Summer Flashback: Oakland County Fair

For a real taste of Americana, there’s nothing better than a county fair. Even those of us who didn’t grow up raising crops or cattle can appreciate the hard work and commitment. The Oakland County Fair is just the right size for a daylong visit: 4-H crafts, bottomless cup of chocolate milk for 50 cents, livestock barns, dog show, midway games, children’s activities, farm equipment on display, pig races, petting zoo, bumper cars and greasy food.

One of our favorite attractions is the Miracle of Life Barn full of animals and their new babies. We saw two huge sows with squealing piglets, as well as baby goats, sheep, cows, and rabbits. However, the greatest attraction for Nico was the incubator full of hatching eggs. After missing one egg hatch (while we wandered away to see the piglets), he was determined to witness the next one. Eventually, the rest of the family scooted off to get lunch, but Nico didn’t want to leave. I sat with him as he stared at the egg. It rocked and wiggled and then went still as the chick inside took a break from its exhausting journey. We waited as other groups stopped by and moved on. Nico told them all, “It should just be a few more minutes,” but only he had the patience to wait. Finally, after 30 minutes, a little beak poked through the shell, pushing and jiggling until the egg split in half and the tiny wet chick flopped out. Amazing.
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Playing on the tractors.
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Rides and games.
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Fair fun.
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Summer Flashback: Flare Night and 4th of July

Flare Night at Lake Orion was quieter than usual for me this year as most of the family opted out. Tony had gone to Kansas to see his family, so Kate and her boys spent the night. We set up the road flares (without any family men to help!) and waited till 10 p.m. to light them, when the whole perimeter of the lake glowed red.
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The Fourth of July was also a little different. Usually we all traipse over to the neighbor’s yard for a clear view of the fireworks, but this year the location changed and we could see most of them from our deck. Fortunately, the painters finished the exterior work in time. The whole gang came over (including our adopted siblings Mike and Chris Gray). John looped twinkly lights along the porch railing and hung my red, white and blue lanterns from India. So festive!

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Summer Flashback: John scores an MBA!

My brother-in-law John has something he hasn’t had in a long time: free Thursday nights! After attending night classes at University of Phoenix for the last couple years, he graduated this summer with a Master’s in Business Administration. The graduation ceremony took place June 21 at Ford Field in Detroit, and John may have had the most fans in the audience. My whole family attended, along with John’s parents and many other family members. We all enjoyed a delicious lunch in Detroit’s Mexican Town afterwards.

We’re all so proud of John!
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Caught him on the big screen.
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Summer Flashback: Kids and kayaks

A typical summer day at the lake involves pitching the little tent for shade, kayaking around the island and through the willow tree “jungle,” possibly unmooring the paddle boat for a short outing, filling the baby pool with a few inches of fresh water, loading up the picnic table with snacks and drinks, feeding the ducks, playing with the fishing pole (with a glow stick instead of a hook), swimming and splashing and otherwise scaring the fish.

We always spend at least one day raking out sea grass. Nobody wants that stuff grabbing your toes or wrapping around your thigh while you swim. It’s enough to give you nightmares!
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We had LOTS of ducklings hanging around the lake this summer. Our favorite duck, Sheila, made a nest in our front yard for the second year in a row, but we were sad to hear all her eggs were broken – presumably by a neighborhood cat. Here, Paul kayaks with a mommy duck and her three babies.

Paul Chasing Ducks from Sharon Dent on Vimeo.

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The kayaks were a huge hit. Kate bought two children’s kayaks, but Nico easily managed the adult kayak. Even little Paul paddled around the whole island by himself for the first time. After watching a neighbor pull a huge snapping turtle out of the lake, he far preferred kayaking over swimming!
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All five nephews got together at the lake this year. Can we make that an annual event? Mike, Summer and Max visited from London, and Britt, Megan and Will popped by Michigan during their move from Korea to Texas.
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All the men on the dock.
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Summer Flashback: Jack turns 1!

A few friends and family members gathered at Kate’s house July 7 to celebrate the first birthday of my littlest Jimenez nephew – Jack.
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His brothers, cousins and neighborhood friends decorated cupcakes. Big brother Paul created a cupcake mutant, while cousin Emma went with a more conventional creation.
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Jack didn’t give us the messy frosting explosion we have come to expect at first birthdays. In fact, he barely acknowledged his cute gluten-free cupcake.
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Instead, we got our messy explosion every time Jack ate watermelon this summer as evidenced here (a couple weeks before his birthday).

Watermelon Jack from Sharon Dent on Vimeo.

In Kate’s family, little boys get their first haircut when they turn one, so it was Jack’s turn! It also provided an opportunity for him to have his first lollipop. The rainbow-haired young beautician was patient and sweet with our little lovebug.
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Such a handsome big boy!
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Summer Flashback: NYDJ Jeans

Shopping for jeans is a perennially painful experience.

No point in trying to find jeans here in India, where ladies seem to fall into two style camps: traditional or trendy. For traditional ladies, a “suit” is a typical daily outfit. It consists of loose-fitting bottoms that gather at the ankles and a long tunic-style top with a scarf draped conservatively across the chest. It looks lovely on Indian women, but not on this pear-shaped girl. Trendy locals? They wear western designer styles that are generally too expensive for me.

So, I tend to wait for summer to search for wardrobe staples. This summer, I needed some jeans.

I browsed half-heartedly through the racks and hopelessly tried on jeans everywhere I went this summer. Finally, we visited Nordstrom, where I discovered the NYDJ brand. It sounded so funky and hip. New York DJ? Yeah! I’m not too old to visit a New York dance club in my hot new jeans, right? They fit me perfectly, hugging my small waist but leaving ample space for my out-of-proportion thighs. They actually made my butt look perky and round. And they came in a variety of styles and colors! I wanted them all!

On a retail high, I engaged the help of a young saleswoman, who sported a pleated miniskirt, two long braids and glasses with oversized dark frames. She flitted back and forth to the dressing room, bringing me every iteration of NYDJ jeans. Quickly I discovered my usual size was too big, adding to my excitement about this amazing brand. Really? I could wear a 4! I felt so petite and sexy.

“Ohhhh … yeah, lots of women find they have to drop a size,” said my little helper friend. “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans run a bit big.”

Ummm… hold on. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans? That was not petite and sexy. That was not I’m-still-hot-after-all-these-years clubbing in New York. That was tricky and malicious. That was dumpy, middle-aged soccer mom. That was desperate denial.

I paused to look at the tag. “NYDJ – With Lift and Tuck Technology!” it said. I turned around to check out my butt in the mirror. It DID look lifted. My gut also appeared flatter, tucked as it was. I took a deep breath and let reality wash over me.

I decided that if I had a daughter, her jeans would be too big and frumpy for me. I would have to find some cuter, more flattering jeans, and thus, this brand would be perfect. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. That’s right! These jeans were way more sexy than my hypothetical daughter’s jeans! And so I bought them all.

Summer flashback: weekend in Virginia

The first weekend of my visa run to Washington D.C., I caught the train to Williamsburg, VA, to hang out with a special friend and her family. Cami and I go way back. High school besties in Germany and college roommates in Kansas, we’ve maintained a close relationship ever since. She’s like the fourth Dickinson sister, and I claim a spot in her family, too. Failing at my traditional godmother duties, I was promoted to “fairy godmother” and more recently “zombie godmother,” and I love Cami’s two kids to the moon and back.

Here we are at church, where Quinn sang in the choir, Denison received a Bible and Cami got recognized for teaching Sunday School. Despite Cami’s dad’s prediction, lighting did not strike when I walked through the door. The lovely little Abingdon Episcopal Church was built in 1650 on land donated by George Washington’s grandfather.

At Busch Gardens for Quinn’s birthday, Cami and I tried to take a selfie with our KU Jayhawk. It took several attempts.

At the train station the next day, Quinn gave us a selfie lesson. She was clearly an expert.



I wish we could have spent more time together, but I’ll take what I can get.

Summer Flashback: Tony visits our Tibetan “godchild”

In 2012, I visited the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala and felt compelled to sponsor a student. We were assigned a little girl named Tenzin Nordon, who lives at another TCV campus in southern India.
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Tenzin writes to us a few times a year, enclosing cute drawings and notes written in marker. Her letters used to start with “Dear Sponsor,” but lately she’s switched to “Dear Godmother,” which feels more than a bit misguided.

Tony and I talked for a year about visiting Tenzin, so we finally scheduled a long weekend get-away to Bylakuppe, home to thousands of exiled Tibetans in the Indian state of Karnataka. Our trip was scheduled for mid-May. We shopped for gifts, picking up a rubik’s cube, a couple board games, an art project and some clothes. Tony was remarkably savvy at shopping for a 12-year-old girl.

Unfortunately, I was sent to Washington D.C. that weekend to sort out my Indian work visa, so Tony had to make the trip alone. I’ll let Tony tell the story.

Me: Describe the journey.
Tony: We landed in Bangalore and a driver met me for a 7-hour ride to Kushalnagar (the nearest town to the TCV school). When I landed, I felt like I was in the desert. I looked around and things were pretty darn barren. The air was cleaner than in Delhi, but there was a quietness, a lifelessness. But by the time we got to Kushalnagar, I have never in life seen such fertile land.

There were fruit stands everywhere. There was no poverty like you see in Delhi. It seemed everyone had food and everyone was being used productively; everyone had a job. There were truckloads of mangoes everywhere, and everywhere you looked there were giant coffee plantations and bananas growing. Stall after stall of produce. There were mango stands with five or six or seven different kinds of mangoes, stacked up in pyramids.

I just kept thinking the wrong person had made it to this beautiful paradise; I knew how much you would love it. (Sharon’s comment: Mangoes are my favorite fruit, and Tony doesn’t even LIKE them! So unfair.) The cows were really healthy looking. Fat and clean and well fed. The women weren’t wearing western clothes. They were wearing Indian clothes and they were smiling and happy, and because the area was so busy, they were all carrying things on their heads. It was a long drive, but after about four hours, I saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Costa Coffee, so I had a KFC sandwich and French fries. It was out in the middle of nowhere. You couldn’t just drive past it.

I stayed at this amazing hotel – Amanvana Luxury Boutique Spa Resort – that had an Alice in Wonderland theme in every room. Every time you had tea or went to the spa, there were these little allusions to Through the Looking Glass. There were murals on the walls, and they left copies of the books around. It was me and groups of Indian women on holiday. They gave me a big Indian breakfast, and we had a Indian buffet at night. It was pretty darn spicy.

Me: So I booked a day of sight-seeing for us. Did you take advantage of it?
Tony: I went to some coffee plantations in the morning. They were huge, owned by Nestle. It was a holiday, so there wasn’t much going on. My guide and I got out and walked up and down the fields. He talked to some women who were working in the fields, and he told me some facts about how much coffee they produce. But the show they give to tourists didn’t happen, and there were no English speakers.
I also went to an elephant sanctuary, and I had to take a ferry ride across a river to get there.

They walked the elephants down to the river and bathed them and they let people who were so inclined bathe the elephants and interact with them. I was actually kind of sad because they were hobbled with big heavy chains, and some of the people in charge of the elephants were young boys and they weren’t gentle or kind. They didn’t have any compassion for the animals.

Everybody was there to see the elephants, and a lot of people were looking at me, too. I enjoyed seeing the people from all over India. I got to see all different styles of dress and mannerisms, and they didn’t sound the same as people from Delhi.

Me: Then did you go to the TCV school the next day?
Tony: I had a big breakfast and packed up the little presents for Tenzin. Mr. Dorji (the sponsorship secretary) showed me all over the school – the computer center, which they were really proud of; the dormitory, where all the girls stay; the preschool classrooms.

He introduced me to a preschool teacher and he said she had been HIS teacher when he was little. He had grown up at this campus.

I got to meet several of the secretaries and they told me the history of the school. An Englishman who died recently was the first head of the school in 1981. It impressed me that someone could do something like that and it would survive long after he was gone. I thought about the countless lives he improved.

I met Tenzin, and she seemed happy and popular and curious. She was very appreciative but very very shy. I got to say hello to a few of her friends, and I watched their morning assembly. I got to hear them sing their own national anthem and the Indian one.

Me: What stuck with you after touring the school?
Tony: The kids don’t have much stuff, and they have a limited amount of space. They have a few clothes and a few little personal things. I can tell that they never had any privacy. Yet they were happy and cheerful and laughing, and everything they did have was clean and nice. It made me happy to support this institution because I could tell they were taking good emotional care of the kids.

Me: Anything else?
Tony: I was just sad I didn’t have you there to share it with. That’s the emotion that pervaded the whole thing because I knew how much you would have enjoyed it.

Adventures in Teaching and Travel