13 Slices of 2013

OK, since I didn’t blog as much in 2013, here in one lump serving are (in chronological order) 13 slices of ’13: a list of 13 memorable moments and places I was lucky enough to experience this past year.

1.   Finding Out Mom’s Cancer is in Remission • • •  March


There is such huge, huge relief when you hear your (or your loved one’s) oncologist say, “There’s no sign of cancer.”  This iPhone snap says it all.  Later in the month, we celebrated at Brauhaus Schmitz with family and friends, and there was this unforgettable moment when a toast was made, and the whole bar full of strangers erupted into cheers.  Sweet.

2.  Germany vs. USA Friendly, Washington, DC • •  June


Oh, the agony. Never before have I been more torn watching a fussball game.  Decked out in both German and US fan gear, I found myself having a full-blown identity crisis with absolutely no idea of when to cheer. So I cheered for both sides.  All the time.  It was a very, very strange feeling.  But fun.  Until some strange, sweaty man asked to borrow my horn hat for a picture.  By the way, in the end, the US defeated Deutschland 4-3.  How ’bout that?

3.  Choose Kind • •  June


Some books change your life.  For me, one of those books is Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  When I read it in the summer of 2012, I knew I wanted to share it with my middle school students the following school year.  We read it together in the spring, and something interesting happened. The kids wholeheartedly embraced it in a way I’ve never seen before in 11 years of teaching. They held a “Choose Kind Day” with some guest speakers and acts of kindness and this unbelievable mural, designed and painted by some extremely talented students. It has had a great impact upon me as a teacher and as a human being, offering an important reminder of how much kindness is needed in this world.  Sometimes we forget. I’m very grateful for such a profound experience and for the connections I have made with some people and organizations who are doing tremendous work on behalf of children. So inspiring!

4.  Seeing My Aunt, Germany • •   June/July


There’s a part in Wonder where the main character Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy born with a craniofacial difference, recounts the story of his birth.  “It was that nurse who held Mom’s hand when they brought her to meet me for the first time. Mom says by then they had told her all about me. She had been preparing herself for the seeing of me.”

I had been preparing myself for seeing Aunt Elke. We’d spoken on the phone once, FaceTimed once, and my cousin had been keeping me regularly up-to-date on her progress since her ruptured brain aneurysm in April 2012.  I knew she might not recognize me.  I knew for certain that she wouldn’t remember a thing about my visit. I knew she was not the same. But still, seeing her in person, being with her in person, it hurt my heart to see her this way.  As glad I was to reconnect with family and friends overseas, this trip was a tough one.

5. Prague • •  July

Prague is an old and beautiful city, full of life and character, rich history, gorgeous architecture, mysterious alleyways, and the worst hop-on/hop-off bus tour in the world, but we won’t hold that against them.  Because THIS:


From the Bridge Tower, it’s a lovely view of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle in the distance.


Statues on the Charles Bridge


Astronomical Clock


A small, darkened door beside an alley—intriguing!


The Lennon Wall, a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the former Communist regime


A street performer entertains some kids with a giant bubble in Old Town Square.


Taking a break in one of Prague’s delightful beer gardens


Laundry day

6. Helgoland • • • July

Places that you visited in childhood often retain a certain mystique and allure. Helgoland is that way for me.  It’s this teensy island (one square km) in the North Sea with sandy beaches, red cliffs, and enough birds to make Hitchcock flip his gourd.  To get there from Bremerhaven, it’s a three-hour passage by ship followed by a rather thrilling disembarkation procedure in which a pair of strapping crew members on each side of you grab you by an arm and hoist you into a smaller boat that brings you ashore. Just like back in the day, the Helgoland day trip gives you about two hours on the island, which is just about enough time to hike the cliff trail and grab a bite to eat or squeeze in a little duty-free shopping.


My favorite part of Helgoland: the cliff trail, 2013.


Helgoland, 1986. Fashion and hair catastrophe typical of the day.

7.  Billy Collins & Paul Simon on one stage • • • Chautauqua Institute, August

The only appropriate response to this pairing is: O.M.G.  As I sat there listening to these two brilliant artists share songs and poems and stories, I kept smiling and thinking how very awesome it was to be there at that moment in an amphitheater on a warm summer night for this unique and unforgettable performance.  Still get the chills remembering “The Sound of Silence.”



Event bouncers were swift to shut down photography, but I managed to sneak in this totally worthless shot of Billy reading his work.

8.  Niagara  • • • August

From Chautauqua, it wasn’t a very far drive to Niagara Falls, and we opted to stay the night in a charming B&B on the Canadian side.  People said the Maid of the Mist was a must-do. They were right.


The Maid of the Mist approaches Horseshoe Falls.

It is truly a magnificent sensory experience.  Five hundred people in thin plastic ponchos shrieking and laughing all at once, the thunderous roar of the Falls, the cool spray of the mist, the sun streaming through rainbows. Thoughts of Please-dear-God-let-this-underwater-camera-pouch-work.


You cannot help but be awed by the Falls’ power and greatness and beauty.  Over on the American side, the Cave of the Winds experience was just as memorable.  I liked how the promo materials suggested you would be in a “mist zone.”  Ahem.  Drenched is more like it.


I kept thinking of the movie Niagara and the part where Jean Peters’ character breaks through the railing.


The hurricane deck for the crazy people


9.  Orlando with the Family • • • October

We squeezed a lot into a long weekend:  a day in Disney with the Munchkin, Universal with our German fam (so much screaming and laughing, I lost my voice), hardcore outlet shopping, an afternoon of nothin’ but lazy river, good food and drink.  Dead battery in the rental car.  Oh wait, that part sucked.


Oma and the Munchkin in Tomorrowland, Disney World


The photo quality stinks, but the look of wonder on her face as she experienced the It’s a Small World ride for the first time was utterly priceless.

10.  Meditation • • • October

One of the best things I did this year was sign up for meditation classes. Life-changing. Insomnia-busting. Ommmm.


Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple, Niagara

11.  Maine • • • November

Sigh.  Maine.  I thought Vermont had my heart, and then came you.


Acadia National Park

There are many more images from this trip, so I’m thinking a separate post will be coming soon.

12.  Milky Way • • • November

This was my first ever attempt at astrophotography. It might not be much, but it captured a moment I will never ever forget:  seeing the Milky Way for the first time with the naked eye. Incredible.


Acadia National Park

13.  Storybookland • • • December

Every year, one of our most treasured traditions is to take the Munchkin to Storybookland, a nearby amusement park that decks itself out for Christmas. The rides are built for wee ones, but some are surprisingly intense.  And yet here she is, riding a roller coaster with no hands.  Where does time go?


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