Saturday, July 2, 2016


Summer is a time of sunshine, picnics, swimming vacations and REUNIONS!
Recently, I had the opportunity to return to my college campus, visit my old fraternity house (yes, it's a fraternity, even though most people think fraternities are for men and sororities are for women-- that's a myth, but that's a different story) and reconnect with some of the best women I have known in my life!

It began over a year ago when, thanks to Facebook and one younger sister who created a Tau Page for Zeta Tau Alpha, Tau alums began to find one another. Many of us who attended Millikin University between 1973 and 1980 connected and began "talking" about how great it would be to get together again. Then, about a year ago, we set the dates for June 24-26, 2016 and the plans began! While it didn't turn out to be as originally envisioned due to some late planning, it was still a WONDERFUL week. While each of us was skeptical about how the weekend might turn out, all of us who made it were SO happy we did and before the end of the first day, everyone was asking when we were going to do it again! So, let me share and give you an idea of what it was like for us.

I arrived before anyone else did to make sure everything was arranged. I connected first with Vickie (O'Reilly) Buckingham and went to dinner on Thursday evening with her, her husband and her parents: one of my sets of surrogate parents through college since I had already lost both of my parents. It was a great evening and "Mom &  Dad" O'Reilly were as cheerful, fun and loving as I remembered them. After dinner, Vickie came back to the hotel with me to talk for awhile. While she were there, we tried to contact Linda Arends (aka Mrs. A.) who had been our house alum advisor and my "twin" Donna ("Libby") Higgins. We were successful in reaching Libby and told her about all of the events we had going on so that she could join us for the weekend.

Libby & I
Next in was one of my little sisters, Tammie (Albritton)! Coming in from California, she would have won the award for traveling the farthest---if we were giving out awards! After flight delays and challenges starting those new-fangled rental cars that don't use a key, Tammie actually arrived at our hotel (The Country Inn & Suites) about 1:00 am on Friday. We got together in time to go to lunch.
Tammie & I
(Color-coordinating was purely accidental!)
About the time I was meeting up with Tammie, Laura "Mutt" (Mullen) Connelly was being picked up at the bus stop by her little sister, Francie (Hayes) Brown. Mutt would have won the award for the most "challenging" trip coming in from Indiana via St. Louis and Springfield by Greyhound! 

Mutt and Francie
We contacted Vickie and made arrangements to meet her for lunch when she could get away from work.
Vickie & Mutt
(Vickie was like-minded in her color choice for the day!)
We opted to meet somewhere close to campus for lunch and wishing Mr. Ed's was still in business, chose to go to "University Dogs." The food was good, but a Mr. Ed's polish sausage, it was not....

Vickie needed to go back to work, so the rest of us headed back to the hotel to hang out until it was time to head to our dinner meeting place. While we were hanging out, we were joined by Laura "Phlip" (Phillips) Leupold who was my first little sister, Denise (Wasson) Freyenburger, Melissa (Reichart) Ferguson and Robyn (Wise) Bathon!
Laura & Robyn

Denise, Robyn, Mutt, Tammie & Melissa
Shortly before 7:00 pm, we all got ready and walked next door to a new Bar & Grill called The Draft to meet the rest of our sisters who had traveled in for the weekend!
Mutt & Peggy (O'Neill) Burton

Vickie, Laura, Tammie & Robyn

Sandra (Fendley) Theriault, Me, Libby
Melissa, Denise & Francie
Time seemed to melt away. Even though most of us had not seen one another in 35 years or more, it was amazing how all of these lovely ladies had weathered life, survived challenges, created careers, raised families and yet were the same fun, goofy, loving women they were when we shared our life at the Zeta house.
Lucky 13 Zeta sisters reunited!

Libby, Melissa, Denise & Francie

My favorite picture of the evening!
Indicative of the laughter and Zeta love shared!
Mutt, Peggy, Susan, Sandra & me
(Susan Price '91 (center) joined the group a little after we got started.)

Vickie, Laura, Tammie & Robyn
After saying good-night to the "locals" who needed to head home, the rest of us met in Tammie's room until after midnight... unwilling to give up our rekindled friendships! Some of us shared hotel rooms with old house roommates and were foolish enough to continue talking and laughing until 2:30 in the morning! Robyn and I actually recognized that we had sore throats from all the talking and laughter!

With a consensus of deciding to take our time getting ready in the morning, the six of us who had stayed at the hotel decided to go to a favorite college hangout for lunch. 

Lock, Stock & Barrel (a brand new bar when we were in college) was still there and very much the same... although to Mutt's disappointment, the wallpaper in the ladies' room had changed!

After lunch, it was time to head to the Zeta House where the alumnae organization had arranged for a student guide to lead a walking tour of the campus to all who wanted to participate. While Sandra, Francie & Susan were unable to join us on Saturday, we added Tawnie (Moma) Johnson (Libby's little sister) to the group!
Libby, Tawnie, Mutt, Tammie, Peggy, Laura & Denise
On the Zeta House front porch!
(No more porch swing...)
While on the walking tour, our "twinks" had some special memories involving recitals and the rearranging of some furniture....

Twinks: Denise, Melissa, Mutt & Tawnie
In the recital hall
When they returned from the walking tour of campus, the Millikin alumnae organization had prepared a small reception for us in the dining room of our former home.

Two closets were added to the
far end of the dining room and the
sliding door replaced by windows.
After sitting in the "Dining Room" reminiscing about houseboys,  Vergie's cooking, eating dinner with "Mom" Hand and gazing out the bay window at the old Delta Sig house, we were given the opportunity to roam the house at our leisure... more reminiscing about the rooms we lived in, who we shared them with and of climbing out the windows of the Zeta or Tau rooms to sit on the roof on warm spring/summer days. The alumnae organization has added some Zeta memorabilia which made us feel a bit more at home; knowing that they recognize it as a piece of our history. They are looking for more of our memorabilia to exhibit, so if you have any you'd like to donate... let me know!

Plaque at the base of the front stairs
recognizes the use of the house by
Zeta Tau Alpha in the past.

Wall next to the 3rd floor door to the "dorm."
Photos were from two of the last years Zetas
lived in the house.

Zeta banner hanging above the
stairs leading to the 3rd floor.
Ending our self-guided tours, we all took time to gather in the "formal" living room to share stories and even try to sing a few songs... when we could remember the words... Amazingly, the one most remembered the best? The Greek Alphabet! Anyone remember "Cuddle Bunny" or the Zeta prayer for before dinner?

And then... before we could leave... we HAD TO take advantage of the photo opportunities!

"Laura Squared"

Some people never change!
Thank goodness!
For me, no reunion, no photo opp is complete without the "Family" photo shoots!
With two of my "little sisters"
Tammie & Laura
And, by special request for MY big sister, Donna ("Blaine") Neblett... her two little sisters (Libby & me) and her "granddaughter," Tawnie.

Libby, Tawnie & me
Unfortunately, Vickie had to leave us early due to a family emergency and "Mrs. A" was unable to join us due to a family obligation and all too soon it was time to say good-bye once again to the house we all knew and loved. A house that had truly become a home to each of us during our college years.  BUT.... our reunion was not yet over!

We had reservations for dinner at Paco's Sol Bistro in Decatur. More laughter, more reminiscing and more bonding with good food!

After a good dinner, it was just too early to say good-bye and, after all, what visit to MU, our old Big Blue, would be complete without a visit to ...

Posing outside the Winery...
Anybody need to "cash a check?"
In many ways, it was the same. An extra room had been added for the pool table. Some of the booths were rearranged, but overall, it was still the Winery. And just because it had to be done, Tammie asked the waitress if Pat O'Mara (aka "Pat the Catholic") still frequents the old hangout. Although she knew him, she told us she hasn't seen him in a loooong time and before we could leave, we HAD to take a picture of the group as documentation that we had been there...

Such a fun weekend sharing memories, or learning that perhaps we're missing a few... Did I REALLY get shot in the leg by a Delta Sig with a BB gun? Who stole a Christmas tree? We had a whistle? Who really spiked the punch that caused Denise to get drunk at a house dance and spill her guts about Pepe? What was that girl's name? Did she graduate? Anybody know what happened to... Flentje? Space? Trudy? Remembering those we know have passed away... Where is ....?She's in Chicago... because that's where she was from....

Before the weekend officially came to an end, with the final six saying goodbye at our hotel, everyone got up to share breakfast and, of course, get in a couple of final photos!

With joy combined with happy tears, we said goodbye... Denise was off to Iowa to marry off two children, Laura P to her hubby and horses in Missouri, Tammie going to visit some friends and her parents' graves before heading back to Paul in California, Mutt to begin another adventure on the bus back to Indiana, Robyn seeing Mutt safely on her way before heading to St. Joe and me to say goodbye to Pop Sloan before getting on my plane out of Decatur to St. Louis & Dallas. Back to our own realities after three days of remember when and wondering how our young minds ended up in these old bodies...

One thing was certain before our weekend ended... no one wanted to say good-bye and absolutely no one wants to wait another thirty years to get back together again. Originally, I thought five years... but as Laura P pointed out... we're not that young anymore... (Killjoy!) So, the fact that we spent a weekend trying to figure out how to find more of our sisters combined with a desire to see one another again SOON, the commitment has been made to re-do this again in 2018! 

The REAL exciting part is that if we have our reunion about the same time again (versus having it at Homecoming), we can actually book the House for our dinner, have it catered and eat in our old dining room and have the freedom to relax in the living room! So, if you were there, we expect to see you in two years. If you weren't there, we SINCERELY hope you'll make every effort to be there and share the memories with us all!

The perfect ending to our weekend was sent out by our dear Denise. A reminder to each of us, that every one of our sisters has touched our lives. To all of my sisters, Zeta love and mine!

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you, I have been changed
for good."
So very true... ZLAM

Sunday, June 12, 2016

WC #23: The Times we had on the Baltic Sea!

A wall in upper old towne Tallinn, Estonia
Summed up our feelings for the whole trip!
A year and a half ago, I received the most extravagant Christmas present of my life. My children have always done a good job of choosing gifts for me that suit me or my relationship with them. Last year, though, Meg decided it was time for me to experience some of the family heritage that I have always held so dear, even though I know relatively little about it. On Christmas morning with a couple families together at Sami's house and everyone else tuned in via Skype, Megan (with the assistance of Andi & Cari, my two eldest granddaughters) presented a PowerPoint introducing my gift... a 2 week visit to Poland and cruise of the Baltic Sea! I was speechless and, of course, full of tears, but soooo excited! Cameron gave up taking Sami on a 2nd honeymoon to celebrate their 15th anniversary so that she could accompany Meg & I on this marvelous excursion! We were going to Europe. With our passports!

The preparations began! We all got new luggage that would be easy to spot in airports and cruise terminals. Bright orange for Sami; hot pink for me; and fun yellow checkerboard for Meg. Passports in line. Walking shoes purchased and before we knew it, May 30th arrived and so did Meg! 

June 1 my favorite transport driver picked us up in an SUV, loaded seven suitcases, purses and travel pillows and we were off to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. 

The beginning was a bit worrisome when the ticket agent insisted that only Megan was on the flight and she insisted that it was our responsibility to find our reservations, but everything worked out eventually and we were on our way to Washington, D.C. to make our connecting flight and then on to Copenhagen, Denmark!
I became a fan of watching the progress of our flight!
My girls were able to sleep a bit better than I was...

Don't know if they even know I took this picture.
Shhhh. Aren't they cute?
From Copenhagen we boarded yet another plane that took us to our first destination:
Poznan Poland, birthplace of my paternal
great-grandmother, Bertha Guse!
In Poznan we stayed in the Hotel Bravaria on the old towne square. Sami had a bit of a rough night the first night there. She had the room closest to the square where there was a bit of a party going on in "Olga's" honor as she heard repeated, enthusiastic cheers for Olga. She was a great sport and her theme was "Party on Poznan!" She was also the first to recognize how EARLY the sun rises in June in Poland, especially after losing a day through time zones!

Original cobblestone street in old Poznan

Old buildings and farmer's market with
a variety of open air restaurants on the square.
It was so amazing to see the same buildings and sites that we knew my great grandmother saw as a young girl before she moved to the United States!

View from our "attic" hotel room.
Sami enjoyed listening to the parties at
Oddly enough, we noticed everything around Poznan reflected a theme of two goats fighting... We had to hear the story. Apparently, in Poznan history, there was a king who was sponsoring a feast. Concerned that there wouldn't be enough food for all the people attending, he sent his cook out to obtain more meat. The cook returned with two goats. When the time came to butcher the goats, they were entertaining a large crowd by butting heads and fighting.
To this day, the goats come out of their respective towers and butt heads above the clock on the town hall every day at noon!
Goat fight at noon!
The cuisine in Poznan was much to our liking and, recognizing many flavors from my youth, believe "Grandma Guse" must have had a great influence on dishes I grew up eating.

"Cottage Cheese" served warm on baked potatoes, hot & sour soup (which tasted a lot like beef stew) and pierogies were the best! St. Marten's rolls, a very popular dessert, wasn't so popular with these Americans... 

reminded me a good deal of mincemeat pie, that I was also told was delicious as a child...
Quaint Polish restaurant with a variety
of pierogies for lunch!
Poznan has exceptional ice cream too! Who knew? One of our last taste tests there was parfaits. Meg had pistachio, I had beer caramel and Sami tried Seaberry. She wasn't a fan....
Sami putting on a brave face for her too sweet
Seaberry. I rather liked the beer caramel...
All too soon it was time to leave Poznan and head back to Copenhagen and the start of our cruise. Poznan is DEFINITELY one place I want to return to and hope all of my children and grandchildren make it there one day. For any of my cousins who may happen to read my blog... I highly recommend the trip. (And if you can handle the 8 flights of stairs, the attic room at the Hotel Bravaria!)

Meg's travel agent arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the Kong Arthur hotel. What a fun next phase to our trip, in a hotel with coats of arms on the walls...

and suits of armor posed in the lobby and hallways!

Devoting ourselves to eating authentically on our trip, we asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for dinner. Who knew that Denmark is really only well known for breakfast and lunch cuisine. So we took an alternate suggestion and headed to a Nordic restaurant "a few" blocks from the hotel. If you're headed to Denmark, I don't recommend it... but we were good sports and ate all of our 8 course meal.

Fried chicken foot with small lobster tail
and burning juniper twig... Ummm...Yum?
The next day, our tour guide and driver picked us up at the hotel and we began a grand tour of Copenhagen!

Across the street from the Kong Arthur
 I was thrilled to see my first REAL castle

and was fascinated seeing and hearing stories of Hans Christian Andersen, author of my favorite childhood stories and seeing the house where he actually lived.

Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.
Following the whirlwind tour of Copenhagen, we were dropped off at our cruise ship and prepared for a week at sea! We bought our beverage packages, the girls bought their spa packages and we headed aboard the ship! 

Having been on a cruise a few years before, I knew they were going to make us do an emergency drill, so my girls indulged their mother and we grabbed our life vests and headed for our Muster Station. We had the best organized, fun group on the ship! We know it!
The first passengers reporting!
We unpacked our suitcases... 

Checked out the view from our balcony...

And enjoyed our first night on the Baltic Sea! Wir kommen zum Deutschland!

The following morning, we docked in Germany. While we waited for our first tour, we found ways to amuse ourselves! Meg and Sami were entertained by a "Mr. Bean" lookalike...

while I tried to understand a man with a heavy Scottish brogue who came to sit by his wife near us. Thank heavens he had a good sense of humor and to my statement of "English" while pointing to myself, he spouts, again in his brogue "We' now, tha's thah bes' English I go'!" (My apologies. I don't know how to write in brogue... hopefully you get the idea though!)

One of the saddest sites in Mecklenburg was a remnant of the housing people lived in during the Soviet oppression.
Housing in Mecklenburg during
Soviet occupation
There was a big tour to Berlin that we probably should have gone on, but since there was a tour to Mecklenburg and we knew the Staffeldt family had come from there, we opted for that tour instead. 

Town square
We learned more about the tug-of-war with Russia and heard more about how they came in and "burned our stuff," 

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Coat of Arms
The bull with the tongue out is supposed to
be frightening, seen as as sign of aggression.

but the tour was a bit rushed with no time for souvenir shopping and, unfortunately, we were three of about 12 people on the tour who spoke English.

Heaven forbid this Italian man would trade
places with Sami so we could talk...
Everyone else spoke Italian and we had an Italian tour guide from the ship... Needless to say, we didn't receive much attention... We very much enjoyed our time touring the grounds of Schwerin Castle though!

Schwerin, das Schloss
As we traveled on the bus, Megan found a road sign that she found especially entertaining..
Yes... it's pronounced the way it appears.
But it means "drive out" or "exit!"
When we got back to our ship, we traded some German passengers for some new ones and ended up with a delightful couple assigned to the next table for dinner each night. 

We set sail again, this time heading for Stockholm, Sweden. 

Cool ship as we approach Stockholm!
I loved seeing windmills of all types!
This was a shot from our balcony as we were coming near Stockholm.
This time we had a bus tour of the city with a few stops along the way. 

 It was reassuring to see the US Embassy...

And one of my personal favorites on the tour... The Abba Museum!!! Too bad we didn't get to make a stop there!

Sweden offered many more opportunities for souvenir shopping than Germany had and as we left the shop at the port, my girls had to pose with their "bums on the Sveeeedish!"

At least it's a Sveeedish horse...
Another night of sailing and we landed in Tallinn, Estonia! Prior to being given this awesome vacation, I didn't even know Estonia was a country! Now easily one of my favorite places in the world! Back to a personal tour guide, we saw beautiful sites and heard marvelous stories!

Lower olde towne Tallinn
Founded in 1154
I think Sami's FitBit said we walked more than five miles that day... mostly uphill....
The rooftops of lower olde town Tallinn from upper...
Architecture in Tallinn is beautiful and a great deal of the original city walls still exist.
Lookout walk on the city wall

Cathedral in Tallinn reflects the Russian influence

Estonia suffered centuries of domination. A peace-loving people they found means of quiet protest. We were especially touched by the story of Estonians being forbidden to sing any of their own country's patriotic songs. New songs were composed to bring unity and loyalty to the people in ways their oppressors wouldn't understand. 
Amphitheater used by Estonians for
peaceful protest through song.
The oppression they suffered continued until the fall of communism...

40,000 people gathered in peaceful
through music...
We purchased many souvenirs in Tallinn, but my favorite of the whole trip is my little doll in authentic dress.

Back to the ship with one more stop to go! Our final stop was the one Meg had been looking forward to... St. Petersburg, Russia!

Sami & I were a bit leery to get off the ship when we docked. Our travel agent had said that Visas weren't necessary since we weren't spending the night in Russia, but the people on the ship said that unless we had a visa or were taking one of their excursions, we shouldn't get off the ship or we may not be able to get back on! I had visions of this marvelous vacation ending with me NEVER seeing American soil again, but Meg, determined that she was not coming all this way and NOT stepping on Russian soil, told us to just shut up and let her do the talking... fortunately she had taken a semester of Russian in college; enough to help her with the basic communication with the port authorities! It was still touchy while they called our Russian contact to verify that there was indeed a tour guide ready and waiting!
Meg, excited to be on Russian soil!
As all of the European cities we visited, St. Petersburg had beautiful architecture. What surprised me most was the number of beautiful churches and cathedrals!
Interior of one of the cathedrals
in St. Petersburg
While finding St. Petersburg a beautiful city and the people to be friendly, I was still a little uncomfortable watching the Russian soldiers march by...

And after spending the past 10 days hearing all the stories about the Russians invading other countries and "burning their stuff," it was quite amazing to hear our tour guide spouting the praises of their leaders who led those invasions!

Always one to live life to the fullest, Meg couldn't leave Russia without purchasing some authentic Russian vodka!

And raising a toast as we sailed on....

That night was our final night on the ship and we had to say good-bye to our new friends.... Lynn from Australia, who took it upon herself to let us know what was what... and occassionnally offered advise about how to eat some of the European dishes we were not familiar with...

Our waiter, Francesco, who initially seemed pretty grouchy.... but we got him to lighten up.
He even began to show signs of a sense of humor!

So many other exciting moments I haven't even touched on: Winning 450 euros at Bingo; Sami's exploding drink; Dances from around the world; Karaoke....

And before we knew it, it our ship was docking and it was time to return home, with mixed emotions. While it had been a marvelous experience and we had so much fun, we were all ready to be able to understand the language being spoken around us, to sleep in our own beds (special callout to Sami for taking the hide-a-bed for a week and Meg for sleeping without the aid of earplugs in a bed with her mother) and to eat a meal that we were familiar with and wasn't served in courses!

So, we packed our bags...

Bid our ship a fond farewell...

And began the long flight home... that, incidentally, presented an adventure itself since none of us were aware that we actually had to collect our luggage in Chicago and get it on the right conveyor to take it to the plane that would take us the rest of the way home.  Oh! And the fact that we were a bit confused on the time differences and thought we had MUCH less time to catch our final flight than we actually did! Better than the other way around, I suppose!

Enjoying some American cuisine at Chicago O'Hare field, waiting
for our final flight home. (As tired as I was, I have to say, I was
still easily entertained by my girls showing their jet lag...}
In closing, almost one full year since our adventure ended, I just want to say how incredibly blessed I am. I grew up with a strong sense of family with a pride in my heritage. I had parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers who loved me and stood by me. I've been blessed with friends all over the country. And most of all I have been blessed by my God, who loves me enough to give me five wonderful children who know me and love me enough to work together to give me such a wonderful gift! This was a trip I NEVER would have taken on my own. My mind and my heart have been opened to new adventures and how wonderful to have adult children to experience them with me. I love you all and look forward to many more adventures! 

And now in honor of international dance night on the ship and the land of my ancestors.... everybody dance!