A Travellerspoint blog

Back Home in the Heartland!

a tourist in my native land...

In the past 4 years, I have been in Indiana a total of 2 months, one month at a time, years apart. My expat friends and I agree that it's a difficult thing coming home again. I'm gone for years at a time and when I come home, with the exception of few things, it's mostly the same. Friends may have changed jobs, most local businesses are shutting down and friends are changing jobs as quickly as socks (the economy and job market in South Bend, IN are NOT doing well), there are more subdivisions and fewer fields, roads are nice but the school system is suffering...no matter how things change they remain more or less the same.

People have different reactions to me as well...snobby, snooty, adventurous, brave, boring, inspiring, insufferable. It depends on who it is; most of my family see what I'm doing with this travel-living and are proud of me and I'll admit, that feels good. But I'll go to a local bar and when people ask where I got something I'm wearing and when I reply "Mexico," "Japan," "Cambodia," "Spain"...they very rarely know how to react.

And this year I've become more fascinated with Indiana than I've ever been. It's summertime and everything is GREEN, GREEN, GREEN! The corn isn't very tall yet, but it's there, waving in the wind. The red barns in the green fields with the blue sky and white clouds...well, it's just spectacular. I had forgotten how perfect an Indiana evening can be, armed with bug spray of course; the fireflies, the crickets and spring peepers making their presence known, the setting sun casting a soft glow in the sky, and sitting outside reading, drinking a beer, and just taking it all in. This is exactly one of the things I've missed while living abroad. The family is always missed, but I sometimes catch myself forgetting these small things that make Indiana a pleasure to visit.

I've titled this one "Logan Churchill gravy-face." Barb said he looked like Winston Churchill, but with biscuits and gravy all over his face....much like the original, I'd imagine.
Logan is one this year!

This is 2-year-old Spencer laughing like a maniac. An adorable, tow-headed maniac. My nephews are the best.

A port-a-potty on the edge of a cornfield...but there's plenty of bathroom all around.

I tried to explain the dress-up goose phenomenon to my friends in Mexico (even the American ones from different places), but they didn't believe me. Fortunately, my Aunt Kay has one!

This is my Aunt Kay's kitchen, complete with knick-knacks (most of the rooster variety) and tons of good home cooking.

One of the things that I AM snobby about (mostly in other countries, but also in other parts of the States) is my corn. If it's good, you don't need butter or salt. This was good corn.

My Aunt Kay's swimmin' hole. Fantastic, with the dog riding on the raft!

The following day, we went to the St. Joseph County 4-H fair. I don't think I've been there since my early years of high school...about 10 years ago. I went with my good friend, Barb, who is also a transplanted Hoosier (she has lived in Portland for years). I'm so glad I went with a fellow out-of-towner in order to truly, truly appreciate the awesomeness that is an Indiana fair. There was all KINDS of stuff that demonstrates how Heartland this place is. Most of the time, I tried to just pretend I was from out of town and had never seen a fair before...and really, my persona wasn't entirely an act.

Fries stand...colorful!

Sweet fair fare.

Inspecting a retro tractor.

This manufactured pond is electric blue because of the supposed harmful chemicals. Take THAT, natural beauty!

Mmmm...fresh fried vegetables!

Stuff on a stick! Or...in a bun.

A cute little root beer stand.

Thank you swine flu! It's too bad they were empty...

Holy God. Deep fried EVERYTHING. I bet they'd let Homer deep-fry his shirt.

Tie-dyed stuff, stuff with eagles on it, stuff with wolves on it, camouflaged stuff, sports memorabilia stuff, hats, t-shirts, blankets, you name it.

Work horses.

A fine, fine piece of American art.

This lego man was channeling my feelings...also my desire for a goblet.

Who WOULDN'T give this 1st prize? We can only imagine...

Porky the Paper Eater is still there!

Calf mooing.

I think I embarrassed this girl by taking a picture, but she was making kissy noises to calm her calf. It was cute.

Colorful prizes taunting passersby.

Skee ball!

Local couple. Awesome hats.

The Tilt-A-Whirl! I doubt very much my stomach would have been able to tolerate this ride.

Animals getting ready to drink beer at the der Fun Haus.

Ferris wheel.

A staple at any county fair: the taco in a bag, formerly known as the walking taco.

My partner in crime.

And when I got home...
...Tish prepared and I annihilated my very first crab dinner! Yum!

More to come from deep in the Hoosier Heartland!

Posted by lrbergen 09:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Adios, Amigos!

but I prefer "hasta luego!"

As with leaving any job, I had a difficult time saying goodbye to Ensenada. Leaving Mexico was entirely too difficult for my liking, so I wholly intend on coming back after my financial stint back in Korea. I mean...I feel like I'm leaving my heart in Mexico...with my students, with my friends, with all of those fish tacos...

So now back home in Indiana, I have plenty of time to reflect on my year in Mexico through the last few days of pictures. Really...they say it all.

Fernanda, Camila and Andrea at a birthday party I was invited to. At a pool! By the ocean! YEAH!

Miguel, Diego and Carlo

These moms were like nothing I had ever seen in Korea. They were warm, inviting, and genuinely interested in the well-being of their kids. They also recognized that I LOVED teaching their children too!

Sebastian, Ismael and Luis

Me and some of my girls...after they found out that I wouldn't be coming back next year.

Alexa, after putting her face in the cake. Kudos to going for it!

The teachers and I went to Santo Tomas for pizza after this party.

The next day at the beach was dreary.

Kelly got a baby duck! His name is Apache...but I like to call him "Poopy." I think you can understand why...

The last day of classes was a sad affair...we English teachers came in the following week, but not to teach.
Ana Valeria at lunch.

Steph and I tried our hand at running the store at school. It WOULD be the very first squirt-gun robbery in the history of the school!

Cute 2nd-grade Brenda.

I think I was done reading at this point. At least I hope so, what with all the children standing around. I didn't put up with such fussing about.

Valentina stayed by my side until the very last minute I left school on Tuesday. She followed me around, attached to my arm. Heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking.

Macarena. We finally got her out of the habit of calling me "mom."

Roberto Emilio. This kid is going to be a talk-show host someday.

Me and my lovelies.

Our playground.

Gaby! That is my arm she's clinging to. She kept whispering "You don't go to Indiana!"

Daniela. This little one opened up out of her shell about midway through the year. She was making a silly face before we snapped this.

Pamela, who tied for 1st in Good Conduct. What a doll.

The boys on our last day together.

With the girls. Who would be crazy enough to leave them?

The students kinda just did this on their own. It was weird. And super-cute.

The final weekend, we tried to pack in our "typical" weekend events. Every Sunday at La Alcoba (the tea house), they showed a movie. This month was Monty Python. I went to every one.
With Denisse. I will miss her and her mom and sister...they were great hostesses!

I ate my first and last fish tacos here at Navolato. I will always remember the giant picture mural of the ocean and the taco stand floating in mid-air above it. Also, the cartoon lobster that was bigger than the cartoon dolphin.

In my opinion, the best ceviche you could find in a restaurant in Ensenada.

Oh mah gah. FISH TACO!

The teachers (and Steph's mom) at our last meal together.

I will miss: big giant flag!

See that there on the left? That pink-ish building? That is the tallest building in Ensenada!

Stay tuned until next time when I make it very clear that I am a tourist here in Indiana! Te quiero, Ensenada!

Posted by lrbergen 16:51 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Mexican Birthday Extravaganza!

about a month after the fact...

Hey again...

In her last e-mail, my Aunt Peg lamented the fact that I haven't posted here in some time. As my time in Mexico is coming to an end, I figured I'd better get on it and get to writing.

I make it a point to force my birthday to stretch through a minimum of 4 days every year. Last year it was a little understated, but this year we went right back to where we've been in the past with another eventful memorable birthday!

The Friday before hand, we went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants (because of the chiles rellenos and 2-for-1 coupons!), El Cid.

Mmmm...chiles rellenos.

Miss Laura and Theo joined Steph, Kelly and I. Heidi was up in San Diego visiting a friend who came from Minnesota.

Saturday, we drove about 30 minutes away from Ensenada to the Valle de Guadalupe's Ruta de Vino (wine route), where they have vineyards a-plenty. Ana Paola told us that 90% of Mexico's wine production comes from this area. We stopped at L.A. Cetto where they have free tours and (the best part) free sampling afterwards. It's so beautiful and it was a perfect day.

After telling our good-looking tour guide that we were there celebrating my birthday, he let us keep sampling long after the sampling was over. This was one of the wines in their special reserves, Sierra Blanca.

L.A. Cetto closed, so we went to a place just down the road a little bit to have our picnic. Gilberto and Angus decided to hang out the back of Steph's car.

Bread, cheese, ham, olive pate, apples and wine! YUM!

This is the view from the table we were sitting at...Sierra Blanca in the background.

The following day, we headed to the "Ensenada de Todos" festival where there were booths from the founding families, lots of other countries, and different groups from all around Ensenada. It was down by the water at the giant (Mexican) flag.

Making mojitos by the dozen. And man were they TASTY!
With Mundo and Heidi. And yes, those mojitos are both mine.
With Hugo!
After the festival started closing down, there were some bands and dancing. Hugo and I stayed and danced salsa to a pretty great Cuban band.

And of course my birthday fell on a Monday this year...the day I had to make my school's bulletin board.
This year, per Miss Laura's suggestion, I started the school on a "Reading Bingo" program to encourage the kids to read in English. And man, did these kids read! Some students at our school have never read an entire book in their lives, in English OR Spanish. Some of them have read in Spanish, but never in English. And most of them were incredibly proud of themselves. And we are VERY proud of them. A lot of the 6th-graders have read an impressive amount of pages, choosing to read books of substance rather than just getting the space on the Bingo card. And their English skills have shown a real improvement!

This is my workspace. It almost always looks like this. And yes, that is a picture of Obama. :)

Posted by lrbergen 17:55 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Spring Break in the Bay Area

last-minute snap decision!

Due to a very sudden, unforeseen change of plans, instead of backpacking through Baja which I had tentatively planned, I took a trip to Berkeley to see a dear friend I met in Korea.

There aren't too many specifics...I did a lot of lounging, reading, watching movies, walking, contemplating, soul-searching...but mostly lounging. It was way colder than I thought it would be. While my Mexican cohorts came back bronzed, I never got to use the two bathing suits that I packed. Ahhh...that's ok. I LIVE in a beach town and the sun has finally shown what it can do.

But I digress.

Aside from a 4-hour layover in LA, I was generally satisfied with my trip up. It was nice to be in an area where people didn't honk or whistle at me, away from the prying eyes of Ensenada. And the grocery store...mercy! I am always so amazed by American grocery stores; the variety...is...incredible. And California is amazingly gorgeous. Always...even on the cloudy days.

See? Beautiful.

Clouds are so versatile... I think this one looks like a glass plate of clouds. But that's just me.

I made it in with no problems and spent the first few days doing nothing (both Courtney and Lil work for a living), though we did venture out a bit.

That's the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is the entrance to Courtney and Lil's house. SO! MANY! FLOWERS!

Friday night we went to Acme, the bar we went to the first time around. They had "Motown night" for a little bit and it was clear that the whole bar was jazzed about it. I danced very awkwardly with a guy who also danced awkwardly...but hey, it's Berkeley and people were feeling good.

Saturday we went to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, possibly one of the most stimulating and just plain COOL museums I have ever been to. I don't know what it is about my luck and only having 2 hours (2.5, actually) to explore and cram as much in as possible, but that's what we did. We missed out on the 4-floor rainforest and planetarium (bummer), but what we did see was wicked cool.

South African penguins in the Africa room.

Then we went to the Madagascar area, where we saw tons of insects, some small tortoises, and the now-extinct Madagasy elephant bird skeleton, which was 10 feet tall and weighed half a ton.
I don't know what this insect is, but I don't ever want to see one in the wild. This is pretty much actual size.
This one looks a little more tame. Kind of like a rhino...or a triceratops. Also actual size.
Hissing cockroaches. I shudder at the thought.

Fish bisection in the Galapagos area.
Giant Galapagos tortoise.
Albino alligator.
Seahorse party!
Leaf fish that didn't move even a little. It looked like they were suspended in clear jell-o.
Upside-down jellyfish.
The Living Roof.

After that, we toured San Francisco a little more.
Forest of Eucalyptus trees that are really pretty and smell great, but are taking over the forests and edging out the "good trees." Some bozo thought they would be profitable as timber because they grow very quickly, but he was wrong.
Typical San Francisco houses.
Sidewalk T-Rex. Cute.

Sunday, Courtney and I went back to San Fran for the Easter parade featuring wacky dressers, drag queens, a cop with flowers in his lapel and hat, hipsters, and Hunky Jesus. What a time.
A great advertisement we saw in the BART station.
This is Zach Houston. He makes poems on his typewriter about any topic for any price. My poem was about roast beef:

"the single greatest veganisms
are roast beef eaters british
uniforms worn better over with
it timeless hunger but sated by
often someone but easily eat"

Dressed in their Easter best.

My 3rd-to-last day, I did a bit of exploring around Berkeley thanks to Lil. We went to the forest to take her sweet dog, Lorna, for a swim, then I met some used bookstores and a Korean restaurant that tickled my fancy.
We stopped for coffee first. This was too clever to pass up.
A young redwood.
Go Lorna go!
A gnarly tree.
Lorna dreams big.
The bay area.
Kimchi. The miso was authentically bad, and they had 2 kinds of kimchi. It wasn't great, but it never is outside of Korea. Man...I miss kimchi.
California bibimbap. This is a very typical Korean dish, with the added California ingredients of avocado and chicken. It was...ok.
I love Berkeley. Almost every single yard is bursting with beautiful flowers.

The overnight Greyhound bus ride was way smooth, and I made it back to Ensenada with no problems.

And thus, my Californian spring break is over; tomorrow, we go back to school. I am way excited to see my kids...time to get back to molding young minds!

Posted by lrbergen 20:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Time Out to Say Goodbye

Cheers to a Grandpa larger than life!

As the title may suggest, I will be taking a short intermission in these posts to honor my Grandpa, Larry Roumell.

I have nothing but fond memories of my Grandpa. Though not my grandfather by blood per se, he was indeed a larger-than-life kind of guy. He made me believe I was Greek and though shocked and dismayed when I found out the blond curly hair and green eyes did not a Greek make, I still hold on to the love of Greek heritage because of this man.

My Grandpa Roumell always seemed a near-god to me...and he will be sorely missed. He went through a tough illness for the past few years, and we can console ourselves with the fact that we will never forget who he was to us and that though he is gone, he is no longer suffering.

We had an intense few days of mourning, but it was one of the most therapeutic few I have ever experienced. Everybody came from all over to South Bend to cry together, to laugh, to remember, and, most importantly, to be there for each other. We love him and he loved all of us, and made sure that we knew it.

How could I have known that I was not genetically Greek? The trips to Greektown, the teaching of the Greek swear words...total shock.

His Greek Delight stand.

With his Cadillac. Look at that mustache.

With Grandma Roumell and Lou Holtz.

Grandpa was a fiercely proud vet of the Korean War. That hat was famous. Here he is with Will.

As a handsome young man in Korea.

Larry J. Roumell
Sept. 19, 1935 - March 21, 2009
SOUTH BEND - Larry John Roumell, 73, of South Bend, died Saturday morning in Inwood Hill Estates, South Bend. Larry was an executive and entrepreneur with Sears and Roebuck and his own company, Special Services, Incorporated. He was born September 19, 1935, in Harbor Beach, Michigan, to Chris and Mary (Kanthak) Roumell, who preceded him in death, along with a daughter, Susan. In August 1969, in Detroit, he married Jean Schreiber, who survives along with a daughter, Catherine Dennen of Castle Rock, CO; four sons, Steven Roumell of Colorado Springs, CO, James Roumell of Chevy Chase, MD, Phil Greene of South Bend and Paul Roumell of Grand Lake, CO; 13 grandchildren, Lyndsey and Zachary Bergen, Nicholas and Thaddeus Greene, William, John, Allison and Kathleen Dennen, Nina, Jordan, Nikolas, Ryan and Miranda Roumell; two great-grandsons, Spencer and Logan Bergen; and a sister, Barbara Grouse of New Baltimore, MI. Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 28th, in Christ the King Catholic Church, South Bend. Interment will take place at 11 a.m. Monday, March 30th, in Fort Custer National Cemetery, Battle Creek, MI.
The "Dick Vitale" of Dads! He was a guy who could "own-a-room" without being obnoxious. An energetic executive who couldn't wait to get outside to become a "weekend" outdoorsman and fisherman. He loved to fish for perch on the Great Lakes with his kids and hunt pheasant in Kansas. His true passion, besides his family, was golf. Larry served in the Korean War as a sergeant with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and was a member of the VFW and Elks Lodge 235. Dad believed the greatest fraternity in the world was the U.S. Army...nowhere else do you spend only two years in an organization and then spend the rest of your life talking about it! With his first wife, Joann, and the mother of his two oldest boys, he maintained a great friendship throughout the years. Dad is survived by his wife Jean of nearly 40 years. She was the love of his life who supported him till the end. When we all came together, it was always an interesting "hers, mine and ours'" situation. Our dad loved all his grandchildren, nephews and nieces. He always had a special place in his heart for his beautiful sister and our aunt, Barbara. Finally, our dad was a man very proud of his Greek heritage. He succeeded in passing on his passion for the Greek culture to all of his children. Dad was the best and will be terribly missed...but we know he's in Heaven playing the quarterback he was at Nativity High with his many buddies who passed before him. We can almost hear them now..."Hey Larry, I'm open!"

Father's Day with Aunt Cathy, Uncle Paul, and my mom.

With baby Miranda. 13 grandchildren!

With Allie and Kate.

Grandpa was notorious for falling asleep. He fell asleep watching TV, reading the paper, and once, legend has it, he even fell asleep in the middle of telling a joke. Here he is at his youngest daughter's wedding, after the vows are exchanged in the Basilica at Notre Dame, taking photos in the Grotto. These are possibly the most uncomfortable benches I have ever encountered. But I guess when you're tired, you're tired.

Here is the reading I did at his funeral.

I Corinthians 13:4-13

A reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.

Love never fails. Prophecies will cease, tongues will be silent, knowledge will pass away. Our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child I used to talk like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways aside. Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. My knowledge is imperfect now; then I shall know even as I am known. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.

Everyone all together.

Posted by lrbergen 01:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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