One Day in Music City


One of the last days of our road trip was spent in Nashville, Tennessee, and boy, did we have a great time. We rolled into Nashville from Gatlinburg around noon and headed straight for the Grand Ole Opry House to get tickets to the show. It was hot and muggy but we were glad to get out of the car and wander around a bit. It didn’t take us very long to secure tickets and a hotel room for the night. Once we got all the boring, technical stuff out of the way we moseyed on downtown to pay tribute to some of the biggest stars of music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Looking at the roots of country music was such an experience. I took tons of pictures of different artist names and songs so I could put together a playlist to accompany this historic stop. What better way to talk about Music City than with music? I was intending to only do one playlist but as I began to chip away at the task at hand, I realized that one singular playlist maybe was not going to cut it. I had to split it into two. Everyone who knows me knows I am a diehard Swifty, so I have a hard time not including her in the playlists. But there isn’t anything I can do about her taking her music off of Spotify. Speaking of Taylor Swift (like I usually am), it was amazing to see some of the pieces of hers they had on display. I just about died when I saw the lyrics to Tim McGraw scrawled on a piece of notebook paper and the sparkling guitar from her first tour brought back memories of my first summers of CountryFest and Jam. I did more than just drool over Taylor, I promise. I tried to look at the artists I didn’t know as much about to diversify my country music knowledge. I really, really enjoyed the Bob Dylan exhibit: Dylan, Cash, and The Nashville Cats. It was amazing to see the influence that Dylan and Cash had on Nashville, they brought in a lot of people to Music City. I had no idea they were so influential in this scene. That particular exhibit is where I drew a lot of the songs for what was supposed to be the first half of the Country Music Hall of Fame playlist. It turned into this playlist. I personally believe that Cash and Dylan are a dream team and I wish I had more than just “Girl from the North Country” to prove it. But I’ve always had a soft spot for Johnny Cash, so maybe I’m biased.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is home to many talents, both new and old. I’m so happy I got to explore it even though country music isn’t necessarily the first station I check on my way to work.  To represent this lovely experience, I made a playlist. I know, I know. You’re all thinking ‘Lauren, cool it with the playlists, this is why it takes you seven years to talk about one day’. If you are thinking that you are absolutely right, it is why I took so long but I thought it would enhance the reader experience.

You might also believe that my musical experience peaked at the Hall of Fame, but that’s not how Music City works! After the Hall of Fame we went to the mall so I could find a sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, the mall did not have a bookstore or electricity! Okay, so parts of it had electricity but it made it hard to purchase food (they could only take cash). I still haven’t gotten that book.

After that we rolled on over to The Grand Ole Opry House where I was more than pleasantly surprised with the show. Going in, I didn’t recognize a whole lot of the names and I wasn’t sure sure how long it would take to get through all those artists on the line-up but the Opry has quite the system. It was three songs per artist with an announcer and a couple miscellaneous activities to break it up. It was an excellent show with some very engaging acts. My absolute favorite was Flatt Lonesome, a lovely bluegrass band. I tweeted at them (and everyone else at the Opry) but that wasn’t the end of Flatt Lonesome for my night. Another amazing act was Drew Baldridge, who played at CountryFest the same day we returned. Baldridge was making his Opry debut that Wednesday night and for his final song on stage he covered a personal favorite by Josh Turner. What do you know, Josh Turner himself walked right on stage to sing with him. I was amazed. After the show wrapped up and we were headed out the door, Mr. Baldridge himself was right behind us. He shook my grandparents’ hands! It was crazytown.

Even though it was late, our night didn’t end there. Grandpa and I were hungry after the Opry because we had become accustomed to have to search for hours after a regular meal time because we can never find a restaurant. Our initial choice was Bob Evan’s, but that was closed, and thank goodness it was. We turned our attention to The Cracker Barrel. After I ordered corn and sweet potatoes, Grandpa returned from the restroom and pointed out the table on the other side of the restaurant. It was the band. In that moment I knew what I had to do. I went out to the car to retrieve the program and a pen, then went right up to their table and asked Flatt Lonesome if they would autograph it for me. They were super sweet and very funny. They claimed the only thing they have ever been asked to sign was a speeding ticket. Between their catchy tunes and pleasant attitudes, I was very happy to try and find another venue to see them at and I’m already looking forward to seeing them in East Troy in the fall. If you want to check out their music, my grandpa really likes “You’re the One”.

All in all, I had an amazing time in Tennessee. I am happy that I was able to make these memories with my grandparents. It was an experience I will never forget.


Days Three and Four: Holy Smokes!

“I can’t believe we slept so late!” was one of the first things I heard on the morning of our third day. It was only 8:30 a.m. After our “late” start, we went right to the visitor center for Smoky Mountains National Park, Sugarland. Since then, I think we have been back three times in the two days? Anyways, Grandpa poked around to find out what we needed see, while Grandma went to the museum section and I headed straight for the stickers. I just really love stickers. After we watched a short informational film on the parks, we headed back to the truck to get to Clingman’s Dome. Our first visit to the visitor center was fairly short.

Clingman’s Dome was an essential stop and I’m so glad we did it. How could we not go to the highest point in Smoky Mountain National Park? However, trying to park was an adventure in itself (this happened many times during our stay in the Smoky Mountains, it is a busy place). Once we got there we started the hike to the observatory, it was only half a mile, but it was pretty steep so Grandma and her knee surgery had a hard time with it. We all made it up to the observatory. The view was fantastic, it might have been a little bit better without all the fog. But hey, that’s what makes the Smokies the Smokies and after I hike like that I don’t want to complain about anything. I was really happy I got to see some of the Appalachian Trail because someday I would like to hike the whole thing.


After our first hike of the day, we headed over to the New Found Gap, which wasn’t really a place to hike, it was a place to look. It was a great view, which resulted in some great pictures. Also, this guy had a 16 year old, bald chihuahua! The man said it was mean though so he held it’s head while I pet it so it wouldn’t bite me. I’m glad I got to pet it even though it was mean.


The Grotto was the next destination on our agenda, we put the pick up in at the Trillium Trail trail head by Rainbow Falls. Grandma, Grandpa, and I set out with our backpacks and water ready for our next hike. We had little mix up trying to figure out which direction we were supposed to go to get to the Grotto, but we were optimistic. After 15 minutes of up and down and stepping over exposed roots, Grandma decided her newly operated on knee wasn’t ready for this kind of nonsense. She turned around and Grandpa and I forged on. It wasn’t until Grandpa thought he heard a deer that we realized that we had been paralleling the road almost the entire time and what he saw was a car. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that meant there was another trail head farther up the road. We both tried to call Grandma to tell her to meet us and hike the rest of the way with us, or at least pick us up after but cell reception in the mountains is spotty at best. By that time we had realized that we had gone more than the 1.3 mile estimated hike, but we had to go farther to get to the falls so on we went. On our way, we only saw two other people and one cool looking snake. We also saw a whole lot of bear poop, but no bear. I am happy we didn’t get attacked by a bear but after all that poop I felt like I deserved to see one.

This hike actually turned out to be a great opportunity to see some wildlife and to practice some wildlife photography, a hobby of mine. Anyway, Grandpa and I reached the trail head we were supposed to put in at 2.5 miles after we started. We were sweaty and thirsty and a little worried that Grandma would never find us so we turned around and walked back down the road to where we had originally parked. We vowed to return the next day to conquer the 1.3 miles we didn’t do to reach the grotto. It was while we were walking back that I was able to get roughly 5 feet away from a beautiful doe. She didn’t seem to be very frightened by me or any of the noise of traffic. After I got some good pictures we went on our way, eventually returning to the truck, hungry and tired, but very excited to come back.

Day four started with us making our way right back to where we should have started the day before. We followed the exact same path up until the road closed sign. It was a disappointment to say the least. After getting over it and some new navigation, we went on to the road to Cade’s Cove. On the way we stopped to hike Laurel Falls, which ended up being better for Grandma anyway because it was paved. I also got to do a couple easy climbs which was nice because I have not had much practice since getting out of school and, boy, do I love to climb things just to do it.

Up next on our agenda was Cade’s Cove. Our original plan was to check out the village around Cade’s Cove and reserve bikes for the next day. But it didn’t exactly happen that way, the cove was very out of our way as it was, and the weather was looking like rain. So the executive decision was made to not bike the loop in the morning. I actually really did want to do that, but somethings you have to set aside for the next time you come back. Next time, I will bike the loop. We did drive the loop, though, or at least part of it. It was so crowded that we were at a standstill for a very long time. Apparently, everyone in front of us got to see a bear, but we still weren’t lucky enough. We were bored and tired and we cut out of the loop as soon as we could. You win some you lose some.

As much as was packed into days three and four, the evening of day four felt like a vacation. We wandered around Gatlinburg and really just got to do what we wanted. I bought some vegan ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, we went over to the aquarium, and did some shopping. Aquariums make me sad because of captivity and whatnot, but I do enjoy spending time with my grandparents so I pet the jellyfish like every other tourist. When we got out of the aquarium, Gatlinburg was experiencing what one would call a downpour, so we bought rain ponchos, and ran from store to store until we reached Ol’ Smoky Moonshine Distillery. Don’t judge, they had a super cute coffee mug I wanted to bring home.

Once we reached the distillery the rain was letting up. Grandma and Grandpa went to sit outside while I searched for the coffee mug of my dreams. When I found my grandparents after my purchase, they were sitting in rocking chairs listening to a family band. The evening was peaceful and relaxing. I left the mountains with a few new stickers and only one blister.

Days One and Two

Days one and two were spent mostly in the car, with the exception of sleeping and bathroom breaks (thank goodness for that). Since I worked until four on Saturday, we were planning to roll out of Bloomer, WI, at five o’clock sharp. Fortunately, we made it out at 5:15, which is about half an hour earlier than my family usually manages to leave. I set up camp in the back seat, which happens to be roomy enough for me to lay down in, Grandpa took the wheel, and Grandma was in the passenger seat. We listened to This American Life on WPR for what felt like forever. I tried my best to work on my cactus cross stitch to the sound of the narrator’s lispy voice, and some kind of stringed instrument, but the road was pretty bumpy and I kept poking myself so I had to stop. I wish I could provide you with my roadtrip music but my headphones broke earlier on so This American Life it isOur only goal that night was to make it to Madison, but by the time we hit it we still had more miles left in us. We aren’t quitters. We knew the farther we made it on Saturday, the less would have to drive on Sunday and the earlier we would make it to Gatlinburg, TN. That was incentive enough to keep going.

Before we talk more about the drive, or the rest of the trip for that matter, I think you should know a little bit about my grandparents. My grandma loves art and violent movies and my grandpa likes wildlife and knowing a lot about space. Both of them are amazing people but in very different ways, they love each other, but they disagree on quite a bit and like everyone else, they have their things. For instance, there was one point of the trip where we had directions pulled up on all three cell phones and a huge paper map. Grandpa just likes to know where he is going, so it’s obviously going to be pretty hard to navigate up to par. They never really get angry, but it isn’t hard to tell when they are a little stuck on something.

The first time I noticed this on the trip was when we were trying to figure out where we wanted to spend the first night. Grandma wanted Elgin and Grandpa wanted Schaumburg. I was a little partial to Schaumburg just because it was a little bit closer to the destination. Both of them said they didn’t care, but Grandpa kept inquiring about hotels in Schaumburg and Grandma kept looking up hotels in Elgin. To each their own, I guess. Anyway, Elgin came and went and we had to really concentrate on finding a place to sleep in Schaumburg. There seemed to be some deals online, but Grandpa was sure that the rooms were probably too small. We decided to try the DoubleTree first and if that was full, just wander around until we found something. The DoubleTree was a little off the highway (I think it was three miles?) and by mile one Grandpa had said, “I don’t see any hotels anywhere, do you?” about three times. Once we found the DoubleTree it didn’t have a room with more than one bed so we moved on. We tried the next hotel and when Grandma went in to haggle down the price for a room, Grandpa got on the horn with another hotel. It was late and we were all ready for bed. We finally landed in a Garden Inn, with a pull out couch and breakfast. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

That first night I made a rookie mistake, I forgot my earplugs in the car. Between my grandma’s snoring and my grandpa’s sleeping machine, I was grateful when we woke up at 6:30 to get going (I never thought I’d say that). After I stocked up on the hotel’s fresh fruit we hit the road.

Day two was astonishingly like day one, but longer. I stretched out in the backseat and read the entirety of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while we drove through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and finally, Tennessee. We rolled into Gatlinburg around seven and stumbled through the directions to find Country Inn & Suites, our home for the next three days. Gatlinburg is like Wisconsin Dells on steroids, my grandparents were appalled by the crowds. But it hasn’t been that bad. After we found a place to eat, Grandma and I went up on the skylift up the mountain. It was a touristy little ski lift but the view was worth it, even if I wasn’t looking when they took the picture.

After ten hours in the car I needed to move around a little. So I worked out a little bit, and after a good shower I fell asleep promptly after putting my earplugs in.

Watch out for my next post, Days Two and Three!

Foraging for Adventure


Last Sunday I had the opportunity to visit Piney Hill Farm in Glenwood City, WI, for an adventure of the pioneering kind. For one day the Minnesota Slow Food Revolution took over Piney Hill Farm for a lovely time of tours, talks, and some delightfully foraged foods. I had an excellent time wandering around the farm, listening to discussions on co-ops and ethical meat farming, and by the end of the day I was leaving Glenwood City with new knowledge and a sunburn.

I heard about the foraged foods dinner through a friend on the WAM Collective, and shortly after catching up with her, I set out to explore the farm on a tour lead by Wade, Carl, and Heidi, the owners and farmers of the land. I really enjoyed the tour because not only was it a nice walk on a beautiful day, their woods reminded me of the woods that I used to live by and was quite fond of exploring as a child. Along the way, we looked at the yurt (a personal favorite),the vineyard plot, a plethora of wild flora, the sugar shack, and the melon field. The tour was about 40 minutes in length and it was fun for all ages. I was inspired by the involvement and care that went into this land, not only from the current farmers but also the previous owners. After growing up around both family farms and commercial farms, it was very cool to get a more in-depth look at the goings-on. I really enjoy seeing the farmer treating the land with love and care.

After the tour, I was able to listen to a few different talks. The talks were both enjoyable and educational. The first discussion was about co-ops, specifically The Hungry Turtle Co-op located in Amery. I like listening to discussions like this because deciding to make a difference is a pretty cool thing, and it’s cool to see people going for it. Basically, this talk was focused on how supporting local farmers and co-ops is super important because small time farmers don’t have the equipment that the large-scale Californian farms do, which puts the family farms at a disadvantage. I also found it really intriguing to find out about ways to support  farmers in my area like Farm Table, the farm to table restaurant located in Amery, which I hope to try someday soon.

The next discussion was about farm animals, which was interesting to listen to because I am not interested in talking about the animals as a consumer and have never been. I have been vegetarian since the eighth grade and recently made the transition to veganism, so most of the stuff that was said I felt like didn’t apply to me but it really made me think about the people around me. The farm that gave the talk to the group was T. C. Farms, a family owned farm based out of Minnesota that wanted the best ingredients for their cooking needs. Their motivation for farming was for taste, but it did lead to more organic conditions. While I guess I can understand where they are coming from, and I’m glad that they want the best living conditions for the animals in their care, I still can’t imagine raising animals to eat them. That was a little difficult for me to listen to but I’m glad I did because knowledge is power, and although I think it’d be super cool if no one ate meat, I understand that that is not achievable and I’m happy that some of those who do eat meat try to keep it as ethical as possible.

The Salt Cellar restaurant prepared the food, and although I can’t say much about the meat and cheese, I really enjoyed the salad and other veggies. And anyone who knows me know I’ll do anything for coffee, so the cold pressed was a highlight of the day.

All in all, I am very glad that I attended the foraged foods diner because it got me out of Bloomer and in touch with nature. It was a beautiful day to be outside and it was an experience I couldn’t wait to share.

A Decade of Dance in Bloomer


As an eighth grader I transferred from Lou Ann’s Academy of Dance to Penni’s Studio of the Arts in Bloomer and this year Penni celebrated the 10 year anniversary of her studio. As many of you know, I have spent a great portion of the last six years in that studio and Penni and her staff have been a great influence on me as a person. Penni has presented me with so many opportunities over the years, including but not limited to allowing me to teach ballet for the summer (so if any of you are interested…). Being involved in dance was the best activity my parents could have signed me up for as a kid and I really do think it shaped me into the person I am today. Not only is dance an amazing creative outlet and social activity, it takes up so much time that there’s hardly any time to get into trouble, not that I ever would have. I had a parent tell me once that she would much rather pay for dance lessons than rehab, and although it may be extreme it got the point across. It kept me and countless other children busy and it was fun.

I could go on for years about dance and the different genres and the pros and cons of signing a child up for a life of mirrors and dance shoes but I feel like my time is better spent celebrating ten years of an influential piece of Bloomer, Wisconsin. As I said earlier, I switched to Penni’s studio for my eighth grade year, I came in with a solid foundation from Lou Ann but at Penni’s I was exposed to more teachers, more studio time, and a much shorter commute. It did not take me long to fall in love and completely immerse myself in the studio. My two best friends danced there first and before long that studio became most of my social life and I wouldn’t change it if I had the chance. One of the best things about Penni’s Studio was the other dancers, they taught me so much and pushed me so hard and I was able to work with so many talented children. The other dancers were such blessings, I love them and will always be so grateful for my opportunities to dance alongside of them.

Since my gangly eighth grade self set foot in the studio, I have grown as a dancer and as a person. Although ballet isn’t my main focus in life anymore, it’s still a huge part of who I am as a person and how I make decisions. It’s the part of me that signed up for a one credit ballet class and frequently visited Northrop, and the part of me that still gets assignments done fairly early because no one wants to stay up late after dance class, even though in college that is no longer a problem. Because of dance I was able to go to New York and stay in Milwaukee and make new friends, and those are opportunities you don’t get everyday.

All in all, I really want to thank Penni Asplund and all the time she has given to her students for the past ten years. It meant so much to me and all of your other dancers.

Hottest NBA Squad in the NBA


With March Madness wrapping up and the Championship Game taking place today, basketball has been on everyone’s mind. Instead of focusing on the college teams everyone is keeping an eye on, I’m turning your attention to the “Hottest NBA squad in the NBA”. For once, a basketball team has caught my eye that doesn’t have Troy Bolton as its star player and I am giving the world an insider look at the next big thing in basketball.


I was lucky enough to witness an intense two-on-two match and play a game of Lemon with these all stars. Lemon is a game similar to Horse, except obviously more interesting because the skill of these boys is unparalleled. They put my sixth grade MiniHawks team to shame. As you can imagine, sitting court side was dramatically different than watching through the dining hall window. These guys are hardcore, I’m talking dedication. Rain or shine they are out there on that court ballin’ their hearts out. They even ball through life-threatening injuries.


When asked where they get their motivation, they had no problem coming up with an intense history of their fascination with the beloved sport. They have been inspired by various star players, and they can frequently be found analyzing moves from the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams and Space Jam. Their role models include William Gates, Steph Curry, Tyus Jones and Larry “The Lemon” Bird. The boys claim Bird gained the name “The Lemon” by eating lemons before every game, and that he even grew the lemons in the stadium, hence the name the Boston Garden. Clearly, these guys know their stuff. The boys admire Jones and Bird for the way they “pop tres” according to one of the all stars, Nick Saxton.

After some observation, I have come to the conclusion that there is no singular MVP. Every player brings something different to the table. Each player embodies a different Michael Jordan. Ben Holewinski brings the 2001-2003 Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards, Jack Sullivan is the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats Michael Jordan. Obviously, Elliott Gore is Space Jam Michael Jordan as he, in fact, hopes to play for North Carolina, which is a “real fine school.” Christoper Shea is Michael Jordan when he played baseball for the Birmingham Barons in 1994. Last but not least is Nick Saxton, who is Michael B. Jordan from the 2015 cinematic masterpiece Fantastic Four. Each player alternates bringing orange slices and juice. One time Elliott brought cookies. Jack took two, although he denies it but we all know he did. Ben didn’t get any cookies, he was late that day, it was a Tuesday, everybody knows he has soccer practice on Tuesdays. Ben is a beast in the paint.

While everyone else is wasting their time in front of a T.V. watching the Championship Game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Villanova Wildcats, you can jam like the pros with this killer playlist, Ball Thyme.

Photographs courtesy of Christopher Shea

Playlist courtesy of Ben Holewinski’s Spotify.


What I’m Reading

College is clearly a tumultuous time. Although I am completely in love with my city and my school, it is a lot different than high school. Minneapolis feels like a whole different world than little old Bloomer. As much as you might be thinking, ‘Lauren get to the point’, I swear I have one and I’m getting there. I know I am not the first freshman to get to college and have no idea what they are doing or who they want to be, or for that matter, who they are. If you haven’t already guessed I am very much in that boat. As it turns out, the proverbial boat is very crowded, and not just with all these lost college students.

Filled with confusion, I did what I have always done. I read. I turned to some brave ladies that were lost far before I was, hoping they could help me out. Similar to many other times in my life, these books did not disappoint. The first on my journey was Elizabeth Gilbert and her book, Eat Pray Love, which I am sure you have heard of because I think everyone and their grandma read this a few years back when the movie came out. I joined the movement a little late, but late is better than never.

Eat Pray Love was a story about how Gilbert got a divorce, dealt with her depression, and found God, all while traveling the world. This woman took control of her life by seeing the world and living in ways she wasn’t used to. I really loved this, I loved reading about how this women became her own. At the time of reading it, I wasn’t very happy with all of her choices along the way, like spending more time at the ashram and getting involved with Felipe. I wanted her to stick to her plans because plans were something I relied on. I think now that I have had some time to reflect on the book, I like that she was able to get into a healthy relationship after healing from a few not-so-healthy relationships. And since managing my anxiety, I respect her being able to change her plans. I think that was brave of her. I think her whole journey was brave of her. I would really recommend this book to anyone thinking of reading it, there is a reason it was so popular, that’s because it’s good.

Elizabeth Gilbert has many other books, not all nonfiction, but most recently Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear has caught my eye. It is partially due to the fact that I am pretty much a middle aged woman in spirit, and partially due to Eat Pray Love being the beginning of my self exploration book binge. I hope I get around to reading her others and they don’t just end up on my endless to-be-read list.

The next two books that have been huge for me were both by Cheryl Strayed, my new hero. I started off with Wild, because of another movie adaptation I have yet to see. Wild is about how Cheryl dealt with herself and the death of her mother. Cheryl Strayed went to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, just like me so obviously that filled me with enough joy to make it through midterms. Cheryl tried to deal with her problems in different ways, with drugs and affairs before she divorced a man she loved and hiked the PCT. Her story was amazing to me, she up and left everything she knew to hike and then just stay in Portland. The story was much more about her emotional journey than her hike although her hike was amazing. I am so in awe of this woman and if I grew up to be one third as cool as she is I will die happy.

I also read Brave Enough, also by Cheryl Strayed. I read this on one afternoon during Spring Break when I spent a few hours just hanging out in Barnes and Noble and valuing my alone time. I picked it up because the title has the word brave in it and kept it because I saw Cheryl Strayed. The word  brave is very important to me because that is one thing I really want to be, those of you who know me know that I have this word tattooed on my arm. It’s a great reminder. Brave Enough is just a small book full of words of wisdom and to anyone who needs them, it is infinitely helpful and I would sit in Barnes and Noble forever to read it.

I am not done reading books about exploration and I doubt that I will ever be. I’ll be sure to let you know if I come by any more life-changers and I am always looking for recommendations. Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk about some more great ones soon.

Spring Break Part One: Chicago

As many of you know, spring break season is upon us and like many college students, I am doing my best to escape campus for the week. With that ambition in mind, Sam, Taycia, and I packed up the green KIA and made the 401 mile trek from Middlebrook Hall to Vivian’s house in Illinois. Our fearless leader and careful driver, Taycia, after a full day of classes drove the entire way down stopping only to go to McDonald’s and get gas. That is what I call dedication. After jamming for close to seven hours to SPRANG BREAK 2K16, we made it to Vivian’s adorable little house a little after midnight to spend the next two days in and around Chicago. We crammed as much into those two days as possible and it was the best possible way for us to start to Spring Break 2016.

We spent our first full day in Chicago wondering around various areas outside of Chicago. We got kind of a late start because of who we are as people. After a brunch made entirely of breakfast foods, we went to Vivian’s favorite place to get her nails done, where she is known by name. We all got our nails painted various pastels while listening to a soccer mom talk about her son and later trying to get the imitation down. Vivian lead us around Oakbrook and some suburban malls where we all got to explore a bunch of stores I had never even heard of, including Pirch where we never thought Taycia would leave.  We ate dinner in Naperville later that night after everyone finished their homework and changed. Naperville is one of the cutest places I have ever been in my entire life, by the way. I would have pictures of all the lights in the trees but alas, every picture I took was bad. Oh well, a hundred bad ones for one good one. I’ll get better.


Our departure time for Saturday was 9:30 am, so naturally we left at 10:15 for Chinatown. Sam and I got to try Dim Sum for the first time at a restaurant called Phoenix. Vivian and Taycia guided us in choosing the right dumplings and supported me in my efforts to use chopsticks correctly. I had so much fun and I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience new things with some of my best friends. Chinatown itself was super cool too, even though I only got to see a little bit.IMG_2043.JPG

The weather was foggy and chilly so maybe it wasn’t exactly ideal for walking around, but that is exactly what we did. It was more than perfect for pictures so I won’t complain. After Vivian found us a parking spot, we took off to walk the Magnificent Mile, stopping several times before we reached the Water Tower for coffee. After we visited places like Dylan’s, Tiffany’s. Zara, and T.J. Maxx, we wandered over to Millennium Park to visit the famous Bean. We had to do at least one super touristy thing before we left and we only had half the day left. I, being the middle-aged photographer mom that I am, brought out the camera and took as many pictures as I could. All of which will be on my Instagram (@Exploringengler ) in about a week. They will thank me one day for my incessant photography.

We had a little bit of time before we had to make it to the restaurant for dinner, so the rest of the group let me have my fun and we all made the trek over to REI. Inspired by Cheryl Strayed and awed by the size of the building, I spent quite a bit of time walking up and down the stairs before I even started to look for what I came for. It does not take much for me to get distracted, especially in stores (looking at you Barnes and Noble). I finally found my chalk bag, a water bottle, and a hat, and also a clip, sticker, and a membership. What can I say? I was enthralled.


We ended the night Saturday by dancing to our playlist and eating lots of fruit, no better way to end the weekend. My weekend with these girls was more than I could ever ask for. A year ago, I didn’t even know this people and now I can’t imagine life without them, thank goodness we will live together next year. Vivian and her parents were such amazing hosts and we are so grateful for everything they did for us while we were staying with them.

Keep an eye out for Spring Break Part 2: Lost In Milwaukee.


Get Outside Your Bubble


I know, I know, I talk a lot about the WAM Collective. To be fair, it is a really big part of my life right now and a lot of my really amazing experiences have been brought to me because of my involvement with this student group. I am so grateful to be a part of it and if you couldn’t tell, this is going to be another post about an amazing event presented by the WAM Collective.

Last Friday, I attended the Wing Young Huie workshop We Are The Other; Get Outside Your Bubble. For the first hour we listened to Wing talk about his experiences as a photographer and as a minority in Minnesota. While sitting silently during a few  of the discussion questions that involved the audience, I realized something that made me kind of upset. While there were many people there of different sexes, ages, and backgrounds, the people I noticed speaking up the most were the few middle aged white males. So many times I wanted to scream “THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!!!!!” and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this why, the young man I was paired up with thought the same thing. This workshop discussed identity and photography and where we fit in with everyone else, on campus, in Minnesota and in the world. I felt like the old white men were trying to take the positions of power that they so often hold, and I was kind of mad about it.

I discussed this anger while I was paired up with a young Korean man and we talked about when we did and didn’t feel the right to be angry was appropriate. Because I am white, I don’t know when it’s okay for me to voice my anger at other white people because their racism doesn’t directly affect me. He said he had the same issue with feminism, and that surprised me because women love it when men are feminists. Comparing the two struggles seemed to make sense because we both really want to make sure everyone is being treated fairly.  Sometimes we don’t know where to safely stand and maybe being safe is the problem. Maybe if I stood up on a chair and yelled at the old white guys to let someone else speak, maybe then I would be a good activist. But I didn’t and I’m not, at least not yet, I will eventually reach the point where I know what I should say and do, but I don’t yet, not in activism, or college, or life. But attending events like these will only help me, and others,  figure out where they fit best to help others and I think that is super important and fundamental to understanding the struggles of the world around us. I know America is not equal yet, but I do think it is possible and I think dialogue is the best way to start. So as upset as I was at those few old white guys that kept raising their hands with all the minorities, I shouldn’t be. They need to be a part of the discussion as anyone else, at least to realize what is going on outside their own bubble.

On that note, if anyone wants to have this discussion with me, I would really enjoy starting our own dialogue. I have so much to learn.

Taking pictures of students around campus was the most fun and least important part of the workshop. We let the students pick what questions they wanted from a list and got them talking. Once they were talking we had them write down a thought (related or not) and we would photograph them. I had a really fun time working with my partner, who was a media student) and speaking to other students I may never have spoken to otherwise.

I really enjoyed this workshop and everything it opened me up to, I think trying to view life from different perspectives is only ever a good thing, and everything the WAM Collective offers is worth your time.