Landed in Waco, Texas

Well, I’ve landed. I’ve landed in Waco and I hope I can stay in one place for a little while.

In March I accepted a new position as Collections Assistant at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, and moved from Richmond up to Waco. They haven’t gotten rid of me  yet, in fact they even seem to like me! And I like my new job (as my friends and family can tell – I’m always posting pictures of the interesting things I see in the course of my work). From meeting donors, researchers, and real life Texas Rangers, to handling historic firearms and photographs, and learning about things like the role of the Texas Rangers in the killing of Bonnie and Clyde, and more recent events like the 1993 Branch Davidian siege – my work is interesting.

And from my new home base in Waco, I’ve continued to explore more of Texas. I’ve been hitting more of the state parks on the weekends, including Garner State Park and Dinosaur Valley State Park. Garner State Park is the furthest west that I have been in Texas so far – it’s about 100 miles further west from San Antonio! And Dinosaur Valley is so called because of the dinosaur footprints that have been fossilized and preserved in the bed of the Paluxy River. Besides the footprints, lounging in a river is a great activity for hot Texas summer days. And there have plenty of hot days, today’s high is 107F!

And I got to escape home for a weekend, for a friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, its always too brief whenever I go home. But what can you do? Home is the best.

Welcome to Another Year of Crazy

I had intended to write this before the new year rolled in, but here it is mid-January and I’m finally getting around to it. Last year was weird. I mean, there were some great things and some not so great things, as usually happens. But last year was particularly weird, and I feel the need to tell you about it!


Farewell from my Art Institute co-workers Jan. 2017.

In January, I quit my job at the Art Institute of Chicago to accept a job as the Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site in Mexia, Texas, a town of 7500 people. It sounds like an odd choice, but I saw it as a career opportunity. From my journal, January 11th, 2017: “God has blessed me with what I asked for (a job), but I’m sure he also has many things to teach me through this next season of my life.” Oh, how could I have known everything that was in store for me this year!


Mom and Dad visit for the Civil War reenactment, and my birthday April 2017.

By February I was moved down to Texas, started my new job, and was hit with a wave of culture shock! As I slowly settled in, I had my first visitors come to stay, and started to explore more of Texas, going to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and College Station. In April I conquered my first major event at work, a Civil War reenactment and living history weekend, which Mom and Dad came down for. I also celebrated my 30th birthday with the lovely ladies from my Sunday School class at church, who have been such a blessing to me. In May, I wrote this in my journal: “I believe the Lord is leading me on a great journey, a big part of which was my rock-bottom days of last year, and my shifting attitudes, and my leap of faith to my new life here in Texas. And this Sunday school class has been a part of it too! To know that I keep failing because I try to do it all on my own! Now to learn what it is to abide in Christ.”

At the end of July, I had the awful and humiliating shock of being fired from my new job. Two days afterwards, I wrote this: “I can’t sum up what has happened this week, and I don’t even want to. I have been rudely and unfairly fired from my job, had all kinds of negative things said about me, and no one was willing to stick their neck out for me. I was doing a good job, and anyone I’ve heard from has said so. My boss just didn’t like me and was looking for reasons or opportunities to fire me. But WHY?”

In August I struggled with my new circumstances and started looking for another job, but also took time to get away. I went camping in the Texas hill country, and spent time on the beach at North Padre Island, only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In fact, I traveled a ton. In September I went to London and Paris, and spent a week with my good friend Esme. In October my brother came down to visit, and we had fun spending time together and exploring Dallas and Waco. In November, I flew to Florida, to spend a week with my cousin Bonnie and her family, and got to spend some more time on the beach! Finally, I became “Aunt Rachel” on November 24th, when Brian and Jessica welcomed baby Fiona into the world. What a blessing!


Holding my adorable niece Fiona!

I went home for the Christmas holidays, and treasured seeing many friends and family. But the new year saw me packing up all my belongings (somewhat un-enthusiastically), and heading on another adventure. I’ve accepted a position as a Collections and Interpretation Intern for the Fort Bend History Association in Richmond, Texas, which includes the Fort Bend Museum, and the George Ranch Historical Park. While I’m still praying for a full-time job, this gives me a place to live, a new region to explore, and more museum experience to gain. Now, instead of 1000 miles from home, I am 1117 miles away! Not that it makes much of a difference (except in the weather – wheeee).

I was going to say something slightly cheesy about all the lessons I’ve learned in the past year, but I won’t, for two reasons. For one, it should go without saying that you learn more when things are hard than when things are easy. And two, I wouldn’t say the hard is nearly over – my unemployment benefits have just been revoked, and I discovered what it’s like to have all your pipes freeze in a south Texas ice storm! But this past year has made me far more resilient, and I’m sure that will serve me well in the future.


Checking out the new area at Brazos Bend State Park.

Travel and Adventure Show 2014!

A few weekends ago I attended the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show, which I have also attended a couple times in the past. For about the price of a movie its a full day of talks, demonstrations, freebies and ideas, and I’ve always found the day well worth it.

This year was no exception. I had the chance to hear travel guru Rick Steves speak on his personal travel philosophy, with perhaps a little more irreverence than his PBS television shows allow him. But Rick Steves has been entering uncharted territory recently. Three years ago he presented on his latest book at the time, “Travel as a Political Act”, and now he is working on new television programs for Israel and Palestine. I can also mention that I got his autograph in my new ‘Croatia and Slovenia’ book – no trip planned yet, just an idea!

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience at the Travel show

Rick Steves presenting to an attentive audience

Signing autographs in a “hurry up, I want my lunch” kind of way 😉


My autographed travel guide – ideas for a future trip?

Always another highlight of the Travel and Adventure show is the cultural performances, which I use as a nice breather between the many other activities – just sit, watch and enjoy. Below are two pictures from the “Global Beats Stage”.


A Canadian folk band, with an adorably energetic fiddler.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.

A lovely Classical Indian dance number.


Buffalo NY and Niagara Falls

Yay! I finally got to travel again and visit someplace new! Not that I need to be travelling all the time, but it gives me something excellent to write about. And this trip was my “I just got laid off, and I need to do something” trip.

Actually, the trip was thanks to some travel benefits I received from my employer. I was eligible for a free round-trip Amtrak ticket to anywhere. So I started thinking, where can I go on my own, that doesn’t involve 25 hours on the train? Buffalo, NY came to mind, and thankfully it was only 10 hours!

My last day of work had been on the Friday, and I boarded the train Monday night at 9:30pm. To my surprise, the train was packed, and passengers were getting on and off the train throughout the night. I did manage to sleep, as the seats are definitely more comfortable than an airplane – a plus for train travel – but I needed a pick-me-up by the time I finally got into Buffalo downtown at 11am the next morning. Lucky for me, there was a Tim Horton’s across the street from the bus stop. Many Canadian friends of mine have talked about the place like Americans talk about Starbucks, so I gave it a try, and was thoroughly satisfied.

The City Hall building by night

The City Hall building by night

My second stop of the day was at the City Hall for their daily free tour at noon. The guide was a volunteer with the local preservation group, and had a lot of information to share about the city and the building itself. According to her, the City Hall is the 2nd largest in the US, after LA, and is in a beautiful Art Deco style. If it weren’t for the fog that day, the visit to the observation deck would have been spectacular as well, but alas…

While I figured I didn’t have the time to devote to visiting the acclaimed Albright-Knox art museum, I did go by and admired the large public park and lake just east of it. This was all so that I could visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house on the opposite side of the park. This was also closed, but I managed to snap a few pictures before moving on. I had to check into my hostel for the night (Hostel Buffalo Niagara – creative name), and grab a quick dinner before heading to the highlight of my day: the Sunset Silo City Kayak tour.

At 6pm a friendly guide named Justin greeted us and our group of 10 or so people all shuffled into bright colored kayaks and pushed off from the pier. It was such a workout for my arms, and I struggled to keep up, but our guide led us down the Buffalo River, past some working and some obsolete factories and grain silos, which I had learned are central to Buffalo’s history.

On the 'Silo City' kayak tour

On the ‘Silo City’ kayak tour

While the sun sank lower, we had enough time to go ashore and slip inside on the silos, to admire the massive size of the structure. Our guide talked about their hope to turn one of them into an enormous climbing wall, which sounds exciting. We made it back to the dock by when it was finally dark out, and I headed back through the largely deserted streets to the relative safety of the hostel.

I awoke early the next morning, knowing that already my trip was half over and I would be taking the train home later that night. I started my morning off with another dose of Tim Horton’s, and then caught the hour-long bus up to Niagara Falls. First order of business was take the ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat ride on the river, and promptly get soaked. The experience was amazing and we really were enveloped in mist, so that the souvenir poncho didn’t seem a match for the mighty Falls!

On the bridge, between the US and Canada!

On the bridge, between the US and Canada!

Getting soaked

Getting soaked

The rest of the day was spent exploring both the US and Canadian side, and I am not convinced that one side is better than the other. The best part of the afternoon was getting a picnic lunch from a street food stall, and eating in the grass overlooking the river rapids. After having spent all day there, it was time to catch the last bus back to the Amtrak station.

Overlooking the American Falls

Overlooking the American Falls

Due to the train schedules and delays, I spent 5 hours waiting in the tiny station, but enjoyed catching up on my reading. I am now convinced that Amtrak is the way to go, because the best part of the journey was being able to go to the lounge car in the morning, sip a coffee, look out the window and talk to the other passengers. My 2 day vacation came to a satisfying close as I finally got home and proceeded to nap for the next 4 hours. C’est la vie.

Enjoying a coffee in the Lounge car

Enjoying a coffee in the Lounge car

Family comes to Europe

It was brought to my attention that since my transition from the UK back to the US, I have neglected to post anything! I’ve been back home in Chicagoland for 2 weeks now, and enjoying being back. But thinking back just a few weeks ago, my parents and my brother both made the long trip over to the UK (separately) to visit with me before I came home.  Mom and Dad came over to see Exeter (and to help take some of my luggage home, for which I was grateful). They came on the last day of my internship at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which in typical fashion at the museum, was celebrated with cake. Over the weekend, my parents and I enjoyed a Devon cream tea together, took a tour of Exeter Cathedral, and enjoyed several wonderful pubs. It was a very quick visit, but convinced Mom and Dad that they will have to come back to England in the future.

Noriko and I on our last day at RAMM


Mom and Dad at the Jolly Roger Tearooms

The following week my brother arrived in London and we spent a few days there together, before heading to Italy for a week-long trip. With nothing to do the night before he arrived, I treated myself to Kew Gardens, and then a musical at the Aldwych Theater: Top Hat! (for those who know me, I am a huge fan of Fred Astaire movies, which this musical was based on). My brother and I visited the Tower of London, British Museum, Harrod’s, Kensington Gardens and plenty of pubs.

Top Hat at the Aldwych Theater

Harrod’s at night

In Italy, we visited three cities in the north: Verona, Bolzano, Milano. Having spent a semester abroad in Verona in college, we stayed at my former landlady’s house, passing many hours at her kitchen table. In Bolzano we took advantage of the Dolomites, and the fresh mountain air. The locals spoke Italian and German since the town is so close to Austria, and only became a part of Italy after WW1. My favorite part of the trip was our train ride up through the Alps, and spending a few hours in St Moritz, Switzerland. Then half a day in Milan before catching our flight back home. It’s no wonder I was so tired by the time we arrived back in Chicago.

Enrico and Brian may not share a language, but they share soccer.

Enrico and Anna, with my brother and I.

Taken from the train at over 6000 feet.

Milan’s famous Cathedral, where we toured the rooftop as well as the inside.

And after all that excitement, I am happy to be home!

Adventures in Devon!

Hello everyone! As the end of my time here in the UK is just a few weeks away, I am scrambling to cram as much in as possible. My work placement at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum is going well and I get to work with curators and conservators, handle some amazing museum objects and get as involved as I can in my two months here. The box of spiders in glass jars, Victorian dresses, antique books, and early 20th century maps are the kinds of things I get to work with, which just confirms I chose the right career. The thing that amuses me most about working in a museum in Britain is how much tea and cake is involved! Every Thursday is Cake Day, and whenever I am with the conservators, we stop for tea and biscuits at 10:30am and 3:30pm precisely. Of course they warned me on my first day, ‘this place runs on tea and cake’.

I’ve been keeping myself busy on weekends going to different places in Devon. One weekend I went to Torquay on the ‘English Riviera’, which is the hometown of the author Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the place and plan to go back in two weeks time to see an Agatha Christie play at the old theatre. I’ve also ventured out on Dartmoor, a national park of over 350 square miles of moors, forests, rolling hills, waterfalls and wild landscapes. Celebrating a colleague’s birthday I’ve also taken a ferry down the river Exe for a pub lunch at one of the few pubs in the country that cannot be accessed by car, only by boat, walking, or cycling. And as a pleasant surprise to Mom & Dad who thought I had grown to dislike camping and hiking, I have done two weekends in a tent in rural Devon, taking in the sea and the gorgeous South West Coast Path.

I’m still looking forward to visiting Penzance in Cornwall this weekend (yes, the pirates of Penzance!) and having the opportunity to travel with my brother in Italy before returning home! Arrival date back in the US is set to be Friday 28.

Noriko and I at Torquay Harbour

The palms trees and pavilion in Torquay, ‘English Riviera’

At Topsham Museum, the ubiquitous tea and cake

View from Topsham over the Exe

Pub lunch at the Turf Locks Hotel

Fog rolls in along the Coast Path near Branscombe

Devon Bootlegs walking group near Branscombe





Verona: Vinitaly, the wines of Italy

This April I will be attending Vinitaly, an international wine and spirits exhibtion in the beautiful city of Verona, Veneto region of Italy. What could be better?

Held in the Verona soccer stadium, the exhibits are divided up by the regions of Italy, with the Veneto and Tuscany boasting the largest exhibits. The wine show has been going on for 42 years, adding other spirits along the way, like the Italian liquor grappa (I was never fond of it, but you have to try it to see if you like  it).

Besides boasting some of the best wines in the world, Verona is an elegant and charming city, and a UNESCO world heritage site (see my previous article on “3 Perfect Days in Verona“). Hoping for warm weather, and expecting great wines.

Vinitaly - That's a lot of wine...

photo taken by Aline Wetzelaer

Currently Reading: Not That Kind of Girl

A New Jersey girl raised in the evangelical church grows up, goes off to college, then to NY, constantly struggling with her faith, ambition and desires. I identify with a lot of the things she says, and the desperate struggle for a coming-of-age.