Eclipse 2017

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I watched Monday’s eclipse with fascination. I live in South Central Iowa, and my dad, who is an amateur astronomer, drove down from Minnesota in the hopes of seeing it on its path of totality.

The night before the eclipse he sat on my couch, scouring weather sites for forecast information. He looked as far west as Grand Island, NE, and as far east as Nashville, TN. Ultimately, he decided we should leave my house at 5am and drive to Columbia, MO, the town closest to my house along the path of totality. From there, we would stop to look at the forecast again and drive east or west along said path until we were in a spot with clear skies.


It’s 5am on eclipse day!

Prior to this week, neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse. We were excited! But not half as excited as we will be in 2024, now that we know what an amazing experience it is. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

A lot of the fun of the eclipse was the build-up. We stopped at McDonald’s in Columbia to grab a bite and check the weather. The forecast looked as good as anywhere else within a couple hours’ drive, so we went to the airport, thinking we would find:

  1. other people
  2. access to open skies and
  3. (importantly, since we got there at 9:45am and the eclipse started around 1pm) a bathroom.

First, we had to stop at Walmart to buy cheapo lawn chairs because in our obsession over checking the weather, we forgot to bring some. We saw LOTS of people walking out of the store carrying them, to the point where I wondered if they’d be sold out and we’d have to sit on the ground!

At the airport it was hot and humid, but everyone’s spirits were high. We chatted with the people near us – a family from Branson, MO, a couple from Brainerd, MN, two young women from New York, and a family from Dartmouth, MA, where I went to graduate school – small world.

I brought glow in the dark bracelets, the kind you break to activate. I bought a tube of 20 at the Dollar Tree, so we had a *few* more than we could use. After offering them to our new neighbor-friends, I walked around the parking lot and gave them to families with little kids. Many of the younger kids seemed confused as to why I was handing them a glow in the dark bracelet in the middle of bright sunshine, but they accepted them happily.

The bracelets did work!


Bracelets glowing during totality

As the eclipse drew nearer, the skies began to cloud over. We worried that we were going to miss it. But, lo and behold, shortly before 1:00 a nice gap appeared in the sky right around the sun. We were blessed or lucky – either way, the entire parking lot full of people was grateful! Airport personnel went around with extra pairs of eclipse glasses and everyone shared food. We were offered water, pop (including Sunkist, which was a deliberate purchase, according to Lachelle from Branson!), sandwiches, and moon pies (another clever purchase by Lachelle).


Moon pies

Our spot was excellent. We were within a hundred yards of the line of dead center totality. That means we had a long time to look at the eclipse, though on the video I state that “it felt like 10 seconds.” I’m not even going to try to describe the eclipse to you. I don’t have the poetic chops to do it justice. I failed utterly in describing it to my husband. It was only after he watched my reaction to it (on video) that it looked to me like he understood how amazing it was. I almost cried when I took my glasses off (during the peak), and I still almost cry every time I watch the video! So… even though the video is pretty embarrassing – I had no idea I was so, um… vocal – I’m going to share it with you, too. I hope that sharing my amazement will inspire you to catch America’s next total solar eclipse. April 8, 2024.

Check how far you’ll have to drive in 2024 using this map (plan a vacation around it if it’s a haul!):

See you there!


Engagement Photos

It was chilly¬†in Minnesota this weekend (although according to the Northerners it was “really nice”). I no longer consider myself a true northerner. As far as I’m concerned, Iowa is the South. It’s typically 20 degrees warmer there than in ND/MN in the winter. Pretty big difference.

Anywho. Kyle and I braved the elements to have our engagement pictures taken outdoors on Saturday, by one of my lovely and talented sisters, Jen. She did a great job and kept us (ok maybe mostly me – Kyle was a good sport but I think he thought we were a teeny bit crazy) laughing the whole time. Our shoot involved¬†a couple of outfit changes. These took place¬†in an abandoned farm outbuilding. I’m not sure what the building’s original purpose was, but I was grateful for the windbreak, rotten floors and all!¬†Here are a few of my favorite pics Jen captured. Check out more of her work here.





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So you want to be a farmer… Part 2

I hope the anticipation has built appropriately for the remainder of my farming adventures.

Let’s start with a chat about Gary’s tractor. This is Gary’s tractor:IMG_5058

Looks cute, right? Gary (the daytime defoliator) loved Gary’s tractor. To clarify: my uncle is the owner of Gary’s tractor – I think it was the first tractor he ever purchased. He’s pretty proud of it. Despite this, I intensely disliked¬†Gary’s tractor. Why? Well, one of the main reasons was that¬†the lights in the back didn’t work very well, and I never felt like I could see what I was doing.

View from the back of the tractor at night:

image (5)

I also had to run Gary’s tractor¬†really slowly, because its tiny little front wheels didn’t handle the deep sprinkler ruts very well (my other farmemy). Of course, the struggle against these mini crevasses had absolutely nothing to do with the operator of the tractor. Sprinkler ruts are from – what else – sprinklers that water the fields. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re basically really long arms that stick horizontally out of (and rotate around) a central fixed point. The arms have sprinklers hanging down every few yards, and they are supported by perpendicular rods that have wheels at the bottom. The sprinklers drive around in circles, like the hands on a clock. As they drive, their wheels cut grooves into the earth. The sprinklers save a lot of time irrigating the crops, but they can cause super deep ruts in the fields that make harvest more challenging.

IMG_5044 IMG_5043

Ruts that run horizontally across the rows are okayish to drive across. I usually just slowed down and bumped my way over and through them. It was when the ruts run parallel or almost parallel to the rows that I had the most trouble. Then you’re trying to stay on row, so the defoliator cuts the tops off properly, but you’re trying not to let any of your wheels fall into the rut, dragging all of your machinery out of place. Sometimes falling into the rut is inevitable, and then you just pray as you tip that you’re not going to break the PTO shaft for the third time.

Gary’s tractor has littler tires than mine, and I thought it was way harder to maneuver through the ruts. Here’s a picture of “my” tractor:

image (3)

Photo by Brandon

You’ll notice that my tractor is missing a tire in this picture. Yes, I did that… One night, I was driving my tractor and I kept getting error messages on my computer screen. So, I radioed Jerry, who was on the digger from 4pm-4am (my shift was 7pm-7am). The digger is the boss of the field, basically. Jerry said he’d come look at my tractor when I got in line with him across the field. So I drove for a little longer, through a bunch of rough ruts. Then Jerry came and looked at my tractor. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it, even after we turned it on and off, revved it up, and walked all the way around the whole machine.

Shortly before this, one of the truck drivers had hit Jerry’s digger, causing one of its side panels to fall off. This was a brand new digger, and they’re not cheap, so we picked up the panel and threw it on top of my defoliator. I was going to drive it over to the light post (a gas powered light that marked the approach into the field for the truck drivers) so nobody would accidentally run over it in the dark. Jerry, Denys, and I got the panel, which was very big and heavy, situated on top of my defoliator.

I started driving it over to the lamp post (about 75 meters away), and noticed I was having some trouble driving a straight line. Whatever. I thought the field was muddy or something. I had to steer really hard to the right, but I managed to get reasonably close to the lamp post. So then Denys (who had been driving the truck that hit the panel) met me and helped me lift it off the defoliator and carry it to the light.

As we turned¬†back to the vehicles, I could tell he was feeling really bad about hitting the new digger, so I patted his shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Denys, everyone… what the [extra bad word], I don’t have a tire!” And I didn’t. I was missing my left rear tire (one of the big ones). No wonder my tractor was hard to steer. Needless to say,¬†Denys instantly felt better.

I was super confused. So I radioed, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire.” There was a long silence. Again, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire on my tractor.” Finally, the response: “What?”

“I don’t have my left rear tire on my tractor. It’s gone.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Well, I’m looking right at it and there’s definitely no tire there.”

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know. Not anywhere around here.”

Long pause. “Is the rim there?”

“Yeah, I think so… that’s the metal part the tire sits on, right?”

I think he was still incredulous, but he told me to get his pickup truck and drive around the field til I found the tire. Ha! I still laugh when I think about the ridiculousness of that night. I drove around like a drunk for a while, purposely zigzaging to sweep the headlights across as much of the field as possible. I did find the tire, basically in the same spot as where I had been parked when Jerry and I were trying to figure out the error message.

I then called Jerry on my cell to tell him I found the tire. He wanted to know if the rim was inside of it. I said no. He didn’t believe me, so I jumped up and down on the tire and told him I did so… the tire bent in and out, which in my mind, it wouldn’t have done if there had been a rim in there. He still didn’t believe me so I stuck my hand in the tire. There was nothing there. Still disbelief so I had Denys get on the phone¬†and confirm the lack of rim. Then he wanted to know if it was shredded. It wasn’t. I think he thought I was crazy at this point.

But he came over and the three of us lifted/shoved the tire onto the back of his truck. Then I drove it up to my tractor and plodded off to Gary’s tractor, sighing all the way, resigning myself to a long dark night with a heater that was either all on, blowing directly into my eyeballs, or all off. Gary’s tractor had¬†a cab door I wasn’t strong enough to pull shut all the way, so I was constantly turning the heat on and off to try to balance the draft against hot dry eyes. My legs always felt like Jello when I was done with a shift on Gary’s tractor because the clutch was super hard to push. This night was no different. To top it off, the field had some of the deepest, muddiest ruts of any field I defoliated, and I managed to get Gary’s tractor stuck in one of them as the sun rose. I radioed for help and then just sat there, dejected and somewhat humiliated. Brandon came to the rescue. What a guy! Never made fun of me for somehow losing a tire on one tractor and then getting another one stuck.

Here’s the interior of Gary’s tractor (sorry, I somehow neglected to take pics of the interior of mine, it was Cadillacish in comparision, imagine computer controls and the like!):

Gary's tractor cab


At any rate, I generally had a pretty good time pretending to be a farmer. And I was told that the tire was not my fault. I’m going to choose to believe that even though I seriously doubt I didn’t play a part. Ha! Apparently what happened was I hit a bad rut, lost the bead on the tire, and then when I started driving again, I hit another rut perfectly and basically just drove out of the tire. Jerry had a pretty good time taking pictures that night! I guess he’d never heard of such a thing, and he grew up on a sugar beet farm. My uncle didn’t seem to think it was that unusual.

I’m grateful I got the chance to work on the farm. It certainly changed how I think about all the food I see in the grocery store. That food doesn’t get there without a whole lot of hard work by a bunch of dedicated individuals and families. Next time you meet a farmer, thank them!

Because I was on the night shift, I got to see some pretty neat stuff. I’ll post some more pictures below, but I saw coyotes (they are not afraid of tractors in the slightest), deer, a porcupine, numerous¬†beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and a lunar eclipse!

lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse


View from front of my tractor. You can see a set of 6 rows of defoliated but not yet dug beets on the right.

View from front of my tractor. You can see a set of 6 rows of defoliated but not yet dug beets on the right.

Sugar beet fields

Sugar beet fields


Digger. Photo by Brandon

Load 'em up!

Load ’em up! Photo by Brandon

Loaded sugar beet truck, off to the dump

Loaded sugar beet truck, off to the dump. This was shot inside my tractor – you can see the orange computer control board here.

Another view of my tractor :)

Another view of my tractor ūüôā

So you want to be a farmer… (Part I)

This October I had the distinct pleasure of trying my hand at something totally new to me: farming. And when I say farming, I mean learning how to defoliate sugar beets, because that was the only part of the farming process in which I participated. Let me tell you, that one job was enough to give me a whole new appreciation for America’s farmers and those innocent little bags of sugar sitting on the grocery store’s shelves.

Where to begin? At the beginning would be good, I suppose…. ha! The anticipation running up to sugar beet harvest is high. The farmers and the veteran workers are all very excitable in the days leading up to the harvest. You can feel the energy humming in the air, hear it in their voices, and see it on their faces as they work. There’s quite a bit of prep to do before harvest starts. There are an incredible number of machines involved in the process, and all of those machines need to be tuned up before harvest begins. I was working for my uncle and cousins, who farm, amongst other crops, 800 acres of sugar beets. One acre is sort of close to the size of a football field (it’s not exact, but fairly close). So, that’s a lot of sugar beets!

Field of sugar beets. The tops are quite tall - they came up to my knees. (I'm 5'9")

Field of sugar beets. The tops are quite tall – they came up to my knees. (I’m 5’9″)

Sugar beets. They are white inside.

Sugar beets. They are white inside, not red like the beets you eat.

Back to the machines: to harvest sugar beets, you need at least two tractors – one to haul the defoliator and one to haul the digger. The defoliator cuts the tops off the beets and the digger digs them up. It’s helpful to have spare tractors, diggers, and defoliators around. You never know when something might happen. (A tire might unexpectedly fall off the machine you’re driving, for example. More about that later.) You also need a tractor on standby in the field to pull the trucks and semis out of the mud. They have a tendency to get stuck. I think my uncle/cousins have 10 or 11 trucks they use to haul the beets out of the field to the “dump,” aka processing plant.

Driving the trucks to the dump is the most dangerous part of harvest, I think. The trucks are very heavy when they’re loaded up, and they’re driven down lots of narrow dirt roads. These days they also have to share the road with oil tankers, who I’ve gathered are not the friendliest nor the safest drivers on the planet. Sometimes the beet trucks tip over. That happened to one of our guys this year. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Photo by Brandon Hoffman

Capsized beet truck. Photo by Brandon H.

I spent the days leading up to harvest learning how to drive a tractor and cleaning tractors and trucks. When I first arrived, I was put in a tractor that was pulling a leveler. Basically, I was smoothing the ruts and clumps out of fields that had already been harvested (crops rotate fields, so the fields I leveled will have beets next year but this year they had beans or wheat or something else). So, I drove up and back, up and back, across the fields, and the leveler leveled away behind me. When I got back to the house, my aunt asked me what I’d been doing, and I couldn’t remember the word “leveler,” (I know, I know) so I told her I’d been ironing the fields. Which is basically what I was doing. Making them all flat and pretty. She got a good laugh out of my terminology, but she knew exactly what I was talking about!


A field being leveled

The hardest part of learning to drive a tractor was learning how to back up with the implement. I have no experience backing up with boats or trailers or anything else, so that was tricky for me. It’s counter-intuitive, the way you have to turn the steering wheel to get the implement to turn properly behind you. My uncle ended up putting two stakes in the middle of an empty field. I spent some time practicing, backing up and pulling forward in between the stakes. That helped a lot. I think I’m going to have to help my dad with his boat next year! It’s a good skill to have and while it made me super frustrated when I was learning (and embarrassed, when other people were watching me!), I’m glad I learned it.

I almost forgot, in addition to learning how to drive a tractor and cleaning tractors and trucks (particularly their windows), I also got roped into cleaning out the MOST DISGUSTING trailer I’ve ever seen in my entire life. No joke. I still puke in my mouth a bit when I think about it. Backstory: so, because harvesting sugar beets (and probably any other crop, I imagine) is such a process, it involves hiring lots of people to help, mostly to drive those 10 trucks and all of the different tractors, which run 24/7 once harvest starts. All of these people need places to sleep. This year, there were two women workers: me, and Sarah. Luckily, I was family and so I got to stay in the house. Thank God. My cousin, John, bought a trailer that had been repo’ed, with the idea that Sarah would stay in it. (All of the men get crammed together in other places.) In theory, it was a nice idea. However…

This was the most mouse-infested dwelling I’d ever been in. It was like a mouse resort. A mouse haven. A mouse Disney World. I didn’t actually see any mice, but by the amount of droppings and the smell – Oh my gosh the SMELL – you’d think it was a paradise that every mouse on the planet had visited. I spent a few long hours one night vacuuming up those droppings and putting clean sheets on the bed. It looked better but it didn’t make a dent in the thick, piss-drenched stench. The next day I went back out there with hot bleach water and bleached the bejeezus out of the place. I used up all but about a tablespoon of my aunt’s bleach.

I thought I’d finished, but then I opened the oven. Apparently I’d forgotten to check it the night before. When I saw what was inside, I was tempted to just turn it on and burn the place down. The bottom half of the oven, up to the middle rack, was completely packed with shredded insulation and turds. All of the turds from the night before, from the entirety of the trailer, from all of its cupboards and hidey-holes, were probably only a quarter as many as what was packed into that oven. We’re talking turds on top of turds on top of turds here, folks. I vacuumed them all out (finding four – yes four – pot and skillet lids hidden in the near-impenetrable insulation-turd forest). Then I shut the oven door and put a note on the range telling Sarah not to use it. I was afraid she’d get mouse poisoning.

I asked her a week or so into the harvest what she thought of her living quarters, and she seemed pleased. This is despite the fact that she didn’t have running water or access to the toilet, which I flat-out refused to clean. I’m going to spare you the details regarding that little throne. Suffice to say, cleaning it would have had to commence with a shovel or big spoon. So, I guess the moral of the story is: what you don’t know can’t hurt you. I personally would not have been able to sleep one wink in there.

Back to harvest: Did you know that farmers don’t get to choose when to harvest the beets? Neither did I! It’s all under contract with the sugar processing plants. The plant tells you when you can start. It’s tied into the weather pretty heavily, as far as I could tell. Sugar beets have a long growing season, so you want to leave them in the ground as long as possible, but you don’t want them to freeze. My uncle’s farm is in North Dakota, did I mention that?

The younger guys were chomping at the bit to get going as soon as they were allowed. My uncle cautioned them to wait, as rain was forecast for the first day of harvest, and he didn’t want to start things off with a mudbath. The weather was pretty beautiful for the vast majority of harvest, actually. The week prior to the start we had a few days in the 90s. But the first week of October, it cooled off to the 60s and 70s. It dropped low enough at night to keep the temperature of the beets in the correct range. The internal temp of the beets needs to be above freezing, but below 55*F. I’m not entirely sure what happens if the beets are too hot; I think you can’t squeeze as much sugar out of them. We did have one day where it was too warm and harvesting got shut down (the dump stops accepting beets). That night, when it was cooler, it was too windy, and the dump stayed closed. Some of their equipment gets broken in high winds, apparently. And we had a few rain showers, which we sometimes waited out in the fields. Those fields turn to mud really quickly, though, and the trucks have a really hard time moving through them, particularly when they’re loaded down with beets. The dump also doesn’t like to collect beets when it’s wet, so they will often shut down during rain as well. So really, there’s a very small window of opportunity in which to actually harvest the durn things. It’s all part of the challenge, which my uncle claims is why sugar beets are the “most fun crop” to grow.


Me in “my” tractor, pulling the defoliator.

Stayed tuned for the second half of “So you want to be a farmer…” where you will hear about tires mysteriously falling off of tractors, meet “Gary’s tractor,” have a good laugh, see lots of pictures, and of course, become more enlightened about how food gets to your table!

Rewind to France

I’ve been feeling guilty since July about not posting anything on my trip to Spain and France this summer. Time for that feeling to go away! I scrounged my emails and found a pretty funny one, sent to my parents and a couple of friends on my last full day in Paris. The email chronicles how my day, which started on a high note (getting into the Louvre in less than 10 minutes!),¬†¬†spirals steadily downward, ending with stinky cheese for supper. The whole experience wasn’t funny at the time, but I got a kick out of reading about it today. Hopefully you will too! I’ll add some pictures:


July 23, 2012:

I got up at 7:45 this morning to go to the Louvre to try to beat the lines. The other girls [three of my cousins I was with] were still in bed when I left. They were going to go shopping today. I didn’t get to the museum until after it had opened, and there was already a really long line for security. I thought you had to have your ticket before going through security, so I asked a guard where to buy one. He directed me toward a little gift shop. There were only about 5 people in line so I didn’t have to wait long at all for that. Then I went back to the security line, but I was holding the ticket in my hand, and a guard came up to me and said, “You have a priority ticket, so if you go up and outside the big glass pyramid (I was under it – there are a couple different entrance lines), you can cut to the front of the line.” So I did and I got into the museum in under 10 minutes! Pretty lucky! Usually it takes a few hours!
Turns out that ticket (I still have no idea how I ended up getting a priority one – I didn’t ask for that kind and it was the same price as a regular one) also let you bypass the heavier security. All I had to do was open my backpack and let a guy glance inside it, instead of waiting in line to send it though the scanner. There were a few hundred people in that line. They would have seen my waterbottle then too and taken it away.
So anyway, once I was in, I went straight to the Mona Lisa. Man, was it jammed in that room! And I had a feeling that wasn’t as full as it gets. I got as far as only having one row of people standing in front of me before deciding I could see well enough (being tall has its advantages), taking a picture, and then turning around and fighting my way back out.¬†Then I went and looked at some other paintings by daVinci and other people and then I went to the sculpture area. Paintings only hold my attention for a very short amount of time.
Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

They have so much stuff in that museum! ¬†It’s kind of unbelievable. I’d say 3 out of every 4 people I saw were clinging to a map and trying to figure out where they were. I gave up on the map and started just asking the attendants. It was way easier. I managed to find the Hammarabi Code stone and then I quit looking for specific things and just wandered. And then I ate lunch and found 5 euros on the ground. For real. Next I looked at Napoleon III’s apartments, which (in my opinion) are fancier than Versailles palace, and then I stumbled across some Sevres porcelain displays, and then I was exhausted and overwhelmed so I left.
Sevres Porcelain

Sevres Porcelain

By then it was near 4:00 so I went to the¬†Sacre¬†Coeur basilica. ¬†I wish I had been able to get the other girls to go with me to that. It was so amazing I almost cried. They ask you not to take pictures inside, so I didn’t, and I can’t show you any of it ūüė¶ . Lots of other people were taking pictures, though, even though there were signs everywhere and a guy was running around trying to get them all to stop. Anyway, the domes were WAY higher than I thought they would be. The stained glass was super pretty, and there were hundreds of mosaics made with little tiny pieces of glass or ceramic all over, in the most unexpected places.
Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

If you guys ever go to France and are short on time, skip Notre Dame and go straight to the SC. The¬†basilica¬†is in the Romano-Byzantine style. It’s on the top of what seems to be Paris’s only hill. You have to climb a lot of stairs and steep streets to get there. But it’s in a really neat area. [Neighborhood¬†is called Montmartre.] Lots of shops and cafes and stuff like that – sort of what I imagined all of Paris to be like before we got there. Seemed like it was the “artsy” part of town. I guess Van Gogh’s house is up there and so is Toulouse-Lautrec’s, but I didn’t know that until I’d already left. I left kind of without thinking a whole lot because after I got out of the church I had a very France-hates-America-and-I’m-going-to-let-you-know-it experience that wasn’t very fun.
Steps in Montmartre

Steps in Montmartre

You can pay to climb to the top of one of the domes, which gives a really good view since it’s on a hill, and to go into the crypts. There’s an automatic ticket machine, but it’s set up to only accept credit cards. Specifically, credit cards with chips, which I don’t have because US credit card companies are having a hard time getting with the program. So I got in line to buy my ticket from a person, and when I got to the front, I saw everyone was paying with credit cards and it was working, so I figured it would work for me too (the checker-outers can bypass the chip thing manually somehow).
I dug my card out from where I was hiding it (in a moneybelt which I shoved way below the waistband of my shorts, practically into my underwear) and had it ready when I got up to the counter. I slid it under the little slot, and said (pleasantly, I thought), “I’d like one ticket for the crypt and the dome, please.” The lady promptly pushed it back at me and said in an unmistakably nasty voice, “NO.” So I confusedly said, “What?” I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then she said, “No cards.” I was still confused, so I said, “But everyone in front of me paid with cards.” (I saw 3 people do it, and one of them was a British lady who had been standing in line talking about how her card didn’t work in the machine because it didn’t have a chip.) You know what her response was??¬†“Yes, but just not you.” Same lovely tone of voice.¬†And that’s a word-for-word quote. I was completely blown away.
I was kind of in shock when I asked why, and she said, “Well, your card is probably no good.” I could NOT believe it. I was speechless. I said, “It is, but…” I took out a 20E bill and shoved it under the slot. Know what she did then? She very primly said, “NO,” to that too!! Then I got mad. I said, “That’s all I have. That’s it.¬†I have nothing else to give to you.” Card or cash. Not sure what other forms of payment exist in France. As I stood there, fuming, cash and credit card on the counter, she whips this out, “Whoa! Calm down, calm down!!” Like she was trying to come up with a reason not to sell me a ticket.
I wasn’t about to give her that reason, so I stood there silently. Ball’s in your court, lady. I had no idea what she wanted from me. Probably to piss me off, and to let me know that I, as an American, am not worthy to see anything beautiful in this country. ¬†It worked, but she wasn’t done yet! The total was 8E, so when she finally took my cash, I was due 12E back. Instead of giving me bills (they have 5s and 10s in paper, and 1s and 2s in coin), she gave me all 12E in coin, mostly 1s. She slapped it down on her side of the counter like I was magically supposed to scrunch my hand under the 3″ wide x 1/2″ high slot to retrieve it. Last time I checked, I don’t have jello for bones. I just stood there and didn’t move or say anything. After about 30 seconds of silence, where the couple behind me started peering over my shoulder, she grudgingly pushed the pile under the slot. I think she thought I’d be mad about getting that much coin since it’s so heavy, but I was actually glad because the metro station ticket machines don’t take chipless cards or paper bills, so we’ve been hoarding change for them all the time. And now I wouldn’t have to worry about doing that tomorrow en route to the airport.
Anyway, I FINALLY got my ticket and I went down into the crypt, where I promptly started to cry. Luckily, it was pretty empty people-wise down there. Unluckily, that meant the acoustics were great because there weren’t lots of voices or footsteps to cover sounds up. So the awful choking/trying not to cry and failing sounds I was making reverberated like crazy off the stone walls, floor, and ceiling. I wanted to try to sit in a corner and hide for a little while but I was scared I’d trigger some sort of security system. So then I wanted to leave but I forced myself to stay down there and look at everything. No way was I going to let that lady run me off.
After I sort of quit crying, I went up to the dome. There are 300 steps, and I bet 275 of them are in spiral staircases. It was a pretty neat climb. The spin of the stairs is really tight, so you can’t see anyone in front of or behind you. Being up on the dome was really cool too, and there weren’t very many people up there, unlike on the top of the Eiffel tower. You can see lots of the major monuments, and take your time looking and taking pictures because nobody’s pushing you or waiting for your spot. I took lots of pictures but haven’t looked at them yet. [Side note, the¬†basilica¬†is newer than I thought it was when I visited – it was started in 1875 and consecrated in 1919.]
On the main dome of Sacre Coeur

On the main dome of Sacre Coeur

Looking out at the city from the dome

Looking out at the city from the dome. Paris is WAY bigger (area-wise) than I thought it was.

After taking lots of pictures from the dome, I thought I was pulled together enough to go back down and try to get a picture of the whole church from the front. It was super hot, so I bought an ice-cold water from a guy on the street who was selling them out of a 5-gallon pail. A few seconds after we finished our transaction, some other guy standing a little ways away said something, and guy #1 grabbed his bucket and stashed it behind a garbage can, then leaned there¬†nonchalantly. A few beats later, two police officers came walking by. So I’m pretty sure I bought illegal water! Ha!
Then I got my picture taken in front of the building, and then I got on the metro. I decided to go to the Arc de Triomphe as my last stop for the day. Well, I went to the metro station called, “La Defense,” which was labeled with an extra brown tag (for historical markers) that said, “le Grande Arche” (sp?) Naturally, I assumed this was the stop I wanted. It wasn’t. Turns out there’s another big arch in Paris. This one’s uber modern. I looked at it for about 5 seconds then turned around to try to find the other one. I decided I’d buy two metro tickets, since this was a main station and the ticket machines took paper money. That way I’d have one to get to the AdT and one to get to my hotel.
Le Grande Arche

Le Grande Arche

Well, they were the wrong kind of ticket. I got to the AdT just fine, but when I went back into the metro station, neither of them worked, not even the brand-new one (the old one should have been good for another hour too). So I tried to buy another ticket, but there was only 1 machine and it only accepted credit cards. You guessed it – credit cards with chips. OMG. So then I tried to ask the guy in line behind me if I gave him a 2E coin, would he buy me a ticket with his card please? The tickets were only 1.70E, so he would have gotten a tiny bit extra. But he pretended he didn’t understand me, even though I knew he did. His wife did too – she tugged on his arm and looked at me and said something to him, but he just shook his head and refused to look me in the eye. I thought I was going to cry again, so I went outside and started walking down the Champs-Elysees. I managed not to cry and I figured I’d hit another metro sooner or later. It took about 15 minutes, but I did, and that one had a machine that took coin, so I finally got to buy a ticket.
Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

There was also an older man working at the help desk there, so I decided to ask him if I could buy the special ticket you need to get to the airport, since by then I was thinking I’d have trouble with that tomorrow, based on my luck today. They’re more expensive than a regular ticket (by like 8E) and I didn’t want to run into a person-less booth or a broken machine or not enough change somehow or something crazy tomorrow. He was super nice. So nice, in fact, that I started crying when he innocently asked me if I was enjoying my day in Paris. Poor guy. After I explained to him (in a mix of really awful French and English) that it wasn’t his fault I was crying, he brought me into the little room off the sellers’ window area and let me sit down and gave me paper towels for my nose. He wasn’t surprised that I’d run into some nasty Anti-American stuff. He apologized for it even though it wasn’t his fault and said, “We not all like that. Just some, are ‘orrible.”
He sold me a ticket for tomorrow, and then I finally got on my train, but I wasn’t thinking and I got off at the wrong stop. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find my connecting train and then I realized I’d gotten off 2 stations early. So I went back and got on the next No. 1 and FINALLY got back to my neighborhood. I stopped in a grocery store and bought some bread and fruit and yogurt and a cheese sampler tray for supper and breakfast tomorrow. Some of the cheese smells a little bit like feet. They’re all unlabeled so I have no idea what I’m eating. I’ve tried 3/4 of them and they’ve been good. The fourth one is a really strange texture and it smells the worst. I’m not sure I’m going to be brave enough to try it. I think one of the good ones is Brie, and another one is some sort of blue cheese. The weird one is white and grainy and in a ball. And it stinks.