Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Ugly Bug Ball

Today's group discussion on the newspaper articles we've been reading brought about some good discussion. But the most humorous, and therefore my favorite was about an article that discussed the pros and cons of online dating. The article told the story of an Irish woman who sued one of their dating websites because after four dates, she had not found love! So tragic! A few of the members in our group put on a skit to show the four different guys she went out with. The first, was extremely awkward! He never made eye-contact and only said about two sentences throughout the entire dinner date. The second, upon meeting her, said he would see what else the site had to offer. The third, was extremely desperate! But also sort of by polar because he used some very strong language when he became upset. Then he tried to call two days later, apologize, and ask for a second date. She turned that train wreck down cold. The fourth guy, well let's just say he was a little unfortunate looking.
Then our discussion leaders brought a hilarious dating website to our attention. It's an Irish site called the! No I'm being serious. It's a website for everyone who thinks they are ugly, thinks no one will go out with them, but want to find dates! I can't believe such a thing exists!
After a great deal of laughter, we had a good conversation about the pros and cons that come with online dating, if it is realistic, and how it could be impacting marriages in society. Then a few "success stories" were shared. Here's one I've heard.... There was this couple that lived in the same town and even went to the same church! They just had never met because she went to the 9am service and he went to the 10am service. But they found each other on an online site, hit it off, dated a couple years, and now are happily married. Precious, right?
So my conclusion? Well, even after that lively discussion, I still won't ever use one of those sites. Not that they aren't valid and haven't resulted in some great marriages, I'm just still a bit skeptical of the whole idea. I would much rather meet someone the old fashioned way. I'll just trust God to work all that out!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trust the GPS

Experiencing all of Ireland in a week is a stretch, but I am doing my best to show my family a few different aspects of Irish culture. Yesterday, while I was in class they went to Glendalough. (The monastic site I wrote about earlier that was started by St. Kevin.) Then they came and picked me up and we went to Powerscourt, which is a beautiful old mansion. The rooms have been turned into a little store that sells a lot of Avoca stuff. We enjoyed wandering around there and sat in the cafe for a bit, enjoying coffee, scones and catching up. But the best part of this place... the gardens! So amazing! We probably walked through those for an hour! Random fact: part of Count of Monte Cristo was filmed there. I can see why. The place is amazing. We had a great time wandering around, taking pictures, and climbing on everything.
Last night, I stayed at the cottage with them so we could get up early this morning. We drove down to Waterford and got a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory. We saw how they blow the crystal into its shape, smooth it out, and cut the designs into it. It was fascinating to see and they let us hold a lot of their works in progress, including the trophy for the Pebble Beach Golf Tournament! Then we looked around their showroom. In addition to the normal stuff like plates, bowls, etc... You could buy:  A globe for about 10,000 euro, a bodhran drum for the same amount, a crystal grizzly bear for 30,000 euro, or Cinderella's carriage and horses for 30,000 euro. We bought a small celtic cross ornament for... much less!
Then we drove to Kilkenny and toured the castle there. It was really interesting! It was built in the 12th Century and owned by the same family, the Butlers, for 600 years! We got to go into a lot of the rooms and hear a little bit about the design and the history. The largest room was the art gallery. It was basically like an Old Fashioned Facebook. It's where the family hung all their portraits and other cool pictures they had.
All in all, it was a great day. Unfortunately, we had to get back at a reasonable hour because I have class tonight. So we decided to drive back around 4 so we could eat at a chipper (place that serves fish and chips) in Greystones. We were driving along just fine, but then we realized the GPS was going to take us a longer way than seemed necessary. We pulled out this old fashioned thing called a map and decided to try to find our way based on that. Big mistake! We ended up on the windiest backroads ever! Ireland is known for roads that take the scenic route and we definitely found one of those! In the end, we realized we should have trusted the GPS. Even though it was going the long way, we would have been on the highway and gotten there much quicker! Oh well, the fish and chips tasted even better since we had to wait so long to get them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sitting in a Dark Room

We have chapel every Tuesday and Thursday while we are here in Ireland. Typically, we have a speaker come in from one of the local churches or something like that. But for a few weeks all our small groups are taking a turn leading one. This morning, chapel was led by Kelsey's small group.
We arrived at 11:30 like usual and sat down, ready to see what they had planned. Emily Day started it off by reading a story of a family of Christians in Columbia. It was told from a little girl's point of view who saw her parents shot by an anti-Christian rebel group. It was heartbreaking. Then she pointed at 7 people in the group. "You. You. You. You. You. You. And you. Come with me." They all picked up their Bibles and walked out. Then another Chandas did the same thing. There were only a few of us left. Emily Guebert rose and said, "The rest of you, come with me." We walked out in silence, Bibles in hand. But we were stopped at the door by Lexi. In a very serious voice she said, "Is that a Bible? Give it to me! I don't ever want to see you with one of these again." We then walked around the building and ended up in a darkened room. The only light in the room was a small candle held by one of the other girls in the small group. We then worshiped in hush whispers and read portions of the Bible that they had managed to smuggle in. We all jumped when in the middle of the reading when someone pounded on the door.
The whole thing was really intense but really good. It was so interesting to simulate what the underground church is like. It made us appreciate the freedom we have to worship freely in America and Ireland. We concluded our time by praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering persecution. They amaze me! I pray my faith is as strong as theirs and if it is ever put to the test I will stay committed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Worst Insult You Could Give

Today I gave my family a tour of Dublin. It's hard to know what are the important things to see, especially since they are only here for a week. So we went to some of the more famous sites and some other random ones in hopes they could get a taste of Irish culture. Our first stop was Trinity College and the Book of Kells. I loved it when we went there for a field trip and knew my mom would really appreciate it. I was right! Then we wandered down Grafton Street. It's a really cute cobblestone street with has lots of shops. And we stopped at Bewley's for coffee and a snack. Then we headed over to the National Museum, but it was closed so we went into its twin that is right across the lawn- the National Library. They all got to wander through the Yeats exhibit that I had just been at for class on Friday. I think my Grandmother in particular appreciated this; she was a librarian for a long time. Then it was shopping time so we headed to O'Connell Street. We split up boys and girls. We went into Penny's where all the clothes are adorable and really cheap. The boys went off to find sports stores... and wherever else boys like to shop. Our day concluded with dinner at a traditional Irish restaurant in the Temple Bar District. All in all, a perfect way to introduce them to Ireland.
But now, I'm sure you're wondering about the title and what that has to do with all of this. Well, that came after dinner when we got back to where I live. So basically what happened is... The 7 of us (me, my parents, 2 siblings, and grandparents) were walking back from the DART stop which is about 10 minutes away from where I live. We got spread out along the sidewalk, so me, my siblings, and my mom got back first. As we walked up the driveway, we see my director Kyle talking to another man. We are all introduced to Brian, who Kyle deems "The best Irishman in the country." We make small talk for a little bit and a couple minutes later my dad and grandparents arrive. More introductions are made since they haven't met Kyle yet. And then, my mom motions to Brian to introduce him, "And this is Brian! The nicest Englishman in the country!"
Yep. She said Englishman. For those of you who don't know, that is just about the worst insult you could ever give to an Irish person. Because of all the conflict in the past, the Irish still definitely distance themselves from the English. So when she said this, Kyle and I gasped and poor Brian got a bit red. My mother (remembering the bit of Irish history I had been telling them throughout the day) realized this was probably a huge blunder, and quickly apologized. And then apologized again. And then again. And probably one or two more times after that. Thankfully, Brian was very gracious and forgave her, proving he really is a grand Irishman to be so understanding with the clumsy Americans. But it was a very awkward exchange to say the least. I don't think she'll be making that mistake again!
*Note: I have my mother's permission to tell this story!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Family church is a party! Normally at the church I go to, everyone is together for the worship at the beginning and then the kids go off to a separate "service" during the sermon. But the last Sunday of every month is family church. The kids get to stay and the entire service is geared towards the entire family. It is usually pretty crazy and today was no exception.
The sermon focused on the story of Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee during a storm. (See Luke 8: 22-25) But the entire service was very interactive....
" Who knows a story about Jesus in a boat?"
*Kids raise hands, one is called on.*
"One time. One time. Jesus.. he's in a boat. With these two guys. And they're fishing."
"Yes.... good. And who else remembers a story about Jesus in a boat during a storm?"
*Lots of hands go up.*
From there, the story was read by one of the students from a kid's Bible and then again by an adult from the NIV Bible. Then they had some kids come on stage and act out the story. There was Jesus and 5 very energetic disciples! They were extremely motivated by the sweeties (candy) they were promised at the end.
Now, this is the most energetic version I have ever seen of the story. The disciples had great enthusiasm! They were very terrified when they thought the boat would tip! And then when they went to wake up Jesus, this was no tap on the shoulder. All 5 jumped on him, half punching him awake! Come to think of it, that might have been more accurate anyway. When the disciples were really thinking they were going to drown, I doubt they walked up, gently shook Jesus awake and said, "I'm sorry sir. We hate to disturb you. But it appears there is a great amount of precipitation falling from the sky causing our boat to sit a little lower than normal in the water. We find this a bit disconcerting. Could you come help us bail with the pails we had our fish lunches in?" Nope. I'm thinking they probably were a bit more forceful in getting Jesus out of bed!
After this fabulous skit was done, 13 kids and the pastor were given a balloon with one word on it from one of the verses from the sermon. They had to put themselves in order. Then we all practiced the verse. We went through it the first time with all the balloons. Then a few were popped and we had to say it again. We did this about 4 times until all the balloons were popped and we were saying the verse straight from memory.
But the ending part of this lesson was definitely the best part. One of the kids was brought back on stage and put a life jacket on. The allusion was made to how the life jacket saves our lives if we fall in the water. Then the question was asked...
"Who else saves our lives?"
One bright and energetic boy in the front row quickly shouts out, "Firemen!"
Yes.... Or Jesus. But you know. That works too. The entire church had a great laugh and the precocious little boy looked pretty proud of himself. But from there we were able to refocus and talk about how Jesus can also save us in the stormy times, whether that is dealing with a bully at school, finishing hard homework assignments, grappling with the tsunami in Japan, or wondering why you've been out of work for months. Through all the storms, big or small. Jesus is still there. He is the one that can calm the storms and put out the fires in our lives.

It's ok. Insurance will cover that!

My family has arrived! They are visiting me here in Ireland for the next week! I'm so happy! They got here Saturday morning while I was coaching soccer. I had given them rough directions to the fields, but I didn't think they would get there in time and I would end up finding them later. But we were in the middle of a drill and one of the little girls tugs on my shorts. "Who are those people watching us?" I turn around. "MY FAMILY! I haven't seen them in 2 months!"
So we finished practice, went and grabbed my stuff and drove off to find the cottage they are renting for the week. Turns out, it's actually cheaper to get one of those instead of getting hotel rooms for 6 people. They also rented a car for the week since the cottage is about 15 minutes from where we are at. Now, the... fun.... part about having a car is all the differences there are between Irish and American cars. 1st- it's a stick shift. Not that we don't have those in the states, they're just more uncommon. Our director says about 95% of the cars here are stick. It's weird if you have an automatic. (No, I don't know if that statistic is correct, but go with it. It's basically true.) 2nd- You drive on the left side of the road. 3rd- The driver sits on the right side of the car. 4th- The switch to turn you blinker on to change lanes is on the right side. 5th- They LOVE roundabouts. All of those differences... scary! I am so amazed with my father for just jumping in and rolling with it. I remember he had to do all of those things when I was younger and we were on a missions trip in Jamaica. But I wasn't driving at that point and didn't realize how hard it would be to switch everything! Now I have a much greater appreciation for how hard that would be. But the running joke right now for anytime we're a little nervous about him making a driving mistake..."Don't worry. We have full coverage!" I guess the rental place knows it's smart to have coverage for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING on their rental cars. I wonder if that's from experience? They way it is right now, we could drive into a herd of sheep, run into a tractor, use the car as a submarine or drive off a cliff and it would be ok! Insurance would cover that!
So far, none of those things have happened. But who knows? Things can be pretty crazy in Ireland! But for now, nothing too exciting has happened. They were pretty jet-lagged so they crashed last night. (Not literally. But insurance would have covered that!) And my grandparents arrived this morning and having their day of adjusting to the time change. But I'm sure the adventures will start tomorrow! 

Friday, March 25, 2011

There's a Panther in the Room!

We have officially ended our week of Irish literature. There will be some follow up homework once Dr Baker leaves on Friday, but we no longer have class all day every day about literature. Today, we finished off the class by visiting a few sites around Dublin dedicated to the authors we have been discussing. My personal favorite of the day... the James Joyce Tower. But in order for you to understand why, I have to backtrack through history a bit....
A long time ago, the Irish kept being invaded by the British, French, Spanish, and probably a bunch of other people. Finally, they got sick of it and decided to try to keep this from happening. Napoleon was gaining power in Europe and they were afraid he would invade Dublin, set up camp there and try to invade England from there. So they built a whole bunch of round towers along the coast in order to keep in case his navy arrived. Then they sat down and waited and waited and waited. After about a hundred years they realized he wasn't coming, so they decided to rent the towers out. One of these towers, in Sandycove, was rented by a guy named Gogarty. He invited a couple friends, Joyce and this other guy (who is unimportant to the story) to come visit. At first, Joyce said no, but then he got kicked out of his place, and didn't want to go live with his parents so he decided to crash at the tower with Gogarty. Gogarty was a little hesitant about having Joyce live with him at this point, but he wanted Joyce to stop writing mean stuff about him in his poems, so he let him stay. Joyce was only there for 6 days! The reason he left? Well, they were all getting on each others nerves. But the last straw... that night Joyce must have had a dream or something because he thought there was a panther in the room! He took out the pistol he kept under his bed and started shooting at hit. Everyone freaked out! Somehow, Gogerty was able to creep over and grab the gun from Joyce. He then proceeded to shoot at the pans hanging over Joyce's head, causing them to fall on him. I guess Joyce got the hint that he was no longer welcome, so he quickly high-tailed it out of there!
The funny thing is, even though Joyce only stayed there 6 days, the tower is named after him, not Gogerty. That's because Joyce wrote a book that alludes to this experience. However, he changes the story so it sounds like he paid the rent to the place and the other two just mooched off of him! Gogerty was furious, but at this point he couldn't correct the story. So everyone started referring to his home as the Joyce Tower and the name has stuck ever since.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Turbo Jam

I have never really done work out videos before. I'd much rather go kick a soccer ball around or run for awhile, but when a few of the girls decided they were going to try one I thought I should join in. I figured it would be good bonding time. So last night we did a video called "Turbo Jam". It's led by this super peppy blond chick. She has so much energy! Kinda reminds me of myself after I've had three cups of coffee! Anyway, I'm actually really enjoying this crazy workout. It's a mixture of fun dance moves and self-defense stuff. We're not very good at it yet, but it is fun and we all just laugh at ourselves! But watch out! In a few weeks we will be excellent. In the meantime, I'm going to keep practicing my jabs, upper-cuts, hooks, and kicks! Hi-ya!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Living Literature

The past three days we have been in Donegal and Derry/Londonderry. Donegal is a county in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland (not to be confused with Northern Ireland). Derry/Londonderry is in Northern Ireland. The county has two different names because depending on if you are against British rule in N. Ireland or for it you call it by a different name.
This trip was our opportunity to experience Irish literature. We have been reading Irish plays, poems, and novels by Yeats, Heaney, and Joyce and this was our chance to see some of the places that inspired these famous riders. Each day we focused on a different author, although they did overlap a little. The first day was Yeats' turn. A lot of his poetry was inspired by nature, so our day was spent outside. We went to Doone Woods, looked at the Isle of Innisfree, walked around a waterfall, and discussed poetry. I felt like I was 5 again! Wandering around the woods, climbing trees, looking for faeries in the woods.... not a bad way to learn about poetry. We also did some serious learning and went to the Yeats Center and learned all about his life and history. After that we visited his grave. The inscription on it was really interesting... "Cast a cold Eye on Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by."
Tuesday we focused on James Joyce's writings. Our first stop was at a round tower that he wrote about it in Reading in the Dark. It was so foggy! But we had a great time wandering around there. The structure is a large circle... kind of like the colloseum. So the boys pretended like they were warriors and put on a show battling it out. Then a few people pretended it was a stage and did some of the Irish dancing we had learned. Then we went into Bogside which is in Derry. This city was also torn apart by conflict during the Troubles. We walked on the wall that seperates parts of the city and got a tour of all the murals. It is interesting to see how people have dealt with and processed the Troubles through art.
Our last day was spent talking about Seamus Heaney poems, in particular his poem about Station Island. This is a place where people will go on 3 day pilgrimages to focus on God and pray. Since we are trying to understand literature better by experiencing it, we got to go to the island! Now we all pictured a wooded island with maybe a couple log cabins on it for housing. But this island was crazy! There were huge buildings everywhere. You were almost worried the little piece of land would give way under all the stuff that is on top of it! But it was really cool to see and hear about. Heaney's poem about his pilgrimage on the island also made much more sense after seeing some of the places he was talking about. Gotta love active learning!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fascination of What's Difficult

I wish I had more epic things to blog about, but all of our focus right now is on Irish literature...But tomorrow we're heading to the county Donegal in Northern Ireland. I'm sure I'll have more fun stories from that, but for now, all I have to talk about is my homework. It's kind of interesting! Well, I won't lie. Some of it is boring, but parts of it have good life lessons. For example, this is one of the poems we are reading for class. It's called "The Fascination of What's Difficult" by William Butler Yeats....

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There's something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood,
Nor on an Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat, and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the days's war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

Now, I am not an expert at interpreting poems, but here's my best shot with this one. if you know more about it than I do, feel free to correct me!
Basically, there are those people in life that like to do really difficult things and take on super challenging tasks. While it's not bad to push yourself, sometimes you take on too much or work so hard that it completely wears you out. You work so hard at your task, and deal with people who are not as passionate as you, and eventually get a point where it doesn't seem worth it. You just want to get out and give up. 
I think in some ways, I can relate to this. I often push myself so hard, past the point of what I actually can do, to where a task that I once found inspiring i now see as drudgery. It gets especially hard if I feel like I am all alone in pursing this goal. The question I always end up asking myself is, "Is this worth it? Or should I just give up and get out?" The answer to that is always different. Sometimes it's worth it to stick it out. This is what I would rather do. I'm too competitive and persistent to give up if I think there is a chance I can accomplish my goal.  But every so often, I'm done. I'm ready to escape. I'm going to "find the stable and pull out the bolt".

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What's in a name?

We had class on Saturday! I know, absolutely terrible! Especially considering the fact today had gorgeous weather! Thankfully it was only for three hours this morning and then we had the rest of the afternoon off. We took full advantage of that and wandered around the Greystones shops and got coffee.
But in class today we were talking about the play Translations. It's about the English coming into Ireland in the early 1800's and changing all the Irish names to English so they could make a new map of the country. The play was pretty good, but the most interesting thing to discuss was the importance of names. One character didn't think it was a big deal to just change the names form Irish to English. Another character saw the deeper meaning and history behind the names. It's interesting to think about... Are names really important? Or are they just a way to identify ourselves? What if we identified ourselves by numbers? "Hi, I'm 7845." That just doesn't feel as personal. I don't know..
It's like last night... we were playing soccer with some Irish lads. They couldn't remember my name so they kept calling me Dani. I don't know why. I think it'safter some Irish player named Danielle... but that is just a guess. It was weird responding to another name. There is this part of me that wanted to say, "Hey! That's not my name!" But another part that kind of appreciated the nickname. It gives you a greater sense of acceptance.
But the whole event made me think that maybe names are important. It helps me understand just a little bit why the Irish felt like the English were oppressing them by changing the names of their towns.

Friday, March 18, 2011

She Has Arrived!

After much anticipation, Beulah Baker has arrived in Ireland! The way the Taylor program here works is most of the time we do our homework independently and have class with our Irish professors, Jen and Monte, or with our directors, Kyle and Laura. But for a couple weeks during the semester, Taylor profs fly over and teach us. For the next nine days, Dr. Baker is here to give us a greater understanding of Irish Literature.
I have to start off by saying, this woman is incredible. She arrived this morning, and rather than take the day to get acclimated and catch up on sleep, she dove right in! We had 5 hours of class in which we discussed some of the literature we have been reading in preparation for her visit. It's a good thing I enjoy literature, otherwise this would be really overwhelming. This class reminds me of my high school English classes with Mrs. Hoklin. I loved reading all these random stories and having lively class discussion over the symbolism, tone, syntax, etc. For example, one time she had us read Jonathan Swift's, A Modest Proposal. If you happen to choose to go read it, know it's a satire! The whole time he is just kidding! When we read it in high school, Mrs. Hoklin chose not to tell us this ahead of time and it resulted in a very lively debate.
But back to Ireland. For the next 9 days, we will be completely focused on Irish literature. We also get to go visit some of the places the stories were written about. It should be pretty exciting! I just hope we have the stamina to keep up with the energetic, Dr. Baker!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

Now that was a cultural experience. We got on the DART this morning amidst a green clad crowd. Dressed in our usual darker colors that normally fit in with the European culture, we stood out, for the first time in awhile. Today was the one day we should have dressed like tourists. We were more noticeable because we were sorely lacking in boisterous green clothing.
We got off at Connolly Station and walked to O'Connell Street. Gotta love these Irish names. Somehow, we have a connection to someone who owns a building on O'Connell street. They let us stand on the roof so we would have a fantastic view of the whole parade! We ate the lunches we had packed earlier this morning and watched the festivities. The whole parade was really weird. It was supposed to be based on some children's story, but we couldn't really figure it out. The floats just kept getting weirder and weirder... a giant Pinocchio, dancing potato chips, flying pigs, etc. It was crazy.
After that, we walked to the stadium and watched the Gaelic Games. I think this is like their version of the Super Bowl or World Series... except it's for Hurling and Gaelic Futbol. Hurling is like a more violent version of lacross where you can score by tossing the ball into the net or shooting (like soccer) or shooting it over the bar and between the posts (like football). Gaelic Futbol is basically the same thing, except you use a soccer ball, and you carry the ball but have to dribble it our bounce it off your foot every few steps. It was fun to watch! Definitely an interesting Irish experience.
Then it was dinner time! They had given us a few euro to eat and let us loose in Dublin. It was absolutely crazy! Normally, Dublin night life is a party worth experiencing. Tonight, it was just insane. Kathryn, Stephanie, and I managed to find a good chipper that wasn't letting all the drunk people in. So we sat down and enjoyed some really good food. From there, we decided it just wasn't worth it to hang out in town. So we hopped the DART and came back to Greystones. We thought about getting dessert at a local pub, but that was pretty insane too, so we're postponing that for later this weekend.
Honestly, the day time stuff was really fun, but the night time activities made me sad. When you think about St. Patrick and his original goals... Wow. This holiday has strayed so far away from that. Thankfully, last night, we spent a few hours doing a "monastic" day. We spent time in prayer, doing chores, and eating like monks. That basically means minimal talking, lots of praying, and lots of reading. While it was really hard for an extrovert like me to have all this quiet alone time, it was really good. And it made me less cynical about today. But I still feel bad. Some of our readings were things St. Patrick had written. He was a pretty amazing guy. But I'm sure he would role over in his grave if he saw how his holiday was being celebrated.
On that debby downer note... Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It seemed like a good idea

Today a few of us decided we would try to get in another hike since we had most of the day off. So Audrey looked up a route that would take us to Kilcoole, the next town over. We (Audrey, Kathryn, Hanna, and I)  left a little before lunch and planned on finding a chipper (place that serves only fish and chips) or a pub. The path took us on this gorgeous hike along the beach following the DART tracks. We didn't really know how far it was, but we figured it couldn't be that far.... Plus, we thought once we had reached the next DART stop we would find the town.
We thought wrong. The hike ended up being only a little less than 2 hours... Much longer than we thought. As we were walking along, it felt like we were never going to make it. All we could see was the DART tracks stretching out into the distant rolling Irish hills. Wow, that sounds a lot nicer than it actually felt. One good thing thought, the weather was fantastic! It was a beautiful sunny day probably in the mid-60s!
Along the whole hike we kept getting hungrier and hungrier, but we were all trying not to complain. So when we got to a very deserted DART station in the middle of a field, we were desperately trying to fake good attitudes. There was only one road leading away from the station and the beach, so we decided to follow it for a bit. We hoped to find civilization soon, otherwise we would be hiking the whole way back on empty bellies.
Thankfully, we had only gotten a little ways down the road when we came across a warehouse that had a sign on the outside declaring it was actually a gift shop. We wandered inside in hopes of finding someone who could give us directions. The place was deserted, but we could hear voices coming from the back rooms. We decided to look around a bit and wait for someone to come out. This probably the randomest gift shop I have been in. It had jewelry, candles, purses, a hedgehog statue holding a beaker, a glass pyramid with pharaoh on the inside, random colored rockes, bowls with angel statues coming out the sides, and a million other random knickknacks.
Finally, a lady walked out of the storage area into the shop. "Hello, we're a little lost. We just walked over from Greystones. Can you tell us what direction town is?" (Now there was only one road, so we had a pretty good idea which direction town was... if there even was a town. But this seemed like the simplest question to ask.) "You walked over from Greystones? Haven't you ever heard of a bus?" "Yeah... It just seemed like a nice day for it." "Oh, ok. Well town is that way. Actually, I'm going there in a few minutes if you want a lift." "YES!"
She dropped us off in the middle of town and we set out to find a chipper. Who knew that would turn out to be an adventure. We probably wandered around this tiny town for 20 minutes. Every food place we found was closed. We asked for directions, but they didn't really help! We were about to give up and go catch a bus when we found it! A pub! A beautiful yellow pub with real food being served inside! It looked beautiful!
3/4 of us ordered fish and chips. Hanna is not really a fan of seafood so she got a cheeseburger. Oh did she miss out. This was probably the best fish and chips ever! Although, I'm not sure if I thought that because it really was that good or if I was so hungry even Brussels sprouts would have tasted good.
We enjoyed our lovely lunch and then walked the mile or so back to the deserted DART station. In theory, one was supposed to stop there at 3:15. It was the only one going through for quite some time and we did not want to miss it. So we got there around 2:50, sat down, and waited. All of a sudden, at 3:00 we hear a train honking! It's early? That's weird. So we stand up and look expectantly towards the oncoming train. But something is a little off. He wasn't slowing down. WHOOSH! That train went by us at full speed! There was nothing stopping him. I'm not going to lie, it was kinda scary. Even though we were on the platform and he was on the track... yikes. I am now completely committed to never playing chicken with a train.
So after that adventure, we sat back down to wait for out train. It's 3:15, no train in sight. Maybe it's a little late. Let's give it 5 minutes. 3:16, no train to be seen. 3:17, still can't see it. 3:18, maybe it's not coming. 3:19, looks like we're walking. 3:20, alright, that's it. We're walki.... oh wait! There are lights in the distance! Could it be????? It was! A train was approaching! Yippee! But would it stop?
It approached the station at a slow speed. So far, so good. It drove up to us at a slow speed. Good. It went right past us at a slow speed. WHAT? Not ok. Don't cry. Don't cry. Oh wait! It did stop! It just went farther down the platform from where we were! We sprint to the door and climb aboard, laughing at our emotional roller coaster all due to a train!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Man who Won the War

It's an impressive title, especially considering the fact it was given to man who was up against the British army! Who was he? Well his name was Michael Collins. He was one of the main leaders in the Irish War for Independence around 1916- 1922. For one of our classes we have to read a biography on a key player in Irish history and write a paper about them. As you have probably guessed, I'm doing mine on Collins.
All in all, he's an interesting character. Many give him credit for starting the war with England and then eventually signing the treaty that ended the the War. But really its his personality that fascinates me the most. When people describe him, it's almost as thought they are describing two entirely different individuals. On one hand, he was a strong, dedicated, focused leader. He was extremely organized, confident in his goals, and determined to achieve them. Many respected him. But, he was also known for being a sore-loser, cocky, rude and brash. Even his closest friends did not always trust him to lead the independence movement. How is it that one man could have such an amazing impact on the history of a country, but be such a rough person? It seems that most other biographies I have read in the past focused on the positive side of someone's character. But this one gave an honest reflection on the negative side of Collins.
It got me to thinking, what would someone say if they wrote a biography about me someday? Now, this is an unrealistic question since I am not nearly famous enough to have someone want to write down my story, but go with me on this. It's an interesting question to ask yourself. It makes you reflect on the positive and negative sides of your character. In pondering this question, I was reminded of a cheesy Christian song, probably from the 90's... but I had to appreciate some of the lyrics. I think it went (and excuse me if I'm a little off), "I want to leave a legacy. How will they remember me? Did I choose to love? I want to leave a mark on things. I want to leave an offering." I can't remember who sang this; I'm sure you could Google it. But I like these lyrics because it makes me think. Even if no one ever writes my biography, what do the people who I come into contact with every day say about me? Do my actions show them love and kindness? Is my life an offering to God? A way to glorify Him? I really hope so.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Round 2 with the Dublin Airport Garda

I'm sad my weekend in Spain was so short, but it was still a great time. Sunday morning we got up early and walked to the bus stop. Surprisingly, we were early to the bus stop and early to the airport! Not very normal for us. But flights are a good thing to be on time for.
I slept on both my flights again! I love doing that! It is so nice to get on, fall asleep, and then wake up at a new airport. Que bueno! My first flight was from Sevilla to Madrid where I had less than an hour til my next flight took off. So I quickly found a screen showing flight info and headed toward my gate. On the way, these two college girls stop me, "Are you going to Ireland?" "Yeah!" Creepy, how did they know? I never did figure that out! "Great! Do you know where Gate H6 is?" "Um... I think it's this way. We can find it together." We head to the gate and learn they are just about to begin boarding so we hop in line. We continue our conversation and I learn they are from Brazil and are headed to Ireland to practice their English. The one who knew the most English was able to tell me she was interested in working in Europe someday. It was really fun meeting them! And I really enjoyed having someone ask me where something was! That means that I at least looked like I knew where I was and what I was doing!
During my flight from Madrid to Dublin, the 10 minutes I wasn't asleep, I tried not to think about immigration. After my first encounter, I was a little nervous. But I had my registration card, so I hoped that would help. At least cut down my time at the desk to under an hour! So I got off the plane and jumped in line. But then I realized I was in the line for EU passports only and had to switch lines... dumb mistake. But that was ok.. that line had a grumpy guy as the garda. The new line I was in was a friendly looking lady. I got up to the desk and handed her my passport and registration card. She looked down at it, then looked up at me... and smiled! "Hello, how are you!" "Good!" "Where did you go?" "Spain." "Did you enjoy your trip?" "Yes." *Stamps passport and hands it and my card back* "Great have a nice day!" YAY! I could have hugged her! I was so happy that was so easy!
I headed out of the airport and found the bus stop with ease. "Hello miss, can I help you?" "Yes, I would like to go to O'Connell Street." "Sure no problem." I handed him the money and he gave me my ticket. It was great! I felt like I actually belonged here! I knew where everything was and who to talk to! This was so much less stressful than my first encounter with the Dublin airport.
I took the bus and got off at O'Connell Street in downtown Dublin. We had a lady come speak to our class a couple weeks ago about human trafficking in Ireland. Apparently, today is an international day of awarness of human trafficking so they were holding an event in front of the General Post Office (a big important building here on O'Connell Street). They had asked us if we wanted to volunteer. I knew a few of my classmates had said they would, but I couldn't remember what time it was at. So I figured I would head there, and if I couldn't find them I would take the DART home.
But there they were! Right out in front, handing out balloons, and talking to people about human trafficking. (The whole point of the event is to bring awareness because it is something not frequently discussed in Ireland.) They all had on orange- the international color of... freedom? Something like that. So they weren't hard to spot. I immediately joined in and had a great time talking to people and handing out balloons! It was a great way to wrap up Spring Break 2011!

They will call us crazy!

Saturday was my only full day in Espana, so we wanted to see everything! Even though we got back at 2am the night before, we were up early to go see the sites. We met up with Libby's friend Alyssa and went to the gypsy market. I love outdoor markets and this one was no exception! Everything was really cheap so I figured if I wanted a souvenir, this was the place to get it. In the end, we all ended up buying something. Alyssa got bright green flats, Libby got sunglasses and I got a scarf. We almost went in together and bought a box of strawberries for 3 euro. We ended up deciding not to, but they looked so good! We also found a box of escargot... alive. Those were not so appealing. In fact, they looked down right disgusting. That is one delicacy I will never understand.
After the market we walked back the city and headed toward the cathedral. But on the way, we came across some Catholic evangelists. We got into a really interesting discussion with one of the nuns who was actually from the states and a few of her students who wanted to practice their English. I learned a lot about her perspective on why they pray to the saints instead of straight to God. And while I still don't agree with idea, I definitely understand it better. She said it's like when you want to go ask your dad something, but you don't know what he'll say. So you go ask your mom to put in a good word for you and kind of broach the idea with him. That's why they would pray to Mary..... really interesting. But in the end, the nun had all the important stuff right. God. Jesus. Death on a cross. Acknowledgment of personal sin. Saved by grace. Living out your faith. It was so interesting. We agree on what matters, there are just a few doctrinal differences. I look forward to seeing that nun in heaven someday and talking to her some more.
We continued walking and ended up at the cathedral. The guy who designed it said, "Let us build a cathedral so large, that future generations will look back and call us crazy!" Ironically, that was the first word out of my mouth when I saw it. It was ginormous! It is currently the third largest cathedral in the world and has the largest altar in the world! It was magnificent. Once again, having my own personal tour guide came in really handy. Interestingly, this cathedral is built on top of/next to a mosque. So the minaret where the Muslims did their call to prayer, now has a bell tower and cross on top. We climbed to the top and had an amazing view of the city!
By this point it was 1 or 2 so we sat down and ate the lunch senora had packed for us. It had a salami and cheese sandwich, orange, apple, juice box, and entire sleeve of biscuits/cookies. Yummy! After lunch, we walked around some more. I think we were looking for somewhere in particular, but we never found it. Instead, I got a great tour of the city. No complaints here! I just loved being out. Although, by the end of the day, my feet killed! The streets there have a lot of cobblestone so it is really hard walking. It's not like we're on smooth sidewalks the whole time. But it was worth it to experience all of Sevilla in a day and a half.
After walking for awhile, we stopped and got gelato. So good! And chatted about life. It was so great to catch up, swap stories, and have great deep conversations that always happen when we're together! What did we talk about? Sorry, you had to be there!
The senora made us another fantastic dinner and then we stayed in for the night. We were both so tired after walking all over Sevilla! Plus, we had to get up early to get to the bus stop, so I could catch my flight back to Dublin.

Hola Espana!

After being reunited with Libby, we headed for downtown Sevilla on el autobus! I'm glad I slept on both my flights, because we started our adventures right away. The first place we went was the Plaza de Espana. It was the perfect place to start! I don't actually know what the building was for, but it looks beautifully Spanish. The building is incredibly decorated with tiles, stone carvings, statues, etc. It was incredible! Then we walked around the gardens that are attached to the Plaza... also beautiful! The weather was so fantastic compared to drizzly Ireland, so it was funny that they were all complaining about it being a dreary weekend. I thought it was still Sunny Sevilla!
After the Plaza, we walked to downtown Sevilla. Note: walking places is going to become a reoccurring theme throughout the weekend. I thought we walk a lot in Ireland. Not true. They walk a ton in Spain! So we headed downtown and Libby pointed out major landmarks and historical sites. In her classes, they are studying Spanish history and art (in Spanish!) so the whole weekend I had my own personal tour guide! I loved it! So we wandered around for awhile, but then decided to get some tappas (snacks). They don't eat dinner until 9:30 in Spain, so they usually eat tappas around 5 or 6 to hold them over. We wanted to find some really legit, hole in the wall kinda place, but didn't know where to look. We found all the super touristy areas, but those are expensive and I really wanted something authentic. So we wandered down some side streets and came across this place that seemed okay. At that point, we were tired and hungry so we decided to try it. We found out they weren't serving Libby's favorite kind of tappas, so we got this shrimp salad stuff that you put on bread. Not going to lie, we were both a little skeptical. But it was fantastic! We were both really surprised. Then these two guys randomly wandered in and started playing Spanish music and drumming. And then people started flamenco dancing! It was so random, but so perfect! It was exactly the Spanish experience we wanted. We couldn't have planned it better.
After tappas, we walked around some more and then headed to Libby's senora's house. In her program they stay with host families so they can work on their Spanish. In greeting the family, I quickly learned besitos. (A spanish greeting where you kiss the person on each cheek. Well, at least you kiss the air beside each cheek.) It was awkard at first, but I got over that fast and went along with this cultural experience. Her senora made us a huge fantastic dinner. In that culture, it's not polite to leave food on your plate, so we ate it all, but it was hard! There was so much- fish, vegetables, kiwi, orange, bread, salami, and cheese!
After dinner, we changed and headed out to experience some Spanish night life. Apparently, the party doesn't start until 11 or 12 each night. I wanted to see something cultural, so we headed to this little place where they played live music and had flamenco dancing! It was so interesting! And we ran into some people from Libby's program. So I got to meet them and hear about some of their experiences. It was crazy to listen to them talk. They all switched between Spanish and English at will depending on how much they knew. It was crazy to listen to. Something interesting though, the longer I was there, the more I realized I had learned in my 2 years of Spanish class in high school. I could follow along with most of the conversations; I just wasn't able to answer any questions. It was a weird sensation, being able to understand, but not having the vocabulary to respond. I'm just glad Libby was there to help me out when I got stuck. After the show, we headed towards home, but stopped and ate some churros and chocolate! I love Spanish food.
We got back in at 2am. By that time, we were both exhausted. But I found it funny when the senora asked us the next morning why we had gotten back so early! There are Italians staying in the apartment next to us and they didn't get back until 5am! Crazy! That is one part of Spanish culture I could not keep up with.

Flying Solo

Spring Break was full of so many adventures! Which is incredible considering it was just a three day weekend. But hey, you gotta take what you can get. But since there are so many stories, I'll probably end up splitting this up into several separate blog entries.
So to start... Thursday night, three other girls from my trip (Alyssa, Gueb, and Emily) headed to the Dublin airport. The three of them were flying to Scotland for Spring Break. Both our flights left around  6:30am Friday morning, so we decided the easiest (and cheapest) way to get the airport was to take the DART to downtown Dublin, then a bus to the airport. But the DART doesn't start until 6 or 7 in the morning, not early enough for us to get to the airport. So instead, we would sleep in the airport Thursday night. Brilliant idea? Maybe, maybe not. You decide. We got there around 9:00pm and found a spot we could sleep for the night. They were cleaning for about an hour, so we had some time to kill before bedtime so we played a round of Euker. Then we headed to our benches for bed.
That was the loudest airport ever! Considering the fact they have no flights going out in the middle of the night there was so much going on. So we really didn't sleep a whole lot. Plus, we got up at 3am to go check in at the desk and head to our gates. I was just looking forward to sleeping on the plane.
Once I landed in Paris, I had 4 hours before my connecting flight left. So I got through immigration and found a bathroom. I only mention this because there was something a little unusual about the bathrooms in this airport... The toilet paper was pink! It was so weird. I don't know if that is all French bathrooms, or if girls get pink TP and boys get blue? I don't know. I just thought it was weird.
Then I went to the desk to check into my flight. The lady took one look at my ticket and then handed it back. "Why are you here? You are going to Sevilla." "Yeah...." "This is the wrong terminal. You need terminal two." "Ok... How do I get there?" She looks at my like I'm an absolute idiot. "Go out these doors, take a right. You can't miss it." Ok, so maybe that was a dumb question. It really was a huge building right next door with a huge T2 on the front. But hey! I didn't even know there was two terminals!
I walked to Terminal 2 and checked in at the right desk. But was informed, "You are early. You cannot go through security yet." Ok... So I headed over to the bakery and bought a croissant and a croissant with chocolate in it. They were so good! I journaled and read for class while I ate my yummy French treats.
The security opened for my flight a little less than an hour before the gate was to close. But that's fine, because this terminal only had 4 gates, so I didn't have far to walk. But I made my first travel blunder... I got up to security and was taking the liquids out of my bag. I realized I still had water in my water bottle from when I had filled it up in Dublin. But it was too late, and there wasn't anywhere to pour it out; so I sent it through security. On the other side, the guard motions to ask if the water bottle is mine. I nod yes, but tell her she can just dump the water out. Instead of doing so, she makes a thumb's up and points the thumb towards her mouth. I figured out this was the international sign for drink. So I took a sip, assuming she wanted me to prove it was water. But then she does it again, and I realize she wants me to finish it! There are at least 10oz of water in there. I try to chug it as fast as I can, and then she nods that I'm good to go.
So I head to the gates, but I realize my gate number isn't posted. My gate is supposed to close in 45 minutes. At 30 minutes, it's still not posted. At 15 minutes, it's still not posted. At 0 when we are all supposed to be on the plane, it's not posted and there is no plane in sight. Great! Thankfully, at -5 minutes a plane rolls in and everyone quickly lines up to go. We board and manage to take off almost on time. It's a miracle!
As we were descending into Spain, I realized I did not know how to find Libby. I had given her my flight info and she had sent me her school's address. But I didn't know if she was picking me up, where to find her in the airport, what her cell phone number was, where her senora's house was, where to catch a bus or taxi, or any other important information. Brilliant, right? Yeah... well, I walked through the baggage claim and looked for customs- there wasn't one. So I walked through the gate... And there she was! I don't know how that worked out so perfectly. But it did! Best reunion hug ever! And so our adventure in Spain was about to begin.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Laughter Echoing Through the Hills

We are officially on Spring Break! Woohoo! We had class for a couple hours this morning and then chapel, but now we are free. I leave really early tomorrow morning to go see a friend studying in Spain. But this afternoon, a few of us decided to go on a hike. For our PHP (basically gym class) credit that we get here we have to fit in 12 hikes this semester. Today, we (Me, Emily, Valerie, Dan, Ryan, Paige, Audrey and Kellyn) did one to the top of Breyhead.
We caught the DART from Greystones to the first stop-Brey. After that... it was an adventure. We had a general idea of where we going, but with us you never know. Thankfully, we managed to find the route fairly easily. At the top the view overlooks the entire city. It is absolutely gorgeous. They have also constructed a giant stone cross up there. I love that any time they look to the top of the mountain, they see that cross, stretching up towards the sky.
After we had spent awhile admiring the view, we continued on our way back to Greystones. Along the way, we came across some wild horses! Ok, so they weren't entirely wild; they all had rope bridles on. But hey, they weren't fenced in and nobody was guarding them. Audrey had brought some bread to feed any wildlife we found so we pulled that out and tempted a few of the horses over. They quickly devoured the bread and then most trotted off. All except for one. He was content to stay and be pet for awhile. Then Dan decided he would try to ride it... most of us were against it! We thought the horse might buck or something! But there is no stopping Dan. So he slowly climbed on. And... the horse didn't move. He seemed completely unconcerned with the fact that he now carried a passenger. We were all thrilled and several of us, including myself, proceeded to take turns sitting on the horse. And then Audrey got on... all seemed well, but then suddenly the horse started to walk down the hill! So she quickly scooted off the horse! Thankfully, she was fine, so we kept on the hike.
It took us along the top ridge and then back down the hill to Greystones. But then all of a sudden our path ended and we needed to hop a wall to get onto another path. On our side the wall was only a couple feet high. But the drop on the other side was probably 8 feet. Nothing big, but enough that it seems a little unsettling. Paige, Emily, Ryan, Dan and I all made it over fine. But the last 3 girls were a little nervous... So Dan offers to help lift them down. That resulted in chaos. Valerie went first, but when Dan held her, she tucked her legs up so she was in a little ball. She looked so awkward! We were all laughing by the time he set her down. Then Kellyn came next. Having seen Valerie's mistake, she was determined to not tuck her legs up. So she was straight as a board as Dan lifted her down. This also looked awkward and more laughter ensued. Then Audrey.... She was sitting on top of the wall, but when Dan went to put his arms under her armpits to help her down, she squealed and said, "Stop! I'm ticklish!" So Dan quickly stepped back, "Fine, are you going to do it yourself then?" "No! Don't leave me!" More laughter as she also awkwardly let him help her off the wall.
The rest of the hike was not so adventerous, but we did enjoy a nice view and stopped at the sea to skip rocks. All in all, a great start to Spring Break.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Too Early

Fair enough. I don't really be asked thought provoking questions right when I role out of bed either. But we were desperate! Let me explain. This morning Audrey and I ran to the leisure center to work off all of our Fat Tuesday... fat. But along the way, Audrey told me that she needed to ask an Irish person about their opinion on  Facebook and Culture for her presentation tomorrow. (We all take turns presenting on Irish newspaper articles and Audrey's is about Facebook and Culture. As part of the assignment you have to interview locals to get the Irish perspective.) So we decided to ask someone at Shoreline (the leisure center). We got in and approached the first person we saw, the lady working the front desk. "Hey, we're students working on a project and wondering what you think about Facebook and Culture?" *Awkward Silence* "Uh, it's too early for this... You should ask someone else." "Ok!" Fail. So we went upstairs and had a fantastic work out.
But Audrey still needed an interview to complete the assignment. So as we headed downstairs, we thought we would see who else we could find! At this point it was about 11am, so not as early anymore. We figured people would be more open to answering questions now. So when we spotted this cheerfully looking lady at the ice cream counter we quickly steered in that direction. "Hi, we're students working on a project and are wondering what you think about Facebook and Culture." Shockingly, she responded! "It's funny you would ask. I used to have a Facebook but I realized what a waste of time it was. Plus I thought it was stupid how many people have 'friends' on Facebook but they are not actually friends in real life." Throughout the rest of our conversation, she offered very valid reasons why she didn't like Facebook. Plus, she told us she is using the time she doesn't spend online to go for a run or read a book! I was so impressed!
And while I have to admit, I really enjoy Facebook, it can be a huge time waster. It is helpful for cases like this when I am halfway around the world and wanting to stay in touch with you. But the other times when I message my friend down the hall, rather than walk down there to ask her a question... not so valid. In fact, utter waste. Or those times when I have 15 minutes before class and hop on Facebook instead of reading a book, studying for that test, or doing my devos... Yeah, once again. Fail.
I started doing something towards the end of last semester that really helped. I only checked my Facebook from Friday afternoon after classes ended to Sunday evening. During the weekdays, I was Facebook free! It was so great! To have a 4.5 day Facebook fast every week makes you realize how much time you waste on there doing nothing. I think I'll go back to that next semester..... Who knows how much I'll be able to accomplish in all that time?
Oh, and one final random question that I am pondering... You know how we always say someone is halfway around the world? Well, I'm wondering, where is all the way around the world?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Paczkis for Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday is the best holiday ever! I don't know how many of you are aware and follow Lent, but FYI it starts tomorrow! So, as tradition has it, you are supposed to eat up all your sweets the night before because you aren't supposed to have any during lent. Or something like that. Well, times have changed a bit, and people fast from other things instead of sweets, but that's ok. The idea behind it is to give up something that could be an idol in your life so that you can focus on God more.
I must confess, I haven't really observed Lent in the past. The only time I can remember doing it was in junior high. One year, my family decided we would give up ordering pop/soda/coke whenever we went to restaraunts during those 40 days and give the money we would have spent on that to a charity. It adds up fast considering it often costs 2 bucks a pop X5 people...
But this year, as a group in Ireland, we are being encouraged to participate. My work out buddy Audrey observes Lent every year so she's really the one getting me into this. She gives up all sweets for 40 days! I am not quite as disciplened as her, so I'm just giving up the biscuit bin. You see, we have a bin full of biscuits (cookies) in the DC all the time. I must confess, I have eaten far more than I should, so for 40 days... no biscuit bin for me!
But that starts tomorrow... and if we are going to observe Lent, we are going to observe Fat Tuesday as well. So today was sweets galore! We had biscuits in between class this morning. Then this afternoon we ran to Tesco (the local grocery store) and bought some paczkis (pronounced Poon-sh-keys). They are basically jelly filled donuts and are what Polish people eat on Fat Tuesday. Then we ran back to Coolnagreina, grabbed our books, and walked to Insomnia (the local coffee shop). Audrey volunteers there on Saturdays and works with 2 Polish people. So she bought the donuts for them. We delivered the donuts, bought some mochas, and sat down to study for our test tomorrow! It was fantastic! We got so much done! And now I have sooooooooo much energy! I don't know if all of you have had the privilege of seeing me on coffee, but it is a party! Woopee!
After Insomnia, we went to SuperValu (another, smaller grocery store, and it really is spelled without the "e" on the end) and loaded up on Fat Tuesday goodies including a chocolate mousse, Aero bar, Magnum bar, and some other chocolate bar. Plus, I have oreos in my room! But when we got back, it was dinner time, so we stashed the treats away to be eaten later.
We had a lively dinner, probably due to the fact that Audrey and I are wired on coffee! Somehow we got on the topic of pants... Oh yeah, Audrey said something like, "Looking like a fool..." So naturally I finished... "With your pants on the ground!" But then I realized my mistake. You see, pants don't mean blue jeans here... that word means underwear! They call pants, trousers. So I quickly switched that too... "with you trousers on the ground!" This sadly does not have quite as nice of a ring to it. That got us all laughing and we reminisced about some of our other language blunders. Like the other day in Dance Class, Audrey and I were partners. Since she is taller, she gets to be the boy. But at one point, I took the lead and told her, "See! I wear the pants in this relationship! (Pause) I mean trousers!" And then there was this other time in church when we were looking for a ride to Bible Study... So I asked someone, "Hey, can we get a ride on Tuesday?" Well, it is not good to ask for a ride here, you can use your imagination to figure that one out. Instead, you ask for a lift!
Despite all of our mistakes, the Irish people have been very kind and understanding. They usually just chuckle, correct us nicely, and continue on with the conversation. I'm sure they go home and laugh about it later, but at least they are nice to our faces.
Well, that's all I have for today. Now if you'll excuse me there is an Aero bar calling my name!
P.S. Don't fret Coach, I'm already planning on working all this off tomorrow morning at the leisure center!

Monday, March 7, 2011

What lesson in the life of anything.. but the reflection on it?

Read the title again. And again. And maybe once more. Still confused about what it means? Whew. Me too. Several times a week, we (me and my super awesome work out buddy, Audrey) run to the leisure center which is a little over a mile away. Random side note: We are official members of the club as of today! Don't laugh. We're really excited! But anyway, when we run there we go through town, this random park and wind through some neighborhoods. In the park is this big stone slab on top of a stone circle with words on it. We run past it several times a week and realized we had no idea what it was for. So we thought it would be good to stop and figure out what it was. As it turns out, the stone slab, is just that. There is nothing on it. It's just a big grey rectangle, stretching up towards the sky. And on the stone circle were these words. "What lesson in life... but the reflection of it?" We spent the rest of our run trying to figure out what in the world it meant. We emphasized different words, tried saying it with different accents, but nothing worked. It still doesn't make complete sense. Probably because there is no verb in that sentence!
But here's what we came up with in the end... basically, in life if we want to learn lessons from life, we have to spend time reflecting on what we have learned. Which is a crazy coincidence cause that's what we did tonight! Every Monday night we have "Life Together". I know- perfect, typical Taylor title. But basically all it is is group hang out discussion/announcement time. Tonight, we had to anonymously answer some questions about our experiences thus far. It was really good. I am personally not very good at verbalizing my feelings. I would much rather process things internally, but it was really good to hear everyone's perspectives. We have come a long way, but as a group our focus from here on out is to not grow complacent. We're far enough away from the beginning of the semester that the newness has worn off, but we're not close enough to the end to feel the pressure to fit everything in before we have to leave. It's like we're at the 30 minute of a soccer game, the 2 quarter in a basketball game, the 150M on a 400M sprint. Can you tell I'm an athlete?  Anyway, all that to say, group reflection is good. Even if it's not my cup of tea, you can learn a lot!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

We're All Little Rich Kids

Today was a smack in the face with how truly blessed I am. It was global awareness day at church, so obviously, we spent a lot of time talking about other countries. But to give us some perspective they offered some statistics from around the world. Do the research sometime; you will be shocked. Even though sometimes, as "poor" college students we feel like we don't have much, compared to the rest of the world, we are so blessed! We then spent some time in small group prayer for different countries around the world. I love how interactive this church is. And rather than just discuss an issue, it's presented and then we gather and talk to God about it. Why don't Christians always go to God so quickly?
But it was really interesting to pray for other countries while living in Ireland. All of a sudden, the United States becomes a foreign land and our problems something to offer up to God. It's funny that while we're living in America, we are less likely to turn to God about issues like the economy or elections on a daily basis. It's just something we do on the National Day of Prayer or some other big event But over here, it's on their list. Partially because they can relate to us. They know what it's like to be out of a job. In some ways, the circumstances my family is in has made it easier for me to relate to the people here. There is a sense of understanding and community that forms much more quickly.
On a random tangent... we were invited to go to a church in Dublin tonight to hear a fascinating testimony. The man is a single, Christian, pastor that is passionate about God and trying to follow Him faithfully. Not too unusual... except for one thing... he struggles with homosexuality. It was interesting that we had this invitation, considering this is a topic we were discussing as a group only a week or so ago. This pastor had a really great perspective on it, and I respected his position because it is part of his testimony. He believes that acting on homosexual desires is a sin, the same way that it is a sin for a heterosexual person to pursue their lusts. He also defines marriage as between one man and one woman based on Genesis 2, so he knows he will never be able to be married. The great thing about his talk was his emphasis on compassion. Too often the church turns its back on people who struggle with this and label it as a "worse sin." But it's not. He shared a tongue-in-cheek quote that really emphasized this point. I can't remember it exactly, but more or less, it pointed out that the Bible points out homosexuality as a sin 6 times, but over 300 times it lists sins that heterosexuals commit. Basically, yes it's a sin, but not any bigger or lesser than any other sin. Overall, I thought he did a good job presenting his position. He was honest, but extremely compassionate.
But I did have an interesting conversation with a woman after. She was really offended by the whole thing. Her sister is a lesbian so out of her love for her sister, she refuses to acknowledge homosexuality as a sin. We had a really good conversation about that. It does make it hard to say something is wrong if someone you love or you, yourself struggle with it. I guess that's when you have to know what you believe and why you believe it. And in the end, we must act with compassion and love.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Breaking Down the Walls in Our Minds

We spent the past three days in Northern Ireland. There is so much I could say, but I'll try to sum it up. There were parts that were beautiful. We did a couple different hikes, scrambled around some more ruins, climbed Giant's Causeway, chased some sheep, and explored a sea cave. I could talk about that part for a while because it really was fun! But those won't be the parts I remember the most...
Our first day we spent in Belfast. For the most part, we were on a bus getting a tour of the city and looking at the peace walls and murals. In the course of the day, we got three very different perspectives on the conflict. The first came from our bus driver, Brian. He would be on the nationalist/republican/Catholic side. He wants Ireland to be united with Northern Ireland. From his perspective, we saw how the Irish people are a very distinct group that should not be lumped in with the English. In the course of history, the English are very recent invaders. We also saw several murals that represented other political causes around the world. It seems many in Northern Ireland sympathize with anyone they deem persecuted. But it was especially interesting to see a mural of the Israeli-Palestinian wall.That is one conflict they can definitely identify with in the sense, they know what it is like to have physical walls up that divide people.
After that we picked up Nolan. Now, this man doesn't look very intimidating, but there's a lot more to him than you would realize. He grew up in a unionist/loyalist/Protestant community in Northern Ireland. In his younger days, he was a part of the UVF- a paramilitary group in the area. He argued that in many ways he is British. Yes, he grew up in N. Ireland, but it has more to do with a mindset than location. He sees their province as being directly related to the crown and that's the way it should be. But, I kind of got the impression he would be willing to give that up, if it meant peace. At one point he said something that really struck me. "This conflict has less to do with the physical walls dividing the communities and more to do with the walls that are in people's minds. Those are the ones that to be torn down." How true. It made me do a lot of reflecting on my own life. Are there places I have put up walls? Where have I judged people without ever really knowing them?
The day really hit home when we went to a church that sits right on the border between communities. Standing in the sanctuary, if you take two steps right your on Protestant territory, and two step left puts you on the Catholic side. But in the church, everything is neutral. There are no sides; there is only worshiping God. We were able to hear from Pastor Jack who is a very courageous man.  He has been shot at, received death threats, had bombs put in his car, etc. And yet, he keeps going; pressing for peace in this land. We also heard testimonies from two guys who were former paramilitary members and eventually stopped because of this church. Now they work with the youth to build reconciliation and peace. It was incredible to hear how God is working through them now in Northern Ireland.
I'll conclude with a few random facts I learned from them about the conflict...
- In a recent survey, 85% of the people want the peace walls to come down. Maybe not right away, but sooner rather than later.
- Segregation is prolonging the conflict. They are seeing a great need to integrate especially in the schools at a young age so the kids don't grow up seeing themselves different from the other side.
-The walls are still in place mostly for political reasons. It is easier for people to get government support if there is still a conflict- something the walls represent. If the walls come down, the government might forget there are still problems, and they might not get as much funding.
- Facebook is helping break down walls between young people here. They are able to learn about each other and communicate despite all the barriers- both socially and physically. (This is ironic since I just watched The Social Network tonight and that is definitely not what it was designed for. But hey, God can use all things for good!)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I shot the moon!

Don’t fret; I don’t mean that literally. In our free time here, we’ve been playing a lot of random games like bananagrams, settlers, hearts, up and down the river, and Dutch blitz. Shooting the moon is a term used in the card game hearts. I had never played that game before, but I thought it was about time I learned since everyone here loves it so much. I played 2 games today and shot the moon in each of them! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the basic idea: In hearts, you deal out all the cards. Then you all take turns going in a circle laying down a card. You have to follow suit each hand, unless you don’t have it, then you can play whatever you want. In every round there are 26 possible points- the queen of spades is worth 13 and all the hearts are worth 1 each. You don’t want points so normally you try not to get these cards…. except for one important exception, shooting the moon. This is where you try to get all the hearts in a single round. If you do, everyone else gets 26 points! But it’s really risky because if you get don’t get all 13, you get points for every heart you do have.
So why am I talking about cards when you want to hear about my adventures in Ireland? Well, go with me on this… in some ways it reminded me of life. Sometimes we take risks and get badly burned. But other times if we are committed, it can work out. You never really know which way it will go. It’s like what we learned about tonight at the Bible Study we go to on Tuesday nights with people we met at church. We’re going through the book of Exodus. Tonight, we talked about Moses going before Pharaoh and the 10 plagues. Now Moses took a huge risk in confronting Pharaoh and he knew it. In fact, he tried to talk God out of the whole idea at the burning bush. But God knew what was best and pushed him along. In the end, God was right (of course!). The Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt and Moses is remembered as an amazing leader.
I don’t know, maybe the analogy stretches a little thin in some ways, but I think it kinda works. I guess what I’m taking away from our discussion tonight and what I want to encourage you to do is: trust God. Even when it seems absolutely crazy and you’re not sure if it will work. You never know; you might shoot the moon.

The Results are FINALLY In

The entire country has been waiting for this day. Well, actually they were waiting for last Friday, but things got a little bogged down. You see, last Friday the Irish people went to the poles and selected a new government after voting "no confidence" in their last one, effectively ending it. But even thought they voted Friday, the results were not decided until early this morning. Why? Because voting is one thing the Irish like to do the old fashioned way. Apparently a few years ago they bought all the scantron equipment to do their elections like we do, but everyone hated it so much, that now sits in a shed and they count every single vote by hand. Sometimes more than once. Most of the counties had their TD's (senators) picked by Sunday, but Wicklow, the county we're in, is known for being slow to make up their minds. I'm not being mean; I actually had several locals tell me this. As one guy said, "We just like to take our time. We want to be sure about who we're electing." No kidding. So it was not until half one on Tuesday morning (1:30am) that Wicklow could finally, officially declare it's 5 TD's. They are 3 Fine Gael Party members- Andrew Doyle, Billy Timmins, and Simon Harris (yes, that's the guy we met!), a woman from the Labour Party- Ann Ferris, and an Independent- Stephen Donnolly.
I'm not going to lie, I really enjoy politics so it has been fascinating to be here during the election. Plus, the counting center for this county is a mile down the road at the leisure center where I go to work out. So Saturday night I went and sat there for 3 hours watching the counting, talking to locals, and getting a better understanding of the system here. I also stopped by Sunday and Monday afternoon to catch any updates and learn a little more. The Irish people love to talk about their country. They really want to be proud of it, but that's been hard with the recent economic crisis. So when I as a visitor come in and express interest in their political system, they are more than willing to explain anything and everything!
Their system is pretty different than ours. In many ways I like it better, but I don't think we could pull it off since America is so much bigger. Ireland is about the size of the state of Indiana. Here's the gist of how theif voting process works. When you vote everyone's name is on the ballot. You rank them by order of who you want to win. You can rank all of them, or just put your number one or anything in between. So on my ballot, I might put 1) Harris 2) Doyle 3) Donnolly 4) Ferris 5) Timmins and on down the list. All the ballots are collected and brought to one counting center in each county. From there, they go through and count all the number one votes. In order to be elected you have to get a certain percent of the votes based on the equation (# of voters) / (# of TD spots in your county). So for example, if Wickow had 50,000 voters turn out and there are 5 TD spots you need 10,000 votes to be elected. So they go through the first time and count all the #1 votes. If you get the 10,000 you are automatically in. This didn't happen, which isn't unusual. So then they go the last place guy and kick him out of the running. Then all of his votes are distributed. So the look at all the ballots that voted for him as number one and find their number two vote. They then give his votes to those number 2's. Then they start the process over again, kicking the last guy out and giving their votes to the next person on the ballot. Sound complicated? It is! I hope that sort of made sense. Just know that it is a really long process. It took them 19 counts to finally get down to 5. And interestingly enough. Only 2 candidates actually made the quota. If not enough make it, they just go with the 5 guys that get the most votes. For example, Simon is in even though he was 200 votes short of the quota.
I'm excited for Ireland to have a new government in place that is dedicated to helping the people. They have a huge hole to dig themselves out of. I just hope they have enough patience to let this new government make a difference. One local told me it could take 3 terms (15 years) before they're back where they were. I doubt they will keep the same party in power for that long, but I'm no expert. All I know is this will be an interesting story to follow in the next few years...