Friday, July 30, 2010

Iowa---Vacation WONDERLAND!!!

So...I made my yearly "summer trek" to Iowa last week, and, for the first time ever, it didn't feel like I was "going home"...which was REALLY weird.  Don't get me wrong, it was still COMPLETELY comfortable, and fun, and delightful, and wonderful...but I found myself thinking..."okay...a week here, then I get to go HOME".  Again...COMPLETELY WEIRD...

The drive down was was a BEAUTIFUL, sunny day, so a very mellow drive.  I did the obligatory stop in Pella for goodies from Jaarsma Bakery.  This time, I bought enough to give some to each of my "hosts" for the week.  It still strikes me as odd that there isn't a Dutch bakery anywhere in the twin cities.  UNFORTUNATELY (or fortunately...depending on how you look at it), I discovered that Jaarsma has a nationwide delivery service...CRAP...goodbye waistline...!

I got to Fairfield around 5:00, dropped off my stuff at Tena's ("homestay" #1), and headed over to spend the evening with my buddy Carol.  We had a DELIGHTFUL time catching up.  She made a LOVELY dinner, and we discussed her dining room makeover, and the new living room furniture she hoped to purchase.  She said that she wanted to go to Slumberland to pick stuff out, and I wondered where the nearest one was...turns out it's in OSKALOOSA (about an hour's drive back up the road I'd just traveled down).  FUNNY, when I think that my nearest Slumberland is THREE BLOCKS FROM MY HOUSE.  Ah small town life...

After hanging with Carol for the evening, I headed back to Tena's.  She was in the Way Off Broadway production of "Annie" at the Sondheim (one of the reasons I came to Iowa in July...when it's hot and miserable...), and I attempted to wait up for her to get home.  She had a couple of parties at which to make appearances, so I ended up going to bed before she got home.

Saturday, I drove to Cedar Rapids to pick Duane up at the airport, so he could spend part of the weekend in Fairfield as well.  Tena came with me/us, which was good, because, except for a few minutes Saturday night and a few minutes Sunday morning, that was the only chance we had to see her.

We stopped in Iowa City for sushi on the way back (well...Tena had sushi, Duane and I had tempura...), and had a GREAT time catching up.  It was WAY too little time with her, but...quality vs. quantity!

After we got back, we went to Hy-Vee (because that's what we DO when we go to Fairfield!), then headed to Carol's.  Carol and Duane have become TIGHT friends over the years, and it's always fun to see them interact!

Duane and Carol

Carol and me

Duane and me

We went to Bibo, which used to be Regina's, in the Broadway building for dinner, and it was good (I had the Tuscan artichoke chicken), but not fabulous.  It WASN'T Regina's, and I need to stop trying to compare the two, because they just aren't the same...

After dinner we walked around the square for a bit, and looked at the birdhouse displays that they've set up as part of their summer art show.

We then headed to the Sondheim to see "Annie".  It was a DELIGHTFUL show (although...having seen Maplewood do it last fall, and now this summer production, it's safe to say that I'd be fine NEVER seeing this show again...).

The show was very slick...great acting, wonderful singing (Tena, of course, was BRILLIANT!), and had very cool staging, sets, and costumes.  Tena's boyfriend Andrew was also in the cast, and he too, was wonderful in his role.  I'm always a little jealous when I see one of these shows...these opportunities certainly weren't available when I was living there...sigh...

Me and Tena (who still looks mean...even though she's smiling!)

After the show, Andrew came over to Tena's and we had a little more time to chat and catch up.  We were all tired, so didn't stay up very late.

Sunday, we chatted a little more with Tena, then headed back to Cedar Rapids so Duane could catch his flight back to the cities (it was a VERY brief visit).  There's a really cool sculpture of "travelers" near the entrance to the airport.  I FINALLY had a chance to explore and take some photos (we're usually in too big of a hurry to arrive somewhere or leave for somewhere to take the time).  Here are a couple of photos of it:

After dropping Duane off, I headed to Coralridge Mall. to do some shopping (I found the Fiestaware 5 piece dinner set I was looking for, in turquoise, ON SALE), then headed to Kelly's ("homestay" #2).  Kelly and I are friends from my days in grad school. She moved to Seattle after graduating, and we visited her once while we were in Washington. She moved back to Iowa City about a year ago, and lives in North Liberty.  It was GREAT to see her again!

We caught up for awhile, then I headed to my friend LaDawn's for dinner in Cedar Rapids. We had a LOVELY time chatting, playing a video karaoke competition game, and Trivial Pursuit (also electronic). I hadn't seen her (or Chris!) for a year or two, and our e-mails have been sporadic, at best, so it was great to find out what was going on with them, and to catch them up on my life, as well.

Monday, I got ready, and headed into Iowa City to see what had changed, and what had stayed the same.  I made a brief stop at the North Liberty Public Library to say hi to my friend Jennie (also from grad school), found a Caribou Coffee House (YAY...THEY HAVE CARIBOU IN IOWA!!!), then headed downtown.

It's always a little strange to go back to a place where you spent a great deal of time, in another life, when you were a different person, and see it through more objective eyes.  I LOVE Iowa City, but for some reason, it felt really "small town" this time.  I'm sure living in Minneapolis has a lot to do with that, but it was also something about the way people dressed, acted, etc. that made it seem a little "rural". was GREAT to be in Iowa City.  LOTS of things have changed (like the Old Capital Mall, which is now called something else, and is mostly occupied by University of Iowa departments that were displaced from the flood a few years back), but lots of things that were the same...Iowa Book and Supply, the Ped Mall, Prairie Lights Books, The Soap Opera, and Mickey's, where I met Kelly for lunch.

Kelly at Mickey's!!

After a FABULOUS Mickey's chimichanga (who knew??!!), we drove around town for a bit, looked closer at the damage around Hancher, the theater building, the art building, etc., then stopped briefly at Sycamore Mall (where Kelly found a FABULOUS pair of purple sandals at Von Maur).  I then took Kelly back to work, and I headed to Kalona to have dinner with my friend Jim.

I can't remember where Jim and I met.  I THINK it was at Faith United Church of Christ, when I was attending services there during my last few years in Fairfield.  We've kept in touch, and he's a good friend.  We had a GREAT time chatting, and enjoying his FABULOUS back yard.  He's done a lot of work on it.  Here are a couple of photos.

Tuesday, I packed up the car (I had LOTS of help from one of Kelly's "found" cats, Felix, who kept wanting to get inside everything, and, apparently, come with me), put air in the tire that kept making the "low tire pressure" light on the dashboard come on, and headed back to Fairfield.


I meandered back, stopping at Menard's in Iowa City to get paint samples for Carol's dining room, stopping at a Goodwill and an antique store in Washington, and taking several "back roads" along the way.

I got to town just in time to have lunch with DeeAnn, Trish, Scott, and Carol at Revelations.  I hadn't really HAD my Revelations fix yet...having only stopped in for coffee on the first morning in town, so it was GOOD to actually get to sit at a table there, and enjoy one of their FABULOUS pizzas!  As usual, I had the Greek Pizza, with artichokes, kalamata olives, and garlic.


Carol and Trish


After lunch, I hung around at Carol's ("homestay" #3) for awhile, then headed to Hairstyles Unlimited to have Jeannie, my former stylist, cut my hair.  She didn't have any openings, so had me come after she closed.  We chatted, drank wine, and had a GREAT time coming up with the "fauxhawk" below!

At lunch, DeeAnn mentioned that it was "community band concert" night, and my friend Fred was celebrating his 45th birthday with a party, so we decided to be PARTY ANIMALS, and attend both!  It was DELIGHTFUL to see a TON of people I knew at the band concert, and it was also fun to see old friends, and meet new ones at Fred's party!  It turns out Fred and Sue moved into a house that I used to play in as a was right around the corner from where I grew up.  Small world...

Deena, with whom I worked at the Fairfield Public Library!

Catching up with Suzanne at Fred's birthday party!

Trish and me

Chatting with Scott

After the party, we headed to Scott and Trish's to see their daugher Emily's senior pictures, which, as is the family tradition, were taken in St. Simon's Island, Georgia.  After staying up WAY TOO LATE, we went back to Carol's and CONKED OUT!

Wendesday, we headed to Slumberland in Oskaloosa to look for new living room furniture.  They actually had a pretty good selection of stuff, and, after only a little searching, found what we were looking for.  Here's the chair that Carol chose (two, actually, with an ottoman)...

...but in THIS color...

...and here's the loveseat she picked out (with my encouragement).  She's still not completely sure this is what she wants (red is a little bit outside her comfort zone), but I think it's going to look AMAZING (the pillows will NOT be included in the decor)!

Carol is also FINALLY having the wallpaper taken off her dining room walls (today, in fact), and we chose a LOVELY light brown that she's going to use.  We also found a slightly darker brown that she's going to use to paint the inside of the built-in cabinet (which is currently a dirty, pool-turquoise color).  It's going to look FABULOUS!!!!  Here's the old wallpaper (that we started picking at a few days ago...).

After picking out furniture, we went to "downtown" Oskaloosa, and had lunch at a GREAT Mexican place, (I think it was called Miranhito's).  I had a LOVELY chicken mole dish...very "cinnamon-y"!  We then went to a COOL independent bookstore, called the Book Vault, which used to be a bank.  You can go into the various vaults and look at genre specific books.  I found the "mysteries", and books on "Al Capone", housed in one vault PARTICULARLY fun!

We then took some photos at the gazebo in Central Park (below), then headed back to Fairfield.

Chief Mahaska, for whom Mahaska County is named.

After the Oskaloosa trip, we hung out at the house for awhile (napping, reading, and being first chance to do so since getting to town!), then I headed to my friend Claudette's and we took a walk along some of the trails near Chautauqua Park.  NOTHING says comfortable and pleasant like a walk down a dirt path in Iowa in July, when the heat index is 105 degrees!  Ugh!  I forgot how uncomfortable Iowa can be in the summer, but it was GREAT catching up with Claudette, finding out all that's happening at the library, around town, with her family, and in general!

The evening ended with television and wine on Carol's sofa (the loveseat had, earlier in the day, been relegated to the garage, in preparation for the new, RED loveseat that's set to arrive next week!).  It was a LOVELY, mellow end to the visit.

Thursday, I got up, packed, loaded the car, stopped at Revelations for one last coffee (and their AMAZING triple berry scones!), stopped at Fairfield Flower to send a bouquet to a former co-worker who is recovering from surgery, then started the LONG AND TEDIOUS drive back to the cities.

I stopped in Des Moines to TRY to pick up an 8 foot by 2 foot Northwest Airlines sign that Duane bought on e-bay, but, after trying several times, UNSUCCESSFULLY, to cram it in my car, gave up, and will now have to go back with a larger vehicle to get it.  It ALMOST fit, and, if I were willing to have it rest on my head, blocking any view out any window of my car, for the four hour trip, WOULD have.  Sigh...

One quick stop at the antique mall in Story City, and I'm now back in the cities, unpacking, doing a TON of laundry, and thinking about all the FUN I had this past week.  Great friends, great times, 1,300 more miles on the car...oy!!!!

Here's hoping YOU had a chance to catch up with friends recently, and that YOU were able to do it without driving...and driving...and driving...and driving!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Miami NICE!!

Last Wednesday, four of us from my district, flew to Miami Beach, Florida, to attend the "IB Conference of the Americas" at the Fountainbleu Hotel and Conference Center.  All I can say is WOW...what an experience!

We arrived around 5:00 in the afternoon, and, after dropping our stuff in our room, headed to the lobby to explore the hotel.  The first thing I noticed was that people wear WAY less clothing in Miami than they do in Minnesota!  Not particularly a HUGE surprise, but I WAS surprised at how SHORT women't hemlines were, and how much CLEAVAGE was presented...not something I particularly focus on, in general, but...oy! 

I decided that the Fountainbleu is a "peacock's paradise"...people flaunting their hard work and dedication to fitness (or lack of eating food...I can't be sure as to the method of "thinness and physique building") and their ability to get a REALLY GOOD TAN.  It was DEFINITELY a "people watching" paradise, and I can assure you that I kept my shirt on at ALL times (being pudgy and pasty, both at the same time...).

Anyway...we decided our first order of business was dinner.  We didn't know the area, so opted for a casual cafe, in the hotel, called Vida.  They offered sushi, sandwiches, and miscellaneous fish entrees.  It was good, but not stellar.  I ended up choosing tempura and udon, and some veggie sushi rolls.

My room at the Fountainbleu

The view from my room

After dinner, we checked out the pool area, and headed to the beach.  It was high tide, and completely dark, so we didn't see much of the "beachscape", but it was LOVELY to take off our shoes and wade through the tide.


We ended the evening with a cocktail in the lobby bar.  The people watching quotient SKYROCKETED at this point, as many people were coming to the Fountainbleu to go to the club located on the lower level.

Thursday, we walked to a French cafe nearby for a quick breakfast, and, by the time we got back to the hotel, at 8:15, were completely wilted and sweaty.  Miami in July is DEFINITELY a "stay indoors" kind of place...ugh!

After going back to the room and drying off, we headed to the pre-conference sessions.  Nancy and I attended Programme Evaluation.  Our authorization was last spring, and we now have three years before they come back to evaluate how we are doing.  There is a TON of paperwork, some self-study evaluations to complete, and lots of scheduling to take care of.  I was a little TENSE going in, because it really IS a lot of rigorous reflection and assessment of how we are moving forward with the IB standards and philosophy.

The BEST bit of information that I got from the day was that I'm not SOLELY responsible for doing it all.  Administrators, teachers, students, and parents are ALL involved in the various aspects of the preparation.

I was also pleased to hear from others who have gone through the process, and the best piece of advice I got was "I've heard that some schools 'cram' for the evaluation.  They drill the attitudes and profiles a few months before the visit, and do an in-depth study of the standards and Making the PYP Happen around the same time, so that when the evaluation team arrives, it's like regurgitating information for a test.  We choose to make these things part of every day of every school year.  It's imbedded in everything we do.  That way, when they come, we are who we are.  The pressure is AMAZINGLY diminished, and we're being more authentic in what we present ourselves as".  BRILLIANT (and such a DUH!  That's how it SHOULD be!).  The workshop was extremely helpful, and I got lots of great information on the process.

After the workshop, the conference "officially" started with a keynote speech by Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, just happened to be in the crowd, so he got up and made a brief speech as well.

I'll freely admit that I've never read Three Cups of Tea, and had no idea WHO Greg Mortenson was, but I found him to be an AMAZING person. His story revolves around a climbing trip to K2 in Pakistan, and involves getting lost, wandering into a village, and seeing children doing school lessons on the ground, in the dirt, because they didn't have a school. A teacher came to the village every three days to teach, and the students spent the other days practicing the lessons left by the teacher.

He made a vow to come back and build a school, and the book details his efforts, and successes, in doing so. It also speaks of relationships, family, overcoming HUGE obstacles, and a really unpleasant tea called Paiyu cha which is made with "salt, baking soda, goat's milk, and an aged, sour butter churned from yak's milk". I can't imagine what it tastes like, but am COMPLETELY okay never finding out...

He was a wonderful speaker, and his message was one of hope, and perseverence, and REALLY "brought home" the realization that we have SO MUCH in this country that we take for granted. America is TRULY a land of great opportunities, of which SO MANY people in the world will never experience, or have access to in their own countries.

Khaled Hosseini

Greg Mortenson

After his AMAZING speech, there was a reception in the courtyard. It was fancy, and fabulous, and fun! It was a chance to mingle, and get to know people, and network with the IB community. GREAT people!

Friday, was the official opening of the conference.  It started with a keynote speech by Wade Davis, who spoke about his book The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in a Modern World.  His speech was full of information, and stories, and he spoke of his experiences with National Geographic Magazine.   I have to admit that he lost me SEVERAL times during his speech.  It was fast-paced, and full of eloquent words, and a little confusing, but, nonetheless, INCREDIBLY interesting. 

After his speech, we went to various "breakout" sessions.  I attended workshops on "Building Collaborative Teams", "Using a Conceptual Model for Integrating PYP Transdisciplinary Themes and State Standards", and the "PYP Update" to see what changes were coming in the PYP. The breakout sessions were good, and I came away with some useful information, strategies, and ideas.

After our sessions on Friday, we decided to do some shopping at Aventura Mall. We jumped in a taxi, and, $35.00 later, arrived. It was like any other mall, and we were still a little "shell shocked" from the cab fare, so didn't enjoy it as much as we could have.  From the mall, we headed to South Beach to explore the area, and THAT cab fare was $52.00.  Ugh!

South Beach is another FABULOUS "people watching" destination, but turned up about TWENTY notches from the Fountainbleu.  What an amazing melting pot of all KINDS of people!  Very trendy, very expensive, and very eclectic (the only thing I could afford was a t-shirt in the "tourist shop", that said LIFEGUARD MIAMI BEACH...).

We found a GREAT Cuban restaurant, David's Cafe, and I had a DELIGHTFUL shredded beef and pepper dish, with sides of black beans, and tostones (salty breaded plantains).  We started the meal with the sampler appetizers, and got to try a variety of Cuban goodies.  My favorite was the plantain chips.

After dinner, we explored more of Lincoln Road, then headed back to the hotel.

Saturday's keynote speaker was Alma Guillermoprieto, an AMAZING reporter with FASCINATING stories of her experiences in South America.  She has written for The Guardian, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and many other key magazines and newspapers.

She has experienced some REMARKABLE things, and spoke with passion and authority, and was very moving.  She spoke of interviews with dictators, and sandanistas, and everyday people.  She spoke of poor people lying dead in the streets, killed by the death squads in the area, and her first assignment, in which she got an interview with a dictator that no other reporter was able to get, and, upon shaking his hand, dropped her purse.  The photographer with her snapped a photo at the exact moment that she was reaching down to retrieve it, and the photo ended up running in many major newpapers around the world.  In it, she looked like she was curtseying.

The breakout sessions for Saturday included "Developing and Implementing a Schoolwide Assessment Policy", "Creating a Nurturing, Open-Minded School", and "Transforming a Media Center into a Center for Inquiry".  I again came away with some great ideas, good information, and things that I can use to improve what I do, and where I do it.

After the breakout sessions, we headed BACK to the beach for a little time in the sun.  Unfortunately, there were HUGE rain clouds in the sky, and, as we were sitting looking at the ocean, it started to sprinkle.  We were fine with sprinkles, since it WAS the beach, and we WERE putting our feet in the water, but it started raining harder, so we decided to head toward the hotel. 

By the time we got to the gate, it started POURING.  We made it to one of the cabanas (after hurrying people along), and only managed to get SLIGHTLY drenched.  I had to LAUGH at the people who had stopped to use the "foot wash" showers to get the sand off their feet, considering that a MONSOON had just hit, and they could really have accomplished the same thing just by continuing to walk toward shelter...)

Drenched, but under shelter

The monsoon

After time at the beach, we decided to head back to South Beach.  Becky wanted sushi, so we found a GREAT fusion place called Sushi Samba.  I'm not a big fan of sushi, but decided to try a kobe beef sushi roll, with avacado, red onions, and a few other goodies tucked inside.  I ASSUMED that since it was beef, it would be cooked, but, in true sushi/sashimi fashion, is was raw.  Steak tartare is NOT my thing, but, deciding to be a risk-taker, I dipped it in my soy sauce, loaded on some pickled ginger, added a small dash of wasabi, and ate it.  It was SURPRISINGLY tasty.

Becky went for the "classic" sushi rolls, and ordered some sashimi (raw fish) as well.

Terry was the TRUE risk-taker of the evening, he tried my kobe beef rolls, Becky's sushi rolls, and the sashimi, all for the first time.  GO TERRY!!!

After sushi/sashimi, we headed down Lincoln Road to do more exploring.

We stopped at an Irish Pub for refreshments...

Did some "people watching"...

And went for our SECOND dinner at a FABULOUS pizzeria...

Sunday, was the final day of the conference.  I needed one last "ocean fix", so got up early, packed everything, and headed outside.  It was MUCH more enjoyable to explore the pool area when there weren't many people around.  The music was not POUNDING, there weren't people EVERYWHERE, and it had a lovely serenity to it.  Here are some photos...

After the pool, I headed through the gate for a few last minutes on the beach.  It too, was serene, and mostly empty, and extremely lovely!  Here are some photos...

The FINAL keynote speaker was Lorraine Monroe, and educator, administrator, and, as she described herself, crazy person.  She spoke of her passion for education, and students, and in doing EVERYTHING possible to help them succeed. 

She was ALL OVER the stage, and brilliant, and funny, and a little scary.  I want to BE her when I grow up.  By far, her speech was my favorite part of the conference.  She spoke about giving our jobs 110%, and in encouraging others to do the same. 

Her final thoughts (in my words and with my interpretation) were "Negative, lazy people...don't car pool with them, don't eat lunch with them.  Have nothing to do with them.  They suck your soul dry, and interfere with what's truly important...doing whatever it takes to get your students to succeed."

This was my first Conference of the Americas, and I was inspired, challenged, amazed, and informed.  The conference reaffirmed even more strongly that I think IB is the way to go in education.  It was AMAZING to be surrounded by so many others who share the IB vision, and who believe in it as strongly as I do. 

Here's hoping YOU were able to enjoy a new experience a new place...and that you were able to be "reinvigorated" in your career as well!