Category Archives: Work

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…

Noëmi!

…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.

Professional…

…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!

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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.

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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:

Adorable.

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.

WHAT IS HAPPENING? I LOVE ALL OF IT!

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.

Airport!

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:

YES.

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.

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Voting Is Important

On Tuesday, April 4, there will be a consolidated election in McHenry County, as there will be elections all over the state; and as part of that election, my community will be voting to fill two seats on McHenry County College’s Board of Trustees.

And it’s a big deal.

Elections are always a big deal; I know this. They’re a big deal, and everyone should educate themselves about elections in their communities (even though it’s sometimes a pain to do research), and everyone should get out on election days and vote (even though it’s not always convenient to go vote on a random Tuesday in April).

But you know what’s on the table for this election, and for the school where I’ve worked for over a decade? Civility, decency, and education itself.

See, out of the four people running for the two available seats on MCC’s Board, there are two reasonable, measured, thoughtful human beings: Linda Liddell, an incumbent running for her seat, and Tom Allen, an MCC alumni.

Liddell and Allen are friends of MCC: they are pro-faculty, pro-student, and pro-education. MCC’s faculty and staff unions have both endorsed Liddell and Allen. I’d place a safe bet that nearly all (maybe 99.99%) of MCC’s employees are going to vote for Liddell and Allen. I’m voting for Liddell and Allen.

Yeah, I made these signs myself; and yeah, I laminated them. BOOM.

And wouldn’t it be nice if we could just end it there? With some laminated signs and a bit of silliness? It would be, right? But we can’t.

We can’t end it there because the woman who’s running for one of the two open spots is a terrifying person. Her name is Diane Evertsen and she needs to be discussed.

Evertsen was, and likely still is a member of the “Minuteman Project,” a group designed to watch the U.S. border in an effort to keep out illegal immigrants. Evertsen published posts on her family’s Minutemen Midwest blog (yes, her family had their own Minutemen blog) about President Barack Obama and undocumented immigrants, and the language used on the family’s blog is unfit to repeat. Why is that language used by Evertsen and her family unfit to repeat? Because it’s despicable, racist language.

In 2010, the Evertsens tried to purge the internet of their work by deleting the site, but someone archived them on a separate blog to prevent the family from hiding.

But these archived posts are not the only traces of Diane Evertsen’s problematic views. In 2008, the Mexican Consulate visited Harvard Junior High School to register community members for consular ID cards, and Evertsen, a resident of Harvard, protested. She gave a three-minute presentation to the Harvard school board. Her message was intolerant but not surprising, given her affiliation with the “Minuteman Project.”

Excerpt from Evertsen’s presentation

Harvard is a small town about twenty miles from MCC, and it’s one of the towns our college serves. While McHenry County’s Latino population is about 12%, estimated by recent U.S. Census data, Harvard’s Latino population is about 37%. These residents of Harvard attend my college — I have four students from Harvard in my classrooms alone — and the growing Latino population in McHenry County as a whole is a population that the college is actively engaged in serving. According to MCC’s 2013 Environmental Scan, the college wants to join other institutions to “be seen as a successful bridge for students stepping out from their local communities into the global economy” (pp. 27). The report goes on to say this:

Successful performance in today’s rapidly multicultural workforce requires sensitivity to human differences and the ability to relate to people from varied cultural backgrounds. Thus, an increasingly important postsecondary educational outcome is helping students become more comfortable and competent in moving personally and professionally among cultures of the world. A related outcome is to prepare students to engage in worldwide activities related to education, business, and social interaction. (pp. 27)

Evertsen does not seem to show sensitivity to human differences. In fact, she seems to show the exact opposite. This is not a person we want sitting on the college’s Board of Trustees.

Evertsen and her running mate are promoting a platform of no new taxes, which is the platform that contributed to the reduction in force of nineteen MCC employees earlier this month, including four full-time faculty members. If the Board of Trustees continues to refuse to vote on a tax levy in the upcoming year, this first RIF will not be our last.

Many residents of McHenry County are anti-tax. We have some of the highest property taxes in the state, and the community doesn’t like it. In November, Crystal Lake residents voted down a $132 annual household tax to build a new library. That’s right: $132 a year, per household. For a public library.

Trevor and I voted “YES” for the new library. The majority of the city did not.

So I’m fearful that these same voters will stop their investigations at Evertsen’s campaign slogan. Please, voters: keep digging. There is much more to this person, and none of it is good for our college, for our students, or for our community.

I write this post in an effort to spread the word about Evertsen and to encourage everyone to get out and vote on Tuesday, April 4. School districts in Palatine and Elgin are also facing important votes, including votes about restrictions on transgender students’ rights to use the bathroom. This isn’t an election to sit out. There is no election to sit out.

Whether your town is voting for mayor, alderman, school board, or legislation, find out what’s best — what’s not racist, not intolerant — and then go out and support it in the most democratically empowering way you can: by voting.

We are a flag house; we are a lawn sign house

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A Day Without Four Women

Wednesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which is a day, according to the IWD campaign’s website, “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

And it is because of that call to action that I am writing. Today I participated in A Day Without A Woman, and took a personal day from work, have abstained from all social media, and haven’t spent any money (although if I had, I’d have spent money with women-owned businesses…). Trevor, who is employed at a woman-owned business, has been working from home today, and has taken Roo on all of her walks, has made us lunch, and will be making us dinner. Hopefully soon.

And I was looking forward to the day as my small part in a much larger movement. I wasn’t able to march in January (although I knitted some pink pussy hats that my amazing lady friends rocked at the March on Washington), so, for me, this day felt like my own little march — my march for equality and for justice and to recognize the privilege and the duty that I have as a citizen of the United States to protest in the first place.

But yesterday, Tuesday, March 7, I had the worst day of my professional life, and I needed to change my focus and my view of what I was protesting for.

Yesterday, four of my colleagues in the counseling department at McHenry County College — four women who have served the college in every imaginable way, consistently, and frequently without thanks — were let go as part of the college’s reduction in force. Three of these four women are part of the eighteen-member faculty cohort I led through our new faculty orientation program during my first year as chair of faculty development in 2009; the fourth has worked at the college for over twenty years. One of these women leads the grief support group and the Autism support group at the college; one of these women wrote the textbook now used in the college’s freshman experience course; one of these women sat on our union’s negotiating team for six months to help craft the language under which I am now employed and under which they have now been terminated; one of these women organized an interview session last week with the candidates for the upcoming Board of Trustees vote so that our faculty could get to know them and make an informed decision. These women have helped MCC’s six thousand students with career planning, navigating college for the first time, and crisis intervention. And today, along with all of the counseling adjunct faculty members, these four women are gone.

But the students who needed them are still on campus, hoping to get help with career planning, hoping to get assistance navigating college, and hoping for someone to take their hands and help them out of crisis.

For the past three years, the college has been operating its budget at a deficit, most recently because of the lack of state funding promised to us and other public institutions caused by Governor Rauner’s budget…issues. One third of our operational money is supposed to come from the state; a third from the county; and a third from tuition. So, without that money from the state, the college was facing either raising tuition (we are currently at $104 per credit hour, while area institutions College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, and Kishwaukee College are at $112, $125, and $129 respectively) or voting on a tax levy, which they have refused to do for years.

So the college needed to put a bandage on this gaping wound, and a reduction in force for faculty, staff, and administrators seemed a necessary evil.

There is no good in this. There is no silver lining. And I know that that MCC is late to the game in terms of a RIF: CLC, Elgin, and Kish have all experienced layoffs starting in August 2016, and the board of Rock Valley College just voted to lay off twenty-eight faculty members; and it’s their second round of cuts. But that doesn’t make our situation any easier to swallow.

It doesn’t change the life-sucking reality that yesterday I tried to help my colleagues, who’d been given five minutes to collect their things and leave, pack their offices into boxes. Years and years and years of accumulated office supplies — many emblazoned with the college’s logo — and books and knick-knacks and gifts and cards from students. And when I got back to my own office and sat at my desk, looking at my collection of supplies, books, student-gifted knick-knacks and student-created paintings and writings, I grieved for my colleagues and for the students who will need them.

Today is A Day Without A Woman. It is a day we hope the world will realize how much women contribute to our society, to our collective whole. We are not better; we are not more important; but we are equal and we deserve to be treated as such.

There are many problems that need to be fixed, and today I will start work to solve them, beginning with my college. I will campaign for the two trustee candidates for my college board, Linda Liddell and Tom Allen, who I believe will best help us. I will vote for Liddell and Allen on April 4, 2017, and I will recruit as many people as I can to vote with me.

Today I started marching. Tomorrow I will continue.

Scarier Than Ghosts

Halloween isn’t celebrated in the Netherlands like it’s celebrated here in the U.S., so I’m very excited that Noëmi got to experience it here, or, if not the actual holiday, at least the preparation.

The first thing we did was get a couple of pumpkins for carving. Noëmi had never carved a pumpkin before, so she was very excited. We googled “Jack-o-Lanterns” for some good ideas, and then we set to carving.

Noëmi and a big knife

Noëmi and a big knife

pumpkin-guts

Tops off!

A bowl full of pumpkin guts!

A bowl full of pumpkin guts

noemi-carves-a-pumpkin-3 noemi-carves-a-pumpkin-2

Noëmi decided that her pumpkin would be smiley and cute, while I decided mine would be scarier, toothier. They both turned out pretty darn good.

Noëmi's first pumpkin!

Noëmi’s first pumpkin!

Once we had some ghoulish gourds, we set out to spookify the house. I took out my bag(s) of bones, my gravestones, ghosts, and my zombie gnomes, and we went at it.

grave-yard

Front yard graves

gravestone-and-foot

Back yard body parts

Ghosts!

Ghosts!

We're voting "Yes" on November 8 for a new library; and so is our ribcage and femur.

We’re voting “Yes” on November 8 for a new library; and so is our ribcage and femur.

We did a good job, and will hopefully scare the neighborhood children come Monday’s Halloween trick-or-treatathon. But our house wasn’t the only scary thing in Crystal Lake. There was also…WALMART.

See, one of the first things Noëmi asked me, when we started talking about cultural differences between the Netherlands and the U.S., was, “Can you really buy bullets in the grocery store?” And, although I hated to say it, the answer was, “Well, yeah.”

Because although you can’t get bullets at my local Jewel — and thank goodness for that — you can certainly get them at the local Walmart, where along with your baby formula, vitamins, green peppers for that chili you’re making, and new hand towels for the guest bathroom, you can buy as much ammo as you need! Great!

ammunition

Bullets, bullets, so many bullets! Welcome to the U.S.A.!

Walmart also sells bows and arrows…

noemi-and-bows-and-arrows…and bubble wrap:

Because who doesn't need this much bubble wrap?

Because who doesn’t need this much bubble wrap? And it’s somehow used by the Rebel Alliance, so…there’s that.

For more about Noëmi’s adventures with Halloween and Walmart, check out her excellent blog (it’s in Dutch, but her pictures are terrific [and maybe you read Dutch! I don’t know your life!]).

I’ll have more posts about Noëmi’s last days of adventuring at Camp Crystal Lake and Chicago, so come back soon!

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Netherlands on the Town

It’s been one week since our Dutch visitor Noëmi has been with us, and she has seen and done a lot. Her first few days here, she got the lay of the land and spent a lot of time on campus, meeting my English department colleagues, getting to know the college, and eating ice cream.

For the second half of her first week, I had a few different types of adventures planned. We were going to Chicago for my evening class at UIC, but we had the entire morning and afternoon to do whatever we liked; so we made it count.

After Noëmi observed a history class taught by my award-winning colleague David (he was teaching a lesson on the American Revolution), she and I hit to road into the city. We parked at my parents’ place (they were at the theater so weren’t around to say hello, but we’re going to have dinner with them on Tuesday) and took in the view before wandering the city.

noemi-on-balcony-2 noemi-on-balcony-1

We ate lunch at Macy’s on State Street and then rode the escalator down from the 8th floor to take it all in. I was slightly disappointed that Noëmi didn’t get to experience the department store as it looks when it’s decorated for Christmas, but she got the sights and smells, and get got herself some Frango mints.

Noëmi in Macy's

Noëmi in Macy’s

We walked across the street to the Daley Plaza’s farmer’s market, which was just starting to pack up. They’d dyed the fountain a bright blue in support of the Cubs making the playoffs (and winning the division last night! Go Cubs!), and Noëmi got some good pictures of the unnatural looking water. We stopped for a picture before moving on to Millennium Park.

noemi-in-daley-plaza

Noëmi gets a quick picture under the Picasso

At Millennium Park, we explored the Pritzker Pavilion, the BP Bridge (both designed by Frank Gehry), and, of course, the Bean (a.k.a. Cloud Gate). It was windy and chilly, but the trees were turning and the brisk weather made for great walking.

noemi-in-pritzker-pavilion-1

This is so cool!

“Everything is so big!”

cloud-gate-bean

Cleaning the Bean

Cleaning the Bean

We finished at the park and walked across the street to warm up, first inside Graham Cracker Comics, where Noëmi got a trade paperback copy of The Walking Dead volume one (oh, did I mention that she’s a huge fan of The Walking Dead? SHE’S A HUGE FAN OF THE WALKING DEAD!), and then we sat for a bit in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel lobby for some sparkling water and comfy chairs.

Although we’d seen a lot already, we had more to do that day. My class, Adolescence in the Schools, was starting at 5 p.m., so we drove over to UIC’s campus. Our topic for the week was gender identity, and Noëmi was able to participate a lot in our discussion, especially during the last thirty minutes of class when we got into small groups to work on what we would include in our ideal sex ed. curriculum. She was surprised that we were even talking about it — that it was even controversial — because in the Netherlands, it’s not a hot-button topic and quite normalized. Very different from our federally mandated “abstinence only until marriage” curriculum.

noemi-in-grad-school

She had a great time, though, and we left class talking about the U.S. school system, gender, and how hungry we were.

We stopped by Wishbone to have some dinner, and Noëmi got to try some Southern-style food without having to travel outside of Chicago. We also watched a couple innings of the Cubs game, and I did my best to explain the sport to her. I did a pretty good job: I used a lot of hand gestures and even got up to mime batting when I explained the strike zone. I think she was impressed.

Dinner at Wishbone: Noëmi's pulled pork and my Southern fried catfish

Dinner at Wishbone: Noëmi’s pulled pork and my Southern fried catfish

We guessed the weight of this pumpkin for a chance to win a Wishbone dinner. I have a good feeling about our chances...

We guessed the weight of this pumpkin for a chance to win a Wishbone dinner. I have a good feeling about our chances…

On Friday we had a much quieter day, going to MCC for the job fair, picking up some materials from the school advising office for Noëmi to take back with her to Summa College, and meeting a couple new friends.

Hey, new friends. You're not very talkative.

Hey, new friends. You’re not very talkative.

We wandered around the Woodstock Square, and I told Noëmi that we’d have to watch Groundhog Day at some point so she could get the full experience.

Image Credit: The Independent

Image Credit: The Independent

That evening, we met up with Lindsay, who coordinated the Dutch scholars’ visit, and her friend Kylie, who is a former student of mine and an amazing young woman, at Duke’s in downtown Crystal Lake. We ate some dinner, drank some beer, and laughed hard about Subarus and Vape Life. It was great.

Saturday was another day out in the world beyond Camp Crystal Lake: specifically, Sonny Acres. For the last seven years or so, the Power family has gone to a pumpkin farm in October, mostly to watch Sadie ride the rides, and also to check out any Halloween costume shops and drink some apple cider. Last year we deviated from the norm by going to Goebert’s Farm in Barrington, and while it was a good time, it just wasn’t the same as ole’ Sonny Acres; so this year we returned to our regular haunt.

When Trevor, Noëmi, and I arrived, Sadie was already in action, getting her Halloween game-face on:

A little more to sharpen the fangs...

A little more to sharpen the fangs…

A couple of little bites...

A couple of little bites…

Et voila!

Et voila — a mini vampire who wants the Cubs to win the World Series!

We wandered around for a couple of hours doing our usual stuff. I introduced Noëmi to apple cider (yes), to the caramel apple (yes and yes), and to rubber Halloween masks (no…okay, yes).

In line for cider with Neill and Fran

In line for cider with Neill and Fran

dr-who-mask

Trevor dons a mask

grilling

We see what’s on the grill

The best part of the afternoon, though, was seeing a Tabitha look-alike. We decided that this little guy is probably Tabitha’s younger brother:

tabithas-brotherThe afternoon was also remarkable for taking what was probably our best selfie, that some jerk hot dog photo-bombed. But since we’ve gotten so good at these, I figured I’d share them all with you:

Hot dog creeper

Hot dog creeper

And that was our last few days! We spent this morning watching Manchester United lose to Chelsea (BOOOOO, CHELSEA!!!!!), but Noëmi wore Trevor’s Memphis Depay jersey to represent the Netherlands.

Depay in the house!

Depay in the house!

I baked up some quick banana bread, which we scarfed down immediately, and now we’re about to go to see some American stores (I’m going to show her Walmart, where they sell weapons, because…AMERICUH), and then home to decorate the house for Halloween. I’ll also spend some time today practicing my Dutch phrases, which Noëmi is teaching me in preparation for my visit to see her in May. This is what I’ve learned so far:

  • I am Laura – Ik ben Laura
  • How are you? – Hoe gaat het?
  • Good – Goed
  • I’m from America – Ik kom uit Amerika
  • I’m a teacher – Ik ben een docent

Stop by next week for more about Noëmi’s continued adventures, and more amazing phrases!

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