Archive of ‘Posted by Katie’ category

Oslo: Day 3

Today was our first full day in Oslo and it was perhaps the most amazing day of travel I’ve ever had. We woke up early and had a traditional organic Norwegian breakfast at Goat, the restaurant attached to our hotel. The apple, carrot and beet salad was quite good as was the cheese and crackers, and fresh bread.

GOAT Oslo Norway Organic Breakfast

We set off for the information center at Grand Central station, and enjoyed sites along the way. We booked two 48 hour Oslo passes, which allow you to uses public transportation and gain admission to most museums. The nice thing about these passes is you can write the date and time on them yourself, so they ‘start’ exactly when you want them to. This was great, because a free city walking tour was scheduled to leave the information center 5 minutes after we arrived. We joined the tour, and learned some fun stories about the buildings located nearest to the City Center and Norwegian culture.

Oslo CIty Walking Tour

I’ll share two interesting Norwegian facts — one — young people are “required” to serve in the military for a year. It’s a loose requirement because if you decide you don’t want to, that’s generally okay. Norway seems pretty easy-going in regards to individual choice. Interesting fact — two — houses are generally painted 3 colors, and historically, this was an indication of wealth with the better off living in white houses, middle class in yellow houses and the people of least means living in red houses.

Next, we did a tour of City Hall. The walking tour used to go into city hall together, but our guide explained that within the last two weeks, they upgraded their security protocol, similar to an airport. So, we parted ways with the tour in order to get a closer look at city hall. City halls are generally not places of interest to me personally — but this one is actually pretty special. It’s where the Nobel Prizes are awarded every year on December 10.

Oslo City Hall

I was pretty excited to finally see this place in person, as Concordia, my undergrad, had a unique focus on the Nobel Peace Prize and hosted a biannual forum that replaced most of our classes for 3 academic calendar days.  I also did undergraduate research for a faculty member on peace education for children during May seminar one year.  These experiences aren’t ones I think of often, but when I stop to think about it, they’re woven into who I am today.  The tour focuses on the murals and their historical meaning.  Near the end of our tour, a choral wedding processional marched down the stairs.  I, too, might consider a Wednesday morning city hall wedding if I lived in Oslo!

Nobel Peace Center

Next up we visited the Nobel Prize Center.  The first floor is currently dedicated to nature and sustainability — the exhibit was creative and beautiful, but not overly informative.  The second floor was dedicated to the 2018 peace prize winner —  Dr Denis Mukwege — who has treated 44,000 war victims of sexual violence.  The exhibit was incredibly informative and emotionally moving.  The final exhibit is dedicated to all peace prize winners over time.  It’s beautiful and you could easily spend a half day in there if you were committed to thoroughness.  But, my sense is, most people skim through, focusing on the people they recognize, before moving on.

Nobel Peace Center

Next, we took a ferry boat over to the Bugdoy neighborhood to visit several museums.  We started out at the Norwegian Folk Museum, which was felt incredibly familiar to me, despite this being my first trip!  My family is Norwegian and their pride in this hardy culture has stayed with them despite a few generations of geographical separation.  The museum is open air, and includes several different period homes and town buildings which were moved onto museum grounds and restored.  There are also people dressed in period clothing who perform demonstrations and answer questions.  The  genuine stave chapel was cool to see (Joe and I got married in a replica stave chapel ourselves).

Norwegian Folk Museum

Inside, there’s a display of folk-art.  I was blown away by one piece in particular from Rindal, Norway, where my Dad’s family emigrated from — a bridal trunk.  Here’s the picture and the translation of the description:

Oslo Norway Folk Museum

Trunk FROM RINDAL, More Og Romsdal DATED 1834 Trunks were used for storage, and existed in all households – high and low. Thus, it became among the most common objects in which popular decorative art could unfold. Finest was the bride’s trunk as the girls gathered equipment, such as this one.

Next up, we visited the Holocaust museum.  I’m guessing this particular site isn’t frequented by non-locals as much as some of the other museums in this area, because we were the ONLY people there, and the unlike everywhere else we visited today, everything was in Norwegian.  Luckily, the woman at the counter gave us each a tablet which helped with some translations.  And, we walked away with quite a bit of new knowledge about the German occupation of Norway during WWII.   They also had a small exhibit near the end dedicated to genocide in Iraq, which left us walking away feeling heavy and discussing other relevant current events. 

Next, we visited the Viking Ship museum — a seemingly lighter-toned museum, although the Vikings were apparently pretty scary characters.   The word Skol!,  which is shouted during Vikings football games, is referring to the Vikings who drank beer out of their enemies skulls, apparently…  Their ships are really big and very cool.  I wonder what it felt like to be at the oars, rowing.  It looks logistically impossible, but it worked, I guess?

Viking Ship Museum

Our second, ship-themed museum was the Kon-Tiki.  I knew nothing at all about this until I visited, but a guy named Thor decided to provide proof of concept for his theory that South Americans could have settled Polynesia.  He did so by building a raft out of reeds (like they also could have), and sailing it 101 days across the ocean.  I get the impression Norway really really admires this Thor guy, as does the world.  He flew the United Nations flag on a follow up voyage from Morocco to Barbados, with a crew comprised of men from many different countries, plus a monkey and a duck(?)  Thor sounds sort of crazy, but smart and fun too.


Lastly, we visited the Fram museum, which is dedicated to Norwegian explorers.  We walked through a couple ships, and went through the (unrealistic, tacky) Arctic simulation.  Either northern MN is much colder than the Arctic, or their simulation is simply inaccurate (and also bizarre with the addition of a haunted house ploys).


We rode the ferry back to City Center, and got grilled cheese and aioli fries from the Good Mood food truck.  If you’ve ever spent close to $45 on grilled cheese and french fries, perhaps you’ve been to Oslo.

I’m in bed now, and it’s 11:38 pm, but it’s still kind of light outside.  I’m not sure if the midnight sun is giving me energy, or if I’m still jet-lagged.   Hard to tell!

11 books that actually changed my life

books I'm reading books that changed my life reading

Hello. It’s a blizzard-y afternoon! The University closed early today and Hattie went straight down for a nap. I got to work out in the afternoon (amazing!) and now here I am updating the blog. The following is a list of books that actually changed my life. None of them are super recent reads, but all of them had a real and sustaining impact on who I am. It’s amazing how the things we read become a part of us as well as how we understand and interpret the world.

Plato’s Republic

When I was a junior in college, I took a Philosophy class called ‘Thinking about Values.’ We read many different books for this class, but this one sticks out in my mind. The best part is the the allegory of the cave, which symbolizes the impact of education on human nature. Reading this book helped me to realize I wanted career in higher ed instead of religion. I have this book to thank for the life I live today.

Mindful Leadership

I read this book as part as part of a leadership development program when I first started supervising full-time master’s level professionals. Mindful Leadership emphasizes the Buddhist method of mindfulness. It helped me to be more cognizant of the time spent replaying things that are done and over or imagining how things might happen in the future. It also helped me to find peace in allowing things to simply be as they are.

Lake Wobegon Days

Garrison Keillor and I are Facebook friends and we have a peculiar number of life parallels. I like to think he started writing this book the day I was born, which his quite possible given that I came in 1983 and it was published in ’85. Reading it made me feel as if he was a fly on the wall in the house I grew up in. In college, I lived 50 feet away from he Prairie Home Cemetery, the namesake of his world renowned radio show. And we both started our careers on the CSB/SJU campus, not far from the real Lake Wobegon Trail. While my hatred for talk radio runs deep, this book speaks to my heart in a ways no other ever has.

Privilege, Power, and Difference

Privilege, Power, and Difference

I read this book for my Doctoral program. For the first time in my life, I became aware of pervasive systemic oppression in our society. I used to think of discrimination as an individual, one-offed type of problem. This book helped me to see how it’s woven into societal systems in a way that’s cumulative. It also maintains hope, and I appreciate the optimism maintained by the author for a better world over time.

the happiness project

The Happiness Project

Subtitle: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

I read this one on maternity leave. This author researched happiness and spent a year trying out evidence based strategies for a more joyful existence. No book has ever helped me more. Reading it assisted me in letting go of some perfectionist tendencies that I mistakenly thought would lead to feeling happy ‘someday,’ when in fact they made me stressed and upset in the ‘now.’

The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover

I read this book during my first year of working full-time. I honestly don’t remember much about it other than the fact it helped me become debt-free within a few years of cracking the cover. Well — here’s one thing I can remember — buying a new car is like opening your driver’s side window and throwing hundred dollar bills out of it once a week for a year. Effective imagery.

Why Zebras don't get Ulcers

Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers

This was the sole textbook for my senior seminar class in Psychology. It opened my eyes the bizarre power of human stress. The human body is largely wired like an animal’s but today’s society doesn’t really fit our natural responses. Further, the stress of circumstances such as poverty, impact creates chronic stress that compounds already difficult circumstances.

Policy Paradox

Policy Paradox

My understanding for the political arena increased exponentially with this book. I was raised by democrats who reside in a pretty red area of Minnesota and I spent spent year in Missouri where I was often assumed to be a Republican, because, isn’t everyone??? No. This book helped me to get a grip on a wide variety of political perspectives, reasoning, and decision-making.

Reframing organizations

Reframing Organizations

The subtext for this book is ‘why smart people so often do stupid things.’ The good news is, it’s not because we’re dumb. It’s actually because human organizations are so peculiar — they are surprising, deceptive, and unpredictable. If you’re a part of any human organizations — be it a local club, company, church or school, you will learn a thing or two from this book, which will prevent you for looking and acting dense.

Blink Malcolm Gladwell


While I love everything Malcolm Gladwell has ever written, this book is my favorite. In my early 20’s, I often ignored my gut instincts, which was a shame, because gut instincts are good. This book instilled in me the value and reliability of intuition. You can and should still think things through, but your gut will likely point you in a reasonable direction.

Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods

My mother read this book out loud to me and my sister when I was probably 4 years old. She actually read the whole series that year, with the exclusion of Farmer Boy, which she worried might turn us off for some reason. To this day, I still haven’t read that one, but a ridiculous amount of reading became the norm for me that year, and every year ever since. Thanks Mom.

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The Great Revival of Jackson Faction

Why I quit blogging

Hi all,

It’s been almost 4 years since I updated this blog. You will also note that Hattie is almost 4 years old, too. The researcher in me suspects there could be some sort of correlation between these not-so-disparate events. My last post went up when I was still on maternity leave. If you know me, you’ll recall Hattie birth was followed by a full year of work travel, my Mom’s cancer diagnosis, getting a new job, selling a house, moving back to my home state, and buying a new house. Those events, taken together, have changed my life and heart in many ways. I realized when I went to update my ‘about me’ section of the blog that nothing in the description was even accurate ‘about me’ anymore.

However, looking back over my posts, some other things have stayed the same.  We never stopped traveling, which, for the most part, is what I chose to write about. We actually traveled quite a bit as a family of three — Hattie has been on a least a dozen airplane rides.  Yet, the details of the places we took her early in her life, are fuzzy at best. We also hiked a lot. I’ve tracked our hikes a little bit on social media and I’ve purchased several hiking guides since we moved to Duluth.  Last summer, I contemplated writing a memoir.  I even outlined all my chapters and read a few books about ‘how to write a memoir.’  But, I realized it’s just not the right time for a project like this.  I still have a lot of life to live and with a somewhat vague idea of what it takes to write a book,  I also realized it’s not something I should be doing with a small kid at home who likes to spend her weekends outside.

That is what brings me back here to The Jackson Faction.  Blogging has changed somewhat in the time I’ve been gone. Blogger tools have improved and the landscape is quite different.  These days, most blog traffic is driven through Pinterest, instead of search engines and blogger connections. As far as I can tell, blog meet-ups are a thing of the past, although I never really participated in them. Many personal blogs have been abandoned, and those that survived, are more focused on problem-solving and ‘evergreen content,’ which is content that remains useful, even after weeks and years have passed.  Instead of recapping a trip for family and friends, people share ‘travel guides.’ As a frequent traveler and hiker, I love looking for peoples’ actual lived experiences whenever I prepare for upcoming events.  For this reason, my approach will be a little different in this revival.  Thanks for reading.  Looking forward to having you here.

Hattie’s Birth Story

My office hosted a baby shower for me when I was 38 weeks + 1 day pregnant.  It was a Wednesday and when I arrived that morning, everyone was already busy setting up the tables and decorations.  A few minutes into my morning routine of responding to e-mails, I realized I wasn’t feeling well.  I wondered to myself if  I had food poisoning, or if perhaps I was going into labor.  Regardless, I decided to suck it up and power through the day.  Going home did not feel like a legitimate option, given all the time and effort that was going into the prep for my party throughout the day.  Half an hour before the celebration was scheduled to start, I felt queasy and began feeling intense back pain.  I called Joe and asked him to come by my office (something I have never done, despite the fact we’ve worked for the same university for more than 5 years).  Joe found me bent over my desk in pain when he arrived.  He gave me a pep talk, rubbed my back, and sent me out to enjoy the festivities.   The shower was perfect — the ladies in my office mimicked the antique lace theme I had selected for our nursery and around 40 colleagues came to celebrate. The party lasted until the end of the day and Joe made it back over at the tail end to help me load up all of the gifts. 

As soon as we got home, I got into bed and where I proceeded to vomit and writhe in pain for several hours.  Around 8 pm, I told Joe that I didn’t think I was in labor, but that I needed to go to the ER.  We headed to the hospital, which is only about 5 minutes from our house.  As we pulled up to the ER, I said to Joe, “This might sound ridiculous, but I want you to take me back home”.  The heated seat in our SUV had taken away most of my pain.  We headed back to our house where called my Mom and sister from the bathtub.  Both of them reassured me I was most likely in the early stages of labor.  I e-mailed my boss and let her know I wasn’t going to make it in the next day.  I crawled into bed and slept incredibly hard all night without any pain. 

The next day, I felt tired, but all the pain and nausea was gone.  I felt disappointed that things weren’t progressing.  My cleaning lady came and told me that she had felt sick the day before as well.  With that, I convinced myself that I had just experienced a 24-hour flu bug.  That night, I e-mailed my boss again and said that I was feeling better and planned to return to work the next day.  I went to bed around 8 pm.  After sleeping for about an hour, I woke up in pain that seemed to localize in my upper right chest cavity.  After consulting Dr. Google, I wondered if I might have gall stones.  After a few hours of sitting on all fours in bed, which for whatever reason, felt somewhat comfortable, I told Joe that I needed to go to the ER. 

We checked in at midnight and the doctor agreed that it sounded like I might be having gall bladder issues.  After running a battery of tests, they confirmed that my liver enzymes were off, my kidneys were engorged, and they had ordered an ultrasound to further examine my gall bladder.  All the while, I was hooked up to monitors that were tracking fetal heart rate and contractions.  I was having contractions about every 5 minutes, but I couldn’t even feel them.  I was only dilated to half a centimeter, so no one seemed to feel that I was in active labor.  Hours crawled by as we waited for the ultrasound tech. Right around 4 am, Joe climbed up on the ER cot with me and we started to discuss his plans to go to work in the morning.    Nurses peeked into our room to comment “how cute” we looked cuddled up in the ER.  At 5am, I felt a pop.  I stood up and felt a huge gush — my water broke!  Joe woke up and went out into the hall to tell the nurses.  I would guess waters don’t break in the ER very often because suddenly, there were a lot of excited people rushing into the room. 

My ER nurse wheeled me onto the elevator and checked in on the OB floor right away.  Joe went home to get our suitcases.  I was in so much pain when we left our house, I refused to wait while Joe loaded them.  Oddly enough, my first OB nurse was a student that I knew from my days working in student conduct at the university — I always encounter these folks at the most unexpected times!  We weren’t together very long since the shift changed at 7 am.  I had hoped for a natural delivery, but without having any sort of birth plan ready, my wishes weren’t really made known. I sensed that natural childbirth wasn’t really preferable to the hospital staff.  I was offered the epidural several times before Joe had even made it back with our stuff.  I was also confined to the bed in a certain position that allowed the fetal heart monitor to function correctly.  I asked to switch to a different monitor so that I could walk the halls.  But for whatever reason, that monitor never came.  They installed an internal monitor since I was having so much trouble keeping still during the contractions.  After being up all night, and facing 4 hours of severe pain, I decided to go ahead with the much-encouraged epidural around 9 am.  While it was administered, I was allowed to sit up, which actually felt a lot better.  While not what I had planned or expected, the epidural was very helpful and I would do it again.  My pain was gone, and I was still able to move my legs and toes.  By 10 am, I had dilated to 9 cm.  I was elated by how quickly things were progressing.  The next few hours were a blissful blur.  I texted friends and chatted with Joe.  I even took a short nap.  Noon rolled around, and we deduced that the hospital staff might have had headed out to lunch.  Neither of us were really bothered by this — we were both exhausted and not exactly feeling any need to hurry towards delivery.  My nurse checked me again around 2 pm and said that I could get ready to push. A half hour later, we were greeted by a child who was purple and screaming the joyous sound of a healthy and beautiful baby girl.

Birth story epidural Missouri childbirth delivery Birth story baby epidural Missouri childbirth delivery

Expecting Harriet

Overall, my pregnancy was a good one. I loved experiencing all the changes, the baby’s movements, the maternity fashion, and a new topic of conversation I had to share with so many people. But as with most things in life, I experienced a few hiccups along the way.  


Ice Ice Baby!


Throughout the first trimester, my energy was really high, and I actually enjoyed the best sleep of my life. Morning sickness wasn’t much of a problem for me — I sometimes felt ill when I took a shower, but I quickly realized that I could avoid any nausea by keeping the water at a cooler temperature. Near the end of my first trimester, I had two very scary days which just so happened to lead up to my dissertation defense where I experienced some bleeding. While it was technically too late to have been implantation bleeding, nothing ever came of it, and so that’s the best explanation the doctor could offer.   

During the 20 week ultrasound I was thrilled to learn we were having a girl. Joe says I willed it to happen that way, but I say biology guarantees it was all his doing! Right after our appointment, we hit up the grocery store for pink cupcakes to bring back to our offices. At the end of the day we had a chance to process more of the information we’d received during the appointment. We needed to return for a second utrasound in two weeks. There was a particular brain structure that the ultrasounds techs were not able to locate. The doctor assured us that this didn’t mean that it wasn’t there, but just that they weren’t able to see it on that particular occasion. Regardless, two weeks of waiting and wondering was difficult for both of us. Brains are pretty important. Thankfully, the second ultrasound revealed that the baby’s brain was fine. Certainly this experience helped us both to recognize how lucky we were to have a healthy child on the way.

     The final trimester rang in with celebration. We had three baby showers — one with my family, one with my office, and one with Joe’s office. People’s thoughtfulness and generosity was truly overwhelming. Unfortunately, the physical impacts of pregnancy hit me hard at the end. I experienced severe edema. It started in April, mostly only showing up after long days at work. But as time when on, it got worse and worse. Near the end, I had a hard time bending my knees and ankles due to all the excess water. In fact, when I look back at my google search history from that time period, all I see is a dozen reductions of “pregnant can’t bend my legs.” With all the water came excessive weight gain. Right before delivery, I was up 45 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I wasn’t able to find any shoes that fit my ginormous feet (in my closet or in a store, so I took to wearing house slippers everywhere, including work, for the last 3 weeks. Not willing to let go of exercise entirely, I found the only way I could comfortably move was in pool, so I walked laps at our local gym (along with many senior citizens). The other not so pleasant symptom I dealt with near the end was that the left side of my jaw popped out of place making it painful and, at times, impossible to close my mouth all the way. Apparently, the prolactin hormone that allows for your hips to widen for delivery can affect other unsuspecting joints as well. Two doctors and two dentists weren’t able to help with the issue. But, luckily, my chiropractor solved the problem with one single adjustment, two weeks after the initial dislodgment.  





 Overall, pregnancy was a joy. I spent much of my free time preparing for the arrival of our new little one. On weekends, I could be found at the sewing machine, stitching tiny clothes while listening to the baby lullaby station on pandora. I read parenting books, birth stories, and baby blogs for hours on end. And I scoured baby sales and thrift shops for great baby deals. Joe purchased a sonogram machine to keep at home so we were able to listen to the baby’s heartbeat as much as we wanted. It was a time of great anticipation and happiness.  

A Baby at Last

We didn’t rush into parenthood. We’ve been together for nearly a decade. After six years of marriage, developing our careers, traveling the world, focusing on friendships, and making regular visits home to see our families, we finally came to a point where we felt ready for a new lifelong priority.  

We weren’t sure what to expect with regard to timing. I let my birth control prescription run out in August and we wondered if conception might take a while. September came and passed. Despite high hopes and 3 pregnancy tests, we didn’t experience instant success and I felt somewhat discouraged. October was a busy month for me with Homecoming activities going on at work while I put the fininshing touches on my dissertation. As the month wound down, Joe and I were sitting in the living room one Saturday morning, as I enjoyed breakfast and coffee and Joe played with the cats on the floor. As we chatted about the week that had just passed, the topic of pregnancy came up. I distractedly commented that there was no way I had gotten pregnant that month. As the sentence came out, I suddenly realized that perhaps I was late. Joe disagreed and suddenly a seed of curiousity was planted in my mind. I got up and changed into my workout clothes, with plans of heading to the gym. Before I left, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, but decided to go ahead and try another preganancy test. Right before I finished brushing, I glanced over at the test to see the result and to my utter shock I read the word “pregnant” on the digital screen. 

My heart soared at the surprise. I felt the urge to create a special moment for Joe when he learned the news as well. Not having any great ideas of how to do so right away, I decided to follow through with my workout plans and headed off to the gym without another word. As I rounded the track, an idea came to me. I used my cell phone to calculate my due date and then realized it was silly to have rushed out of the house without my wallet and I decided I would have to sneak back in and get it. Looking back, Joe never noticed, as far as I know. I went to the store and purchased a “Nature’s Majesty” calendar and marked the date of our special arrival like this:

Returning home, I brought the calendar inside and told Joe that someone had left it for us on the front porch (if this seems unbelievable to you, you probably don’t live in Rolla, Missouri). I told Joe I liked it and encouraged him to look through all the pictures. Right before he flipped to July, he sensed something was up, and he said, “you’re pregnant.” I whipped the pregnancy test out from behind my back and handed it to him. He smiled and laughed and pulled me down into his lap. In some ways, it was a moment we had waited for for a very long time, but in other ways, it came sooner than we thought possible.  While everyone starts out as a pregnancy, it really is a miracle to experience it for yourself.



Back to reality

Hey all. We’ve been home for a week now — whew! The jetlag has worn off and while vacations are what I live for, it’s good to be home. Joe is already gone again –he left for Portland on Saturday. What happens in Portland? Software conferences and homework! Joe has one paper to complete for his final MBA course. He’ll be home Thursday.

I went to the Lake of the Ozarks yesterday with my dear friend Melissa. Lots of fund in the sun was just what I needed because today, I dusted off my dissertation. I’m not exaggerating — there really was dust on the literature that lives in piles on my office floor — ack! I finished about 5 pages of chapter 5.

For folks who do not have Facebook, here is the link to some of our photos from Europe:

London: Last Day!

London: Last Day!
Hello from up in the air somewhere! We are couple hours away from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s been such a relaxing flight — after a couple really busy weeks, it’s feels great to zone out and relax.

Yesterday, we spent our final day in London. We had a great breakfast at the BnB which actually ended up lasting a for few hours — good food and fun conversation. The BnB is operated by a British woman who is a retired business executive. I would recommend her accommodations to anyone with high regard. Next, we went to tour the Tower of London, a castle which used to house Britain’s royalty and was later converted to a prison. Today, the crown jewel’s are stored there deep inside a vault which contains moving walkways for the continuous crowds who come to view these historic treasures. Yeoman wardens, also known as Beefeaters, give tours of the tower which mostly focused on executions. For me, the tour guides stories were unenjoyable — but, I have an aversion to violent stories– no matter how old or ridiculous they are!

We had a nice lunch in an Italian restaurant we later realized was a chain — oh well! It was good! Next, we took a train to the Docklands and checked out a shopping mall — this area of London felt very different. In fact, we both agreed it felt quite a bit like Des Moines, IA! Not much hustle and bustle with some nice scenic lakes.

After a little shopping, we headed back towards Central London and toured the Tate Modern museum. This gallery showcases works by Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Monet, and Picasso. We appreciated some works more than others. A few pieces didn’t look too complicated. One in particular was just regular medicine chest hanging on wall — its significance was lost on us. But overall, I think the impressive pieces outweighed those we found somewhat questionable. We stayed until the gallery closed at 6 pm.

Wanting to take in as much of the city as we could in our last day, we walked a few miles along the river Thames. After returning to the BnB, we headed back out for a late night dessert at a pub.

This morning, we got up at 5:15, bid adieu to our BnB host and took our final ride on the underground. At the airport, we did some last minute duty free souvenir shopping and now, here we are on the plane!

Tonight, we have a 4 layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joe’s parents dare driving up from South Carolina to meet us for supper — yay! Then, we’ll head out to St. Louis and finally, sweet home Rolla, Missouri! By the time we get home, it will be around 10 pm, which will actually feel like 3 am. Doesn’t sound too bad — we’ll see!

London : Day 12

Today began with a 5:30 am wakeup call at sea. We spent a night on the Stenaline Ferry — sort of like a mini cruise ship. The ship contained a condensed amount of amenities — private cabins for sleeping and showering, a store, restaurant, movie theatre, basketball court and a few slot machines. After boarding, we explored the areas, but then jumped into bed in preparation for an early wake-up call. I fell asleep right away, but Joe had a tougher time — the water was really choppy and ferry’s don’t really stabilize — so lots of ocean motion!

After we landed, we took a train from Harwich into London. After stowing our luggage at the train station, we headed straight for St. Paul’s Cathedral. This tour marks our sixth and final cathedral tour of the trip and it did not disappoint! Using the audio guide, we learned all about the church’s history. This church survived the Blitz of WWII, in fact a group of 40 volunteers guarded the church as a “bomb-squad” every night — extinguishing the small bombs before they detonated. The dome of the building spires above the London sky-line. We hiked up hundreds of spiraled steps to to all three dome look-outs. The first look- out, called the whispering gallery, is essentially a ledge around the interior of of the dome. The architecture is such that whispers carry astoundingly well around and across the dome. The next two look-outs required that we hike up several steep metal spiral staircases surrounded by metal fencing to provide some additional safe-guarding. These stairs scared the be-jeebers out of me — but I found some comfort in their sacred location! The bird’s eye view of London was nice — our climb paid off.

Next, we headed to the West End, London’s theatre district, for a matinee showing of Stomp. I loved it and Joe fell asleep! This is actually pretty typical for Joe at theatrical performances, but I was somewhat impressed on this particular occasion — Stomp is not a quiet show — it’s basically two hours of garbage can percussion. There were a few times when it got so loud, I kind of wanted to cover my ears. I am tempted to share a list of other mildly entertaining occasions when Joe has fallen asleep, but I shall refrain.

After the play, we picked up our bags and headed to check into our final accommodations — the Pooters BnB. This particular BnB is quite small with two guest rooms. It’s owned by a lovely British woman named Allyson who has been a nice host so far. There is an Italian man staying here too. We haven’t caught a glimpse of him yet, but we should all meet tomorrow at breakfast!

Amsterdam: Day 10 and 11

Amsterdam Days 10-11
Hello from the train tracks! We just wrapped up our final 2 days in Amsterdam. Tonight, we’re headed out to sea on an overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich (England). We are spending 2 more days in London before we fly out of Heathrow on Saturday morning.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Amsterdam. Yesterday, we toured the church where Rembrandt is buried. We actually stumbled upon the building on our way to the Anne Frank House. It was a Protestant church, which (perhaps under the power of suggestion) made it feel more familiar than the other Catholic cathedrals we’ve visited on this trip.

Touring the Anne Frank House was one thing I was most looking forward to on our trip. When I was in third grade, my Mom started reading parts of Anne’s diary out loud and then convinced me to finish reading it myself. The majority of the story came flooding back as we toured the rooms of the secret annex. The house is now a museum and a large and persistent crowd tours the space every day. The bookcase that hid the entrance to the secret annex is completely intact. The magazine pictures that Anne glued to her bedroom wall were also preserved, along with a map where Otto Frank had tracked the progress of the Ally invasion. At Otto’s request, the rooms were left empty of props or furniture to signify the mass extinction of Jewish life and culture that occurred. Certainly, the horrors of the Holocaust are not lost on many, but what is difficult for me to wrap my mind around is how recent the events actually were to my lifetime. Did you know that (if all were still alive today) Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barbara Walters would all be the same age?

After the tour, we grabbed some pizza for a late lunch (we eat meals at the oddest hours, and rarely make 3 meals a day — eating in restaurants takes a lot more time in Europe — their service is purposely slow and relaxed. It’s nice, but sometimes it’s a little stressful when you’re hoping to make it to the next site before it closes. On this particular occasion, we didn’t make it to our next site — the Gassan diamond polishing demonstration. Oh well! We took a detour through the red light district instead. This particular neighborhood is quite small — in fact, we checked our map a few times to locate it. The district hosts prostitutes, who rent out store windows and solicit business — one of the world’s oldest professions. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this neighborhood. I ended up feeling a little startled by the women knocking on the glass as we walked by. It was awkward and neither of us was really sure where to look. Curiosity brought us there and after 3 blocks, I think, I was glad I could check this item off my list as done, saw it, won’t need to see it again.

Today, we booked a day trick to see the Holland countryside. We boarded a double-decker motorcoach at 9 am and headed towards our first stop in, Zaanse Schans, a small town that still operates windmills from the 1600s. We were able to tour the interior of one of the windmills where peanut oil is still produced today. The windmills were beautiful and the town had a real storybook quality with cute little houses, Dutchman riding bikes, and the cleanest looking farm animals I’ve ever seen — sheep and goats — happily chomping on grass.

Our next stop was Volendam, a fisherman’s village with several sea-side eateries and a cheese factory. We toured the factory and sampled several different varieties of fresh cheese. We had lunch in a gorgeous little cafe and we had the place completely to ourselves. I had a salad with fresh goat cheese which was made right in town — delicious!

After lunch, we boarded a boat to Marken, another small seaside village. Here, we toured a clog-making factory. I thought this activity looked kind of hokey in the tour brochure, but our tour guide was very engaging. She demonstrated a pair of clogs being made from a block of poplar wood. She also told a story about how clogs used to be used for marriage proposals in Marken. When a man went out to sea, he would bring some wood along with him on the boat. He’d carve the clogs by hand and then put his name on one foot and the name of his sweetheart on the other. Months later, upon his return to the village, he would leave the clogs on his sweetheart’s doorstep. In the morning, if the clogs were taken inside, the proposal was accepted. If not, the proposal was declined. The tour guide shared that her father proposed to her mother 3 times with clogs before she accepted (the third proposal included a diamond ring from Amsterdam:)) The tour guide admitted that she wears clogs every day with a pair of thick woolen socks. Suddenly, I wanted a pair of these ridiculous wooden shoes too! Luckily, i held strong and the moment has officially passed!

We returned to Amsterdam on the motor-coach and decided to check out The Art of the Brick exhibition right next door to our hotel. This exhibition actually highlights a New York artist’s work with lego blocks. I think these pieces speak for themselves! The exhibit was so fun and it was nice to be inside — it has been in the 50s and raining throughout these past 2 days. Isn’t it July? Brrr!!!

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