In Australia there is a perception that everything is bigger in the USA. Having spent the past couple of weeks here, I think that’s right. They certainly have bigger cars (those pickup trucks are monsters), bigger stores, bigger malls, bigger freeways, bigger meals and more fast food chains than I have imagined might exist. In the mid-west there is also a church on every corner, not just in Lansing but in many of the suburbs in Chicago too. And many of them are HUGE – several storeys high. One little boy asked me yesterday if we had as many churches in Australia. I don’t think so. There are also lots of squirrels!
We headed to Lansing after ‘meeting’ Sid Dunnebacke, a dad who blogged about Alice-Miranda on the Internet. This tour is about meeting people and when the opportunity arose that we would be in Chicago we realised that Lansing was only a few hours’ drive away. We also have a friend who lives in Ohio and we thought we might be able to convince him to drive to Lansing so we could spend some time together over the weekend - after all it had been ten years! Anyway, the stars aligned and we spent Saturday through to Monday afternoon in Lansing. Saturday and Sunday we had time catching up with Brad and then meeting new friends when the Dunnebacke’s had us into their lovely home for a meal on Sunday night. It was great to meet Anna (the Alice-Miranda reader) and her older sister Audrey (who is a Rick Riordan fan), Sandra and Sid – and their four extremely cute and cuddly cats.
It was great learning about life in the mid-west, what Sid and Sandra did for work, holidays and just how things happened in Lansing in general. Dinner was delicious too and it was so great to be having a home cooked meal. Sandra had made a rhubarb crumble using 'heirloon' rhubarb that she had grown from her grandfather's garden and it was scrumptious!
Sid had kindly arranged for us to stay at the Lexington Lansing Hotel on a very special rate. It was a great hotel and the only one I’ve ever been to where they come around in the evening offering complimentary hot milk and a cookie. Not that I needed it – the food has been bountiful throughout the trip.
On Monday morning we headed to St Michael’s school in Grand Ledge where Anna and Audrey go to school. It was interesting and sad to learn that the girls had changed schools already a couple of times because their two previous Catholic schools had closed down due to lack of enrolments. Lansing and the greater area are suffering due to the closure of industry and the population is shrinking. Hence school closures are a consequence. We met Mitzi Luttrell the lovely principal and she showed us around. I talked to the Grade 7 and 8 students first, focusing a little on my own writing but more so on writing in general and how they can improve their own work. They were a fabulous group – really attentive and interested in learning. I suspect they have a great teacher too.
Afterwards I worked with larger groups Pre-K through to Grade 3, then 4-6 and a writing workshop with Grade 4. They were keen beans and their teacher was really enthusiastic too.
We had a bite of lunch (thank you Mitzi and Sid!) and headed across town to Wexford Montessori School. It’s a public Montessori school which would be considered very unusual back at home. Most of the Montessori schools are private. We only missed one freeway bend – but thankfully I’m getting much better with my iPad navigation and so we were back on track in seconds. We were greeted so enthusiastically by Nancy Lubeski, the principal. She told us about her travels in Australia as a young backpacker. She spent three months doing lots of things I’ve never done like camel trekking in the desert and bungy jumping.
I talked to three groups, covering all of the school from Pre-K to Grade 8. The kids were great –very excited and I saw some of the best hair dos I’ve come across during the whole trip. Lots of little girls with the most extraordinary braids – just beautiful and a little boy who looked like Jayden Smith, with the hair and clothes to match too. It was great having the opportunity to talk to the children about Australia and writing. One little fellow called August was in tears at the end of the talk and his teacher bought him over to speak to me. When he finally got the words out, he was upset because he hadn’t invited me to his birthday party. I signed a card for him and I suspect he was ok a minute or so later J There were lovely teachers too, some of whom I signed books for and one who gave me the most beautiful spontaneous hug.
Barnes and Noble Lansing Mall looked after the book sales for the day – they were lovely and patient and I hope that they get a whole lot more kids coming in to say hi over the coming weeksJ.Just before 4pm we hopped in the car and drove back to Chicago. Fortunately with the one hour time difference, putting the clock back again, we were there by 7pm. The trip was a little hair raising as we were driving a teeny tiny Nissan – perfect for the two of us and our luggage – not so perfect for the gale force winds on the freeway and passing semi-trailers and monster trucks! But we got back in one piece, without any wrong turns and even managed to negotiate the toll without having to get out of the car.
Today we fly out of Midway airport to South Carolina, to a place called Greenwood where we are meeting a friend of mine that I haven’t seen for about 25 years! I can’t wait to see her again and meet her family.