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It's been HOW long??

Hehe, oops!
With all the talk that went on some months ago among my tumblr community about moving back to livejournal... for some reason I thought I had posted here more recently. I was trying to take note of all the things that had happened since I last updated this thing, and realized that- wow!- my last update was a lot earlier than I thought.

Sure, microblogging platforms are nice for talking about little everyday things- like the time I liveblogged a conspiracy theory show because I was angry about their inaccurate use of the terms "bacteria" and "virus"- but they're not good for just sitting down and writing what's going on in my life. And sometimes that's what I want to do. (A lot of times, I'd really like to read a nice, detailled status report for my friends as well.) So is the solution to come back to LJ, spill my guts from time to time, and then post links on tumblr and facebook? Maybe. We can see how it goes.

But, for goodness' sakes, two years. That's a long time. How do you sum up what happened in two years? When I think about it in particular, this was two years full of "firsts" for me. A lot were exciting: my first visit to Spain and first immersion in my second language, my first research assistantship and undergraduate thesis, my first research presentation at a professional conference, my first romantic relationship, my first pet guinea pigs since childhood, my first trip to Ireland, my first studio apartment, my first graduate-level college course... what a life!
Of course, some of my firsts haven't been so great. My first extended hospitalization, my first non-dental x-ray and broken bone (unrelated to the previous hospitalization, if you can believe it), my first time on crutches, my first romantic break-up... everything is relative, I suppose. But the fact that I've overcome the bad stuff and experienced the good stuff is what makes life interesting. And the bad stuff helps me grow in the long run. So I think it's all worth it to keep going!

That being said, I feel like this year is a bit of a... lull in my life, I guess. Last year with my thesis, it felt like everything was happening at once. It was my first paid position in my field of study, so it helped open my eyes to the ups and downs of what research life is like. There were times that the lab work consumed my life to the point that I forgot about almost everything else. There was frustration and exhaustion galore, but also determination and excitement as all the work came to fruition and I took a huge leap forward in my career. Now this year, rather than doing things, I seem to be preparing for things. I'm preparing for my independent sedimentology research project this year and my senior honors project next year. I'm preparing for applications and decisions for graduate school. I'm preparing for future decisions and opportunities that I don't even know about yet. But that's okay! Because I have a lot more free time now, I'm getting to do other things I love! I'm drawing more than I was, I'm writing more than I was, I'm singing more than I was, heck I'm sleeping more than I was, which is a thing of beauty in itself. And I'm learning to accept that I won't be SUPER-BUSY-PRODUCTIVE every single moment of my life. It's important for me to relax and enjoy this time that I have to myself, for myself. Someday soon, I know I'll be back to the scramble of research life, so not enjoying my time now would be a disservice to myself. That's important!

With all that being said, I think I'm in a pretty good place. It's nice to be able to talk about these sorts of things. I'm going to continue living my peaceful life to the fullest! That's the most important thing to me right now.

Anyway, have some pig pictures. This is Hazel and Honey! They're a pair of sows that I rescued from a student on craigslist. She never gave a reason why she was rehoming them, and while she seemed interested in their well-being, the conditions they were living in were definitely not suitable or healthy for them. Remember that small rodents are not "cheap" or "easy" pets- they require proper maintenance and care just like any other animal!

Niagara Falls: Belated Pictures

I'm sorry for the delay in getting these pictures up. Please enjoy!

[This is the view of the falls from the tunnels in the rock behind it.]

Thank you all so much for following this blog! We've had such a great time, and I've enjoyed sharing a little of that with you!

Days 20 and 21: Falling for the Falls

Hello, everyone! This post will be more text based than image based, because I have a lot to say about my experiences the past few days and not quite as many pictures to share. You've all seen Niagara Falls before, I'm sure.

I don't want to sound haughty when I speak about my first impression of Niagara Falls, but I'm afraid that my disappointment seems to take on that tone. It's interesting to note that my experience in Niagara these past few days has been one similar to my experience in Cairo with the Great Pyramids. Media does a good job of portraying these incredible locations as remote and obscure, while in actuality a bustling city has grown up around them and there are tall buildings just across the street. Looking out the window of my hotel now, the city of Niagara glitters like some strange hybrid of Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach. There are casinos and tourist traps of every shape and size, and so my first impression of the area was one of distaste. I saw the Falls, briefly of course, and it occurred to me that the world had somehow turned this marvel of nature into a theme park, of which Niagara Falls was merely a major attraction. Amusement parks are wonderful, and a great way for many people to have fun, but I don't care for them out of personal preference, and so I was disappointed to have built up the idea of Niagara Falls as a natural landmark in my mind when it wasn't as much.

But this is my request. With the glitter of the town obscuring it, it's easy to forget that there are actually Falls at Niagara. Please remember them. Having a personal experience with the Falls themselves has been one of the most memorable parts of this trip for me. The sheer power of the Falls is unlike anything that can be replicated by human hands. The magnitude of the water flowing over the falls is something that they try to rationalize for you in the museums (something along the lines of one million bathtubs' worth every minute- or was it second? I don't recall), but is really more of a concept that you must feel to understand. Not only is there an opportunity to ride a boat directly in front of the Falls- providing a view like no other- but there is also an opportunity to venture behind the Falls. In the dark, wet tunnels carved out of the rock behind the Falls, visitors can feel the magnitude of the rushing water with every part of their body. You hear descriptions of various experiences touted as being "like a train passing overhead," but that's actually more accurate than you might think. The feeling of pressure that one receives from being behind the falls is a full-body experience. There's really nothing like it.

Visit Niagara Falls. Visit, not for the city, but for the Falls themselves. If you've never been, take a trip someday to see what the power of nature is capable of doing, and what humanity can only dream of in its wildest fantasies.

A computer error has prevented me from uploading any of the photos, which is a shame because there was a beautiful rainbow under the Falls yesterday. I'll try to put up some pictures later, perhaps tomorrow night depending on the circumstances. For now, I thank you for reading, and we send our love from Niagara!

Day 17: Train Ride

Hello, everyone! I actually don't have much to say on Day 17, but since I was asked to post for the benefit of those following the blog, here's a few photos for you to enjoy. We rode on a train from Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon, Ontario. It was almost 9 hours round-trip of train riding, so we only had about an hour-and-a-half to explore the Canyon Park. It was a lovely time, though a shame we couldn't have spent more time there.

All photography in this post was taken by Mary Lynn. She deserves a special kudos for capturing those butterflies!
As always, we send our love from Ontario. Thanks for reading!

Day 16: Pictured Rocks

Hello, everyone! I hope the weather's been as nice where you are as it has been here!

It's a beautiful day to take a dip in these warm, tropical waters, right?



It's Lake Superior!

On Lake Superior's southern cost lies the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, home to beautiful, colorful rock formations. The sides of the cliffs are "painted" by mineral deposits from groundwater, and span a wide range of colors from red (iron), to white (calcium), to black (manganese).

The dramatic cliffs, shaped by water erosion, set a great scene for a boat trip.

After a morning cruise, we sought lunch and found, by recommendation, a restaurant that serves a traditional dish of Michigan's Upper Peninsula: a pasty.

The atmosphere of the restaurant itself was inviting, and the sign boasted their signature dish. It was listed on the menu as "seasonal," though I'm not sure what that means.

The dish itself consists of a hot, flaky pastry...

...filled with a stew of various ingredients- meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and more. It was delicious, and certainly an interesting way to get acquainted with the culture of the area.

Before leaving Pictured Rocks, we took a hike out to Miner's Falls, a beautiful waterfall nestled near a ridge on the banks of Lake Superior.

There was a landing several feet above the waterfall for viewing, but a steep climb down the slope of the ridge allowed a closer look at the base of the falls.

It was a tough climb, but absolutely worth it! (Special thanks to the kind couple who was willing to take my picture at the base of the falls.)

Tomorrow we'll have another great day of sightseeing, so we've returned to our hotel in Sault Ste. Marie. Thanks to everyone for reading, and we send our love from Ontario!

Day 15: Cold with a Capital "C"

Today we ventured out onto Lake Superior to see a lesser-known gem of the National Park System- Isle Royale National Park! Though it is the U.S.A.'s least visited National Park, due to the difficulties with accessibility (the park is located on a remote island on Lake Superior), it provides a lot of opportunities for wilderness lovers.

Even from the closest port, Grand Portage, Minnesota, Isle Royale National Park is an hour-and-a-half boat ride across the lake. Our voyage today was taken through choppy waters and foggy, rainy weather. It was cold- really cold for a bunch of Southerners- and we relied on a myriad of coats and rain jackets to keep us warm and dry in the weather.

[I got to pose by the Isle Royale sign, with collected antlers showing off the island's most famous wildlife- the moose!]

During our time on the island, we got to participate in several ranger programs, including a nature hike that gave us a great look at the flora of the park and its impact on the environment.

[The Creeping Dogwoods found on the forest floor were a beautiful sight. A relation of our beloved Flowering Dogwoods from back home, these flowers were ones that our group recognized right away.]

After several hours of touring the island, we caught the boat back to Grand Portage- but not without a few stops on the way home. Despite the dense fog, the boat made sure to stop by for a glimpse of the Rock of Ages Lighthouse, perched on a small rock to the west of Isle Royale. Visibility was very bad at this point, but that made the brief glimpses of the lighthouse's silhouette through the fog a unique experience.

[Can you make out the shape of the lighthouse?]

Tonight we've returned to our hotel in Thunder Bay to rest before a long day of travelling tomorrow. Thanks to everyone for following along, and we send our love from Ontario!

Days 12 and 13: A Changing Landscape

Hello, everyone! We've done a lot of driving these past few days, but we have stopped along the way and seen some amazing things. Our first stop was the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we hoped to catch a glimpse of some bison and bighorn sheep. While we didn't see any of the bighorns, we did come across some bison near the road. These are dangerous animals, so it was best to take pictures from afar, but the photos we captured looked good nonetheless.

The North Unit of the park also features stunning views.

We ended our stop in the North Unit with a picnic lunch and a special surprise- a view of a family of wild turkeys!

The next day we crossed into Canada, so we made sure to stop at the International Peace Garden, located on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba. It was a lovely place to visit, and the blooming flowers made for a beautiful morning walk.

Now we've finally landed back on the banks of Lake Superior, where we'll be picking back up our tour of the lakes. We send everyone our love from Ontario! Thanks for reading.

Days 10 and 11: A Walk in the Park

Hello, everyone! It's been a busy few days here in North Dakota, and we've had very little time to spare. Between sightseeing, hiking, exploring, and learning about the incredible life of one of our country's most beloved presidents, we've been very busy. I don't have much time to write, so I'm going to take you on a whirlwind tour. Are you ready? Let's go!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is settled near the small tourist town of Medora, North Dakota. Named after our country's famous "Conservationist President," the park is dedicated not only to protecting a part of the country that Roosevelt himself knew and loved, but in also preserving and educating others about the legacy that he left this country through his conservation efforts. The park is broken up into three parts, a South Unit- where we spent most of our time- a North Unit- which we have not yet been to- and the remains of the Elkhorn Ranch, which was our first excursion.

While the buildings at Elkhorn are no longer standing, a well and some cornerstones mark the location of the ranch where Theodore Roosevelt worked during some of his time in the Dakota Badlands. He lived at the ranch in the true "cowboy" lifestyle, and spoke highly of his experiences. He came west seeking solace from grief over his wife and mother's deaths, and found experiences that he later said shaped him as a man and as a president.

[John stands amongst the tall grasses at the site.]

[I was excited to find a beautiful flower to photograph...]

[...beautiful, isn't it?]

The park boasts many hiking trails at varying levels of difficulty. We found our way along just a few of them, and were rewarded with stunning views of the landscape.

[The wind was fierce at Buck Hill, the highest accessible point in the park!]

Many types of wildlife inhabit the park as well. We were lucky enough to see bison, prairie dogs, and even a coyote!

[This little guy chirped loudly as I approached for a picture, then grew quiet once I backed away.]

[The coyote was an exciting find. Can you spot the killdeer that's also hiding in this photo?]

Thank you so much for following along! I hope I've given you a good taste of the park, and have encouraged you to make your own visit someday. As always, we send our love from North Dakota!

Day 8: Independence Day

The 2014 Great Lakes Trip blog has now been moved to this location. For earlier posts, please visit the previous site.

Happy Independence Day to everyone here in the U.S.A.! I hope that everyone's holidays have been fun and safe!

Today we toured Minneapolis, starting with the famous Mall of America, where we spent several hours walking around and shopping. It was more exciting than it sounds, I promise. There was so much to see and do, it was even exhausting to some of our group members.

[There were many things to see and do.]

After that, we got the unique experience to take a guided tour of the twin cities, showcasing both historic and modern, natural and manmade aspects.

[After higher-than-average rainfall, Minnehaha Falls was a magnificent sight.]

[St. Paul is home to a cathedral that could rival some in Europe.]

After the guided tour, we took a boat ride on the Mississippi River, getting to see the cities from another perspective that we couldn't get from the road.

[We traveled in style aboard the Minneapolis Queen.]

[The skyline, visible from the river.]

[Ben got the chance to steer the boat under the oldest working railroad bridge on the Mississippi River.]

We're sorry for the trouble of moving sites in the middle, and thank everyone who has followed along so far! Thanks for reading, and we send our love from Minnesota!

What did I miss?

It has come to my attention that, now that I've posted about Venice (if you haven't read the Venice post, do scroll down to read about it!) and we're set to return home, there were some parts of the trip that didn't get pictured on the blog- mainly Vesuvius, Sorrento, Capri, and one full day in Zermatt. So here's a quick run-through of pictures from places that haven't made it onto the blog as of yet!

Here are pictures from our hotel in Sorrento:

Now let's move on to our hike up to the crater of Vesuvius. (Please enjoy! Flower photography is one of my skills that I'm particularly proud of!)

(Do remember that it's a volcano! You could smell the sulphur leaking out of these vents!)

And now, views of the island of Capri.

(Pictures of the Blue Grotto were difficult to capture, as the rowboat- along with my hand- was very unsteady. My apologies for the blurs. It was much more breathtaking in real life.)

Aaaaand, last but absolutely not least, our last day in Zermatt, along with views of the hotel.

(Who's ready for a snowball fight?!)

...and that's it for now! Thank you, everyone for reading the blog posts! I hope that all of you are doing well! As always, we send our love back home!


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