Saturday, July 29, 2017

Teacher Motivation in the Summer

When I am back home in the summertime, I am at school pretty much every weekday doing some work. It might be all day or it might be a couple of hours, but I'm getting stuff done.

I enjoy making my classroom look good - putting up bulletin boards, laminating, finding my posters, sticking stuff on the ceiling - but it seems like I'm often saddled in front of a computer doing some administrative work instead of doing the teacher stuff I consider fun!

It has to get done, though. So how do I keep myself motivated while I'm typing curriculum maps and classroom inventories? Read on:


A lot of these tasks are pretty menial and don't require 100% concentration. When that's the case, I can turn on my podcasts and enjoy some chatter about my favorite topics. 

Some of my favorites are Lattes with Leia, Rebel Force Radio, The Disney Dish Podcast with Jim Hill, The Disney Diet, Coffee with Kenobi, The Weekly Planet, and Mousetalgia


During the school year I have a CD case full of my favorite instrumental music. But during the summer I have no desire to listen to those. Instead, I utilize YouTube and find some 2-hour instrumental loops of music that I don't own. 

Maybe I'll sample a movie soundtrack I'm considering buying. Or I might find some calming video game music. This week I was going for some anime power music like this: 

It doesn't hurt that it features music from three of my favorite animes, Naruto, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan. Best of all, most of these YouTube videos include the track listings in the description so I can see what I'll be listening to. I like my familiar music, but it's nice to hear stuff from other lesser known animes, as well!

This is a great option when I do need to fully concentrate on my work. The pulsing energy from the music (like the one above) really keeps me going. 

Convention Panels

Summer is the time of major conventions like D23 and San Diego Comic Con, but there wasn't any way I was going to actually attend those events with my busy schedule. 

Luckily, many of the panels from these events are recorded and released on YouTube. I got to watch the Ducktales panel from SDCC and the Hercules 20th Anniversary panel from D23 along with a few others. 

I can put these up on my SMART Board and watch the panels with one eye while working on my computer screen with the other. 

Sporting Events

Last year I was able to put Olympic events on the SMART Board. This summer it's been Detroit Tigers games, when I've been able to stomach them. (It's been that kind of season.)

Usually I don't have to watch the games to maintain interest. Heck, I don't even need to listen fully to the commentators! A lot of times I can simply listen for inflection. If I hear excitement in the announcer's voice or a sudden rise in crowd noise, I know to start paying attention. Best of all, if I do happen to miss something, I can usually rewind and see it again!


Y'know, sometimes I just sit and work in silence. It isn't often, but sometimes I need no distractions at all. 

All of these things have helped me get my tasks done during the summer months! Anything to get as much work accomplished as possible. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Olympic Blurb: We're Mixing It Up

I recently upgraded my cable - I know; that's not the norm. Most people are downgrading or completely cancelling their cable! But when you're someone who has their cable strictly for live sports and Olympics coverage (and lives in an area with little to no antenna coverage) cable turns into a pretty big deal.

The reason I upgraded was to get the Olympic Channel, a 24/7 channel devoted to the Olympics that should probably just have the tagline: Made just for Claire. At this very moment it's showing men's track and field from the London Olympic Games, and I'm sure once we finish up the World Championship season they will focus all of their time on winter sports.

Speaking of World Championships, the Aquatic World Championships are going on right now, including diving, water polo, and swimming. I have been able to watch the swimming events, and was rewarded with a sneak peek of one of my most anticipated events of the Tokyo 2020 Games: the mixed 4x100 medley.

"Mixed" means that two men and two women compete on each team, and it's up to each country which person gets which specialty. It's not "men get the breaststroke and the butterfly, and women get the backstroke and freestyle." Whoever is the best goes in that style.

I have always had an interest in seeing men and women competing with and against each other - not to show that women are better than men or something like that, but to showcase both in their own ways. This event really shows that - the women aren't usually going to beat the men. In the backstroke - always the first leg of the medley relay - it was clear to see the five men and the three women trailing behind - but if that's all you get out of viewing that first leg, you're missing the point.

Here, watch the whole thing below:

Because each team can pick and choose where it has their women and men, it means that a team might look out of it early on, but then come roaring back. It creates even more unpredictability within the event, and that means more excitement!

My biggest fear is that teams are just going to stick with a standard format once they find it; most teams put the two men first and follow with the two women. This would make it incredibly boring. I want to see men and women racing in the pool together! In such a fluid event as this, don't restrict it by these annoying number-crunching analogies.

The most exciting part, to be honest, is when Lilly King - who had just broken the world record in the 100m breaststroke the night before - jumped in to do the second leg. With seven other guys! She was the only woman in the pool. And you know what? She was spectacular, At the wall she still had three men on her tail.

(This all sounds wrong and I know it - I apologize. Please take it in the way it's supposed to be taken.)

When you pick your two best women and surround your team based on them, it all falls into place, and I love that. For the United States, it was King and Simone Manuel.

In the end, aside from the first place (United States) and last place (Italy and Germany) teams, everyone else finished in a mob in the middle, so no matter the order, everyone ends up within the grasp of winning if you have four solid swimmers. Heck, there was a tie for bronze!

A few weeks ago I made a list of all the new events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and there were even more mixed gender events being added than just swimming. It's insane, it's exciting, and I will admit that I shed a tear when it was all done. It doesn't get much better than this!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Europe 2017: Lessons Learned

After three days of jet lag mainly dealing with nausea, dehydration, and loss of appetite, I'm finally starting to feel like my normal self again. Now I'm starting to see my friends and family and am hearing "How was Europe?" a lot.

My answer is usually the same: "It was amazing!" But there is always so much more I could tell them! If we ever sat down and they let me rant for a couple of hours, here are a few things I would mention:

I had some great shoes!

I guess you could say I splurged on some shoes, if getting high-priced shoes at Meijer counts as "splurging." But I'm used to $20 shoes, and paying $75 for some quality black flats made me hesitate for a bit. 

Thankfully, the shoes I purchased were worth the money. I walked all around London and ended up putting dozens of miles on those poor shoes over the span of just three weeks. They protected my feet from the rain, cushioned my feet with its extra padding, and worked with most of my outfits.

I did major research.

I have been out of North America two times before this, and I honestly can't believe I survived those trips. I didn't do any planning! In my first trip to the Czech Republic I didn't learn any of the language, didn't know the currency, didn't know the customs, and didn't even realize it was a Slavic language very similar to Russian. Looking back I'm pretty embarrassed for myself. Shorts and t-shirts? Really? 

This time around I was watching videos on YouTube, checking out travel books, and going on the internet for the six months prior to the trip. There were a lot of things I did that I wouldn't have done if I hadn't researched.

I didn't have to look like a tourist.

I didn't bring a pair of tennis shoes. None of my shirts had giant graphics on them. I didn't wear my passport tied around my neck. 

I come from a family where we show off our sports loyalty by what we wear. And I will admit that it was pretty fun seeing a few people in London wearing Michigan shirts. But I loved blending in with the crowd! There were a couple of times when I approached someone at a shop or restaurant and they spoke to me like they thought I was a native, then switched it up when I started talking with my American accent. 

I fell in love with public transportation.

In movies and television shows public transportation is where all the crimes happen or the weird people are. Or at least in American buses and subways. 

In Europe, everyone takes public transportation. Double-decker buses. Metro lines. Light rails. Trains. Families, adults, teenagers, business people, and us tourists all use them. Most of them are pretty easy to access - the Underground in London and the tram in Plzeň use reloadable cards that you just touch onto a screen and it withdraws the money. 

The weekend after I returned home I had to travel through Chicago, and it was there that I really could have used a ride on the train. Everyone in America owns a car or two and they were all on the Illinois and Indiana highway systems at the same time. Wouldn't it be nice if there were more train offerings that could help people bypass the highways?

I sampled all the local food and drink.

I used to be a chicken-fingers-or-nothing kind of girl. Somewhere between high school and college my taste buds finally decided to develop and now I'm trying new things left and right. Fish and chips. Currywurst. Flammkuchen. Goulash. 

My samplings weren't limited to foods. I had tea several times in Britain. (Still don't like it.) While my family had coffee I would order Heiße Schokolade mit Sahne. And I drank my favorite Czech beer - Gambrinus - whenever I could.

Yes, I did have a couple of burgers and a few slices of pizza, but they had a European flair to it!

I learned a little of the lingo.

Soon after I'd started making airline and hotel reservations in January, I broke out my Pimsleur's Czech recordings and started learning a little conversational Czech. It wasn't everything that I needed, but it was enough to feel comfortable. In Prague I was incredibly tempted to go up to someone and ask, "Promiňte prosím, kde je Václavské náměstí?"

I had to go a little further back with my German - 14 years back, to be exact. I was still pretty surprised at how much I remembered, but it wasn't enough to speak comfortably with other Germans. I spent most of the time asking my family if what I was saying was correct!

My greatest regret is that I had a few Brits say, "Cheers" to me to wrap up a conversation, and I never said, "Cheers" back! That's what you do, doofus!

I was smart to use a backpack.

When I ordered my Rick Steeves backpack suitcase in February and it showed up in the mail, I was a bit shocked to see how small it seemed. Could I really pack up all my belongings for two weeks in such a small case?

The answer was yes, and thank goodness! Since I didn't have a roller bag, I didn't have to look ridiculous toting something like that around on the Underground or on cobblestone paths that are common throughout Europe. While my backpack got heavy, it was great to use the straps and distribute the weight on my back.

I was also smart to send a suitcase to Plzeň.

It was awesome to have another bag when I got to the Czech Republic - not only to take all of my VBS items straight to the school, but also to distribute all of my clothing and souvenirs between two bags instead of just one!

It's a bit sad that I won't have anyone in my next major trip to send me a suitcase three weeks in. Though I guess I could always buy one there...

I documented the trip each day.

I have a journal that I brought with me on the trip, but I am not even past Day 2 in there yet. What really helped me keep track of events was writing this blog! Thanks to my Writing-Every-Day resolution and my desire to keep you all informed, I have fantastic documentation of my trip. I will be writing in that journal over the next few weeks, but I don't feel as much pressure to get everything down as fast as possible, or else I'll forget stuff!

I hope I can take these lessons and apply them to all my future trips!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Europe 2017: Back Home

Well, it was a long day and I've been up for 21 hours, but I am back in Michigan. I flew Air Canada from Prague to Toronto, and then had a crazy long layover before an extremely short flight back to Detroit on a 50-seat plane.

I woke up in Plzeň and I'm going to sleep in Saline. It's been a crazy three weeks but it's been a lot of fun hanging out with you. I'll do one more final wrap-up in a few days, but don't be surprised if I don't post for a little bit. Typing all those articles was a ton of work, not to mention photos and videos!

If you've ever thought of doing a trip overseas, do it. Do it as soon as possible - don't wait and put other things in the way, or else you'll never do it. Get out of your comfort zone. Embrace the relaxing, quiet, non-American lifestyle. Eat dinner at 8. Visit cathedrals that were built before the New World was even discovered. Stand and enjoy just being somewhere without taking a dozen selfies!

Six months' worth of work wrapped up today, and it was a thrill. I'm so glad to be back home and am eager to be back on familiar ground, but there's that little part of me already that is making notes for my next big trip. Time to save my pennies!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Europe 2017: Four Hours in Prague

Initially my plan for this afternoon was sit in my room, rest from my full week of VBS, tour Plzeň a little bit, eat dinner at my hotel's restaurant, and go to bed early.

But then I suddenly realized that my vacation was almost over. I leave tomorrow morning and will (God-willing) be back in the United States by the time the sun sets.

With that in mind, I decided to spend my last few hours in Europe traveling around my favorite city in the world: Prague.

I was last in Prague in 2011, and it was one of the first places I visited in Europe. We went on a Saturday (after arriving on Friday) and spent the day seeing the main areas of the city: Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle, the Prague astronomical clock, and the Jan Hus statue, plus a few other beautiful churches. I immediately fell in love with the beautiful buildings, the crazy pattern of streets, the remnants of the old wall, and the concerts that are offered pretty much everywhere.

In all of my travels since then (including this very trip) I have never found a city that captured my heart so much as Prague did. So it would have been a shame to be a mere 90 km away and not visit the city.

So I went to the Plzeň train station, got a round-trip ticket, and was on my way!

But I did have a busy morning, too, before I could begin my adventure:

VBS Closing Service

Instead of the normal church service, our closing service took its place. We invited all the children and their parents to attend, and I'd say we had about half of the kids come back with one or both parents. 

I played piano preservice in the same way that I play wedding preservice: concluding that no one is listening but I'm just going to have fun. Petr's daughter Romana also played a song at the beginning of the service. 

Petr's wife plays guitar, and she played the Czech hymn at the beginning. Everything for the congregation was projected on the screen I'd been using all week, and I chose to listen rather than butcher the Czech words. 

Barb and Becky had two sections of English for the kids. They read two Bible passages, and also explained the word "LOVE" in regards to Christ. 

We had two baptisms during this service with two of our VBS kids! Luke and Barbora, probably about 8 or 9 years old, were baptized. Petr brought them forward, they expressed their wish to be baptized, and then they were! It was wonderful to see. Ed, in his infinite wisdom, had purchased some baptism gifts from NPH before coming, including a card that all of the Americans signed. 

My portions of the service went very well. The kids sang "Sing, Rejoice" and did great. Here's a pretty rough cut to enjoy. Keep in mind, these kids speak Czech. Most of them knew very little or no English when they came to us. (And none of the Americans are singing along, including me, who was directing them):

The American women sang "Sing a New Song," a piece I've been dying to accompany or perform for about four years! It went really well. Petr said we sang like angels in Czech, and he didn't need to translate it for me to understand. 

We finished the service with "The First Song of Isaiah" and had our lovely drum set accompaniment I've waited for years to do! The kids sang the refrain, and the Americans sang the refrain and verses (not the full SATB - just the melody). I knew I had to record it so I could show future pastors and teachers how awesome it sounds, so here you go:

All in all, the service was great. I got compliments on the music, and the kids were still singing the church stuff (and "Baby Shark"...sigh...) after the service when we had a little potluck reception on the basketball court. 

This was another chance for final hugs, photos, and farewells. I got some gifts: chocolate, lotion, an angel pendant, and a stone angel carving from my favorite helper of the bunch: Majda. It had a hole on a wing so I could use it as a Christmas ornament, so I quickly wrote the date on the back and had her sign it so I could remember. 

It was clear our work was appreciated by those that came this morning. It was a great way for the VBS to end. 

Unlike last time, I knew this would be my last time doing this VBS in Plzeň. I was so glad I could do it a second time, but now my time and money have to go towards other things. I relayed my thanks to Petr and Ed for giving me another chance. 

Four Hours in Prague

I quickly took the tram home, changed, and took the tram to the train station. (Thanks to yesterday, I was very sure about which stop was the right one!) I had written down the specific train times on a piece of paper to avoid the language barrier, and the lady easily gave me my ticket. (Total cost for the trip: about 9 bucks, believe it or not. I'm going to miss Czech prices.)

The train was delayed about 20 minutes, and when it arrived it was already pretty full. They had compartments (like the Hogwarts Express) so I squeezed in with a crew of Germans in a 6-person compartment. 

The Prague train station is smack in the middle of the city - a great bonus, because I didn't have to worry about getting into the city itself. I left the train station, took a left for 200 meters or so, and I was right in Wenceslas Square! (Yes, named after Good King Wenceslas.) 

It was amazing how much of the city layout I remembered from six years ago. I went down the square, veered right, and was in the pedestrian street area that leads to the Old Town Square. It's a giant tourist trap, with a bunch of shops that sell kitchy items that I didn't bother to buy. However, I did stop at a bakery that specialized in a cylindrical cinnamon bread. People were walking around with that - but also with ice cream inside! I had to get it. It was some of the best ice cream I've had this trip!

I toured the Old Town Square, Jan Hus statue, and mass of humanity while eating my messy dessert. After that I went to a cathedral I'd never seen - St. Nicholas, right off the square. While small, it is beautifully decorated. 

I missed the astronomical clock chiming the hour last time, and that was on my list of musts for this trip. It was on the list for many people, because the area around it was packed. Not many pictures will turn out, because the area around the clock is being refurbished and is covered in blue tarp! Luckily the clock still struck. It was pretty underwhelming - the 12 apostles appear in two windows at the top, and the little statues chime away, and then the bell tolls. Honestly, the clock in Frankenmuth does more than this one. 

Another thing I was unable to do last time was see the old Jewish sector of Prague, which has a high percentage of Jewish people, and has for many years. I didn't do it because we went on Saturday, and all the Jewish locations were closed for the Sabbath. But today is Sunday, and everything was open!

You actually buy one ticket and it gets you into almost all of the synagogues in the area, most of which have been converted into museums, and the old Jewish Cemetery. I was presented with a map and seven different locations highlighted. My ticket would get me into all of them except the Old-New Synagogue, which cost a little extra. 

I started at Maiselova synagoga, which talks about Prague Jews in medieval times. Then I proceeded to the Pinkasova synagoga. This was fascinating - it's now a memorial to the Czech Jews who died in the Shoah (the Holocaust). Every single name of a Czech Jew who died is inscribed on the walls in three different rooms. 

Upstairs is an exhibit featuring artwork that was done by children in the concentration camps and were recovered. These were very powerful - some showed what the children knew of before the camp, and others showed things in the camp, like the showers and cleaning the dorms. After visiting the Topographie of Terror in Berlin, this was incredibly moving. A few of the pictures also said who drew them, and showed their birth and death dates - the children died in Auschwitz. 

Outside this synagoga is the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery. It's the largest of its kind in Europe, and the stones are literally next to each other. The bodies aren't, though; due to Jewish customs, they couldn't disturb the graves already there, so they usually piled new soil on top of the old graves. There is a mound that's twelve layers high!

A few famous Jews are buried here, and all the gravestones are written in Hebrew. Unfortunately, they're very hard to read. (But I kept taking pictures of Hebrew signs thinking, "I have two brothers that could translate this for me!")

The third synagogue, Klausová synagoga, talks about Jewish burial customs and people that were part of the Jewish burial society. This is a big deal!

I halted my Jewish sector tour here because I wanted to get over to the Charles Bridge, one of my favorite things in Prague. As usual, it was busy, but because I was by myself, I could go at my own pace and enjoy what I wanted to enjoy. There were street musicians, artists, people selling their wares, and more all up and down the bridge. I ignored them all and enjoyed the sight of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Prague Palace on the other side. (It was too far for me to get there today, unfortunately, but I have been there!)

I was getting hungry and thinking of something to eat, and on the other end of the bridge I stumbled upon a French Street Fair! They were selling French foods and wines, so I ordered a ham/egg/cheese crepe and had a little wine, too. It was all I needed. 

I sauntered over the bridge again and wandered around the streets of Prague. I thought about seeing one of the many concerts being offered, but the prices seemed a bit too high for a concert I'd probably have to leave halfway through so I'd catch my train. So I passed. 

It was probably a good thing I did, because I did get a bit lost around the central part of the city. Not anywhere dangerous, but I wasn't quite sure where to go with those crazy streets! I eventually found myself back by the river and proceeded to the nearest Metro station. 

Yup, I was in another subway. Thanks to clear markings, I took the Metro underground to get back to the train station. Even with one station closed, they actually made sure there was a detour for passengers! (You hear that, London Underground? They offered an ALTERNATE ROUTE.)

Before I knew it, I was back on the train and heading back to Plzeň, incredibly happy with my last-minute choice. While I was in London for four days, I did all the stuff I wanted to do in Prague. Like Walt Disney World, it is a place where I love seeing the familiar sights. Eventually I'll see more, but I saw a lot of great stuff that made it feel like putting on an old glove!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Europe 2017: A Tale in Three Parts

Part 1: Information

Once upon a time there was a girl. She was on the train from Hannover to Plzeň, where she was doing a VBS. The train she was on was heading straight to Prague, so she had to make sure to get off at the right stop. There were actually two stops for Plzeň, but she knew she had to get off at hlavní nadraží, the main station. 

Years before this trip, there also were two men - one Czech, and the other American. The Czech man had told the American man how to get to this train station: "Go on the tram until everyone gets off. That is the end."

Part 2: Mistake

Two days ago, there was a group of moms and a group of children. They were Americans visiting Plzeň. The menfolk had gone off to tour a hops farm and brewery and left the women and children to fend for themselves. (Those fiends!) 

Anyway, after enjoying a pleasant meal in the center of town, the women and children got on the correct tram, but going in the wrong direction. They incorrectly assumed it was a circle route, when in fact it was a point-to-point tram. 

Before they knew it, they were out at the edge of town, the only ones dropped off at the end of the line. The tram driver got out, took a whiz behind the tram, sat at the stop for ten minutes, got back on the tram, and turned it back around to start his journey again. 

The women and children got back on the same tram from before, this time going in the correct direction, and made their way home. 

Part 3: Today

Our VBS children (well, about 20 of them) and a few parents (10 or so) were joining the Americans for a field trip. Did we know where we were going? Nope! That was Martin's job. He was in charge. there was a form sent home yesterday, but it was all in Czech. I just knew that the train left at 9:50 for wherever we were going. 

If the train was going, that meant I didn't have to go to the school just to come back in the opposite direction. (Breakfast didn't start till 9, and I wanted my sandwiches!) So yesterday, Ed told me that the tram I usually take, going in the opposite direction of the school, will get me to the station. "Go on the tram until everyone gets off. That is the end. Take the pedestrian tunnel and you'll be there."

Sounded easy enough. So this morning I slept in, had a lovely breakfast (and ordered myself some hot chocolate, served in a glass cup!), and made sure I'd packed everything in my MLS red drawstring bag. Then I went to the tram stop going in the opposite direction of school. 

The tram came up, I got on, and I waited till everyone got off. 

A lot of people got off two stops after the main square, which made me curious. This was the stop near the PilsnerUrquell brewery and I'd seen it yesterday. A lot of people got off, but not everyone. What was the name of it? 

Hlavní Nadraží

Hmm... the train station. I recognized the words. 

But I also remembered that there was a station on the outside of town. Maybe we were meeting there, which is why Ed told me to go to the end of the line. So I stayed on the tram. 

I kept going and going, realizing that it was 9:40 and getting close to the train departure time. I looked at the map of the tram stops. Only two left. Cool. 

And then I got to the last stop. End of the line. 

Remember the end of the line? It was outside of town. No tunnel. No train station. A few industrial buildings, a gas station, and some apartment buildings. 

That was it. 

Well that sucks. 

But I remembered the women's story from two days ago. The tram will turn itself around and start the return journey. I wasn't stuck, but I'd missed the train. I'd missed the field trip. 

So about five minutes later, the same tram turned itself around, I got on along with two other people, and we were off.

As I passed by the train station - hlavní nadraží - I decided to get off and see if, by chance, anyone had stuck around to wait for me. 

Sure enough, at the stop (which was not the end of the line) there was a pedestrian tunnel that took you right into the station. I found myself in the same terminal I'd been at a week ago when Petr had picked me up...

...and found the VBS crew all waiting for me! They'd missed their initial time just to see if I would make it!
Good think I'd decided to stop in and check. 

The End

And now, the rest of the story

The train was only two cars long - the tiniest real train I'd ever ridden. I luckily had a seat for this 45-minute journey to who-knows-where. Kids were running around finding friends and helpers and teachers, but it wasn't too bad. 

After a few stops we ended up in the town of Plasy, known for its old 12th century monastery. But we weren't going there - the thing I probably would have wanted to do the most. 

The group split into two - the group that was going to do a 10km hike up in the hills, and the group that was going to stay in town. I decided that I wanted to not be led around for a giant hike, especially not with my proper equipment. (Plus I'd heard that a few years back a 3-hour hike had become a 5-hour hike and did not want to tempt fate.) So I went with the town group. 

There were five Americans, four Czech adults, and nine young children staying in town. The Americans had no idea what we were doing, but knew someone had mentioned something about a zoo. Martin had gone with the hikers, so even the Czech adults didn't really know what to do. We wandered around until it started to rain, then hid in the monastery until the downpour ended. The kids all came prepared with food, raincoats, and proper footwear, thank goodness. 

After an hour of walking around, we decided to go to this so-called zoo. It actually was a mini golf course that had animals shoehorned in places. It was pretty pathetic, so I didn't take any pictures because I felt so bad for the animals. They even had lions and tigers and while their habitats were big-ish, they still weren't the proper size. 

The mini golf course had a theme - Around The World! It featured exotic countries like Japan! Mexico! Egypt! Caribbean! Transylvania! Arizona! And Africa! Luckily I did not golf. The kids did, so we had three groups and had to try to make sure they didn't interfere with other games while still keeping track of the one ball they were supposed to keep from going in random water areas. 

After we finished mini golf the sun finally decided to come out. We waited by the exit for a bit until we heard that the hiking group was at a brewery that we'd passed earlier. Then we met them there. 

Many of the adults got beer, coffee, and cake at this brewery (which was really beautiful and modern) while the kids played in a glorified parking lot/street. I kept an eye on them and talked with others while waiting for our train time. Near the end Ed gathered the kids together and they sang a bunch of the songs from the VBS. 

I was by the parents, and suddenly I hear a few of them talking about "Hokey Pokey" and "Baby Shark" with each other. I could see that they were saying "He came home and all he could sing was 'Baby Shark!'" I told them it was my fault and apologized. 

We took the group to the lake and some of the teachers and helpers performed a skit based on Paul and Silas' trip to prison. Then after the kids had played on the playground (which we probably should have done earlier in the afternoon - and for a longer time) we went back to the train station. 

I was worried we'd miss our train - like what happened last week - but we got there with 20 minutes to spare. Before long we were back in Plzeň. 

The kids went home, and the rest of us walked over to a pizzeria for dinner. Even though there was a pepperoni pizza, which two people ordered, it wasn't the kind of pepperoni you'd expect. It ended up being a pepper pizza instead of the sausage! On the other hand, I'd ordered the salami pizza, and it ended up being pepperoni! I think I lucked out greatly there. The crust was delicious, and I was so hungry that I ate almost all of the 32 cm pizza. 

The day was long, but it was nice not to teach and be a bit of a tourist again. Tomorrow is our VBS church service, and then I get packed to go back to the States! Can you believe it?!

Read about the VBS Closing Service (and a surprise!) HERE!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Europe 2017: Thank-You Notes

It's come to that time in the trip where I should send out some thank-you notes. I'm not attempting to make these sound funny, though they might come across as such.

But first, some music...

Thank you...Plzeň tram...for providing a pleasant mode of transportation...and also for conveniently leaving right before I arrive.

Today as the group was headed for the Pilsner-Urquell tour, I got to the corner right when the tram was arriving. I haven't had the best luck having the train arrive right when I get there, but at least it appears every 8-10 minutes and is pretty regular.

Here, take a look:

Thank you...Shark Song...for being a source of nonstop entertainment.

The kids unfortunately might not remember anything else but "Baby Shark" from this VBS.

Thank you...drum set...for making "The First Song of Isaiah" sound really, really cool.

Have you ever done that song with a drum set? We are going to do it on Sunday - Ed secured a drum set for the weekend, and it arrived last night. Ben is playing it - we practiced today and I really enjoyed it!

Thank elevator...for saving me three flights of aching legs.

I've walked a ton this vacation. When I was able to catch the elevator, everything was right with the world. But you need a key to access it from the ground floor, which made using it a little trickier.

Thank you...orchestras...for playing to the masses and publishing your movie soundtrack recordings on YouTube.

To wrap up our study of the four instrumental types in an orchestra, I found three great videos of orchestras, including close-ups of all the different instruments being played. I let the kids decide - did they want to watch a performance of the music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, or Star Wars? It was pretty evenly split between all the sections! The morning classes really wanted Star Wars, while the afternoon wanted both Harry Potter and Pirates.

Thank you...other teachers...for deciding to have skit practice this afternoon and shortening my classes.

It's been a long week of teaching, and I really was glad to hear that the English teachers wanted to have extra time this afternoon to practice the skit (The Parable of the Good Samaritan) that will be done on Sunday.

Instead of trying to fill an hour of time, I only needed 45 minutes. We skipped a lot of things that I would have been glad to do just because we didn't have the time - hallelujah!

(And even though I could have told them I love directing plays, I didn't. I sat back and let them take care of it.)

Thank you...kiddos...for wanting us to sign your shirts and photos.

We didn't leave enough time at the end of the day to distribute the screen-printed shirts and get a good photo. But even so, the kids still grabbed markers and were asking fellow kids and the Americans to sign their shirts and the nice photo sheet that Petr had made.

It was fun having kids come up to me and hand me a marker to sign their stuff. My shirt was upstairs and I couldn't do it, but I was okay with that - my last shirt got signed with the wrong marker and it ended up bleeding. This is a nice-looking shirt and I want to keep it nice for a bit.

Thank you...PilsnerUrquell...for letting us off the hook for cleanup and after-VBS-care by scheduling our tour for 4:30. (And thank you for being open for a tour!)

Martin scheduled our tour this morning online, which meant we were expected to be at the brewery by 4:30. This was much more pleasant than showing up and finding out the tours were done for the day.

We took the tram and wandered around a bit before we found the entrance - a double-arched gateway called the Jubilee Gate, built for the 50th anniversary of PilsnerUrquell in 1892 and featured on all their stuff.

The tour was almost 2 hours long, but allowed us a look at their modern packaging facility, their historical brewery, their modern brewery, a film that explained the history and procedure for brewing, a look at the barley and hops (and taste them - barley is great, hops is bitter!), and see the giant labrynth cellar where their barrels are kept.

To finish, we were able to taste some of the unpasteurized PilsnerUrquell straight from the barrel. And this wasn't a little taste tester, either - this was a full glass! It was pretty darn good. Even with its low alcohol percentage (4.4%) I hadn't eaten in six hours and was a bit lightheaded in the end. Luckily we ate right afterwards.

It would have been weird to go to Plzeň again and still not do a tour. I'm glad I did it - I've heard it's the best brewery tour you can do!

Thank you...Na Splice...for not simply saying "cabbage" on the menu and not saying what it truly was...SAUERKRAUT.

Quite a rude awakening to get my food and realize it's all on a pile of sauerkraut.

Thank wall..for not existing anymore.

In its place is a stretch of green grass that makes a lovely park! We walked through there as we headed back to the tram stop.

Thank you...girls in the Pear group...for finally giving me my chance to show piano skills.

One of my favorite memories of 2011 was having a girl bring a book of piano music and asking me to play. Four or five girls crowded around while I played and we all sang along.

This year before the Pears group had their final session, I was in the church and a couple of them came in early. I let them play on the keyboard, but I also pulled out "The First Song of Isaiah" and started playing it. They all started singing along!

Those copies of the piano music I had were nice, but I'm not sure I'm going to take them back home. One girl, Christie, was really good at performing by just using her ears and performing popular songs. I gave her one of the piano pieces and encouraged her to look it up. I think she was flattered - I hope she wasn't overwhelmed by the notes!

Thank you...Czech chocolate...for being really good.

It's just so good! Especially the Orion brand.

Until tomorrow!

Read about our VBS Field Trip HERE!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Europe 2017: Hustle and Bustle

As I've said before, experiencing the hustle and bustle of a city is pretty great. I have been living in the city of Plzeň and taking public transportation to the outskirts, where the school is located. It almost feels like I'm part of the workforce, although most people are heading into the city while I'm heading out.
Today my breakfast included a couple of slices of salami, and I put those right into my sandwich for lunch. It was really nice to get that bit of spice at lunchtime along with the ham and gouda! 

After VBS I was able to practice the Sunday songs with the Americans - something we hadn't been able to do the past couple of days. The ladies are all singing a song on their own, and then the Americans are singing the verses of "The First Song of Isaiah" while the Czech kids sing the refrain. A drum set is arriving tonight that we are able to use this weekend, so tomorrow I'll be practicing with our resident drummer to coordinate him with those two songs!

I wasn't feeling 100% today and decided to call it early, leaving the men to do their "men's day" of going to a hops farm and seeing breweries and the women and kids' to take their trip into the city square. I returned to my stop on the public transportation and went a couple of steps to a Mediterranean restaurant. 

The place had both dine-in and takeaway options, so I just went to the window to order. I appreciated the pictures posted outside the window, and appreciated the speed of the wait staff since I was still deliberating my choice when they came up to the window to take my order! I picked a chicken plate with cabbage, onion, cucumbers, fries, and tzatziki sauce. It took us a bit to coordinate the order since they only knew a few English words and I only know a few Czech words, but it was cheap and fast and in no time I had my box of food. 

I've had my fair share of Mediterranean food this trip, but this was probably the best! The chicken was perfect, and the tzatziki sauce with the fries was the perfect touch. If I have time this week, I might go to that place again!

My quiet evening was spent watching the Czech sports channel, which ended up showing some European orienteering competition (not only do they run cross-country, but they have to navigate the map to know exactly where to go!) and then a wrap-up of the 2016 Summer Olympics! Yes, it had a bit of a Czech flair, but it covered all the important events, too. 

(Funny bit from last night to wrap up this section: Yesterday was the day that the PE group did water balloons, and there were some left. The apartment looks over by the main entrance, and with a quiet wind you can hear people coming up to the school entrance. Last night I left with the first group, but a second group stayed at the Pub for a little longer. When they came back, they stood outside talking for a little bit. Suddenly, they hear a *sploosh* sound. Caleb, in the apartment, had leaned out the window and thrown a water balloon towards the peole outside! It didn't hit them, but I loved that someone actually gave it a shot!)

VBS-Related Stuff

We have accumulated our fair share of fun Music stuff, so there were some times today when I would break out the "greatest hits." Want to do Baby Shark? Okay! Into the Tootie-Ta? You got it! You'd rather do the Hokey Pokey and the Mexican Hat Dance rather than our new Shoemaker's Dance? Sure - why not? 

The kids finished learning about the four main instrumental parts of the orchestra today, and I invited them to bring in their own instruments tomorrow and show them off. We'll see if anyone takes me up on my offer. 

The youngest group was the hardest with which to work, so we did a lot of singing and dancing to keep them entertained. I even taught them Apples to Apples, though some of them couldn't read Czech, let alone English! The helpers were big helps for that one. 

Actually, when the Czech helpers are fulfilling their responsibility, the group is really great. I have noticed that with three of the groups - the helpers are very useful. One of the groups has had some inconsistent helpers, and when they are there they don't do much to help, or goof off. I have talked with some of the teachers about it and they have said the same thing. It's hit-or-miss when it comes to helpers that not only are good translators, but also are good with kids. 

I am very thankful for finding the recording feature on that keyboard, because directing the kids is turning out to be very important. I see videos of longer songs from previous VBSs here and I wonder how in the world the music leaders were able to do it!

What do the kids do in other sessions? There's an Art session, led by Ed and Caleb. They don't do "crafts." They do Art. The kids are working on carving fish out of soapstone right now. Yesterday they screen printed the logo of the VBS (Fruits of the Spirit) on their T-shirts and on canvas bags. Ed doesn't mess around when it comes to art projects!

The English session is led by Barb and Becky. They usually stick with English lessons that focus around the lesson of the day. (Day 1 - Nicodemus - Love. Day 2 - The Prodigal Son - Patience. Day 3 - Zacchaeus - Joy. Day 4 - The Good Samaritan - Kindness. Day 5 - wait and see!) They have had puzzles, worksheets, crosswords, word searches, coloring pages, and glitter projects. 

The PE session is led by Jeff and Sara (I spelled her name wrong in previous posts!) and it is activity-related, but they also work on the Bible story here, too. They've done basketball, parachute, water balloons, and relays. 

We end at 3, but a few parents work later and can't pick up until 4, so the kids have recess if they aren't picked up. Today kids were doing beadwork or basketball at the end of the day. 

It makes for an incredibly long VBS week. If you complain about working a 3-hour, 5-day VBS back home, just remember those Americans and Czechs overcoming jet lag and the language barrier to pack 5+ days of fun, and seven hours each day!

Not every minute is planned - we have "recess" between each session of about 20 minutes. The kids can relax, play, and eat at these times while the teachers observe or get their next section ready. 

We are all pretty tired, and we're not even done after Friday! On Saturday the families are invited to do a field trip with the Americans, and it sounds like we're doing some hiking. Then Sunday is our program in church followed by a potluck. In 2011 we only had two of our VBS kids come back for Sunday, but we're hoping for a better turnout this year, even though a few kids have told us they won't be coming.

Sorry I haven't filled in all of the VBS details until today, but it's been tiring and I haven't had a decent amount of time to fill you in until tonight! There is hustle and bustle in the city, and hustle and bustle in the VBS. 

To reward you for your patience, here is what you've been waiting for: The Baby Shark Song!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Europe 2017: Baby Shark Fever

Today I must have heard about ten kids singing some part of the "Baby Shark Song" as I walked down hallways and in classrooms of schools. I wish they'd caught on to one of my Christian songs so I knew exactly what to sing on Sunday, but it's still pretty cool to hear them break into song.

With the huge success of "Baby Shark," I felt like doing the "Tootie-Ta" would be another hit. They enjoyed it, but I think "Baby Shark" still had the edge on the day!

I finally felt today like I was filling the hours successfully. We did a good warm-up. We practiced our songs for Sunday. The lower three groups all did the "Mexican Hat Dance" which they had fun doing. I sang them "Zacchaeus" since that was our story of the day, while they did the actions. A few groups learned a little bit about the brass section of the orchestra. We watched two videos - one of my favorites called "Pipe Dream" by Animusic, and the real life version done by Wintergaten!

Finally, we wrapped up each session with some rousing games of Uno. Everyone caught on quickly, and it seemed to be enjoyed more than Apples to Apples. (I'm still doing A2A tomorrow, and saving more Uno for Friday.) In the older group I kept the "Draw 4," "Wild," "Reverse," and "Skip" cards, but I kept them out of the other groups just to make it a little less confusing. I'll re-introduce them later.

I sat outside to eat my sandwich, and two of the little kindergarten girls came with their lunches and sat down next to me to eat! One of them started speaking rapidly to me in Czech, and I believe she was telling me it was hard for her to eat her sandwich on one side of her mouth because she had a loose tooth. I love when they talk to me like I know Czech, because sometimes when I have them in class they say nothing at all because they're afraid to say something wrong in English!

Non-VBS Items

The day dawned bright and sunny, but after 4pm it started raining - pretty much the opposite from yesterday. Unfortunately, part of the group was going to go up the steeple of St. Bartholomew's Church, so they had to do it in pretty cruddy conditions. They also had the church closed because it was too dark. 

The square is getting ready for the Bohemian Jazz Festival, with a stage and big screen. It started tonight, but will continue into this weekend, when we will be going. I am excited!

We had a big dinner with the Czech pastors at The Pub, which is a chain of restaurants around Europe that have self-serving beer taps right at your table. It also keeps track of how much you and your table drinks, and then ranks them with other tables in your bar. They even have standings for tables and pubs all over Europe! 

It only serves Pilsner-Urquell, which I think is a pretty dull beer, but everyone of legal drinking age enjoyed serving themselves and seeing how we ranked compared to other tables. 

The beer was average, but the food was delicious! I got a Texas BBQ Pub burger, and the barbeque sauce was some of the best I've had. It was a huge burger but I ate the whole thing. 

While I was waiting for my food someone at my table who was filling beer spilled his half-filled glass on the table, and it spilled over onto me and my purse! I shoved my purse out of the way as fast as possible and it only got a little wet, but my shoes and socks really got the brunt of it. When I returned home I had to wring out and wash my socks and insoles! (Good thing I was wearing shorts, or my pants would have been covered, too!) If you see me and you smell beer, now you know why.

We are over the halfway mark of the VBS! As I start to get to know the kids, the more I like them. They're a good bunch! To finish off the article, here they are doing part of the "Tootie-Ta!"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Europe 2017: Rain Delay

Rain in the summer is great...unless you're hosting a Vacation Bible School and half your sessions are taking place outside.

That is the problem we came across when we woke up to rain drumming on the roof. It wasn't a quick rain. It was one of those on-off, downpour/sprinkle/downpour type rains that lasted (conveniently) until the VBS ended at 4. Then the sun came out and shone the rest of the day!


While this issue didn't affect my classes (we're just in church the whole time) it did affect the Art and Bible/Gym classes. While the Gym class was supposed to do water balloons today, they moved that and instead did giant Jenga. They didn't bring them along; on Sunday Ed and Petr went to a Home Depot-style store and purchased timber, which then was cut into large pieces last night and sanded.

The Art crew ended up in the dungeon of the school - a former location for locker rooms, but now an actually pleasant basement room with windows that show the basketball court.

It also impacted our snack/lunch time. Most of the older kids were just fine playing on their phones or chatting in groups. However, the kids younger than 10 were very antsy, and ended up trying to chase each other up and down the halls. Ed started a "Look Up" game, where everyone stands in a circle, he says "Look up," and if you are looking at someone who is looking directly back at you, you're out. It was very clever and calmed the crew down!

We did have one boy bring a treat for everyone! His mother had made spice cake and cut it into tiny pieces. Becky asked if he'd made it for his birthday, and he'd said no. It was just out of kindness! The whole container was gone by the end of lunch.

My classes were much better with the addition of Apples to Apples, especially my older kids. Even with all the stuff I planned, I could not get myself to stretch class time longer than 30 minutes most times! So I would break out Apples to Apples with the older three classes. While the oldest class didn't have any issues, the middle two classes were a little more confused. I tried my best to encourage them that they didn't have to even know the words, but some were very serious about picking just the right card. (I didn't even bother with the younger class - that would have been mayhem.)

The younger three classes all tried The Hokey Pokey, led by my helper Emily, and they really loved it! I think we were all surprised about that one. They kept wanting to do it - one group requested to do it one more time at the very end of class. (Which we did!) We'll see if they're just as enthusiastic about The Mexican Hat Dance tomorrow.

I also introduced "The Shark Song" to them, and they enjoyed it so much that we did it as a whole group to finish up the VBS day. (Maybe I'll get a video later in the week?)

All in all, the groups were better behaved today. I was a bit more firm when a few of them tried to sit in other places, and they didn't push back. And when they didn't want to do something I was introducing at first, most of them ended up enjoying it in the end.

Non-VBS Items

The coming of the rain really cooled down Plzeň. The end of the week is supposed to be really nice. I hope so - on Saturday the VBS is doing a field trip with the parents and kids and I could use a nice, cool day!

One of our teachers, Caleb, has been sick for two days. Petr's wife, Gabby, who practices medicine, came in last night to check him out and prescribe him some stuff. We're hoping he'll be well enough to be with the kids tomorrow. 

The Americans didn't do any touring today; instead, we got supplies for hamburgers and grilled! The men had discovered a grill outside and decided to put it to use. Jeff and Becky found a great bakery and found the rolls I loved in Germany. This time I had a hamburger and gouda cheese inside, and it was so delicious! We also had corn and oven fries. Barb, Sarah, and I went across the street to the convenience store and picked up some items, including wine. They even bought me a moscato, my favorite, which I had for dinner! 

We all just barely fit on the table, but it was nice to have everyone together for a nice meal. We'll get back to touring tomorrow.

Read about Day 3 of the VBS HERE!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Europe 2017: Panic Day!

You know that feeling you get before you start something - that feeling of being pretty sure that you know what to do, have all the quirks worked out, and have planned for every problem?

Never trust that feeling.

I am about five weeks removed from teaching, and it isn't like hopping on a bike. I've been in tourist-mode for two solid weeks, so going back to Miss Nat is kind of a giant about-face.

Then, of course, there's the language barrier.

Keep one thing clear: children are the same everywhere. They all love to be friendly. They all love to talk. They all love fidget spinners and phones. Sitting down for six hours is not in their usual summer routine, I'm pretty sure.

Unlike children at home, though, they cannot understand all the words that I am saying.

We have children from ages 6 to 13, and helpers from ages 14 to 17 - some Czech, some American. The Czech helpers are great because I can make sure the children are absolutely sure about what I am trying to tell them to do. Some of them make great teachers, too; telling kids to move to a different spot or taking away aforementioned fidget spinners without the kids putting up a fight because the helper can tell them exactly what to do.

I thought I had a lot to do in the massive amount of time scheduled for the four groups: a whole hour of music! But when I sensed restlessness, I moved on to something else, and before long I had kind of run out of stuff. A couple of times I called it quits a few minutes early and sent them back to the homeroom for snacks and recess, just because I really didn't think it was worth it to keep them there.

In any group in this age range, there are challenges, too. The older kids have a bit of an attitude and don't really care about the music or learning English words. The younger kids don't really get what you're saying and would rather run around the room (or crawl through your legs, as I discovered with one particular 6-year-old).

I'm being rather blunt; my morning was pretty horrendous, but my afternoon sessions were quite good. I had really great Czech helpers and I had adjusted enough from my morning to keep the kids pretty interested.

We watched the "Julie-O" video, and I was able to show a few of them the OK GO video, "This Too Shall Pass."

We sang our Memory Treasure song for today - John 3:16 - and started working on our possible song for Sunday - Koine's "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." However, I have found that during VBS the kids seem to latch on to some other unplanned song a lot of the time (it happened in Apacheland in 2002 and in Plzen in 2011) and we scrap the planned song, so I am going to pay careful attention the next few days to see if any song sticks out.

The kids also learned how to dance "The Bunny Hop" (because I knew they'd need some movement) and learned about Vivaldi and Bach, briefly, by listening to some of their music. Tomorrow I'll probably just stick with the groups of instruments instead of teaching them composers. It will be more basic and understandable.

They have about 15 minutes between each session for snacks, bathroom, and run-around time (we have a playground this year, which we didn't have last time!), and a longer break for lunch. The kids all bring food from home, and they come well prepared and eat everything!

After the VBS was officially done (3pm) the kids were allowed to stay for that hour following to wait for parents to pick them up after work. I stuck around a little bit and did some circle volleyball, but I also had to do some piano practice and organize for tomorrow.

The plans for tomorrow still have variety, but I am going to rely on some helpers to teach some stuff, and I'm also bringing Apples to Apples down, because it doesn't all have to be music!

I was very worried in the morning, but felt better in the afternoon. One day down, four to go!

Non-VBS Related

This morning I went down for the hotel's breakfast. It's very nice - two baskets of bread and a plate of hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomato, gouda cheese (gouda cheese is so good-a!) and ham. I used the bread, ham, and cheese I didn't eat to make a sandwich for lunch. I thought it made good economic sense!

After the VBS all the Americans met up in the apartment with the Czech pastors. Martin gladly changed my Euro money over to Czech crowns - no fees! - and gave me my very own tram card. We all planned some outings for the week, though it isn't much considering we aren't usually done until 4. There will be a trip to the top of St. Bartholomew's again, a brewery tour at Pilsner-Urquell, and a "beer farm" trip for those interested. (Which isn't me.) Some are also heading to Karlstejn castle on Sunday, but by then I think I'm going to need to spend the day packing!

We all went to the Plzeň Plaza for grocery shopping and dinner. I got sushi (too much sushi, as it turned out), and everyone else went for KFC and a Chinese place. Guess which restaurant had the longest line?

I sat in view of the movie theater, and the whole meal I kept wondering if it would be worth it to go see Spider-Man: Homecoming at the Czech theater. It would have to be English audio with Czech subtitles, because I wasn't going to try to understand Czech voices trying to have an accent from Queens. 

In the end, I decided to go for it. I asked the lady at the ticket counter if the next showing was in English. She said yes, so I bought myself a ticket. Turns out it was a 3D/4K showing, with seats that rumbled and rolled and special effects. (You could turn off the water option, which I did.) 

It was crazy, but I've seen several movies in the theater, and it took me a trip to Plzeň to finally see the Star Wars The Last Jedi trailer on the big screen! I gotta say it looked excellent in 3D. 

The movie itself was really great. My theater was nice and quiet but really laughed at the funny parts. After a while I wasn't bothered by all the rumbling and special effects. I wouldn't recommend the experience to my parents, and I'll probably never see another movie like that again, but it was okay for one time!

Tomorrow is supposed to be a little cooler, and my VBS head is on a little straighter. I'll pray for the best!

Read about Day 2 of the VBS HERE!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Europe 2017: Panic Day?

Today was supposed to be a day where I laid out all my music stuff and freaked out about how much I had to prepare. It ended up being about an hour of work at the table getting tomorrow's plans ready, an hour of prep in my teaching area, and then nothing! I guess I didn't need to panic after all.

In the morning we had church at St. Paul's, which shares a building space with Martin Luther School. I had volunteered to play the keyboard, and Petr provided me with the hymns before the service started. They weren't difficult to play, especially because he had chosen tunes that are in our hymnal. 

I had made copies of my favorite piano pieces so I wouldn't have to lug around all those books, and I played half of them as preservice music. Aside from the Wisconsin crew, only three other people came to church - Petr's son and a man in his late teens who had been baptized last year, and he had brought his girlfriend. All three of them are going to be helping with the VBS this week. Petr's son Ondrej had actually been at my first Plzeň VBS as a 9-year-old, and now he's grown up!

Petr did the service in English and also preached the sermon in English, but the hymns were sung in Czech. I look forward to hearing next week's service, which will probably feature more of the Czech language!

The group spent some time up in the apartment eating lunch and planning a bit. I went back down to the church and practiced a few music pieces I am going to play next week. One of them is a jazz rendition of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and while I'm playing it fine, I'm worried about putting it together with the kids. It is going to be very difficult to coordinate not only the kids, but the piano and the drumset. (I didn't pick the song.) Maybe I can hand off the piano accompaniment to one of the high school kids that came along, and I can direct. That's probably where I would be most comfortable. 

All of us went downstairs around 2 to set up the classrooms we were allowed to use. We set up desks, brought in chairs, and got the lay of the land. As in any school, we have to make sure that we leave everything the way we saw it when we arrived. (The teachers will thank you profusely for your care - believe me!)

I am setting up shop in the church, and much of my equipment was brought with me in an extra suitcase the Wisconsin crew brought with them. I didn't need to make copies or gather any writing materials, but I did need three big items: a keyboard in the front of church, a CD player, and a way to project videos. 

Happily, Petr made sure I had all of them! The keyboard was easy - it ended up being in one of the classrooms we were using, up on a high shelf. It was almost the same keyboard I use at my school! I was glad not to have to constantly go from the main level up to the balcony where the piano is located.

The mission group had a CD player to use, and my CDs worked well in there. Not only are the kids singing, they are also doing some dancing!

Finally, the video projection. I was thinking this would be the hardest to do, but it was actually the easiest. The church has AppleTV, which is exactly what we had in Colorado. But this one is hooked up better and didn't kick me off! All I have to do is use my iPhone (using the church wifi) and use AirPlay. The YouTube videos display on the screen instead of my phone! The first video I played was the video I first heard six years ago and fell in love with on this very VBS trip:

The videos are honestly my last resort if I run short on materials and long on time. I probably won't do this VBS again, so I can throw all the best stuff I use for my regular music classes (over a two-year span) to these kids in five days. (I can also preview some new stuff I'm going to be teaching at St. Paul's this coming year!)

Barb, who had lost her luggage thanks to the airline last week, needed to go shopping for some more clothes, so a group of us went a few stops down the tram to the Plzeň Plaza mall. Yup, it's exactly like a mall in the States: stores, food, escalators, food court, movie theater, sales up the wazoo. There was a grocery store in the lowest level so we stocked up on food, too. 

After everyone had gathered back at the apartment (including Petr and Ed, who had gone to look for a tent), we went out for dinner. Jeff had a location in mind, and it turned out to be the exact place we'd gone last night! I was glad because this meant I could order the other thing I had been deliberating: rabbit with vegetables and spaetzle! But they ended up not having it, so I got chicken with ratatouille instead. With all that being said, I think I honestly liked my meal tonight better than the goulash I had last night!

I left the restaurant and walked back to my hotel before the rest of the group was done. It is a little intimidating, after two weeks going solo or in a trio, to suddenly be in a group of 10 other Americans walking down the street. It got a little overwhelming today.

I still am excited for the VBS tomorrow. It might be a group of kids who don't speak much English, but we all share the language of music, and I know how to teach it!

Read about Day 1 of the VBS HERE!