Part 2 of Family in Cville: What’s ‘Fun’ in Undergrad vs. Grad School

My cousin April and her husband Jake drove from Metro Detroit to Charlottesville the weekend after my in-laws visited. This family weekend had a different twist: April, Jake, Michal and I went through undergrad together at Michigan State University, so Michal and I were excited for them to experience another sort of college town.

The infamous Foxfield horse races could not have been better timed. We each anticipated this event as if we were preparing for Halloween by scouring for outfits we’d never normally wear, classified as “country club prep.” It was a total cultural experience for us to transform our usual, casual T-shirt and jeans combos to pastels and floppy hats.

All photos are courtesy of my cousin April (except for the group photo on the top left that a friend's husband took on my phone).  My husband Michal and April's husband Jake had actually bought the same shirt. Michal found a new pink one to match my searsucker dress.

All photos are courtesy of April (except for the group shot on the top left that a friend’s husband took on my iphone). Fun fact #1: My husband Michal and April’s husband Jake actually bought the same shirt in different stores. Michal later found a pink shirt to match my searsucker dress!

While we embraced the wardrobe change, we were a bit more wary of the actual event as we heard it would be similar to all-day tailgating. In the end, we were grateful to experience the races from the more civilized grad student area tents where Darden and the Law School were side by side in front of the tracks. The backdrop was breathtaking in the sun, the food was classic Southern BBQ, the bartenders made drinks to our liking, the music started with a live band, there were no lines to the bathrooms, and the tables had fresh, floral centerpieces.

Needless to say, the atmosphere was a lot different on the undergrad side.

Again: All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact: Michal worked with Three Notch'd this school year as a member of the Community Consultants of Darden.

All photos are courtesy of April. Fun Fact #2: Michal worked with Three Notch’d this year as a part of the Community Consultants of Darden. Jake enjoyed the beer there so much that he bought a growler!

Michal and I also spent some time showing Jake and April the differences between undergrad nightlife at the dive bars on The Corner vs. the local breweries in the more upscale Downtown Mall area. Although it was fun to be outside at the picnic tables at The Biltmore on a warm night, we decided relaxing in lounge settings with board games and higher quality craft brews at Three Notch’d, Champion and South Street was overall more enjoyable. We’ve each definitely grown more discerning with two home-brewers, Michal and Jake, at our side.

Ultimately, what we discovered is that we still like to have good time just like in the glory days … but now we just have higher standards.

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they're so adventurous!

All photos courtesy of April. We managed to include a hike to Elliott Knob and a walk around Grounds. Fun Fact #3: We purposefully picked out one of the highest peaks in Virginia to tackle with April and Jake because they’re so adventurous! At the top, Michal and Jake started a fire right before the rain hit.


Creative expression takes on new forms in Charlottesville

I’d consider myself pretty crafty more than artsy.

Example of “Crafts”


Back in the Midwest, I loved going to scrapbook stores with friends (yes, they were also in their mid-20s like me) for lock-in nights where we’d spend hours working on piecing together the perfect pages with mementos, photos and doodads like stickers, borders and cut-outs. People have joked that I’m like Ms. Frizzle because I have a cart of items that resembles an elementary school teacher’s closet. (Think: hot glue guns, holiday-themed cardstock, iron-on letters, etc.)

A couple friends even threw me a scrapbook-themed bridal shower in the Chicago area, in which each guest created a page as an activity.

But now that I’m in a new area, I thought I’d stretch my creativity and try more “hip” projects. (Plus, there don’t seem to be any scrapbook stores around…) I found some pretty sweet LivingSocial deals for easy art lessons that were BYOB, which allowed for some quality bonding time with my Darden partners.


Tips & Tricks

Painting: I was grateful that the instructors at Wine & Design penciled in the perspective of the winding trail in the landscape that we were painting because that would have taken me, a less experienced painter (I took one intro. class in high school), way too long to figure out. I also liked being able to eat, drink, chat and paint at a leisurely pace. Lastly, I appreciated how the business granted the Darden Partners Association a discount code for future visits, regardless of whether we were in an organized group meeting vs. going out on a date night with our student-significant other.

Glass Art: As for The Glass Palette, I was a bit intimidated as I have never worked with this medium. But the instructors again made it super easy by breaking the different colored glass into pieces beforehand. We just had to arrange them into patterns by gluing pieces on to tiles, and the instructors later put them into the kiln to make into bowls. If we wanted to get complicated, we had tools at our disposal to cut up the glass even more, but it wasn’t necessary. With this experience, definitely eat beforehand as it’s unsafe to have food near all the glass and glue.

Would you consider yourself “artsy” or “crafty”?

Snow Days in the South


On the left is the view of the Snowpocalypse of 2011 in the Chicago-area from our old apartment. On the right is the view of the snowstorm from our apartment in Charlottesville on Feb. 13-14 of this year. The biggest difference is that we got three days off in 2011 and the snow stuck around for a while in Chicago. Whereas, the snow melted away soon after the storm ended here in Cville.

I’m no stranger to snow.

I grew up in the Detroit area, went to undergrad at Michigan State University in Lansing, and I lived in the Chicago area for five years. I know how helpful it is to put the windshield wipers up on my parked car when a snowstorm is coming, I’m used to keeping a snow brush in my car all year – just in case. I own a formal winter coat, as well as a puffy, ski coat.

But for most of this winter, I have been surprised at being able to wear my fall trench coat around Cville, as it’s been in the 40s and 50s, sometimes getting as high as the 60s. While, my friends and family in Detroit and Chicago have been slammed by the Polar Vortex. One former colleague even remarked that this is the worst winter he’s seen in the Chicago area since the 1960s.

Then, Cville finally got the first official snow days of the year, and I had to fish out my old ski pants and boots from storage.

Because my job is associated with the University, I had two unexpected days off from work, but I found myself home alone for these snow days while my husband interviewed (ironically enough) in Chicago this week. I did the usual – catching up on work and personal emails, watching the Olympics, cleaning the house, reading ahead for book clubs. But I couldn’t stay cooped up for long as I started to develop a bit of cabin fever…yet I didn’t want to venture out into the snow drifts by myself.

Fortunately, some Darden partners came to my rescue!


Being kids again in the snow with some Darden partners and students! I found out different MacGyver-like techniques for sledding (AKA – riding a shovel like a broom stick, covering large pieces of cardboard with trash bags and re-purposing old tires). And I found out the best method for creating an igloo is to use half melted snow: It’s more pliable, and when it gets colder, it starts to freeze together.

One partner brought his new snow shovel to my apartment complex to help clear the 10 inches of snow from behind my car and my husband’s car. Another partner invited us over to a nearby park with a sledding hill and a field to build an igloo. I’m glad they got me out of my solitary state to appreciate the beauty of the fleeting snow, as it has already mostly melted with the rising temps and sun.

After our outdoor excursion, we warmed up by tossing our socks into the dryer, cracking open a few local craft brews (my fav being the Devil’s Backbone Blonde) and ordering Mellow Mushroom – the best pizza in the area (although I still miss my Chicago deep dish from Lou’s) for dinner. Plus, smores dip for dessert! My new fav, easy sweet snack in cold weather. 

So grateful to have partners and students keeping me company, especially while flying solo during B-school interview season! 

What are your favorite snow day indoor and outdoor activities? Please comment below with your ideas!

Call Me a Cavalier


Top (left to right) – With a co-worker on the Lawn after touring the Rotunda and Academical Village. / Headshot for Darden Bloggers in Flagler Court. / Cavman at Alumni Hall during Homecoming. Bottom (left to right) – At a Darden Student Association tailgate. / First game at Scott Stadium.

We’re already half-way through the first year of B-school and the first round of Darden applicants for next school year get notified of admissions decisions today: It’s the perfect time to reflect and pass on some wisdom…

As the wife of a Darden student and an employee of the University, I have fully embraced my new identity as a Cavalier. (Although, let’s make it clear: I will never forget my Spartan roots from Michigan State University. Go Green!) While Michal was doing case interview prep for consulting jobs this month, I have worked on transitioning from my time in secondary education as an English and journalism teacher to working in the communication field within higher education.

My journey originally began with temp’ing in the University of Virginia’s central HR office when I first arrived in Charlottesville in August and will continue with a contract position in writing and editing online content for the Women’s Center website starting in January until the end of our time here. (By the way, if had I begun the job search in earnest before I moved here, my career transition would have most likely been quicker, but I was too busy traveling!) Although Michal and I have a lot on our minds regarding next-steps in our respective careers, we have managed to take the time to get to know more about our current culture and community at UVA, as seen in the above photos.

Parts of our experience here really remind us of our times together when we first met in undergrad at MSU. To the recently admitted Darden students and partners: Welcome to the next stage of your life. Michal and I are so grateful to be here, and we can’t wait to meet all of you!

Some of the UVA / Darden lingo and traditions I’ve discovered –

For a more comprehensive list, check out this link:

  • Get the grade right: Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University, didn’t use the terms freshman, sophomore, junior and senior to describe students because he believed in life-long learning. Therefore, students are First Years (FYs), Second Years (SYs) and so on.
  • Hit the ground running: Jefferson didn’t call UVA a “campus” but instead “Grounds.” When Darden students interview for jobs, they often talk about them happening either “on or off Grounds.”
  • Multiple mascots: Although the official mascot is the Cavalier, the Wahoo is an accepted alternative. Shortened forms of both, such as the Cavs and the Hoos, are common too.
  • Guys in ties and girls in pearls: Coming from the Midwest, I wasn’t used to this Southern tradition. Many of the undergrad students dress up for football games, as well as Darden students who are also recruiting at the sponsored tailgates. Mostly everyone else, like alumni, wear the usual jeans and T-shirt.
  • Partner up: Significant others (boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses) of Darden students are known as “partners.” The official organization, which provides resources and events to partners and families of students, is the Darden Partners Association (DPA).
  • Bird is the word: Darden FY students are organized by section (A through E) for their classes, and my husband and I are proud to be a part of Section B! Our section mascot is a small stuffed animal, Big Bird. Each week, the section votes on which student had the most “interesting” comment in class discussion, and the winner must take the bird wherever he or she goes the following week.
  • Game on: The Darden Cup events are much like Quidditch matches in the Harry Potter series. In a school year-long competition between sections, students and partners compete in varied activities from traditional sports like softball and soccer to games like poker and trivia as they pursue the coveted Darden cup trophy. (Section B won last year!)
  • Study session: Learning Teams (LTs) are small groups made up of students from different sections. They meet every night to discuss cases from class. While Michal is at LT, I’ve run into him a lot at Darden because of my involvement with organizations like the Darden Bloggers, the Cold Call Chronicle (Darden’s student newspaper) and, of course, the DPA.
  • Watch out for the Cold Call: The dreaded “cold call” in class is when professors call on students to speak without warning. The phrase is commonly used in other contexts like in the names of organizations (e.g. Cold Call Chronicle, Cold Call Chorus) or as the title of get-togethers for food and drinks on Thursdays after class in Darden’s Flagler Court or PepsiCo Forum.

Any questions or concerns, especially regarding life as a Darden partner? Want to share your excitement? Feel free to comment here. 

The Never-ending Hike


All the twists and turns, peaks and valleys of my favorite hike this summer left me feeling exhausted yet accomplished – much like most significant experiences in life.

My husband and I experienced several peaks and valleys before getting to Darden.

When we stopped working at the end of May, we wanted to travel before our big move from the Midwest to the South. I had just completed my sixth consecutive year of teaching high school English and journalism, so I relished summer break. It meant even more to me this year because Michal rarely ever had the same vacation time as me while working.

For approximately two months, we traveled in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. Our U.S. trip consisted of visiting friends in NorCal and SoCal and meeting family in Boulder, Co. On the other hand, our Southeast Asia trek encompassed completely new adventures on our own in Singapore, three regions of Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong.

Through our travels, we had common activities. We immediately sought out where the locals eat and drink for an authentic meal. (Can you expect less with two Yelp Elites like us?) We would visit historical landmarks highly rated in travel guides. And we always found a way to set out on some sort of a hike.

We traversed near the Hollywood Hills and within the Red Woods in Cali, we scaled the foothills of the Rockies in Colorado, we took romantic walks on the beach in Thailand, we immersed ourselves in the city life of Singapore, we got lost in the temples of Cambodia, and we ultimately climbed Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong upon recommendation from a fellow Darden FY.

Out of all our hikes, I most remember Dragon’s Back for the experience and the views.  It wasn’t like our other hikes in which we eventually reached the top or the destination within a couple hours, properly celebrated our journey with a few photos and then immediately went back. This hike lasted all day and into the night. It was true to its title, containing several peaks and valleys to simulate the back of a dragon. Each peak provided a different perspective. Distances between each peak were varied. And when we thought we were “done,” we ended up continuing on other trails that were linked.

Our memorable day of hiking in Hong Kong reminded me much of what our journey has been like since graduating from Michigan State University six years ago, where my husband and I met. I especially experienced those “valleys” of exhaustion in my first few years as a teacher, those “peaks” of my tenure when I was most proud of my students as I saw them grow and improve, and those uncertain moments of trekking through life when I wasn’t sure if I could continue on this “path.”

Now that I have left Chicagoland, and the profession of teaching, at least for these two years in Charlottesville, VA, I feel like I am beginning a new hike like that day in Hong Kong. I am not exactly sure yet what I will be doing while my husband is at Darden, but I can trust that there will be a peak in my near future because I will keep going until I find that next view.