Category Archives: Vacation

Faculty Development 4,000 Miles From Home

On Friday, May 19, Noëmi and I went to a faculty development conference at Microsoft’s Dutch office in Amsterdam. The conference was organized specifically for teachers from the college networks. Each school got to send a handful of teachers — Noëmi’s colleague Paul was with us, as was one of the other guests from the U.S., Janel from California — and there were over one hundred educators and IT administrators in attendance.

Noëmi participates in these conferences often because she’s a Microsoft Innovative Educator. Summa College students have free access to Microsoft 365, and the teachers use it to share documents and provide feedback on assignments. And on the 19th, Noëmi was leading a hands-on workshop focused on using the One Note program in the classroom.

Janel and I were lucky to have Noëmi with us, because for the first half of the day, before Noëmi led her workshop, she sat with us in the back of the conference theater and translated every presenter’s Dutch into English. She basically gave us everyone’s word-for-word, which was fantastic for us and probably exhausting for her.

Noëmi ( who is probably very tired but doesn’t show it!), me, and Janel

The theme of the day was Empowering the Students of Today to Create the World of Tomorrow, and each speaker gave a thirty-minute presentation. Because of the intimacy of the space, everyone was able to ask questions, and because I am a huge gorp, I took many, many notes.

Don’t worry, there are six more pages just like this.

Noëmi eventually had to leave me and Janel, first to do a short introduction of the MIE program…


…and then later on to lead her workshop:

Noëmi teaches the teachers

And without our translator, Janel and I were a bit lost in all of the Dutch, so we hung out for an hour in Microsoft’s employee lounge area. We were very professional and mature.


…and mature.

There were a few breaks throughout the day: one for mid-morning coffee (I’ve told you that the Dutch love their coffee breaks, right? They love them, and I love them. We all love them!), one for lunch, one for early afternoon post-lunch treats…

Bros before bros.

Well don’t you look new and delicious.

…and a post-conference reception that easily topped any reception that followed any faculty development day I’ve ever attended at MCC. Ever.

Sorry, MCC, but Microsoft has you beat. Not pictured: a variety of fried snacks that I was too busy eating to photograph (many of them were stuffed with cheese; all of them were delicious).

It was a thought-provoking and useful day and I’m so happy we were able to tag along with Noëmi. The only thing that crumbed up our moods was the three hour commute back to Eindhoven. The highway we needed to use was shut down because of an accident in a tunnel, so we took a detour, along with what felt like every other commuter in the entire country.

But that’s gross, so let’s not end on that; instead, let’s end on this super gorpy picture of me!

I am smiling so big because my notebook is so full of notes, and my stomach is so full of fried cheese and beer.

Now, I know that I’m way behind on my posts, so I’ll try to get a few more done before the end of the week. My official exchange ended on Saturday, and Trevor has now joined me in the Netherlands (yay!!!). We’re staying with his uncle in Amsterdam, and I will have many more posts about that. But up next will be a post about me, Noëmi, and Dave, and a windmill in Borkel (Borkel!!) and an abbey in Belgium.

Blijf kijken!


Dutch Students Have Stolen My Heart!

My last post was a bit number-y and kind of a downer. So this one will be fun and full of stories about the wonderful students I’ve met over the past two weeks!

I’ve met oodles of Summa College students during this trip: well over one hundred. I already wrote about my first days meeting wonderful students at Noëmi’s school and at School 23, so you can read about those adventures and see pictures of the students.

But I’ve met so many more students after last Tuesday, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about them. Last Thursday I observed five classes: three of Chiara’s classes (Chiara is a teacher-in-training and a former teaching intern); one of Noëmi’s classes; and one of Franka’s classes (Franka is a Dr. Who fan, so she is obviously top-notch).

First up at 10 a.m. was Chiara’s English class for 2nd year healthcare students. They were a good start to the day, although a little shy and quiet. They asked great questions (including the now infamous high school cheerleader question) and were the reason Chiara and I started to crunch the numbers about college tuition in the U.S. Unfortunately, I let them leave without getting a picture, so please imagine that they were smart looking, because they were.

Next up at 11:15 a.m. was a class of Chiara’s 3rd year nursing students, and they were on it. As soon as Chiara mentioned that I was from the U.S., one of her students said — in a pretty damn good rural-American accent — “America: Fuck yeah!” From that point forward, they were hilarious and engaged. They had questions about school and about nursing, about tuition, cheerleaders (of course), and about my thoughts on visiting the school and the Netherlands. I took a nice group picture of them with Chiara…

Chiara’s 3rd Year Nursing Students with Chiara (far right)

…but we also wanted one altogether. So I took these terrible selfies to try to get us all in:

You guys know how amazing I am at taking selfies, so you should be impressed that any part of my face is visible.

Next up was Noëmi’s class of 2nd year students at 12:15 p.m. I said goodbye to Chiara, knowing I would meet up with her later on that afternoon to visit one more of her classes. Noëmi’s 2nd year students had a hard act to follow with Chiara’s 3rd years, but they turned out to be pretty spectacular. These were a small group of students who’d “chosen” wrong. In my earlier post I explained that Dutch students make choices at age 12 about the type of high school they’ll attend (general vocation [hospitality, healthcare, teaching/education…], general, or college-prep), and then at age 16 they make a choice to focus on a specific area within the general area.

All of Noëmi’s students have chosen nursing, which puts them at her college, but the students in this class had made an early decision that they wanted to change, and then they switched to nursing a little later than most students started. This meant that they were older than her typical 2nd year students (19/20 instead of 17/18), and they were a little more mature and focused. This is saying a lot, since all of the students I encountered at Summa College gave me the impression that they were mature and focused.

These students asked some of the most interesting and thoughtful questions, and Noëmi showed them the requirements for a nursing degree at McHenry County College, which they appreciated seeing and had a lot of questions about. They were the only class that did not ask about cheerleading.

Noëmi’s 2nd Year Nursing Students

After this class, Noëmi and I had a thirty minute break so we ate some sandwiches and fruit in the teacher’s lounge, and then got a cup of coffee. (Have I mentioned how frequently the Dutch have coffee breaks throughout the day? Quite often. It’s one of the most civilized things about them and something I want to immediately import to the U.S.)

After lunch I met up with Franka, the Dr. Who fan and English teacher for students studying to be dental assistants. These were typical 2nd year students, about 18 years old. They were a little shy, but there was another teaching of English who asked questions to get them warmed up and who had excellent questions about paths of study in the U.S. They were the first group to whom I explained my own circuitous route to becoming a teacher.

Franka is kneeling in the front row left, wearing glasses

The last class I got to visit was back with Chiara, her 3rd year part-time nursing students. These students were similar to MCC’s returning adult students: students who’d been working at a job for ten or twenty years, and then decided they were up for a change so they went back to school to study nursing.

It was in this class that I felt most at home with the material, since she was giving a lesson on how to compose a business letter. She touched on a lot of the same things I touch on with my students: addressing an unfamiliar audience clearly and professionally; using a standard salutation and closing; and proofreading (!!!). She also talked about the “shit” rule for remembering subject-verb agreement, and I’m going to steal it. Here’s what it is:

If you have a subject that’s needed to make “shit”, then you need to add an “s” to the verb. What do you need to make shit? She, He, and It. So, “she sings,” and “he drives,” and “it produces.” SHIT!

I love it. Thanks, Chiara!

I didn’t get a picture of this final Thursday class, and I’m kind of bummed about it. But it did mark a time I made a dumb American blunder with a Dutch person. The desks were arranged in a two-layered U-shape, and before the class started I sat in the second layer on the end. The person in front of me had her things there, but she was getting coffee, and when she came back she asked me, in Dutch, if it was okay if she sat in front of me.

Now, I am such a goof that when someone is speaking to me in Dutch and I don’t immediately get the gist of what they’re saying, I just sort of stare dumbly and smile. So, that’s what I did and then, still smiling, I shook my head “No.” To me, I was trying to tell her that I didn’t understand; she thought I was telling her that she could not sit in front of me. She probably thought I was a major asshole. Luckily, someone in the class said that I was an American and then she asked in English, and I was so apologetic and said that of course she could sit in front of me! She laughed really hard and the whole class had a great sense of humor. That made me love them all very much.

I’d made another American tourist gaffe my first day on campus. I was doing simulations with the doctor’s assistant students: a student would sit at a reception desk behind me and I’d call with an ailment; the student had to identify whether I should come in to see the doctor if it was serious, or if I could take some aspirins and stay home. I first pretended to have a mild headache; I called the second student with a stomachache; and, since the first two had asked if I had a fever and I’d said “No,” I thought that I’d have a fever for the third student.

But when she asked what my temperature reading was, I thought to myself, “hmm, what’s a kind-of serious but not too high temperature?” And I answered, “101 degrees.” The room was silent for a couple of seconds before Noëmi burst out laughing and the rest of the class (who were listening in order to debrief after the calls) joined in as well. It took me a second to realize that I’d given them a Fahrenheit temperature and basically just told them that my blood was boiling. Noëmi gave me a quick calculation and I changed my answer to 38 degrees. Yikes.

On Monday I observed five more of Noëmi’s classes: two 2nd year classes, two 3rd year classes, and a 1st year class. One of the 3rd year classes I visited was the same class I’d met first last week Monday; I’d forgotten to get a picture of them, so we made sure to get one this time:

The only group I got to see twice!

The other groups were, as expected, great. They had similar types of questions as the groups I’d met last week, though Noëmi’s 11:45 a.m. 3rd year class also gave me some good ideas about things to do in Amsterdam once my time with Noëmi and Dave is over and Trevor comes to town (more about that later). They were the first to suggest that we visit the Anne Frank House Museum, which we’re doing on Tuesday; and they also mentioned that I might like to visit a “coffee” shop. We’ll see about that.

Noëmi’s 3rd year students

Noëmi’s 1st year students — very early in their studies, but their English was excellent!

Noëmi’s 2nd year students

As you can see, they are very smart looking and adorable. I told them that I’d tour them around Chicago if they ever came my way, and some of them were actually interested. But even if I never see them again, they helped make my time here meaningful. Thank you, students!

I’ll have more posts about the faculty development conference we attended at Microsoft’s Amsterdam offices last Friday, the visit we took to the hospitality school (and all of the wonderful food we ate [and helped cook!]) and the meetings I had with some of the Summa College administrators. Well, maybe I won’t do an entire post on the administrative meetings: I found them fascinating and I took tons of notes, but they might not be very interesting to you.

Today is my last day with Noëmi and Dave. Trevor flies into Amsterdam tomorrow (I AM SO EXCITED TO SEE HIM), so I’ll also have some posts documenting our adventures. Stay tuned for all of that.

Spreek je snel!




Equitable Education: We Don’t Have It

Last week, in addition to visiting School 23, the Summa College school for hospitality training, and Efteling Theme Park, I got to see a lot of students and teachers in action, and I got a taste of Dutch faculty development. I was going to focus this post on those things — the amazing teachers and students, the excellent faculty development — but as I typed out an explanation of the Dutch education system’s tuition and compared it to ours in the U.S., I realized that I couldn’t focus on anything fun…yet. As a result, this post is a little dry, but I hope you read it. I think it’s important. Tomorrow I’ll give you a little brain candy and a lot of great pictures of smart, interesting Dutch students.

On Thursday, Noëmi and I headed back to the Summa Zorg campus. She’d arranged for me to observe five different English classes: three taught by her former intern and now a teacher-in-training, Chiara; one by her colleague Franka; and one of Noëmi’s own.

The first two classes were taught by Chiara, an energetic young woman of Irish and German descent who was born in Germany and moved to the Netherlands when she was four years old (her father’s work transferred him here). Her English is spectacular and her accent is a bit Irish/a bit Dutch, and all of it was a pleasure to listen to.

Chiara’s 3rd Year Nursing Students with Chiara (far right)

Her first class was made up of 2nd year healthcare students (who I am just realizing now I didn’t get a picture of — imagine them as great, because they were). They were fairly young and a little shy. I explained the U.S. education system to them and talked about some of the differences between it and the Dutch education system.

The first significant difference is choice: when Dutch students are 12 years old, they must decide which type of secondary education they will pursue: a vocational education (VMBO), a general liberal arts education (HVAO), or a more stringent university-preparatory education (VWO). The students who have selected the vocational education go through four years of the VMBO and then, at age 16, they must decide on a specific vocation. That choice determines which college (MBO) they will attend; the students who have chosen healthcare come to Noëmi’s school, Summa Zorg.

This means that at age 16, students decide on a career. If they change their minds, they can switch schools, but they may need to go backwards a bit to make up the curriculum they missed, and this could delay graduation. The system sounded stressful to me (I changed my mind about possible careers until I was about 26; and I think that’s actually pretty decisive). But when I questioned the students about this, they more or less seemed okay with their choices. A couple were a bit uncertain — what if they decide later that they want to do something else? — but many felt confident in their decisions. And I encountered students who had chosen a different vocation, but who’d then switched to healthcare, or were interested in switching from healthcare to something else. They said that yes, there was a bit of delay, but they were happy they’d made the change early and not once they’d gotten into a career they didn’t like and didn’t fit with.

The other significant difference is tuition. When Dutch students begin college at an MBO (or at an HBO, which is comparable to a four-year college or university in the U.S.), they’re only 16 and the government is still paying for their education. The following two years are entirely funded for them, and then, once they turn 18, their tuition is $1,037 per year — to any MBO in the country. And, as long as the student finishes her degree within a reasonable period of time, the tuition is reimbursed to them upon graduation. And, all students get a free public transportation pass after secondary school, as long as they’re continuing their schooling. The government doesn’t want student to have to pay for transportation to and from school, just in case their college is far away. These MBO students are, in large part, though not all, the kind of students who attend McHenry County College.

Now, if a Dutch student is on the track for an HBO or WO (college/university in the U.S. traditional sense) her tuition is $1,984 per year; and it’s not a gift like it is with the MBO students, but a loan that must be repaid. The interest on that loan is very low (maybe 1%?) and the monthly payments are calculated based on the type of job a student is able to get after graduation. If a student has been making monthly payments without default for a long time (about twenty years, I think?), then the remainder of the loan is forgiven.

So, in Chiara’s class, when I explained the cost of tuition at my college, which is still significantly less than most colleges, and the lowest in our area, the students were shocked. Like, there was an audible gasp when Chiara and I did the math (okay, Chiara did the math) and put the price of MCC’s tuition on the whiteboard.

For a student at MCC to be considered a full-time student, she must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours. My single-semester long class is 3 credit hours; each credit hour at MCC is $104. That means that a full-time student enrolled in 12 credit hours is paying $1248 per semester and $2,496 per year, not including books or other materials that may be required for a class (specific software; art materials; uniform for nursing and culinary students). So if a nursing student at MCC is doing her two-year associate’s degree, her tuition will be $4,992.

Now, in the U.S., for a two year degree that almost immediately gets you access to a career, that sounds like a good deal, right? But the Dutch students were floored at how much money that was. For education, which, for them, is a given, like bicycles and windmills. Then I told them that at the University of Illinois Chicago, where I’m doing my master’s degree, tuition is a lot more expensive than it is at MCC, even though UIC is still considered to be reasonably priced. UIC’s in-state tuition — for a 12 credit hour undergraduate student — is $4,763 per semester, and $9,526 per year (again, without books, other materials, or boarding). And out-of-state tuition per semester is $10,550, making the annual cost $21,100. So if my nursing students (or if any of the many students at MCC who are on the baccalaureate/transfer side of the house) want to get a bachelor’s degree, after they’ve paid $4,992 at MCC, they still need to spend a minimum of $19,052 for the remaining two years of their undergraduate education.

And then one of Chiara’s student mentioned Harvard, so we quickly looked that up and saw that tuition alone — without adding in the nearly twenty-thousand dollars worth of fees, room, and board — is $44,990 per year. Plus an estimated $4,000 for “personal expenses” per year (books, materials); and up to $4,000 for traveling between school and home each year for breaks and holidays; and $3,130 for required health insurance if you’re not covered on your family’s plan. Even if you’re a townie or you don’t ever travel home to see your family, and if you don’t need to buy health insurance, you’re still dropping about $70,000 per year and $278,400 for the entirety of your undergraduate education. That doesn’t account for an increase in tuition. And you can’t ever leave Cambridge.

And I know, I know — it’s Haaaaaaahvaahd. It’s the school of schools; Harvard graduates are almost definitely going to make more money out of school than your garden variety schlub like me. But more than a quarter of a million dollars? Holy shit, man.

There’s a gulf, an abyss, even, between the people in the United States who can afford somewhere like Harvard, or even somewhere like UIC, and the students who are barely able to attend MCC (many of my students). This gulf will continue to widen and affect these students’ lives, through the time it will take them to complete their degrees, the debt they accumulate (student loan interest is currently at 3.76% but is likely to go up soon), and the salary of the jobs they are able to get. I don’t think this is okay. I really don’t think this is okay.

I started drafting this post on Sunday evening and my intention when I started was to write about all of the great students I visited last Thursday, and about the professional development conference I attended with Noëmi on Friday. But it’s Tuesday afternoon now: I’ve looked at a lot of dollar signs and I’ve met even more students to whom I’ve had to explain our tuition. This didn’t turn out to be a fun post, and I got off track from Chiara, Noëmi, and Franka. But I’m glad I wrote it. I’m glad I’m thinking about it.

Let’s all think about it, and maybe we can figure out how the U.S. can adjust its culture to believe that a post-secondary education is just as much of a right for all citizens as is the right to own a firearm. How about that, huh? Let’s start there.

Want to read more about how the new president’s budget will affect education? Read this article by Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Washington Post.




Wednesday in Efteling

The first day I arrived in the Netherlands, Noëmi mentioned that we might go to Efteling Theme Park; and since I am 100% up for anything, I said, “Sure!” Our family went Disney World when I was a small person, and Great America, which I haven’t been to in about fifteen years, is more of a carnival than a theme park; so I was ready for a proper theme park in a foreign country. Bring it on!

Noëmi explained it as a kind of fairy-land, and everyone we talked to on Monday and Tuesday seemed excited that we were going, but some mentioned that it was a good place for children. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but, since everything in the Netherlands is an adventure, I was happy to go.

We set out on Wednesday morning with our packs full of sandwiches and fruit in case we got hungry, and our shoulders covered in sunblock. We stopped by the college campus to pick up ticket coupons from Noëmi’s coworker, and then set off to the park.

Yes, this looks like a fairy tale park. You’ll see more of that long-necked fellow later.

Noëmi had checked the park’s traffic prediction earlier in the week, and it was forecast to be a “light” day in terms of crowds. We got there moments before the park opened at 10 a.m., and found ourselves a prime parking spot just three rows from the entrance.

Great parking spot — now let’s get to park-ing (get it? theme park?? “park”ing??? I’m hilarious.)

As we approached the entrance we saw a mascot waving at us from a balcony above the ticket kiosks; this was Pardoes, who is described on the Efteling website as “the magic Jester from Symbolica, a planet on the other side of the universe. Pardoes, who is always jolly, can be found in the park every day.” That immediately sounds amazing, right?

Hello, Parodes!

I didn’t get a good picture of the entrance, but it’s really beautiful, so here it is from Wikipedia:

Image credit: Wikipedia

And this is a warning: my pictures don’t do the park justice. It’s gorgeous. It is full of soaring trees, lush greenery, cobblestones, and buildings that, while only sixty-five years old, and many of them much, much newer, all looked ancient.

A panorama of the inside entrance

Our first stop was the Bobsleigh ride, which went really (really) fast and was not on a track. I screamed like a child and it was terrific.

After that we went on a more low-key ride that was just as wonderful, though in a different way: Fata Morgana, a water boat “dark” ride (you ride through in the darkness and look at moving tableaux along the way). The Fata Morgana is reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights, and is called the Forbidden City. The models and effects were so cool, and there were a few times I jumped a bit.

Passengers loading onto a ride boat

Me and Noëmi in the front seat of our boat!

One of the racier scenes from the ride

We also had a great time standing in line; there were four school children in front of us with their teacher. One of them opened a container of mini-cookies and quickly offered one to Noëmi; she declined, and then when he saw me smiling at the gesture, he offered one to me. I declined as well, but I wanted to hug him. I did not. Farther down in the line, two of the kids were standing in front of a window that looked down onto the boats, and one of the boys saw us standing at the wall and told the others to hurry up because he wanted to give us a chance to look as well. I also wanted to hug him. I did not. And then, another boy with a turtle-shell backpack (amazing) heard Noëmi talking to me in English and asked if we were from London. She told him that she was a native and that I was from America, and while he did not seem impressed, I also wanted to hug him. I did not.

My favorite school kids of the day (there were a *lot* of school kids at the park) — you can sort of see the green turtle-shell backpack. I was trying not to be a weirdo and take a picture of random kids. I didn’t really succeed, did I?

After the Fata Morgana, Noëmi walked us to the section of roller coaster rides to get a sense of how long the Joris and the Dragon line was. It was too long for us impatient adults, so we went to the Piraña instead. It was getting a bit warm out (the day turned out to be about 85 degrees F.) and the Piraña is a water ride, so we chose well. We managed to get an entire raft all to ourselves — I think the kid loading in the passengers wasn’t paying attention, and by the time he realized there were only two of us, we had floated too far away. Sorry, sucker.

Alone on a raft, two women travel down the angry rapids…will they survive?

Since we were already wet, we went from the Piraña to De Vliegende Hollander water coaster (The Flying Dutchman). The line took us through the inside of a pub and then into what looked like a 17th Century street lined with bars (and probably brothels). There were little videos playing that told the myth of the Flying Dutchman, a haunted ship that must sail the seas forever because of the greedy and reckless captain. I loved the story, and De Vliegende Hollander was my favorite ride.

A waiting-in-line selfie; you can see the town’s street in the background

These are our faces on a scarier bit of the ride, snapped by the capture-cam

We moved on to another ride that, because it was in the dark, I thought would be another slow and lovely “dark” ride like the Fata Morgana. Noëmi described it as “the eagle,” and said that it felt like we were soaring through the air. That sounded great, so Vogel Rok was next. Yes, Vogel Rok is a ride with a story that involves an eagle (all of the Efteling rides tell stories, which is special and fun), but it wasn’t anything like Fata Morgana. The Vogel Rok was a proper roller coaster, but it was indoor and almost entirely in the dark (and even the partially lit portions were shrouded in mist) so I never knew exactly where we were going or what was coming next. It. Was. Terrifying. I loved it. We walked out having taken no pictures, and that’s probably because I was still shaking in my sneakers.

Noëmi, perhaps sensing my unsteady legs, suggested we go to an easier ride, which meant that the Carnaval Festival was up next. This was another real “dark” ride and it was meant for children, so I was pretty happy.

Some characters from the Carnaval Festival

It was a bit like It’s a Small World, and the music played was just as…let’s say catchy as the Disney World ride’s music. And now I have them both running through my head. You’re welcome.

After the Carnaval Festival, we wanted something quiet and outdoors, so Noëmi steered us to the Volk van Laaf section. The Laaf are plump-cheeked characters that live in Efteling. I found them to be a bit lazy.

After meeting the lazy Laaf, we took a short break to regroup and plan our next move. Noëmi suggested that we get some poffertjes, and since we’d already eaten our sandwiches and apples, I was up for some food.

But I was not expecting this:

Wow. Just, wow.

These poffertjes are little fried discs of deliciousness, covered in powdered sugar with a hunk of butter for smearing. Jesus, were they good.

We were very happy to eat these.

We made a plan to check out our final dark ride through the Droomvlucht (fairy land) and then to the Fairytale Forest. Noëmi checked our route…

…and we were off! The Droomvlucht was lovely and fun, but it was the Fairytale Forest that dazzled me. There were life-sized houses and towers and animatronic statues and mannequins from fairy tales — many of them Grimm’s Fairy Tales — all spread through an enormous forest. Along the path through were small red and white “singing” mushrooms (they played classical music [possibly lute music]), and at every turn was something more wonderful than the last thing. The creativity, time, and manpower that must have gone into building the forest astounds me, and I just adored it all.

This guy greeted us at the gate

This is a mushroom house. Obviously.

Longneck is one of the prince’s footmen who helped him complete some trials to get the princess. I think.

This is the water monster that ate Pinocchio (the monster’s mouth opens and Pinocchio is inside, but I didn’t get a video of that)

Hansel is locked in the gum drop house and poor Gretel is helpless to free him.

These birds were just hanging around an area in the center of the forest. No big deal.

This tree’s branches moved and were covered in what must have been thousands and thousands of metal leaves; it was terrific

We finished walking through the forest and I was mostly done for the day. I’d seen so much and I’d had so much fun that I was about ready to just sit in a corner with a happy smile on my face and slowly digest my poffertjes (and the fried potato spiral-on-a-stick that we also got and it was delicious but there is no picture). But Noëmi had one more stop she needed to make: the Baron 1898 roller coaster — or dive coaster.

The car stops for at least three seconds right there, hanging at the edge of the drop.

I was the “bag mom” and while Noëmi was in line for the ride, I waited at the bottom, smiling and digesting. But my digestion stopped as soon as I realized that her car was about to start the drop. This was her path:

I was happy with my decision to stay on the ground, and Noëmi was very happy that she took the plunge. We headed home, smiling and sun-tired. I am so glad Noëmi took me to the park. It’s not an attraction I’d heard of and I doubt that I would have found it on my own. But every second was well spent and the day was pretty perfect.

Sometime tomorrow or the next day I’ll write about the amazing students I met on Thursday (I know I say that all the students are great, but on Thursday I met students from five different classes and three different teachers, and they were great, like really great. for real). Here’s a terrible selfie to tide you over until then:

Third year nursing students = Amazing (America…F*ck yeah!)













It’s Friday! (Here’s What I Did Three Days Ago)

I have 1,000 things to write about in regards to my trip to the Netherlands (I’ve been here for one week), and tonight I’m going to write about the first two days I had visiting schools and meeting students.

On Monday I went to Summa College with Noëmi to see her college campus, get a sense of what her work day looked like, and meet her excellent students.

First, let’s talk about the teachers’ lounge at Summa College Zorg & Welzijn (healthcare and wellness), where Noëmi teaches. This is what it looks like.

I love this lounge

There are two coffee machines that make espresso, cappuccino, and regular coffee; they also have hot water and a variety of tea, and cold filtered water. And it’s all free for teachers. And I have been using it a lot this week. I’ve upped my daily caffeine intake by 80%, and I’m pretty happy about that.

Next, let’s talk about Noëmi’s students, who are great. All of the students I’ve met so far have been great, and I’ll get to that a lot more later. Here’s one of Noëmi’s classes:


I told her students why I was visiting and a little bit about the type of college I teach at, and my students, and they had great questions. They also, through giggles, asked me if high school in the U.S. was like high school in the movies: specifically, are there cheerleaders?

Yes, students. Yes, there are. And they look something like this:

Picture stolen from Sara Zambreno’s Facebook page; she’s that super cute stringbean in the far right front row.

Between Noëmi’s classes, we hung out in the teacher team’s office, and I saw a book near her desk. It looked like fun, so I picked it up.

Fun, right? And the author’s name is Buffi, so…it’s obviously the best book ever.

And it was so much more fun than I could have ever imagined. So.  Much.   More.    Fun.


And then…I found this:

I’ll just leave that there for you to enjoy.

Noëmi drove me over to another school, School 23, where I met up with the three other American visitors and their hosts. There is a visitor from Morton College in Cicero, IL; a visitor from Casper College in Casper, Wyoming; and a visitor from Fresno City College in Fresno, California. As you might imagine, I think they’re all great and I can’t wait to tell you more about them.

Now, the school itself, while also great, kind of blew my mind. School 23 is a school for Dutch language learners to become acclimated to the Netherlands, to learn Dutch, and to learn skills that will allow them to not only function in Dutch society, but to thrive. But many of the students at School 23 are refugees who have fled from countries like Somalia, Syria, and Eritrea. These students have been traumatized; many have lost family members; some are now living in a foreign country all by themselves; and while some have excellent educational backgrounds (Syria had a robust school system until the war, and reported a 95% literacy rate), some of the students at School 23 are illiterate. These students brought an entirely new context to my understanding of “at risk” students.

Not only is School 23 serving this important population, they seem to be doing a wonderful job. The students we saw during our tour of the school were friendly and happy; they practiced their English with us (adorably and nervously), and showed tremendous pride in the work we saw them doing.

Noëmi with the culinary arts instructor and one of his students (who helped cook all of the food for our after-meeting tea!)

We saw students working on art projects, students learning about evolution (um, yeah, a group of smarties from Syria were learning about evolution and I was really jealous and wanted to hang out with their class), and students hanging out in the reading nook (reading nook!). And everywhere in between they were just being happy teenagers, and that made me so proud of them and so thankful for the work that School 23 does.

A masonry studio for students to practice job-specific skills; they also learn carpentry and electrical work

A shop simulation stocked with donated goods where students can practice front of house skills like customer service and back-of-house skills like inventory and book-keeping

We left School 23 happy and feeling great, and we went into our Tuesday with high expectations for the next school we were visiting: the Summa College school for hospitality training at the Eindhoven Aiport. And guess what? Our high expectations were met.


We were so excited to go to a new airport — it’s always fun to go to the airport when you don’t have the stress of dragging bags around and worrying about catching your flight.

We met up with the rest of the visitors and their hosts, and were greeted by some of the students in the lobby. They brought us up to their school facilities, located on the second floor of the actual airport. The students are required to wear flight attendant-like uniforms each day to classes, and they looked official and wonderful and made me envious of their teacher for getting to teach them (their teacher is a lovely woman named Rose — hello, Rose!).

The students had prepared presentations for us about their school and their training, and we had time to ask them questions before they took us on a tour through the facilities (and guess what? they also asked us about high school cheerleaders).

Waiting in the school’s airplane simulation

Student presentation!

The. Cutest.

Two students gave a tour to me, Noëmi, and Charles, the visitor from Wyoming. Because they were in their uniforms, they frequently got asked for help by actual patrons of the airport, and Nadia here had to help a couple of guys who were on their way to the Canary Islands load their surfboards and kayaks into the oversized luggage belt.

That’s a kayak, not a dead body! (or is it????? [no, it’s totally a kayak])

There’s an outdoor terrace at the airport!

Our tour guide is literally the poster boy for the school!

Charles, Noëmi, and our wonderful tour guides!

We hated to leave because it was all so cool and the students kept asking us excellent questions, but we needed to get back to Noëmi’s school for lunch. So we took a quick group picture…

They’re ridiculously cute!

…and then we headed back to this:


So, if you don’t know me that well then you might not know that I love sandwiches. Like, I love sandwiches. I’ve written about them before. And I will likely write about them again.

We ate sandwiches and soup (perfect combination, obviously) and then Noëmi took us all on a tour of her school. I’d seen her office, her classroom, the teachers’ lounge, and the restroom, but that’s about it. So I loved getting to see all of the nooks and crannies. And one of the most important nooks is this nook:

Summa College Zorg Library!

And this was a pretty amazing cranny:

The door for this dental assistant lab class was locked; otherwise, I’d have been all up in that dummy-head’s business.

When the tour was over and the visitors and their hosts left, Noëmi took me to her team meeting (I understood one word: Noëmi) and then I hung out in her office while she did some work. We were both tired from an excellent first couple of days at work, but looking forward to Wednesday, which was our day out at Efteling Theme Park.

I have many things to say about Efteling Theme Park, and they are all good things. But you’re going to have to wait until my next post for that. So for now, I’ll leave you with this:

Yeah, this sure as hell was as good as it looks.








I’m Going Dutch

I’m in the Netherlands!

In the fall, I participated in the first half of an international scholar exchange program by hosting a Dutch scholar — an English teacher from Summa College in Eindhoven — for two weeks.

And this week I started the second half by traveling to the Netherlands for my own two-week visit. It’s only my fourth day, and it’s only the second day of the school week, but I have so much to talk about already; so I’ve decided to break up these first days into 1: the weekend; and 2: the start of the work week. That way I can give everything the just descriptions they all deserve and not overwhelm you readers.

So, here’s how I came about to Holland and how I spent my first forty-eight hours!

Trevor took me to the airport on Friday afternoon. I was fresh from entering my students’ final grades; I’d finished packing and we hopped into the car.

Roo doesn’t like when we go to the airport: most of the time, we come home with one fewer person.

I got through security in ten minutes, ate a sandwich, and then read my book for an hour while waiting to board the plane.

What book, you ask? Oh, only the library book that was due on the 13th but that I hadn’t finished and assumed I’d be able to renew, but then I couldn’t renew because someone has a hold on it, and now I’m 4,176 miles away from the library so it’s going to be returned three weeks late. Right. That book.

Sorry, fellow librarian patron. I have done you wrong.

But, I got on the plane with my overdue book and had an uneventful flight, which is the best kind of flight. We landed in Amsterdam at 9:20 a.m. local time and I met up with Noëmi, where we hugged a great big hug hello and then immediately made plans to get coffee. And while getting coffee, we saw this bird.

He wanted very much to show us his worm.

Noëmi drove us to her village, Valkenswaard. It’s about 12 kilometers south-east of Eindhoven, where Noëmi teaches. The village is adorable: there are snack shops everywhere so you can get frites (a.k.a. chips [a.k.a. fries]); and the Dutch still use automats, so there’s a bit of a Dutch Mad Men vibe; and there are just as many bicyclists on the road as there are cars.

A Dutch Bakery in Noëmi’s neighborhood. The smells were amazing. I was not surprised by this.

Relaxing with Noëmi!

And then she and I just hung around and caught up. I met Noëmi’s boyfriend, Dave, and their cats, Wooff and Karel, and I moved into my room, which, when I am not visiting, is used as Dave’s exercise room. He has motivational posters on the walls, and they are now keeping me company.

I honestly feel very happy with these guys on the walls.

We continued to be low-key on Sunday, heading to the Eindhoven city center to wander around the shops…

The Dutch give things…interesting names.

I would not shop here.

…sip some hot chocolate and people-watched while it rained…

…and look for important souvenirs to bring back for Trevor.

Warning: Snore Alert (Trevor would probably like to hang this on my face)

I was *this* close to getting one of these. THIS CLOSE.

We also went to a beautiful book store, the Boekhandel Van Piere, and did a bit of wandering. Noëmi took a surreptitious picture, which is something Trevor does. So it felt like home.

Should I go back and get that copy of The Shining? I should, shouldn’t I? I should.

Dave was at the PSV game, and when the match was over (PSV won, though it was the final game of the season and it didn’t matter much [but they still won!]) we met up to find some dinner. And dinner we did find! We went to a high-end food court called the Down Town Gourmet Market: Dave got Indian food, I got sushi, and Noëmi got pasta. But she was still hungry, so she also got this:

Ridiculous. And delicious.

A post-Nutella picture

We had a great time, and then headed home for the night, making a pit stop so that they could teach me HOW TO DRIVE A MANUAL TRANSMISSION!

OMG I’m driving a stick-shift and Dave is letting me!

I’ve always wanted to learn, and now I have! I drove in circles around a mostly empty parking lot for about fifteen minutes, and I would have kept going, but I think Noëmi and Dave were feeling woozy. It was so much fun! And I only stalled the car once! Ha!

And that’s all I’m going to write about now. My next two posts will be about the excellent school visits I’ve had so far this week (these students are great; these teachers are great!) and grocery shopping in the Netherlands. Yes. Grocery shopping. I love it.

Until then,





Hasta La Vista, Sobre Vista

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of my life as well as (much more interestingly) the lives of five of my high school girlfriends. To celebrate this coming-of-middle-age, we decided to plan a trip to Sonoma and Napa Valley, California, so we could ring in the year the right way: with wine.

A handmade gift from Julie's husband, Jeremy

A handmade gift from Julie’s husband, Jeremy, that is filled with sparkling rosé, because what else would make sense? Juice? Water??! That’s crazy talk.

One of these amazing women couldn’t make the trip because, honestly, she’s too amazing. Truth. This friend, Mary, and her husband are opening a Goddard School in Skokie, and it just so happened that the week we’d scheduled our trip was the busiest week they would have until they open their doors this August. So, please be aware that we dedicated our trip to her, and this post is dedicated to her as well. And for her actual birthday in a couple of weeks, we’ll probably kidnap her and force-feed her wine (this will not be necessary; she will drink it willingly) until we forget that we’re forty(ish).

With the tremendous planning skills of the group (minus me, because I didn’t really do anything except pack a bag and show up), we had a terrific four-day trip together. Here’s how it all went down.

Tuesday Night

I spent the night with Lisa and her husband, Matt, because our flight left early Wednesday morning and they’re just a fifteen minute taxi to the airport (at 5 a.m…). This meant that I got to witness Lisa’s spectacularly organized packing method, hang out with their dog, Cholula, and sleep in their guest Murphy Bed.

This is good organization.

This is good organization.

Cholula Sleeps

This is a cute dog.

This is comfortable.

This is a comfortable place to sleep, and it folds up into the wall. Bonus.

Basically, I could have gone back home the next day and still been happy.

But, no! We had…


Lisa and I met up with Julie at O’Hare for our flight, and then once we landed in San Francisco, we met up with Megan, who had flown in from Philadelphia.

Megs and Lisa at the Airport

Megs and Lisa at the Airport

The four of us met Amy at the rental car place, and then we hit the road to Sonoma, where we were staying on Sobre Vista Road, overlooking the Enchanted Hills. Seriously.

Golden GateSobre Vista FrontWe stopped for provisions along the way so the kitchen would be stocked when we needed it (first on our grocery list was cheese, then more cheese, then some fruit, some bread, and then, finally, some cheese). But we had a few hours to spare until our dinner reservation, so we decided to hit up a winery, and we chose Buena Vista Winery. We chose well.

Our tasting room bartender was Dapper Don (maybe “Dapper” isn’t his given name, but, whatever) and he treated us to a one-of-a-kind experience. We walked in just an hour before closing, so when we were finished with our tasting and the winery was closing up for the day, Don took us on an unofficial tour of the Bubble Lounge (bubbles only are allowed!) and the barrel cave, where Megan may or may not have schooled him on the piano.

Buena Vista Tasting Room and Bubble Lounge -- We made some weird friends.

Buena Vista Tasting Room and Bubble Lounge — We made some weird friends.

Me and a Leopard

Hi, leopard friend.

Dapper Don Plays Piano

Don started playing…

Megs Plays Piano

…and when he was finished, Megan showed him how it was really done.

Buena Vista PatioBy this time, we were pretty hungry for dinner, so we headed to downtown Sonoma. But we were still too early for our reservation at The Girl and the Fig, so we had one more glass of wine at the Roche Winery tasting room, where we didn’t take any pictures, but it’s possible we broke a glass. It was fun.

Now, let’s talk about dinner. No, we’re not going to talk about the gorgeous mussels we ate, or the beautiful cheese plate (do you understand by now that we like cheese?), or the carrot entree I ordered and ate and am fantasizing about eating again right now because it was so good. No, let’s talk about the waiter, one Russell Sage — if that is his real name.

If you’re thinking that this distinguished gentleman was our waiter at The Girl and the Fig, you would be, unfortunately, wrong:

Our Russell Sage was a man who liked to wear cologne, who seemed to really like forty-year-old women, and who liked to lean in. He leaned in a lot.

Russell leaning in

Russell liked to lean. Julie does not look comfortable with this.

He was also a man who felt inclined to invite himself to our house to swim in our pool, and then leave his phone number on our check, in case we were motivated to call him. Oh, Russell. You’re not going to swim in our pool.

Now, if you think that Russell provided the only strange waiter experience we had at The Girl and the Fig, you would be stone cold wrong. There was also Geoffrey, whose name I know how to spell because he said he was “like Chaucer,” as he filled up our water glasses. And Geoffrey felt inclined to follow us out after our meal and sing “Happy Birthday” to us on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. We. Did. Not. Know. What. To. Do.


GEOFFREY, WHAT IS HAPPENING? Julie, again, does not look comfortable.

So we just let him sing, and then after he went back into the restaurant and we waited for our car to pick us up, we tried to ignore Russell Sage waving at us through the window.


Thursday was our big Napa Valley winery day. Lisa had taken care of making us reservations at four different spots, and Amy had taken care of getting Mike the driver to take us around so none of us had to be responsible for operating a motor vehicle.

We started the morning with sparkling wine at Mumm Napa. The view was perfect, our waiter was a normal human person who didn’t sing to us or lean in at us, and, honestly, who wouldn’t want to start the day with bubbles? Probably some people, but not us. No, not us.

Mumms CoastersAfter Mumm, we headed to our unanimous favorite, Frog’s Leap Winery, where we did a little tasting…

Frog's Leap Tasting Table…we met a dog named Abbie…

Abbie at Frog's Leap

Abbie parked herself underneath my leg and I could not have been happier to give her a ten-minute belly rub.

…we did some thinking…

Megs at Frog's Leap

…and a little light reading:

Napa Valley Then and Now

We didn’t want to leave Frog’s Leap, but, alas, we had to. Cakebread Cellars was waiting for us.

Cakebread Tasting Menu

Our time at Cakebread was pleasant, but a bit rushed. They didn’t let us sit down for our tasting, and our guide hustled us through the wines like it was her job (I guess because it was her job). But we met two lovely young couples — one from St. Louis and another from Dallas — and we drank some good wine.

Our last stop on our wine-whirlwind was Chimney Rock, and this one was special.

Chimney Rock

At Chimney Rock, we got a guide named Donna, and Donna was the queen. She. Was. The. Queen.

Donna took us out to the vineyards to look at the crops, talk about the history of the winery and the property, and to take some pictures — with and without her finger near the lens:

Donna's Pictures

Donna was an excellent guide and gave us a lot of great information about the head wine-ista (this might not be her actual title), Elizabeth, and she showed us the ins and outs of the facilities.

Amy gets the low-down from Donna

Amy got the low-down from Donna

Julie tried to figure out why her glass was empty

Julie tried to figure out why her glass was empty

Lisa contemplates stealing a barrel of wine

Lisa contemplated stealing a barrel of wine

We challenge the Chimney Rock employees to a game of five-on-five, and we beat them soundly (obviously there are no pictures of this because we were playing)

We challenged the Chimney Rock employees to a game of five-on-five, and we beat them soundly (obviously there are no pictures of this because it’s hard to take pictures and hit three-pointers at the same time, and I was clearly just focused on hitting three-pointers)

And then Donna gave us some wine.

Chimney Rock MenuChimney Rock Tasting Room

We took a group picture at three of our four stops — I think we didn’t get one at Frog’s Leap because we were having such a good time there.

Napa Valley Group Pictures Thursday

At the end of the day, we went home to hang around the house, chat, and drink all of the wine we’d bought that day.


Friday was our day of relaxation around the house, so we didn’t have too many adventures. Early in the day, we discovered that the owners of the house were likely watching us from their Sliver-like monitor room in some undisclosed location.

We found this camera...

We found this camera…

…and imagined this. (Image credit)

But after a bit of discomfort, we relaxed and did some swimming, some floating, some reading, and some napping. Whoever had to watch that boring video, I say, ha, sucker!

Megan reads, and then naps

Megan reads, and then naps

Lisa swims

Lisa swims

And I float

And I float


By Saturday, we were ready to leave the house again, so we hit up a couple of wineries: Imagery Estate Winery, where we enjoyed some wine on the patio, and B.R. Cohn, where we ate some pre-lunch oysters.

And once our oysters were digested, we were hun-gree, so we headed back toward our neighborhood and to Juanita Juanita, a restaurant we’d been steered toward by our server at Frog’s Leap. And as soon as we got in, we knew we were in the best place. Kate, the owner’s daughter, helped us right away and was as friendly as could be. And when she learned that we were in California to celebrate our birthdays, she told us that it was, in fact, her actual birthday. So, of course, we loved her and joined in to help everyone sing her happy birthday, and Lisa tried to buy her a drink, but Kate told us that because her mom owns the place she’d been drinking there for free since she was fifteen. But she appreciated the gesture.

Everyone there was great, and the food was stupendous. Amy made a friend named Wyatt, who talked to her about his baseball card collection,

Amy and Wyatt

and we all appreciated the piñatas (although not as much as I appreciated the fish tacos).

Juanita Juanita Pinatas

But the best part of eating at Juanita Juanita and befriending Kate and the rest of the crew there was that when their friend Jesse, an off-duty cab driver, came in to hang out, we quickly convinced him to take us the two miles back to our house.

See, it’s not easy to get a fast Uber or a Lyft in Sonoma that fits five people, or one at all. We were looking at a wait time of at least thirty minutes, if ever, and while we loved Juanita Juanita, we were ready to head home. So we were discussing our problem when Jesse walked in and Kate told us he was a cab driver. We nearly pounced on him and the poor man tried to fend us off by telling us he had his personal car, not his cab. We didn’t care. We gave him some cash and a lot of toothy smiles, and he relented to take us.

He had to move his kid’s car seat, and Lisa had to ride in the way, way back, but Jesse was clearly the right driver for us.

Jesse's Cassette Tape

It would have only been better if it’d been a Guns N’ Roses tape.

Lisa in the way, way back

Lisa in the way, way back

He got us home quickly and with no problems, and we were left to spend the rest of the afternoon and the evening hanging around at the house, wishing we weren’t leaving the next day.

Amy and Lisa did some wine-yoga; it's all the rage in Sonoma.

Amy and Lisa did some wine-yoga; it’s all the rage in Sonoma.


And on Sunday, we left. We woke up and watched the sun come up over the Enchanted Hills, and then headed to the airport.

Sobre Vista Sunrise

We said our goodbyes to Megan outside of our gate, and then we had an uneventful trip back to Chicago. We were subdued at baggage claim and then all went our separate ways, wine in our luggage, tired smiles on our faces.

Roo and Trevor picked me and to take me back to Camp Crystal Lake

Roo and Trevor picked me and to take me back to Camp Crystal Lake

And that was our trip! It was wonderful, we missed our friend Mary like crazy, and we are going to have to recuperate for the next five years until we’re ready to celebrate being forty-five. We’ve already decided that Key West might be our next destination, so, Florida, please start the preparations.



















Last weekend Trevor and I took a trip to Indianapolis. The trip was T.’s belated birthday gift because our primary destination was the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, but we made it a weekend full of wandering, cocktails, and small-dose luxury.

We started out Saturday morning with breakfast at Milktooth, a hipster heaven that had been recommended by T.’s coworker Leah. I had an a-maAAAaaaazing duck-egg grilled cheese (oh, you know, just a Gruyère grilled cheese on cranberry bread topped with a fried duck egg and drizzled with black truffle honey [OH MY GOD]). Trevor had something that was equally wonderful but I can’t remember what because all I remember is my grilled cheese sandwich. It. was. so. good. No pictures were taken during our meal because, well, because I had to immediately start eating my food. Because, cheese.

But while we waited for our table, T. made our first Vonnegut sighting and got a picture.

Vonnegut saying 'hi' while we wait for breakfast.

Vonnegut saying ‘hi’ while we wait for breakfast.

Vonnegut Sighting

After we ate, we headed to the KVML, but it wasn’t yet open because I’d been looking at their weekday operating hours, and it was Saturday. We had about twenty minutes to kill, so we wandered to the Indiana State Capitol just a few blocks away.

Instead of joining a tour, we just meandered up and down the floors and through the hallways, reading plaques and enjoying the loveliness and quiet of a 128 year-old bureaucratic building on a Saturday morning.

Indiana State Capital Atrium

Indianapolis Capitol Dome

Indiana AnimalsBut the best part of visiting the Capitol came as we were leaving. Since it was a Saturday, visitors had to come in through a side entrance on the lower level and take an elevator up to the main floor. The lower level — the basement — was dark and had a lot of hallways and ramps that just begged to be explored. Since the only security was in a hallway by the entrance, T. and I decided to peek around to see what we could see.

And we saw where the Indiana State Representatives and Senators wash their dirty laundry.

Capitol Basement 1

Yeah, we were really not supposed to be down there.

We saw where the Indiana Congress probably keeps any misbehaving guests.

They're behind this padlocked door.

They’re behind this padlocked door.

We saw where the Senate Committee 130 meets. They’re clearly the least-liked of all the committees in the history of the state of Indiana.

This is an unfortunate meeting room.

This is an unfortunate meeting room.

And we saw that some of the people working in basement offices have a fun sense of humor.

The Propaganda Machine

We finished wandering and headed to the library, which was open and waiting for us.

A replica of his home writing area.

A replica of his home writing area.

The space is small but well curated, with artifacts from Vonnegut’s military career and his writing and reading life, his original artwork, and artwork inspired by his work and about his life. The docent on duty was great to talk to and gave me a lot of extra information about Vonnegut’s academic career. Although Vonnegut had done undergraduate work at a number of institutions, he never got a bachelor’s degree; and he only got his master’s degree (from UC, where he’d studied for his master’s in anthropology but never got his thesis finished or approved) after he was told by the University of Iowa, where he’d been teaching in its Writers’ Workshop, that he kind of, sort of needed to have a degree to teach graduate classes. Oh, bother.

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

After we exhausted the library, we headed back to our hotel to rest up before we got to formally relax with a massage at the hotel spa. This is a luxury we’ve enjoyed three times now — first for our anniversary and then as part of a Christmas present from Greg and Paula a few year ago — and it’s so much fun. We felt very fancy, drinking strawberry water and taking “aromatherapy journeys,” and we took zero pictures.

Saturday night we had dinner and drinks in the Fountain Square neighborhood. Highlights included cocktails at a Vonnegut inspired place called Bluebeard and an accidental run-in with the Virginia Avenue Folk Fest. It was a chilly night, so we didn’t hang out too long for many of the bands, but on every block there was some group playing something toe-tapping. One in particular, The Hammer & The Hatchet, who were playing outside of a little shop called American Beauty, were especially great. We came upon them when they were playing their last few songs, and we enjoyed each one. It reminded me of when T. and I were on our honeymoon in Spain, and, while wandering the streets our first night in Barcelona, we came upon a sort-of Spanish polka band playing in a square outside of a cathedral. There was a group of people surrounding them and everyone was dancing and laughing and having a wonderful time. So now I love The Hammer & The Hatchet because they made me happily nostalgic.

And that was our trip to Indianapolis!

But taking the trip and planning this blog post reminded me that I’d never written about our trip to Los Angeles in February, so you’re going to read about that, too. Ha, suckers!

The L.A. trip was piggy-backed onto a trip T. was taking for work. He’d been out there with Callie and Leah for the week to work on the Dad Time project, and when my last class ended Thursday afternoon, I headed to California to join him for the weekend.

Clearly, because we are who we are, books were a part of this vacation, and we went to the art book fair at the Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art. We spent a number of hours wandering around, and both of us found great stuff for our bookshelves.

T at Art Fair

Yes, that’s a slap-bracelet displayed on a potato in the foreground.

Art Fair


We also took an opportunity to visit some friends who live in L.A. Our first night we met up with a former student of mine named Arabella, who is working as a writer and having a lot of success. I am the most proud of her that I possibly can be. Even if she was just living in L.A. and working as a cat-sitter and trying to make it, I would be proud; but she’s, like, doing it. She was in the first creative writing class I ever taught at MCC, and she was my editor for the literary magazine for two years. She’s talented, smart, and, basically, the bee’s knees.

I didn’t take a picture of us in L.A., but here she is in my end-of-year class photo from 2009:

Creative Writing, McHenry County College, 2009

Creative Writing, McHenry County College, 2009

Our second night we hung for a bit out with my friend Tim (who I know from my days at Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and his wife Annie. We hadn’t seen them since our wedding in 2007; they moved out to L.A. the following year to see if Tim could be successful in Hollywood. And, well, he pretty much is. Annie teaches theater at a high school for the arts, and they have two cool little kids, who we got to meet for the first time. It was nice to catch up.

We also did our fair share of wandering, and the best place we found to people (and animal) watch was Venice Beach. We saw some birds.

Birds of Venice Beach

Birds of Venice Beach

Bird man.

Bird man.

We saw some surfers.

And we saw some skaters. They were hypnotizing and I could have watched them for hours and hours and hours and been very happy, listening to the sound of their wheels rolling back and forth on the concrete.

We saw some yard art and walked along the canals, and loved it all, even though our feet were tired.

Venice Beach LegsT on Canal

And our last night, while we made our way through other neighborhoods, we came upon the Hollywood headquarters of the Church of Scientology…

Church of Scientology

We were in a car so we couldn’t stop to creep around it.

…and the Echo Park Time Travel Mart.

Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Unfortunately, we found it after business hours. We will need to come back to Echo Park again soon.

Los Angeles is pretty weird and pretty wonderful.

So those were our trips! We have other news from Camp Crystal Lake that I’ll report out in other posts over the coming weeks, and I’ll be running another online writing group this summer, so you’ll be reading a lot about that. Prepare yourselves!

Door County Road Trip 2015

Last weekend was the annual Power family Door County summer vacation, and it was a hell of a good time. We organized this year’s summer trip so we could attend Grandpa Madel’s second memorial and visit with the Madel clan (read more about Grandpa and his first memorial).

Part of the memorial was a naming ceremony at the Door County Public Library in Sturgeon Bay, where Grandpa volunteered for decades. Grandpa worked with the Friends of the Library, organizing the collection of books for sale and researching prices of rare and out-of-print editions. Many of his children and grandchildren spent hours upon hours in that library basement with Grandpa, so it was the perfect place to first gather with everyone. The Friends of the Library honored Grandpa and his service by re-naming the room after him:

Grandma Madel with Doug (left), Mike (center), and Paul (right)

Grandma Madel with Doug (left), Mike (center), and Paul (right)

The reception, organized by the Friends, was thoughtful and lovely–a perfect way to memorialize Grandpa.

The whole crew (Photo Courtesy of Danielle--thanks, Danielle!)

The whole crew (Photo Courtesy of Danielle–thanks, Danielle!)

Neill, Trevor, Rachel, and Sean pose with Grandma

Neill, Trevor, Rachel, and Sean pose with Grandma

Trevor browses the collection

Trevor browses the collection

The naming ceremony and reception, though, wasn’t the only game in town lined up to honor Mel Madel. Doug organized a memorial at the Collins Learning Center, a beautiful lecture hall and teaching facility in the Crossroads at Big Creek nature preserve. The memorial was Saturday afternoon, and the day was beautiful. We ate lunch together with the Madels and assorted friends of Grandma and Grandpa, watched a touching slide show Doug had put together, and wandered around the grounds–the old school house, chapel, barn, and general store–near the learning center.


Schoolhouse Coat Room

Trevor takes the pulpit

Trevor takes the pulpit

Red Barn



Before we left, we said hi to the animals in the Collins Learning Center’s exhibits:

Animal in a Tree

I can’t get out of this tree. Please get me out of this tree.


Need a dam built? I’m your guy.


Please get Uncle Mike. I’d like to tell him ‘hello.’

Laura the Fish

That fish with the hair is suspicious. I don’t trust her.

We spent the evening with the family again, this time at the house where Paul, Jen, Ben, and Danielle were staying on Kangaroo Lake. We ate, drank, played games, talked by the bonfire, and enjoyed spending a perfect night with relatives we don’t get to see often enough. And we heard stories about Grandpa, which are always a joy to listen to.

Playing Poker

Cousins playing poker

Kangaroo Lake

And it wouldn’t have been a Power Family Door County vacation without some wandering around. We went to Moonlight Bay, just down the street from our rental house.

Looking for Frogs

Fran, Angelique, and Rachel, pointing at…

Green Frog

…one of these guys!

The creek near Moonlight Bay was hopping with frogs (yep, I did that). Sadie tried to catch some, but we weren’t prepared with a net, so we went home frog-less.

Sadie Looks for Frogs

Looking good, but lamenting the lack of a frog

Looking good, but lamenting the lack of a frog (and Neill is helping Sadie carry her satchel, which she is obviously very protective of)

And of course it really wouldn’t have been a trip to Door County without a quick stop in Grandpa’s library. It’s looking so much emptier than usual because he bequeathed so much of his collection to his children and grandchildren. But it’s still got shelves and shelves of books, and a lot of Grandpa’s personal memorabilia.

A well organized library, thanks to Uncle Mark

A well organized library, thanks to Uncle Mark

Grandpa's Ode to Mark Twain

Grandpa’s Ode to Mark Twain

Hubba, hubba

Hubba, hubba–some pin-ups from Grandpa’s war-time scrapbook

Self-portraits from Grandpa's war-time scrapbook

Snapshots from Grandpa’s war-time scrapbook

Melvin Robert Madel: War-Time Self-Portraits

Melvin Robert Madel: War-Time Self-Portraits

It was a short, but sweet trip. We realized how nice it is to see the extended Madel family, and because of that Trevor and I want to take a trip to Montana to visit Uncle Mike and Ben and his family; and while we’re at it, we’ll take trips to New York and Amsterdam, too. It’s a good thing to have family in such great parts of the world.

And of course, it was a melancholy trip. We all felt Grandpa, there in the library with us and when we hugged Grandma. And we saw him when we looked at his sister, Mildred, and his sons, especially Paul, who is the spitting image of Grandpa. But we still have the library, Grandma, Mildred, Paul, and everyone else. And that makes us very happy.

Know what else makes me happy? Amazing tiger-art that Trevor found at a shop in downtown Sturgeon Bay.

I'm 100% positive Grandpa would have liked this card Trevor spotted in a Sturgeon Bay store

I’m 100% positive Grandpa would have liked this card

And you know what else makes me happy? one a.m. dance parties with my sisters-in-law. There are thankfully no pictures of that, but please imagine it. Got it? You’re welcome.