It’s taken me a while to get back up and running with this blog, but I have some really good excuses.
1. Cleveland is amazing, and I have been too busy to write
2. I did not bring my computer with me (I’m writing this at work)
3. Starting my new job has been pretty crazy, in a good but busy way

Regardless of my late start, I am excited to use this blog again to write about the goings on in my life that I think are worth sharing. There have been so many new changes and experiences in the last few weeks, I guess I should start at the very beginning…

On August 4th, I got on the smallest planes I have ever been on and flew to Indianapolis for JVC Midwest Orientation. It was pretty easy to pick us out waiting in the airport for our transportation to Waycross, the camp where our retreat was held, we were the group of twenty-somethings asking each other the same questions over and over “Where are you from? Where are you going? What school did you go to?”  By the time we boarded the bus new communities and new friendships were already beginning, and the next six days gave us a chance to strengthen these bonds and prepare for our year’s ahead.

On Friday the 9th my Cleveland community picked up two rental cars and began the 6 hour drive to our new home! When we arrived at 3007 Church Ave we were greeted by our support people and FJVs (Former Jesuit Volunteers). We had heard that the Cleveland community had a lot of support, but we were not prepared for the twenty or so people standing on our stoop excited to meet us. This initial greeting was just the first overwhelming display of support for the JVs.

On Sunday we went to mass at St. Pat’s, one of the Catholic parishes in our neighborhood where I will be attending mass. We picked the right weekend to move to CLE, as St. Pat’s was having their annual outdoor mass and picnic. WE had heard that the parish really supports the JVs, but had no idea just how much. We were asked to introduce ourselves at the beginning of mass, to bring up the gifts, and some of us served as Eucharistic ministers. After mass there was a wonderful picnic where we were able to meet neighbors and other members of our community, eat some hot dogs, and relax after a busy weekend before starting an even busier week!

More to come soon… 


I think I’m quite ready for another adventure…

I realize I’ve neglected my blog–I’ve been spoiled with easy access to my family and friends and lack of exciting events to report (unless you really wanted to hear about my marathon study sessions at Starbucks).

But now I am back, with then end of one chapter and the beginning of another. As the “G word” draws ever closer I feel very lucky to have a plan for the very near future.

In August, I will start a year-long service placement through Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I am moving to Cleveland, Ohio to work as a college counselor at St. Martin de Porres High School. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up but I know that spending a year serving others will benefit me in whatever career I choose. Both of my parents were JVs in Belize, and it seems to have worked out well for them.

I have just started my “Send Me to Serve” campaign to support JVC. Please consider donating to my personal page (found here) as every dollar counts! Thoughts and prayers are encouraged and appreciated as well!

I hope to use my blog to once again keep my family and friends up to date with all of my exciting new experiences, so stay tuned for another exciting year!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, it’s not Christmas. It’s Summer Orientation at Loyola! After 2 whole days in Buffalo I am back at the airport headed down to charm city for one of the best weeks of the year. Over the next 6 days I will work with my fellow Evergreens to help the incoming class of 2016 (how did that happen?!) with class selection, housing, and getting to know Loyola better. I missed being an Evergreen while I was away in Leuven and I am anxious to get back to working with the first years. I have my question ball, lots of starbursts and sunscreen, Summer O here I come!

This post has been brought to you by my flight being delayed 40 minutes

Leaving Leuven

295.  That is the number of days that I have lived in Leuven. It seems like it has been much longer, and it is hard to believe that in roughly 24 hours I will be back in the United States. Coming home is very bitter sweet. I have had an incredible year, filled with some of the greatest moments of my life. If I had to do it all over again, I would not change a single moment of my year abroad. After 295 days though, I am ready to move back home and spend time with my family before kicking off senior year in Baltimore (how scary is that!?). I would like to use this opportunity to thank some people who have been instrumental in making the last year possible.

Mom and Dad, I don’t think it is possible to say thank you enough for supporting me through the last ten months. I am a very lucky girl to have parents that encourage me to travel and experience the world. Getting to visit Den Haag with you was one of the most memorable moments of my life, let alone of this year. Now that I have conquered Europe, maybe I can finally take on China…

DH and Sue, you both are responsible for so much of what made this year better than I ever imagined. “Cornish-ing” through Europe with you allowed me to learn more than I ever could have if I was exploring on my own. Our entire group is so grateful to our Leuven “Mom and Dad”, thank you for always reminding us to “Be safe, learn lots, have fun” and to remember that no matter what happens, “It’s all part of the experience.”

Christel, you are superwoman! Without your guidance and support we would have been wandering around Leuven hopelessly lost.  I am so glad that we will get to see you in October at Loyola!

Grandma, Oma and Opa, I am so glad that you are tech savvy and have been able to follow me on my adventures. Your cards and emails always bring a smile to my face. Annie, thank you for putting up with all my “I’m bored, what’s up” phone calls, being the person I can count on in a crisis, and for proof reading my blogs (even when I think they are apple pie perfect). I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I have the most WONDERFUL family in the world. All of the travel tips (Florine and Catherine), emails, even just like-ing a status on Facebook remind me that I am part of a family that truly cares about me and what I do.

Thank YOU, whoever you are, reading my blog! I really wanted to write this so that I would have a way to look back and remember my year as it was happening, but I have gotten so much joy from knowing other people enjoy it as well. I am so thankful for all the comments and emails that have stemmed from my postings and appreciate that you take time to read what I have to say.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to my Leuven Family. This has been a year that we will never forget and I am so glad that I got to share it with all of you. Thank you for being there for me when I needed someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on, as well as for all the crazy fun times we’ve had too (one word, grillz). Enjoy your last few weeks and know that I will be thinking of you and can’t wait for our ohana to be reunited at Loyola!

Stay tuned for adventures from Buffalo, The Beach and Baltimore!

An Awfully Big Adventure

While most of the time studying abroad is incredible, every once in a while I really wish that I was at home. It is hard to be thousands of miles away when there are things back at home that I want to be a part of, either good or bad. I have a very large, very close, incredibly wonderful family. Being away from all of them has been one of the hardest parts of being here for a whole year. Right now, I really wish that I could be home for my family, but since I cannot be with them, I decided to write about it.

This post is specifically dedicated to Micaela “Micki” Luhr. While I think of her as one of my aunts, Micki is technically my mother’s cousin’s wife. She married my “cousin” Alfred in 1971 and moved to Buffalo in ’77 after living in New York City and Long Island — where she grew up. People often think that Micki is related to us by blood because she looks like she could be one of the Luhr girls. Since October of 2010, Micki has been fighting cancer. She has never complained, and never given up. Hospice has been coming for a few days, and we are all getting ready to say good-bye.

She loved to travel and planned lots of wonderful trips. I can remember looking at pictures from when she went to Ireland with my Aunt Mary, Aunt Catherine and her daughter Mary Adair in 1999. Micki would plan out all of her trips in advance, researching the cities, the sights, and the best shopping. She traveled to England and returned on the QE2, planned a trip to Bandon Dunes in Oregon to play golf, and in 2008 I got to go to Spain and Portugal with her on one of Aunt Catherine’s school trips.

About ten years ago, Micki and Al bought a house right down the beach from the Luhr/Snyder/Brady/Stephens complex which made summers even more fun. In 2005 she took up golf and would play with her friends up at Cherry Hill. Sometimes she would even come to Cherry Hill Bingo on Thursdays.

I have so many memories of Micki from growing up. Sunday night dinners at McPartlan’s where she would bring her own dressing for salad (no chichi beans). Christmas Eve mass at St. Louis, Easter dinner, Super Bowl parties and family dinners at the beach. We are birthday buddies, (hers is the 11th and mine is the 12th) and celebrated together on more than one occasion. She has always been so supportive of me, in everything I do. I am very lucky to have had such an incredible, beautiful person in my life.

Micki has been one of my biggest blog followers. Over the course of my year she has sent me lots of great articles, especially about Belgium and Brussels. When I was getting ready to go to Ireland she sent me a great list of things to do while I was there. We have been able to stay in touch through email, and when I skyped with my family on Christmas I got to see her for a few minutes, which was great. The last time I spoke to Micki was when I returned from my 17 day backpacking trip. We got a chance to catch up while Annie drove her to radiation. I am sorry that I will not be able to visit with her this summer and talk about all my travel adventures over Belgian chocolate. We will never get to go to New York City together like we once talked about, but when I finally make it there I will be thinking of her.

Yesterday, my aunt Annie passed on some words that I think describe how I am feeling perfectly. A friend once told her that part of the reason we get so sad when someone is dying is because we are sad for ourselves because we are going to miss them so much. I am very sad that I will not get to see Micki, but I know that she has had a wonderful life, filled with family that loves her and fantastic adventures. I will miss her terribly, as I know all of our family will.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure”- Peter Pan

Micki and Al at Augusta in 2007

London Calling

I got back from London 5 hours ago (how do you like that for speedy blogging?) and already I want to go back. I had a magical weekend, filled with West End shows, a trip to the Harry Potter set and all the food that I have been missing in Belgium. Beautiful weather, great friends, and cute British accents, what more could you want?

Tissy, Cait and I took the train into St. Pancras on Thrusday and promptly went across the street to Kings Cross to find platform 9 and 3/4. I am not embarrassed that I am 21 and still pretended to run through the magical barrier like an eleven year old preparing for their first ride on the Hogwarts Express. Our day only got better with lunch at Chipotle (SOO GOOD) and a little shopping at T.K. Maxx. After checking into our hostel, which was in a beautiful neighborhood, we headed to Westminster for the Evensong service they have daily. We met up with friends from Cork, and after the service, the five of us decided to see if we could get tickets for a show. We were able to get a good deal on tickets for Billy Elliott, the perfect show to see in London. It was fantastic and I have been singing the music since.

Friday we were up and off to Hogwarts the Harry Potter set. Located just outside London at the Warner Brothers Studios, the set tour just opened this spring. We booked our tickets in November, so the build up to the tour had been huge, and thankfully it did not disappoint. Divided between two sound stages and the studio’s back lot, we got an inside look at the making of the films and the very real magic that’s involved. WB estimates that the tour should take about three hours…we took six. There was so much to see and read about, butterbeer to try and some really great photo ops, three hours was not nearly enough. After making our way back into the city we grabbed fish and chips (or in my case, just chips) for dinner. Most of our group went out on a pub crawl, but Liz and I decided to hang back for a casual cider at a nearby pub and some girl talk.

The next day we were up bright and early to try and get tickets for Les Miserables. The man at the box office said that most people get tickets three to six months in advance. We lucked out and I was able to get tickets for Tissy and I for the matinée. With a few hours to kill we headed over to Harrods for some light shopping and heavy gawking at the amazing department store. My favorite souvenir of the trip is definitely my Harrods rewards card. We headed back over to the theater for another phenomenal show. Les Mis has become the longest running show in history, and what better place to see it than on the West End? After the show we wandered around a bit before meeting up with our friend Meghan for dinner in China town. I love Chinese food, and sadly people in Leuven do not. We had an incredible dinner, better than Ming Teh.

Sunday was another early day, as Tissy and I decided we would try and get tickets for Matilda, the hottest new show in London, which just won a ton of Oliver awards. We got to the box office an hour before it opened and it was a good thing we did. The only available tickets were special 5 pound student tickets that the box office sets aside for each performance. We got tickets 5 and 6, then set off to sight see before the show at three. We made our way to Buckingham Palace, walked down to see Big Ben, visited the National Gallery and took a turn on the London Eye before heading back to Covent Garden for the show. It was great for kids and adults and when it makes its way to the USA I fully intend to see it again. We got Chinese again for dinner and then went to see the Tower Bridge and London Bridge (still standing). After a very long day we were happy to go to bed early, which was in vain because the fire alarm went off at 1am.

Today we got up, packed up our bags and headed for Chipotle (when in London…) before getting back on the train to Belgium. It is probably a good thing that I didn’t study in London because I would spend all my money going to shows. While we did not get to see the Queen, or more importantly Prince Harry, it was still a wildly successful trip and I hope to go back very soon!

The Belles of Saint Mary

Fun fact #1: I was a third generation graduate from my high school– I’m a legacy. My grandmother, mother, five of my aunts and I are all alumnae of Mount Saint Mary Academy. You may be wondering what this has to do with a blog about me studying in Belgium. Fun fact #2: Mount Saint Mary Academy was founded by the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur (SSMN) a religious order founded in Namur, Belgium. Are you connecting the dots? Growing up I had a strong connection to the Sisters that many girls in my class did not share. Oma had been classmates with some, and was good friends with many others. I can remember when she would have Sr. Mary Judith and Sr. Mary Peter over for dinner and I would perform for them. I had listened to countless stories about Sr. Sally Mills and Sr. St. Lawrence and all the other teachers that my mom and aunts had as teachers in high school. By the time I got to “The Mount” the Sisters were no longer running the school, but they were still a part of our community. When I decided to come to Belgium, I knew that I wanted to visit Namur at some point during my year. It ended up that one of the Sisters that Oma and my mom both know was going to be in Namur while my family was visiting. If that’s not a sign that we had to go visit, I don’t know what is.

First, a little history. The Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur were founded under Nicolas Joseph-Minsart in 1819. Mother Claire who lead the order at its founding, sent Sisters to North America in 1863 as missionaries. Five sisters from Belgium arrived in Lockport and set up Catholic schools. Their ministry expanded into Buffalo and Kenmore, where Mount St. Mary was founded in 1927. My grandmother, Leah Stephens Luhr Snyder graduated from MSM in 1949, my mom, Adair graduated in 78′, aunts graduated in 76′(Catherine), 77′(Mary Beth), 79′ (Julie), and 80′ (Annie and Amy). I am a proud member of the class of 2009, and Maeve is a future member of the class of 2017.

We decided to make the trip to Namur a girls day, so while Liam and Dad went off and explored Brussels, Mom, Maeve and I hopped on the train. Namur is about an hour south of Brussels in the French-speaking part of Belgium, which I have not spent much time in. The town was very quiet, as most Belgian towns are on a Sunday afternoon, and we easily found our way to the mother house. Sr Maureen Quinn, our hostess, greeted us and welcomed us into their home. Sr. Louise and Sr. Cecelia were also home at the time of our visit, while some of the other Sisters who live there were away on mission work. We had a lovely lunch with them, complete with homemade french fries (if there is one thing that all Mounties love, it’s food). Afterwards we got a tour of the house, which they have been renovating, and got to see where Nicolas Joseph-Minsart, who helped to form the order had lived and died. We had a great time, and I was so glad that I could share something so meaningful with my Mom and Maeve, who are both connected to the SSMN like I am.

Visiting Namur is another moment in my year abroad that I will always treasure. Of the thousands of women who have graduated from MSM, how many can say that they have visited the place where it all started? I consider attending the Mount as one of the most influential aspects of who I am today. Not only did I receive a top notch education, I became part of a family. I owe so much to people like Mrs. Julie Wojick 85′, Mrs. Dawn Riggie ’71 and Sr. Carol Ann Kleindinst 67′, one of the remaining SSMN still at Mt. St. Mary, as well as all the other incredible teachers and faculty. I consider some of my Mount friends to be more like sisters, and would not have been able to face high school without them. Whether or not Mounties realize it, we have all been influenced by the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to learn more about the history of the Sisters, and grateful for all they have done for me, and my family.

Nora ’09, Sr. Maureen, Sr. Louise, Sr. Cecelia, and Adair ’78

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Sometimes I write posts and save them, and then forget to post them…this is one of those times…

Seven months is a really long time. I didn’t really realize that until I saw my family at their hotel and it Maeve appeared to have grown about six inches. Being away at Loyola I am used to going a few months without seeing my family. Even being here, I talk to them regularly (sometimes too much even!) so I never have really felt homesick, which is great. I guess I missed everyone more than I realized, made evident by the fact that I cried three times throughout my train disaster getting from Brussels to the Hague. To make a long story short, just because the sign says a train is going to Amsterdam, does not mean it is the right train. Slight two hour detour, and I was reunited with Mom, Dad, Liam and Maeve, eating pizza and watching That 70s Show. It felt just like home.

On our first day together, we rented bikes from our hotel and rode around the city. We made a quick stop at the VVV to get a map, prolonged by the fact that it wasn’t actually open yet. We were rewarded for waiting when a dog walked by doing the funniest walk, which we continued to talk about throughout the rest of the trip. Map in hand, Dad lead us over to the old neighborhood. It was incredible to get to see 3A, the house where we lived and so many other landmarks that I had heard about or seen in pictures. We rode through a park near the old house, saw one of the Queen’s palaces, and then headed out to “The Pancake House”.

The Pancake House is a restaurant out in the middle of the dunes that lead to the beach and the sea. When people would come to visit Mom and Dad they would very often take them to The Pancake House, so obviously we had to go. The ride out there wasn’t bad, a little hilly, but easy for the most part. We had a nice lunch of savory pancakes (mine had cheese and bacon) and friets. The ride home was not so easy. Bigger hills and the wind off the ocean blowing in our faces made for much slower riding. Also, as we were not used to riding bikes at such lengths, some us were suffering from sore bottoms, which resulted in some funny musical numbers by yours truly.

After a coffee and a little rest at our hotel, Mom, Maeve and I went out to do what we do best, shop.  We went into a lot of stores, but the biggest hit was Lush, a store that sells all natural soaps and such. After our shopping excursion we went back to the hotel to get the boys for dinner at a French-Indonesian fusion restaurant that the front desk recommended. It was a little fancier than we had expected, but the food was excellent and so was the service. It was a nice first family dinner after being apart for so long.

The next morning we got up and went to Delft for market day. We visited the Old Church and spent lots of time looking at the beautiful Delft china. After the first two stores, Maeve and I had enough china and went into this awesome cheese store, where we proceeded to try every free sample they had. This also prompted a lot of talk about cheese, including the Monty Python cheese shop skit, and the famous Gouda line from She’s the Man. If you do not know what either one of these references are, I suggest looking them up on YouTube, they are both hilarious. Our last night in Den Haag we had a nice dinner at a restaurant near our hotel before packing and getting to bed early so we could be bright-eyed and busy tailed for the next stage of our trip, Belgium!

Under the Tuscan Sun

After five fabulous days in Rome, our group hopped on a bus and headed off for the hills of Tuscany and the beautiful city of Florence. Within an hour of arriving at our hotel we were off exploring the city. We stayed right near San Lorenzo, convenient for perusing the leather market, but more on that later. After a quick stop at the Duomo, and a walk by the Palazzo Vecchio we headed to the Uffizi. I have been so spoiled by all the amazing art museums I’ve been to this year.

That night I had a very important mission to visit a bar that my cousin Tristan had frequented during his summer abroad in Florence. I had heard many stories about the beereria so I was excited to get to visit it. Armed with a message from Tristan for the owners, two of my friends and I headed out in search of the bar, which ended up being really close to our hotel. I successfully delivered Tristan’s message and sampled his recommendation of Dragoons and Frito Misto. After one night I could see why it’s his favorite spot.

The next morning we hit the Academia delle Belle Arti bright and early to beat the lines. It was a grey, rainy day, perfect for museums. Getting to see the David was very cool, especially since there are so many details you can’t get from looking at a photograph, the like veins in his arms and neck. I think that one of the reasons I never take pictures in museums is because a photograph can never compare to what a painting or sculpture looks like in person. After a trip to the Duomo museum, Annie and I headed off in the rain in search of a jewelry store that Aunt Catherine had recommended to me. After a slight detour we found the store and both got silver crosses to remind us of our trip. I also picked up my first leather purchase of the trip, a navy wallet, right next door.

On the way back to our hotel I got sucked into the leather market. I knew that I wanted to try and find a Birkin style bag, and after walking up and down the main part of the market a few times I decided to make my move. I had only seen one women selling the type of bag that I wanted, but she did not have the color I was looking for. I decided that getting the bag was my main priority, so I choose black instead because a black leather bag is always in style. Later when I was walking through one of the smaller streets of the market I found more of the bags, but the man selling them wanted 20 Euro more than what I had paid so I was happy with my decision.

Easter Sunday was marked by the Scoppio del Carro, a Florence tradition that involves setting a wagon on fire with a giant dove that flies out of the cathedral. I met up with my friend Taylor and her parents for a wonderful lunch. Taylor is studying in Florence so she and I had talked about getting together, and being able to see her parents too was an added bonus. After lunch we were walking through the leather market and I found another bag that I decided I really needed in my life. Mrs. Ramsey agreed that it was fabulous, so that was all the justification I needed. I also got if for a bargain, down 50 euro from the original price! Sunday night we had a dinner with our entire group which was really nice. Since we were all away from our families we spent time with our Leuven family.

Monday was our last full day in Florence and we spent it on a wine tour in the Tuscan hills. We had a great guide, Todd, who was originally from California which was cool for us as a group of Americans. We visited on winery that is on property that used to belong to the Pazi family, a famous Florentine family that tried to take down the Medici’s. We tried three different kinds of wine there, as well as some amazing olive oil that they make. Next we headed to a really cool farm for a delicious lunch. Our last stop was a small boutique winery, where we tried some great Chianti’s and super strong dessert wine. I am by no means a wine expert, but it was cool to learn more about the process and classification of wines and how to look like a wine snob when tasting wine. Our last night was spent eating an incredible dinner, the best gelato I have ever had, and a final trip to the beereria.

Tuesday morning we visited Santa Croce for our last group activity. Afterwards a few of us went to the School of Leather to pick up some gifts, and then it was back to the hotel to pick up luggage before heading to the airport with DH and Sue. By 4 p.m. I was back in Brussels and on my way to meet up with my family in Den Haag, but that is another post…

That’s Amore

I know you’ve all been waiting for an update, sorry it took me so long. After an incredible trip to Italy and some much needed family time I had some visitors from Cork. In my last few months here I am going to try and be a better blogger. Hold me to it. I’m going to break up the last few weeks into a few posts, starting with Rome…

To put it simply, I am in love with Rome. From the moment we touched down and I got mistaken for an Italian in the airport, I knew that Rome was my kind of city. Our first night we took a great tour, guided by DH, around some of the ancient landmarks that we would not get to see later in the week. The weather was beautiful, and getting to see the sun set from the top of one of the seven hills in Rome was beautiful. On the way back to our hotel we stopped and got pizza from a small shop with a huge counter and an incredible selection. Sitting on a bench eating a square of pizza wrapped in parchment was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Our first full day in Rome was Palm Sunday. What better way to kick off holy week that mass at St. Peters with the pope? We had great seats and just as mass was starting the sun came out. Our afternoon was spent touring San Clemente with the coordinator of the Loyola Rome program. We ended our day having dinner with the Rome program. Great food, great friends, Rome just kept getting better and better.

Our beautiful weather continued as we took on the Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. We ran into some Loyola friends from Copenhagen in the Forum, and if that isn’t proof that the world is shrinking I don’t know what is. A full day of sight-seeing complete with sunburn made for a quiet night in. The next morning while our group took on the Scavi, I explored Rome on my own. The idea of being trapped under the Vatican was not agreeing with my claustrophobia so I opted out of that activity. I met up with everyone in time to visit the Villa Borghese, which has an amazing museum. We tried a restaurant that one of my friends who studied in Rome recommended and liked it so much that we ended up going back the next two nights.

Wednesday we ventured out of the city to the ruins of Ostia Antica. We spent the morning exploring the ruins with DH and Sue, had a picnic on the steps of the amphitheater and then took off for the beach. After picking up some snacks, we camped out and enjoyed the sunshine. A few brave souls even took a dip in the ocean, I was not one of them. After the beach we hit our new favorite dinner spot before going out with friends from the Rome group. The night included karaoke, which pretty much made my life complete.

Our last day in Rome was spent touring the Vatican museums. Being the art history nerd that I am, I was totally in my element. It was incredible to see so many paintings that I had studied in person, seeing them on a screen cannot do them justice. The Sistine Chapel was everything I had thought it would be, and the other galleries were an incredible added bonus. We had another great dinner at “our” restaurant, went out for gelato, and then wandered the streets. It was the perfect ending to an incredible leg of our trip.

5 days was not nearly enough time to explore Rome and I am already looking forward to going back. I love Rome and I want to move there and learn to speak Italian. I hope mom and dad will be okay with me doing another year abroad. Stay tuned for Florence!