! On…some subject that I haven’t come up with yet!

But back to the topic at hand: Photo Recap!

This set of photos goes back to August, the first weekend I arrived in Ireland, when the Loyola group went to Barryscourt Castle and Midleton.

Barryscourt Castle Walls

Barryscourt Cottage and Gardens

Feast Hall - Complete with goblets and trenchers!

Great Hall Curtains - Lord's & Lady's chambers behind them

Medieval Kitchen Supplies

 

Baby's Crib

Medieval Gardens

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Thistle

 

Jameson Distillery, No worries, I'm 21!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distillery Equipment

 

Jameson Sign Post

 

Jameson Waterwheel

 

Jameson Casks

 

Jameson Bell

 

So pretty....

 

Rose Petals

 

A bee!

 

The Sound (and Places) of Silence

Today is quiet.

The ticking of the water heater echoes through the silent apartment. There’s a slight buzz of electricity emanating from the fridge. Outside, the cars speed by, their splashing through puddles creating a rhythmic whoosh…whoosh. The occasional seagull cries over the River Lee.

Even the sky is peacefully quiet, its soft grayness blanketing the city, the clouds stretching across the horizon. A light mist surrounded me as I walked to the grocery store this morning, the drizzle adding another layer of silent contemplativeness to the drowsy day.

I actually really love days like this. I like being able to think and listen to the world around me, an activity that’s hard to do during the busy weekdays. As much as I enjoy the company of others, it’s nice to have some time to unwind by myself, to regenerate after 3 weeks of being constantly surrounded by people, activities, trips, and due dates. I’m not saying the work here is exhausting (not yet, anyway), I’m just saying my friends and I have been very busy and it’s refreshing to have a slow, easy weekend to myself.

Take last week for example (Sept. 23-29). International students had to hand in their module registration forms, classes picked up and I discovered I actually can sit through an hour lecture without getting distracted. Erin and I watched “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” with the MedRen Society and later in the week hung out at a pancake party at one of the member’s houses, my archeology final project was due, and the Loyola group went on a weekend trip to Kerry.

The last, by the way, was really quite fun, even if I had a migraine when we got back to Cork Sunday evening. We left Friday afternoon with other U.S. visiting students and picked up some more from UL. Our first stop was at Crag Caves before continuing to our hotel in Cahersiveen where we had a wonderful dinner, heard about Gaelic football (it’s intense), and had a blast learning Ceili dancing.

The next day was jam packed. We did the Skellig Ring tour, which included learning the history of Valentia Island and the Ballinskellig region, climbing a mountain, strolling along the beach, visiting a chocolate factory, and having a commanding view of the landscape from the ramparts of Cahergal Stone Fort. We also had some free time to watch the hurling final rematch before dinner and a singing session, later followed by a trivia game in the hotel’s pub.

Ballinskellig Beach View from Quarry

View from Fort(I realize this is very list-y, but I’m trying to get to the super cool part)

Our final day in Kerry was probably the most beautiful. Even though it was gray and drizzly and foggy (much like today). Where did we go that could have me still thinking about it a week later, you ask? I’ll show you.

Forest

Glimpse of the Lake

I just…

Words can’t describe how amazing it was to stand on the cliff overlooking the valley. To see the land spread before me, the rolling hills climbing into the sky as the sun broke through the clouds at last, a single beam illuminating rocky green bluffs. Even in the valley, the woods surrounding the waterfall were serene. All around me trees reached up to the sky. Moss grew on every surface, creating a blanket of green that muffled the rushing water crashing from the rocks above. And the lake….jaw-dropping. Walking through the woods on a tiny, twisty path, I half expected to see elves or hobbits or some magical creature emerge from the trees. The lake’s edge was revealed after passing through brambly bushes and low tree-cover, the clear water mirroring the gray sky overhead.

It was so silent. So peaceful. I felt like I could truly meditate there. And I swear the clear air and sky cleared the cobwebs from my thoughts. I wish I could recreate that clarity, that inner peace found in the beauty of the mountains, waterfall, and lake.

Today is coming close to that, at least in the quiet reflection time available to me. My apartment might not have a beautiful view or songbirds to wake me in the morning, but at this moment, it provides a refuge from the hustle and bustle. And I’m happy to call it home.