Glasgow

Dear Reader,

This Thursday past, my journey brought me to the city of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. Buzzing with fast-paced life, Glasgow has to be one of the most underrated cities in Europe. It doesn’t share the same noble past or historic attraction as its neighbor, Edinburgh, but brings the rehabilitated energy of a place that was once dark and careworn but has turned around to offer bright new adventures.

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Traces of Glasgow’s past can still be found among the modern museums and shops, in places like the Willow Tea Rooms, meticulously designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903, and still open for the business of college students who wander off the streets for tea and scones.

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It seems impossible to arrive in a city without visiting its cathedral. After spending our morning meandering through museums of modern art and architecture, we found ourselves at the Glasgow Cathedral, a haunting Gothic masterpiece in the shadow of the necropolis, the Victorian cemetery on the hill. We spent a good hour in the cathedral and necropolis, intrigued by the dark peace that veiled them. When I say dark I do not mean evil, but rather the mysterious beauty of the unknown that both locations encompassed. The kind of dark that can exist with light.

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I had almost forgotten that I had originally intended to study in Glasgow my sophomore year of college; I had been accepted and everything, and then withdrew my commitment for a handful of reasons that are no longer relevant.  It was compelling to walk Glasgow’s streets and wonder how my life in that city might have been, or what I would be doing this summer in lieu of Stirling. I cannot know the answer to either question, and as neither is reality it is of little significance.

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There is great wisdom in not being able to know everything, and I am appreciating more and more how I can’t. And while my travels in Scotland may have taken a different direction, I am thankful that I am here now, and that this is the trip that has chosen me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT7_IZPHHb0

Love, Rae

Light

Dear Reader,

As my lovely and faithful companion—more commonly known as a journal—tells me, it is day nineteen of the journey, and life has settled into a regular rhythm. That is, if you can call daily activities like climbing mountains and exploring dungeons regular. I think it is a lifestyle that I can get used to. Thursday involved an excursion to St. Andrews, a picturesque town by the sea, made famous most recently by the fact that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met at the university there. Some of the highlights included exploring the ruins of the castle and cathedral, walking around one of the oldest golf courses in the world, and stumbling across a man sitting on the beach playing the bagpipes. Today’s excitement consisted of venturing into the rugged highlands for some hiking, a day well spent with breathtaking views, good exercise, and great company.

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Being a foreigner takes you on an interesting ride. It’s been neat to experience it with a group of people that are all in the exact same boat, living and navigating life in this new land together. Some of my family can trace its roots to Ireland and Scotland, and I admire their vision and courage as I take on a new life in the lands that they left so many years ago.

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Recently, I have been impressed and refreshed by the simplicity of life since leaving America. I have enough possessions to fill a small suitcase and a backpack, a very simple flat with stark white walls, no wifi, and exactly one drawer of space in our refrigerator. Everything is downsized and refocused.  While simplicity is the antithesis of American culture, I find that it’s hard to make a mess out of a life without clutter.  The longer I’m here, the less it makes sense to me why we willingly confuse and complicate our lives by continually adding. That unwarranted stress takes away from the simple gifts we have all around us, like fresh air to breathe, a bed to sleep in, or the delicious warmth of the sun.

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Today is the longest day of the year, especially so here at 56 degrees north, where morning comes early and nighttime falls late. The sky is never quite dark; even in the middle of the night there is a faint glow on the horizon that illuminates the earth, something I find wondrous. In the mindset of simplicity, something as common as the light of the sun is enough to make the heart leap for joy. For it is within simplicity that the common becomes miraculous.

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The song I will leave you with today is an old favorite in honor of the miracle of light. I hope you enjoy it along with the other common miracles in your life.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZrJvvD_29k

Grace and peace,

Rae

Sounds of Scotland

Dear Reader,

Here is how I describe to you what Scotland sounds like to me.

“Hi! What’s your name?”

The sticky air of the castle hums with the sound of building friendships. A hundred and fifteen students mill about the great room, chatting eagerly—or is it desperately?—over glasses of wine.

I smile, second-guessing my choice to go for red. It’s my favorite, and it usually returns my affection by tinting my teeth a faint purple.

“Rae,” I answer pleasantly, “Nice to meet you.”

So far, Scotland had sounded like a steady stream of small talk. Digestible in small doses, but a lot to swallow when there are a hundred and fifteen people to meet. Flashbacks to September of freshman year try to surface in my mind, but I push them away.

“Rae, that’s a neat name. Where are you from?”

“Wisconsin.”

“Oh, hey, I think someone mentioned you! You’re the writer girl who travelled by herself.”

“That would be me! I guess word gets around fast.”

I think about how ridiculous I am. Alright, that may be a bit of an exaggeration; I think about how little time I’ve spent being thankful for my family and friends back home. When you live in a place where you are deeply known and cared for by those around you, you forget what it feels like to not have that unconditional support. While I won’t object to being labeled as an adventurous writer, it’s still different than someone knowing the real me. That’s natural, I suppose. Real friendships take time; you have to tolerate some superficiality before delving into substance.

And substance does come. Not all of Scotland, I learn, sounds like small talk. That’s just the first movement. Succeeding that, it crescendos into a beautiful, symphonic piece of many notes.

It sounds like meeting people who share your exact same passions and goals.  Like a brand-new friend attacking a can of green beans with a knife because you don’t have a can opener and he needs to get rid of flight-induced stress. As quiet as the wind through the Highland hills and as loud as seven Americans walking back from town at night, with laughter loud enough and Scottish accents atrocious enough to get deported. Like a friend offering to make you dinner and tea when you’re missing family for the first time. Like hanging on your writing instructor’s every word. Like your flat mate strolling into your room and casually asking, “Hey, do you want to go to London next weekend?”

It’s exclaiming how it’s still light out at midnight, and relishing the accents, discovering new places and laughing about getting lost. It is never being so thankful for loved ones back home or so excited to come to know people here. It’s a thousand little things that all fit together to make something beautiful. And, yes, it does sound like bagpipes too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSH0eRKq1lE

Lots of love and thankfulness for you,

Rae

Tide Pools

Dear Reader,

While I have a myriad of tales I could relay to you about my day in Belgium or these first few days in the shining city of Stirling, Scotland, I wanted to take a moment to focus on why I made the decision that I did to pack up and spend the entire summer abroad. Travel is something that I’ve always held in extremely high regard, though I am aware that not all feel the same way as I. If you’re just looking to have fun, why not do it stateside and save all of your money? Aren’t there lessons to be learned and work to be done here? Perhaps, but I think that travel is not just having fun, nor can it be compared to a more expensive version of life at home. It is a different animal entirely, one that has unique lessons to teach that cannot be found anywhere else. And so I have a few reasons of why I believe that this experience is vital and have chosen to partake in it.

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  1. “Living in their pools they soon forget about the sea.” –Neil Peart

Where we go on Lake Superior, there is a point of rock that juts into Superior’s tempestuous waters, and in the middle of this rock is a small pool filled with minnows. Protected and kept in their small confines, these minnows have no idea what lies in the rest of the sea. Whether we think it or not, a lot of us exist in this same kind of warped reality, assuming that the way we’ve constructed our tide pools is how the rest of the ocean operates. And that changes how you view yourself, your community, and your world. It isn’t until you dive into the rest of the sea that you realize what about life is the same and what is the result of the small boundaries of the tide pool.

  1. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

This quote was included in a page from a devotional I used to read, a page that I tore out of the booklet and pasted on the wall by my bed. I was reminded of it every day, and recognized it when I crossed paths with a traveler in Ireland who explained that he took this quote seriously and wanted to live life to the fullest. Not only do I think that it’s a beautiful way to live, but I am inspired by people who live this way, and hope that I can harness that and use it to inspire others as well.

 

  1. “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Scott Cameron

A symptom of tide pool living is the percentage of space that you take up in your environment: too much self for such a little space. Travel is a humbling experience; in a new place you are not significant or known. The human tendency to think highly of yourself, to draw attention to yourself, to think that you need more things: travel shoots them all dead. When hiking in the mountains I saw people in the distance that looked like the smallest specks, and thought that’s what I look like to them too. Travel is an exceptional cultivator of modesty. Living out of two small bags with no reputation to my name has been hard and eye opening, in a good and refining sort of way.

 

  1. “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

 I am convinced that few things grow empathy quite like travel. When you meet people from different parts of the globe, those distant names and places on the map become real and emotionally charged. You come to realize that more and less important space on the globe does not exist; every square inch is preciously valuable and intricate. Travel also thrusts you into situations that put you in the shoes of others. I am studying speech-language pathology with the ambition of helping others become better speakers, readers, and writers. When I was in Belgium, I was put in a place where my spoken and written language was impeded by my lack of fluency in French, and I got to experience what it is like have a barrier stopping me from communicating my thoughts with others. I thought so much of people living with communication disorders, and how what was one day of difficulty for me is a way of life for another.

 

  1. “I am not the same having seen the moon on the other side of the world.” -Mary Ann Radmacher

We should live with the flexibility to be changed by our life experiences. Whether we like it or not, every life experience leaves some kind of an imprint that molds you into who you are. So where are those imprints coming from? I think if we’re not careful, too many can come from the same direction. But think of a good piece of pottery: it is shaped on all sides, constantly moving into what it is being created to be. Being molded by many experiences, places, and lives will produce the most well-rounded result.

 

  1. “People don’t take trips; trips take people.” –John Steinbeck

 To be left speechless, to be in a place where all is chaos and all is peace, where nothing and everything makes sense, and to have it spin you and change you and become you: that’s what this is all about.

Keep discovering,

Rae

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzj2PdFYeRY

Irish Roads

Dear Reader,

I am writing to you on my last evening in Ireland, my thoughts equal parts thankful for my time here, sad at the prospect of leaving, and eagerly awaiting what lies ahead of me in Scotland. My hiatus from writing was spent travelling the Irish countryside, first to the west coast where I stayed with a woman near Kinvarra, County Galway, and then in Wicklow, south of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains. I do not know what had the greatest impression on me these last several days: the beautiful landscapes, Irish hospitality, amazing people, or unexpected twists in the road.

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The last I mean in a few ways. Ireland, and the west in particular, is notorious for its country roads, which I got to experience during my travels. Scarcely wide enough for a single car, these two-way, rough paths twist and turn through mountains and fields, lined by hand-built stone walls, so there is not even a forgiving shoulder if you come across another car. They built the roads this way on purpose to keep the horses and drivers (now just drivers) alert and watchful. You have to keep constant vigilance when you don’t know what’s around the next bend. On expressways, where you can see for miles, animals and drivers tend to check out, go on autopilot, and lose that being ready for anything. The greatest lesson that I learned from my time in the country is the value of living life on Irish roads. It’s common among people, young people in particular, to want to know what lies ahead in the future. Like if I only knew ________________, then life and making decisions would be much easier. But life is more than arriving at milestones; it’s about the whole journey, and not knowing what lies ahead makes the entire way meaningful, not just the destination. There’s a real thrill in making a hairpin turn and being completely surprised by what’s behind it, and generally it’s much better than anything you could have planned for yourself.

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I had several of these Irish Road moments over the last few days, some of them small and some that I am likely to remember forever. This last Sunday was Pentecost, which is the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles. While mostly forgotten in modern American churches, it is one of the biggest celebrations in the Orthodox church, and I was a little bit sad that I would have to miss it this year. This last weekend the woman I was staying with brought me into Galway city so that I could look around there. I intended to go straight to a bookshop that she told me about, but was drawn to the cathedral in the town centre, which was open for visitors. It was part of the Church of Ireland, so I was surprised at the familiar, spicy smell of incense filling the cathedral when I walked in. That’s strange. The guide at the entrance told me that I was free to look around, but that they were currently having an Orthodox service in the side chapel, and to be respectful of its taking place. She was probably not expecting me to reply, “Great, I think I’ll go to it!” and walk right in. The service was winding down (and entirely in Russian), but with the melodies and actions I was able to figure out what was going on, and stood in disbelief that I just so happened to stumble across an Orthodox service for Pentecost.

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I’ve been traveling alone these last ten days, which can be hard when you’re seeing amazing things and wish you had someone to talk about them with. I went to see the Cliffs of Moher (or Cliffs of Insanity, if you prefer) with a tour group, and at one of our stops a guy who was by himself asked if I was also travelling alone, and I would like to hang out throughout the day. I was not expecting to have a friend that day,but it made all the difference to have someone to talk to and share pictures with.

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I was delightfully surprised to have a different hiking buddy two days later on the other side of the country when I hiked the Wicklow mountains. With the length of that hike, coupled with the presence of thunderstorms, it would have been much more difficult without someone to laugh about it with. Wicklow town was where I stayed at a hostel, which I had just planned to be a cheap place for me to crash between hikes, but it turned out there that I made a great friend from the UK, and I really didn’t want to leave the place where, originally, I thought I would be ready to depart from.

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So as the Irish countryside has taught me, life is infinitely deeper and richer when it brings you on unexpected twists and into unforseen situations. I had planned on this week to be a time to see places I’ve always wanted to before I headed to Scotland, to busy myself with crossing things off of my bucket list before the real experience of living abroad began. But it’s turned into so much more than that. Never would I have expected to make friends from England, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Germany that have inspired and changed me, to experience an Irish Russian Orthodox church, to be so amazed by the beauty here, or to already be missing this fine country as acutely as I am.

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So I leave you, reader, to think about the beauty of living a life on Irish Roads, of the places and people that it’s brought you to, and will still bring you to. Although relatively new, this song has become a classic Irish-American tune, and is quite loved over here on the Emerald Isle. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Lcnvd8BNFE

May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be at your back,

Rae

 

Dublin City

Dear Reader,

I sincerely hope that all is well with you, and that your sleep schedule is significantly more regular than mine at the moment. Since writing the last entry, I no longer have a sense of what is normal, a place to call home, or most everything I own, which I feel is what many people count as essentials to a stable life. But although I’m a bit of a wanderer for the next week, am living for three months out of two small bags, and am in Ireland all by myself, things couldn’t be better. I have the love of God, support of friends and family back home, life, and a will to actually live that life. Those are my essentials for stability.

I left from Eau Claire on Tuesday and didn’t experience fresh air until I exited the Dublin airport the next day. Flying is surreal in that you don’t really notice how much you’re traveling until you get there and think to yourself, “Hey, I’m across the ocean! That’s kind of cool!” I was thankful that I got to leave from Eau Claire. My family was there to see me off, and during takeoff I got to see the entire city I was so used to from the sky. I could see Carson Park and my favorite route to run (which looked like no distance at all from the sky), the roof of my Oxford house, friends’ homes, and campus: all the places that are so familiar you almost forget how meaningful they are until you look at them from a new perspective. As I looked at my city and thought of everything that was going on in a place that looked so small, all I could think was God knows what He’s doing. 

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And He knows what He’s doing here in Dublin, Ireland, a seamless patchwork of the old and new, the stark contrast of ancient history and modern life stitched together flawlessly. You have buildings that are hundreds or thousands of years old on the streets where people walk to work and school, chatting on their iPhones as they stroll past a row of houses built in the 1700s, and plays taking place in theaters older than America. I appreciate that about Dublin. Where I’m from, things that are historic or traditional are often dismissed as being culturally irrelevant; it’s all about the new and exciting things. I find Dublin to be a living testimony that things that are old can still maintain an excitement, respect, and relevance that keeps them full of life.

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My two favorite examples of this were my visits to Trinity College and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Trinity College is in the heart of Dublin, and is both a modern university and a place where some of the earliest Christian artifacts of Ireland are preserved in the Old Library. One of these is the Book of Kells, a copy of the gospels that was inscribed by monks around 800 a.d. They have two books open at a time, and the librarian turns one page every day, so if you ever go to see this breathtaking work, you’ll most likely see different pages than I did. Mine were Luke 3: 16-26 and the beginning of John’s gospel, with a beautiful icon of St. John and verse 1:1. I think that verse gives me chills every time I read it, so the fact that I got to see it was unbelievable. The rest of the library was filled floor to ceiling with old books, which filled the air with that friendly smell of wise words in old volumes. An old library filled with books and early Christian history…it’s a wonder they ever got me to leave.

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Likewise, St. Patrick’s cathedral was built in the early 13th century (though the parish itself is older), and is still a thriving church community. Outside of it is St. Patrick’s park, where the patron saint of Ireland baptized thousands of Irish people. Inside the majestic walls is the resting place of Jonathan Swift, an original copy of Handel’s Messiah (its debut performance was in this cathedral), and the current church choir who was having choir practice. Like I said, historic and alive.

 

This morning I am leaving Dublin for a few days to travel in the countryside. I am thankful that God’s protection, that He is the Ruler of all and that he’s given me the courage to take this journey.

Love,

Rae

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A76a_LNIYwE

Simple Harmonic Motion

Dear Reader,

I am writing to you in the dawn of the morning I am to leave the country, with the callused hands of someone who has spent some good time on a rope swing. The swing in question hangs from one of the towering white pines in front of my family’s house. It’s one of those good old-fashioned ones, with long ropes hand-tied around the bough, enabling its user to get quite high up, an experience that’s peaceful and fun, with just enough mild terror to keep it exciting. We’ve been friends since childhood, and even at the age of twenty, the novelty hasn’t quite worn off.

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There’s a moment at the crest of each arch where you feel as if you’ve stopped, weightless and immobile before the free fall that sends you accelerating in the opposite direction. A moment short and surreal. The other day I was thinking about how these last few weeks have reminded me of that sinusoidal movement: the momentum of an intense semester coming to a halt for a few short weeks, a few weeks suspended and unmoving,a breath between the binding force of one direction and being sent in another. It was a beautiful time, doused in laughter, good talks, weddings, farewell get-togethers, outdoor adventures, and Superior air. It felt almost unreal, like watching parts out of someone else’s life.

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And as always, things started falling into motion once more. On Sunday I drove my wonderful friends and roommates, Nichelle and Courtney, to Minneapolis, sending them off with laughter and tears (some at the same time), and the true joy of beginning their summer in Honduras. I parted last night from Kate, one of my dearest friends in the world, saw the sun set for the last time on Eau Claire, and (finally) packed up all that I will be taking with me for three months, interspersed with breaks to jam to some Imagine Dragons. Things are moving fast in new directions, and I awoke this morning ready to follow the path laid before me, to trust God in all that I do, and listen to how He wants to use me in this journey.

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I’m a lover of music, and will likely be sharing a lot of music I like on this blog. My mom heard heard this song when it first came out, and her immediate reaction was, “I bet Rae would like this song.” She knows me more than I think, and it’s still my favorite song, even though it’s been well over a year since she shared it with me. So as I go I’ll leave you with this song. Take care, and love the Light.

All the best,

Rae

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMJUbZrNnA8