Saturday, March 22, 2008

Final Four

In beating Wheaton last weekend, the Hope Men's Basketball team made it to the Final Four in Salem, Virginia. Since we don't get to see them play much being in Pennsylvania, we broke plans with our couch and television watching first and second round games of the Division I NCAA tourney to follow the orange and blue.

We set out south through the beautiful mountains of central Pennsylvania, counting our blessings as we passed scenic towns like Tyrone, Altoona, and Breezewood on into the Maryland panhandle for a few miles. I-70 doesn't connect to I-81 on our route and so Mapquest sent us on a quick jog through the northeast corner of West Virginia - what a memorable jog it was!

We crossed the border into the mining state and immediately noticed the small "welcome to our state" sign as compared to the cheesy can't-miss signs in entering other states (probably a cost-cutting measure). Neither of us had ever been to West Virginia, but had a good first impression from the modesty and fiscal efficiency of their diminutive "Welcome" sign (from our own frugality, we easily recognize and appreciate that in others).
Our second impression, however, overshadowed the first. After losing the smooth Maryland pavement under our tires and our second lane of traffic, we proceeded into the city limits of Berkeley Springs. As we approached the first stop sign in this quaint mountain village, we came upon a pregnant woman smoking a cigarette as she crossed the street towards the elementary school. Kathi commented on how sad that was while Chad thought to himself, "it's probably a non-filtered cig - some people are so lazy."

We got closer to the intersection and realized, to our relief, that the woman was not actually pregnant. And as we passed her, noticed that it wasn't even a woman (unless it was the bearded lady we always heard about from the circus). Welcome to West Virginia.

Berkeley Springs, despite being on its state's border, gave us a glimpse of all the West Virginia stereotypes. We thought that, because it is a border city far from the center of the state, it would not have all the characteristics that so negatively influence public opinion. However, all the mountains, mulletts, and muffin-tops (synonymous with love-handles) spoke otherwise. We were in the (blackened from nicotene) heart of West Virginia.

The rest of our 15-mile jaunt through Nascar's most densely populated fan base made us realize a few things about the economy of "mountain people." 1) Very few dentists are needed. And those who are needed must make a lot of money because check-ups cannot last very long. 2) Hair stylists and barbers don't care if "the front matches the back." 3) Cut-off t-shirt salesmen and scrap metal dealers (that have a "we'll come and pick up the rusted cars, school buses, refridgerators, and boats, yes boats, strewn across your front yards" service) could make a fortune if they became Mountaineers.

The Game
We made it through West Virginia (sorry to anyone who has connections there, not because of what we've written, but because you have connections there) to southwest Virginia where we arrived in Salem just in time to see the Washington University of St. Louis (Hope's opponent in the national semifinal) student fan buses arrive at the Salem Civic Center.

Since Chad's brother, Jeff, hadn't arrived yet with our tickets, we waited outside the main entrance with a stadium employee on her smoke break (she was actually originally from West Virginia). The Wash U. student section (which had a surprisingly large number - more than Hope's Dew Crew) proceeded by in their red and green (who chooses Christmas colors for their school?) and costumes indicative of rabid fans.

Usually having a hundred students (at varying levels of sobriety) from a rival school walk by us would be rather intimidating considering the facts that neither of us are large individuals (nuts, we should've picked up the bearded lady in Berkeley Springs), both of us were sober, and we were associating ourselves with the former-Mountaineer stadium employee. However, both of us braved the University of Michigan's Fraternity Row on a football game day this fall while wearing Penn State clothes (and it was only weeks after the Wolverines had depressingly lost to Appalachian State), so we thought we could handle a few Wash U. Bears without any difficulty.

Many of the fans that noticed our bright orange Hope t-shirts took advantage of their strength in numbers to say things like "There's no Hope", "Go Home Hope," and "Drown the Dutchmen." It is often humorous to watch people who say these things because of how creative and witty they think they are (its about as original as Michigan fans saying things like "JoePa is old"). Nevertheless, the Wash U-ers made these comments with unsolicited levels of hostility that warranted responses.
Kathi's initial thought was, "I really like the camouflage cargo shorts you ladies have on - they really go well with the paint on your faces. But I don't like your attitudes. So we'll pray for you" (she gets that from her mother). Chad's initial thought was, "C'mon guys, as the commercial says, 'Virginia is for Lovers.' It sounds like you left your love in Missouri." It's probably better off that neither of us voiced our thoughts and instead just thanked our new friends for their willingness to initiate conversation.
Those same students got a chance to voice all of their creative, never-heard-before chants during the game as well, as WashU (the eventual national champions) beat Hope by playing an outstanding second half. Even though we hadn't seen many games in the past two years, emotions ran high during the game and we felt horrible for the Hope players and coaches after the loss. Some things remain close to your heart no matter how far away they are geographically. We realized, through our volatile mood swings during the game, that Hope basketball is one of those things for us. We will always bleed blue and orange.

The Ride Home
After spending the night at a Knight's Inn ($52 a night - take that, timeshare-company-from-previous-post) in which we saw more cops on the premises than hotel guests, we headed back north the next day. Our reminiscing about how nice it was to see so many Hope people at the game ended just before the West Virginia stint of our return ride. The "Welcome" sign on the south border of the state did have a slogan, unlike that of the north. This one said, "Open for Business." We thought a more apt state slogan for them would be, "Hopin' for Business," and our response would be that you aren't going to get it unless you mandate that shirts cover the undercling of people's bellies at all times.
We christened our second "safari" through the mining state with a burping contest (appropriate for the culture). Usually Kathi wins these competitions in a landslide, but Chad overcame his genetically constricted esophagus and won with a 5-second belch. Gloating in his victory, Chad focused on the natural beauty this time through the state while Kathi slept. We think we can understand why John Beilein and Rich Rodriguez wanted to leave - even if it was a move to Ann Arbor.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Break Orlando

We spent five days within a mile of Mickey and Minnie but did not see either of them or their friends. Instead, we laid poolside and got a chance to see some of our own friends. Here are some of the highlights.

Visiting the Hillary's
We drove our rental Chevy Malibu southwest to Valrico to visit Corrie, Phil, and (unknown girl name). They have a beautiful house with a pool and vegetable/fruit garden in the backyard (they actually grow rosemary, corn, peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, and lowquats - we hadn't even heard of them before). They also ransack the grapefruit tree whose branches hang over into their yard. Phil displayed his culinary abilities with a surf and turf menu that made us want to spend more time (meals) with them. We had a great time catching up with them.

The Convergence
Anytime you're in Orlando, you have to do something Disney. Since we're lazy (just wanted to lay out poolside all day) and cheap (the amusement parks were too expensive - a theme in most of our blog entries), we chose Downtown Disney Monday evening.
Sensory overload hit us as we entered the west end of Downtown Disney. Next door to Planet Hollywood and across the street from the House of Blues, a four-story Virgin Records store hung a three-story poster of the Backstreet Boys on one wall (there's only four of them now - not five. They should be called the Backstreet Men and they look more and more like the Village People every time we see them (isn't one of them gay?)).

We caught our bearings going through Pleasure Island, past the Crabhouse and the Lego's superstore just in time to see, amidst a crowd of thousands, a tall, black man pushing a stroller. This is not uncomon or noteworthy in itself except that this guy was famous. It was C.C. Sabathia, the 6'8" 2007 Cy Young Award winning pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. Since Chad suffers from ES3 (excessive star struck syndrome, or embarrassing star struck syndrome) he was paralyzed. We don't even like major league baseball that much, but this was the world's greatest pitcher (currently) walking 10 feet away from us.
After telling Kath who it was (she thought his name was C.C. Sobania - she's a big baseball fan, too), Chad had two decisions to make. First, does he go up to and talk to him (Carlson's have an shameful history of doing this - just ask Tom Izzo - and Chad probably would have told him he liked the JaMarcus Russell jersey he was wearing, even though Chad hates the Raiders and doesn't think Russell will last very long in the league) or does he take a picture of the major leaguer. He chose the latter, leaving another decision: use the camera phone in his pocket or lunge for our digital camera. While fumbling around for both, a voice hit us that changed everything.

"Hey, I know you guys," came a voice from behind us. It was female, ruling out Sabathia (nuts), but it could've been his wife. Surprisingly, it was not. "From Camp Sunshine," the voice continued, as we turned around. Chad knew it was Donna Klapp but couldn't think of her name. So we introduced ourselves and she did the same. We talked about how nice the weather was compared to Michigan and then Chad asked if she was down on vacation (she was obviously with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild).

"Well, my husband (Craig) died last week, and so they're taking me around. Did you hear about Craig?" We had just talked about their family and how unfortunate Craig's death was, but we didn't know it happened last week. How do you respond to someone who's husband died prematurely, abnormally, immediately, and unforeseen-ly just last week.

We just stood there doing our best to console this friend (we didn't do a very good job) that we, in all honesty didn't know all that well outside of a few summer camp experiences. We gracefully (awkwardly) changed the subject to the fact that Donna's son-in-law works with Kathi's mom, and Donna graciously went along with our diversion. A few more moments of small talk and we parted ways. C.C. Sabathia was also long gone. Disappointed at our inability to show appropriate compassion, we took a minute to note that our paths will probably never again cross with a woman we know on vacation who's husband died last week and a Cy Young award winning pitcher, and certainly not both of those at the same time.

The Sales Pitch
Before going into detail with this story, we want to offer the disclaimer that we have nothing against time-share vacations. In fact, they seem like a very affordable way to take vacations. And we had a wonderful time on this vacation. Let us tell you about the lowlight.

In order to reduce the already astonishingly low price of our time-share trial week, we signed up to attend a two-hour sales pitch from Vacation Villages, Inc. Just for sitting through their self-proclaimed "not high pressure" sales pitch, we would receive a $100 Visa gift card(we're Dutch, so it seemed like a good thing to do).
John, a later middle-aged man surrounded by an aura of "used car salesman," greeted us shortly after our 8:30am appointment time. After exchanging pleasantries (John asking us where we were from and judging how capable we were of buying a time-share) John introduced us to our "tour guide" Carol. Carol must have been a relative of John's because she, too, had "desperate salesperson" in her DNA. She was very kind and personable, but her gaudy, gold-sequined blazer belied her true intentions of our "tour."

Carol took us to her BMW (other guides drove Hummers, Lexuses, and Mercedes-Benzes) to begin the tour. The car had nothing on Kathi's '94 Grand Am in the interior (no GPS, no voice-activated music or cellphone - what kind of a Beamer is that?!?), but it did have the blue and white logo on the hood. And as we were starting to find out, image is everything in this game.

On the short Beamer ride we found out that Carol is a retired trauma nurse with a husband of 43 years that is the contract negotiator for Venus and Serena Williams (a contract negotiator does what everyone thinks an agent does, but doesn't get any of the credit for it) and three grandsons - one studying aeronautics, one a budding artist, and one a can't-miss major league baseball prospect. Despite all this good fortune, Carol feels the need to spend her twilight years working on commission to convince us that we need to buy a small cookie-cutter condominium that we can only use one week a year.

Carol took us to the standard rah-rah session to start our tour. A ditsy ex-ballerina hyped up on three pots of coffee showed us and twenty others a powerpoint on how great time sharing is because it is "time shared" (with family, etc.). Throughout the presentation, our hostess/cheerleader used us as examples to the group (like contestants in the Price is Right). The cheerleader made it very clear throughout her yelling, clapping, and cartwheels that she thought a) because Kathi is an accountant she runs our family (true) and that 2) since I am a kinesiology student I study people's hands (untrue).

During the presentation, Carol noticed our lack of enthusiasm for Team Time-Share and began to tone her's down, as well. This is a psychological tool known as "mirroring," for which someone mirrors another person's body language and verbal language to establish a more intimate (fake) connection (see Andy Bernard from the Office). The 60-year old Carol started using words like "cool", "awesome", and "sweet" to mirror us as she got to know us better.
While taking us through an "awesome" unit, Carol continually reassured us that she knew we weren't going to buy a unit now because Chad is still a student. However, Carol was using another psychological tool called "reverse psychology" on us (see Michael Scott from the Office) because she really wanted us to buy (like that was ever in doubt).

Carol took us to the "Commitment Building" and gave us her best shpiel on why we should buy, writing down numbers, key words, and cute memory devices like making two circles above the O in Orlando to signify Mickey Mouse. After her shtick we had a huge communication breakdown. Carol interpreted our "NO" answer to mean, "We're still undecided and want more info."

So, much to our surprise, she brought back John, our used car salesman/greeter (John doubled as the "closer" of the sale). John gave us the exact same shpiel Carol had (even with the Mickey ears). We gave the exact same answer (NO), and John had the exact same misinterpretation. Confused, he asked if the price was too high or if we weren't interested. We said the latter, much to John's dismay, and as he briskly got up to leave, asked Kathi if she'd take a unit if she could get it for free. Like any sane person, Kathi answered in the affirmative. So for dramatic effect, John tapped me on the shoulder as he was walking away and said, "that sounds like she's interested to me." For greater dramatic effect I should have hung John by his clip-on necktie to the ceiling fan for making a stupid comment like that.

They finally got the message and were through with us (after 2 hours 40 minutes). After dealing with slicked-back hair and blazers, we met Elizabeth Taylor-on-crack for our exit interview. She tried unsuccessfully to cut the price for us one-quarter of the original, and told us that we could go to the parking lot and wait for a shuttle van to take us back to our car (apparently the Beamer ride back was only for people who buy). The 10 minute wait for the shuttle was more than enough for us to conclude that we'll never buy a time share from Carol or John.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Year In Review

In an attempt to get everyone caught up on what we've been up to this past year we thought we would give a quick recap. So here it goes...

Christmas 2007 -
We love heading back to Michigan, especially for the holidays, because it gives us a chance to catch up with family and friends (or so we tell them). The real reason we go home is to catch up with our nephew Grant. Who can resist that face?!

Although Christmas was overall a fun time spent with those we love, strong sibling rivalries were stoked.

November 2007
Katie Nienhuis' wedding to Mike Stefanko allowed us to take a quick weekend trip home early in November. We had a great time catching up with college friends we hadn't seen for a while, unfortunately we didn't take any pictures. So, we'll show you another picture of Grant - this time from Thanksgiving (a pose his parents will be more proud of).

October Camping Trip
One of the best parts of Happy Valley is the church we've found. We are a part of a Life Group that meets weekly and, quite often takes trips like this weekend excursion to Black Moshannon State Park.

New York City
Jason and Molly Martin were our tour guides for our first trip to the Big Apple. Molly had spent some time doing mission work in Queens and used some of her connections to find us a few beds in the basement of her friends house to make our weekend outing less expensive. We probably saw all of Manhattan in one day (our dogs were barking at the end of that day from the mileage).

Disappointment at the Big House
Our Nittany Lions played dismally and gave away the game to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The only thing more annoying than spending a weekend surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Michigan football fans is having to face those same fans when they've just beaten you with an inferior team. The weekend wasn't a total failure, though, as we spent the night with Chad's sister and her ten housemates downtown Ann Arbor and tailgated with family and friends. We also saw her score a goal for the Michigan women's club soccer team as they routed the University of Dayton.

Summer 2007
We trekked to the Jersey Shore for a weekend of fun and sun. The weather didn't cooperate for very long, though. We had fun, but not much sun at the coast.

Andrew and Andrea VanEngen invited us down to their house in Bowie, Maryland, and showed us around the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Baltimore, where we took in a rainy Orioles game.

We celebrated the weddings of Mike VanHekken and Laura Vaughn (Aug 3), Colleen Corey and Sam Martin (Aug 3), and Corrie Durham and Phil Hillary (July 7). We don't have any pictures of any of the brides and grooms together, but here is a fun one from the Martin wedding.

Grandma Lohman, Uncle Henry, Aunt Diane, and Cousin Michael came out to visit us. We showed them around Happy Valley and then Grandma showed us all how to scarf down a mammoth sized ice cream cone from the PSU Creamery (that's right, Penn State makes their own ice cream).

We met Grant (and Mom and Dad G., Kim and Eric) in Cleveland for a weekend and took in an Indians-Tigers game. We had great seats down the right field line that overlooked the massive television screen on the Cavaliers stadium (who happened to be playing the Pistons in the playoffs that night). So we watched two games for the price of one.

Cherry Blossom Festival
We went against our better judgment and trained for the Cherry Blossom 10 mile run in Washington DC. We ran with the VanEngen's and Kim and Eric met us there for a great weekend of sightseeing. Since Andrew works in the Secret Service, he was able to get us into the West Wing of the White House.

Spring Break 2007
Chad literally found Jesus on his trip out to Los Angeles. Just kidding, that is his buddy and college roommate and college teammate, Cody, who was mistaken for any number of Biblical characters during this trip.