Sunday, July 8, 2012

On magic and silliness and Grandma and Pop-pop's house...

Despite the fact that I haven't posted on this blog in a disgustingly long time, my life has been moving right along. My trip to Ireland now resonates in a dream-like state, deep in the caverns of my brain where it's still too painful and fresh to visit and my "normal" day to day life has resumed. People keep asking me to describe my trip and tell them about my "favorite part" but I don't really find that I have words to do that yet because it wasn't a trip, really; it was a life that I had that was taken away a bit too soon and, quite frankly, there's only so long I can yammer on before people grow bored and weary of hearing of people and places they don't know. Life at home has been a trying experience thus far.

But despite the many trials and tribulations of being a depressed and whiny post-study abroad student, there are a lot of things I've noticed since I've been home that have made me stop and think about the crazy and beautiful world we live in...

The one thing that startled me most upon my arrival home was noticing how much my "baby" cousins have grown up since my departure. Six months isn't a very long time in the life of an adult but, I suppose, for a growing toddler/infant, half a year makes a much more significant difference. Who knew that I'd ever be able to have an actual conversation with two year old, Riley or a water gun fight with four year old, Connor? When on earth did baby Stella get too cool for little bunny foo foo and where did Emma get all of that long, blonde hair? My mind is blown with every moment I spend with my family these days and today was particularly special because it was Emma's first birthday party.

But one of the most interesting things for me was that, because my aunt and uncle have recently moved into my grandparents' house to look after my grandfather, the house that we all considered "Grandma and Pop-pop's" is now ALSO the house that all of these little ones consider "Grandma and Pop-pop's" as well. Going to visit Grandma and Pop-pop with my cousins used to carry a certain air of grandeur...the endless stretch of forest that lay beyond my grandfather's enormous vegetable garden and the mountainous boulders all along the windy driveway allowed us to be rock climbers, explorers, cowboys, and secret agents. For hours we would lose ourselves in games of man hunt and arguments over who had to help the little ones cross the stream. We never realized it then, but those long days, trekking through the woods together (anxiously awaiting the dinner that Grandma was cooking up back at the house) were the foundation of how close our family still is today. I know I can count on my cousins for anything, just like I could count on them to help me hobble from rock to rock across the stream all those years ago.

Wands don't cast spells and potions don't make people fall in love, but there is a certain type of magic that exists somewhere in the eyes of small children. A boulder becomes a mountain, a forest becomes a battle ground and Grandma and Pop-pop's house becomes a place of small enchantments that you can never quite comprehend.

And that's why, when everyone was laughing over how Connor announced that he didn't want to have his fifth birthday party at the bowling alley or the play-gym but, instead, with his cousins at his Grandma and Pop-pop's house, I had this overwhelming rush of nostalgia. That same house and that same forest have now become the magical playground for a younger, and more deserving, generation. It makes me feel so happy and fortunate to know that these children will come to know the old house that my Grandfather built so many years ago as their Grandma and Pop-pop's house and that they will be able to have their own adventures in the gardens on late summer afternoons. The magic that we once knew hasn't died or left, but has still been out there all along, just waiting to be woken.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sittin' in a park in Paris, France....

Hmmm...I'm starting to play a little game with myself to see how many Joni Mitchell lyrics I can sneak into every day life. Why? Because I have a weird sense of humor.

Anyway, if there is one thing I sort of fail at, it is keeping people updated with my life through any written form. I would be a dreadful author. A lot has happened since I last posted and it hasn't even been a proper month. I visited the breathtakingly beautiful Cliffs of Mohr, travelled a bit through the Irish countryside and, OH YEAH, went to Paris for the weekend.

I think I'll talk about Paris today....

Paris is one of those cities that takes a while to resonate with a person, which is probably one of the reasons it took me so long to write a post about (excuses, excuses). When you've spent your entire life seeing pictures and replicas and school projects on the Eiffel Tower, you never actually expect to see it in real life; you've become so desensitized to it's image that when you're standing directly underneath it, the effect doesn't even hit you right away.

The other sights in Paris had a similar feel. Seeing the Louvre, the Mona Lisa, the Arc de Triumphe, and Notre Dame just will never seem real to me. They were beautiful and awesome and completely unreal. I think I'll have to be rolling around in a wheel chair with knitting needles before I can really appreciate it fully.

If anything was even more unreal than the monuments, though, it was the FOOD. The French, if you haven't heard. Croissants, baguettes, ham and cheese, crepes, JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL. It was amazing. I think I gained an estimate of 7 pounds during my weekend there and I regret none of it.

The language barrier, however, was admittedly a bit intimidating. It was hard not knowing what people were asking and even more frustrating when they would smile to themselves and then address you again, in English, because they knew you just didn't understand. I hate feeling stupid and it's hard to feel anything but when you're in a group of people and can't understand a word they're saying. It was, on the other hand, pretty exciting to answer people when I did know. (Most of my answers consisted solely of "oui!" and "merci!"....not exactly linguistic brilliance, but hey).

I also had my first experience with the famous Ryan Air that weekend as well but, correct me if I'm wrong, Ryan Air probably deserves a post entirely of it's own....

I'll post on the Cliffs of Mohr and all of the other exciting things I've been doing soon...I really want to try to keep this blog updated even though I'm usually an epic fail. My roommate, Kelsea, writes pages and pages in her journal almost every night and I always wish I was that dedicated. Anyway...more soon! Hopefully...

Until then, enjoy the cold weather back home in the states! We're at a nice, mile 50-55 degrees here. I am certainly loving it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On difficult choices and such....

Anytime a person is going to go somewhere for any extended period of time, like for instance, studying abroad in Ireland, there will be a million and one choices that he or she will have to make throughout the course of travel planning. Some of these choices are fun: what places will I visit, what new classes will I take, what clothing will I throw out at the the end of this trip in order to compensate for the ridiculous amount of candy I've purchased etc. You know, the usual.

Some choices, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more difficult. Choosing to leave behind family and friends for such a long time is always hard but it's even harder when you know that there are family members at home that are going through a rough time. Especially when those family members are so young that they should have no concept of what a "rough time" even means. A rough time for a four year old boy should be waiting in a long line to go down the slide or having to share the green Playdough (seriously though, green is the best). No child should have to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with a fever of 103 for a blood transfusion. That's just a thing that shouldn't happen.

So it amazes me that, when it does happen, that that particular four year old is able to muster up the bravery and the strength to not only undergo all of this misery, but do it with a smile and hugs and kisses a'plenty. I'm not that brave....I know I'm not. My little cousin, Connor, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia shortly before I left, is truly one of the toughest people I know. Hearing about how awesome he is never ceases to amaze me each and every day.

All gloating aside though, (and yes, I will shamelessly gloat that this amazing human being is part of my family) Connor is by far, not perfect. His treatments don't only affect his body but his moods as well. Sometimes, he gets upset for seemingly no reason or throws a tantrum over what anyone else would consider a worthless matter. In other words, he's a normal four year old. People have the tendency to believe that cancer makes children wise beyond their years and while Connor might just be the most admirable person I know, he is still only a little boy. Having a disease is not what makes Connor heroic; it's his ability to, despite being stuck with needles, feeling sick all of the time, and sitting in a hospital bed, remain a normal child. And a particularly intelligent and kind one, at that.
I don't think there's anything braver than remaining normal in the face of such dismal and persistent abnormalities. I'd be content knowing that I have half the bravery he does.

My trip to Ireland so far has been incredible in every way but that doesn't change the fact that it's more difficult for me to get the news I need from family members. Choosing to come here, I knew how hard it would be to watch this tough little man go through so many ups and downs from so far away and I can't help but wish there was something more I could do.

Connor had a rough day today and the best I can do is just ask people to keep him in their thoughts and send a little love his way. If anyone deserves it, it's him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

To market we go....

Every weekend in Limerick City (and throughout most of Ireland, really) tons of people and families get together for the weekly Milk Market. It literally looks like a scene from a movie. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables, still-hot from the oven baked goods, home-brewed jams and juices, crafts, music, and even puppies fill the streets. I'm pretty sure this is going to be an every Saturday morning type of thing in my book....I could't get enough.

Of course, it's not to say that we don't have awesome farmers markets right in the US. I've been to plenty of those...I just wish we had more of them. I loved the way that families seemed to fall into the
tradition of going to the market together every weekend and how children as young as two and three laughed and ran around as if they had already known the layout by heart. It was nice to be among the chaos.

I think, what I am slowly coming to realize at the end of this first week is that I don't really miss home so much as the physical place. I love where I grew up but I miss people far more than the familiar deer-ridden landscape of Lake Hopatcong. When it comes to friends and family, I tend to be a creature of habit. I love the friends I have and I wouldn't trade them for the world so, I guess meeting new people tends to intimidate me. So far, I've been incredibly fortunate to meet some really fun and friendly people to hang out with here in Ireland and, in
many ways, that alone has given me a great deal of reassurance and confidence. When everyone
told me that it was better to study abroad without friends, I wasn't so sure I believed them but, slowly, it feels more and more true. Being forced to venture out on my own, ask questions and meet people is definitely something that everyone needs at some point in their life and I suppose, at this
point, I'm just saying that I'm sort of proud of me for forcing myself into that situation.

Sheesh....all of that after only a week. Let's see if my spirits are still this high after another week of Dunkin Donuts detox....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lend me your eyes, I can change what you see

The first thing I noticed about Ireland was how different it looked from the United States...even from 35,000 feet in the air. Every time I've landed in New Jersey and New York, I have always been struck by the number of lights you can see from the looks as if the entire world has been ignited. In Ireland, however, all was dark. A few splotches of light were scattered here and there to indicate small cities and villages bu
t the vast majority of the land black: untouched. When the sun came out, however, I realized that the land wasn't black at was green.

Ireland is one of those few places that really is as picturesque as it looks.

When driving just about anywhere it's hard to ignore the beauty of the landscape. Miles and miles of fields and animals with friendly passersby and bus drivers that want to hear all about your journey and plans. This place is truly lovely and I can very easily see myself falling in love with the atmosphere of this fairytale-like country.

The past few days have been a complete blur. We've toured the majority of Limerick City which,
despite online reports of crime, is peaceful and friendly. I've met a group of awesome people who are fun, adventurous, and just as excited as I am to venture throughout this new place we've quickly come to call home.

Our first big solo adventure was this past Wednesday, to the city of Galway which is just an hour north of Limerick. The bus journey was through the country and I could barely take my eyes away from the window and all of the, well, GREEN. Galway itself was even better than I imagined. The entire city is just so full of vibrance, music, and culture. Because it can also tend to be a bit touristy, there were a lot of quaint sweater and jewelry shops but I could definitely spend many days wandering through the streets and finding new things to love. Things like that are hard to put into words...just look at the pictures. Even though they're lovely, however, they naturally don't do Galway the justice it deserves.

Galway is also located on the coast of Ireland so we were able to see the sun set over the was pretty amazing. Naturally, there has been so much that has been going on these past few days but to capture it all in one blog post would be insane. Tomorrow, I'm off to the local market which takes place every Saturday morning in Limerick. I've been told the freshly baked cakes are delicious.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Talking in present tenses...

All in all, I have to admit that 2011 was a pretty good year.
  • I got my nose pierced
  • I (poorly) attempted to learn to play the guitar
  • Traveled by plane for the first time and got to spend spring break in California with my toes in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Went to LeakyCon 2011 down in Orlando and spent WAY too much money on random geekery. I regret nothing.
  • Saw the final Harry Potter film the day before it was released in a theater with some of the actors.
  • Watched my brother graduate twice. Once from high school in June and, again, from boot camp down in Parris Island, South Carolina.
  • Read many, MANY books.
  • Got to welcome two new beautiful little girls into the world: Emma Grace and Stella Bean. Maybe I'm just biased, but I'm pretty sure my cousins produce the most beautiful children on earth.
  • Saw (in no particular order) Neil Young, Good Charlotte, Toby Keith, Bert Jansch, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan and Taylor Swift in concert.
  • (briefly) Danced with Hank Green at the Yule Ball.
  • Spent Christmas singing silly songs and opening toys for a small army of toddlers. It was lovely.
  • Started taking grad classes....and realized that they are absolutely no different from regular undergrad classes.
  • "Deleted" my Facebook account at least four times. Such a rebel.
  • Watched a lot of trash TV....but a lot of amazing TV too (Dexter and Six Feet Under being amongst favorites)
  • Got to drink Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks...and felt like a total bad ass.
  • Drank Starbucks on a beach in Malibu...and felt like a total cliche.
  • Had a cheerleading squad cheer for myself and a friend as we returned a wallet to an old man on Santa Monica Pier.
  • Spent an entire night walking around in high heels without making a fool of myself.
OHHH and also I got accepted to this little study abroad program at the University of Limerick in Ireland and I'm actually leaving to spend the next six months in Europe, like, tomorrow. Upon the request of many, this blog has been created but I make no promises; I'm a cruddy writer and even worse at making regular updates BUT, as I leave the most excellent 2011 behind me, I must admit that, so far, 2012 looks pretty damn promising.

So I'll try (fingers crossed) to make this blog cool and interesting. Wish me luck.