Apr 29, 2010

Scotland - Day 2

Woke up at 6:30. I find it simply appalling to wake up so early on vacation. Scotland is an hour behind Germany so that contributes to the early to rise and we have kids that are used to getting up at 7:00 so that just solidifies the deal.
After milling around the flat for a bit, I made breakfast, cleaned up and then we headed off to the Edinburgh Castle. We took a leisurely walk to the castle stopping at a few points of interest along the way. Once inside the castle gates, we spent a few hours there and then another hour or so at the castle gardens where the boys played around while Matt and I poured over maps and tour books trying to determine what we wanted to do this weekend.
We set back out on foot walking though the city via a new route we hadn't taken yet. We ended up roaming through an old cemetery, walking up a hill overlooking the city, and making our way back down to the flat in time to hear a little ruckus going on over at the Holyrood Palace. Our flat is just across the street from the Palace so I headed over to see what was going on. People were pulling up in taxis, getting cleared by security, and then entering into the Palace in formal attire while being serenaded by bagpipers. Formal attire for Scottish people means, none other than kilts! I was quite pleased with my paparazzi shots through the Palace gate. I still don't know what was going on there but it was cool none the less.
We made our way to a little Mexican restaurant near the flat. We were very excited to get some Mexican food. It was good but a little disappointing. We miss good old fashioned Californian version of Mexican food.
Here we are back at the flat, planning our day tomorrow and settling in for the night. As we walked through the city today Matt and I kept telling each other how much we liked it here. It is truly fabulous.

Apr 28, 2010

Scotland - Day 1

Early observations:
Although people here are speaking English their accent can be so thick that it is hard to discern what they are saying.
A sign restricting dog owners from leaving dog poo around says this "Dog Foul is not permitted" and I find that cute.
So far, every sink that I have encountered has two separate faucets, one for hot and one for cold. I don't get it, are you supposed to run your hands under each to make warm?
Our shower is somehow electric.
And the best for last....you know the plaid colors that you see Scots wearing? For kilts, hats, scarves and such? Each color pattern is specific for a "clan" or family line. For instance, there is a Murray family color pattern with specific colors and plaid design. If you are from the Murray Clan of Scotland, you wear... not the cutest color pattern that you find, but the one specifically designed for your clan. That is simply cool. And, as if that wasn't interesting enough, the famous red plaid design is the Stewart Clan colors, or more famously the Royal Stewart clan. People associate that red plaid with Scotland because it is the royal clan's colors.
We had a brilliant day today. Our flat is great. We have some beautiful views and the flat owner provided us with a hundred pamphlets of tourist information as well as movies for the kids and the basic bread, juice, butter, and milk already in the fridge. When we hit the town, we had toasties followed by desserts and coffee in a local tea room and then walked for over 3 hours around town a little and up and back down a dormant volcano. The view from the top was simply breathtaking. The boys did great on the climb up and had a blast rolling down hills during our descent. All was well until Gabe rolled over some dog foul, but it was a little sun-baked so no harm was done.
About an hour into our day here in Edinburgh, I decided this is my favorite place we have visited so far. However, I say that about almost every new place we go to AND I think my opinion is slightly skewed because I'ms simply ecstatic that I can ask questions in English and people understand me. I do love it so far, and I surely don't want to leave.....And this is just day 1!


Apr 22, 2010

The Netherlands

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40 years and over 5000 miles

It is hard to know where to start the story. It could be 40 years ago or 60 or maybe it could be over 80 years ago if you really want to get into the details. For the sake of simplicity, I'll go with 40.
In 1970 (or 6 B.C. if you base your calendar on when I was born), my dad flew to England with his mom to visit relatives. Grandma's twin brother, Gordon, and his wife and children were all living in England and Holland at the time. It was the first time that my dad met his extended family and the first time my grandmother had been back to England since she left over 20 years earlier. By all accounts, the visit was great. Dad has talked about that visit numerous times over the years.
Though my dad has had little communication with his English relatives since that visit 40 years ago, he decided a side-trip to Holland would be in order when he came to Germany. He notified his cousins that he would like to see them and then through email and Facebook communication everything was set up for a mini-family reunion. Cousin Peter along with his wife and daughter made arrangements to come down from England, mom and dad, the boys and I drove up from Germany, and we all met in a small town in Holland where Cousins Mary and Wilma live.
As we were driving toward Holland, we had no idea what to expect upon arrival. We didn't even know basic details about them like if they were married or had children. We had our escape plans in place just in case things got dodgy and we went into the experience expecting nothing and hoping for the best. As far as I saw it, I was just along for the ride. My dad was there to meet the family and I was just praying that my kids didn't cause some type of international family feud and that we would have enough time after visiting the family to see some tourist sites in Amsterdam.
My prayers were answered. The boys were good and we did see Amsterdam, but in the end, it was my visit with extended family that was the highlight of the trip. I came along too late to meet my Great Uncle Gordon and his wife, as they both have passed away, but I did have the pleasure of meeting 3 generations of cousins! My dad's cousins are now in their 50's and 60's, their children are my age, and their grandchildren are just babies. As we sat around the table chatting about all things under the sun, this one family represented English, Dutch and American cultures. We heard stories of the past and looked at old photographs, we talked about what is going on in our lives today and upon saying "cheerio" we promised not to wait another 40 years in the future to meet again.
I was left in awe of the experience. I really can't describe all the things that were running through my head during our visit. I do feel a small connection to them now, I definitely plan to visit with them again when our travels head in their direction, and I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity to accompany my dad on this visit.
Who would have thought that wooden shoes, tulips, windmills, canals, and Amsterdam would lose to Wilma, Mary, Peter, Christine, Nina, Sander, Chantal, Jack, Mark, Lisset, and Fabien?

Apr 20, 2010

1000 Things

I have a mental list of about 1000 things I need to do. Thank you cards for gifts we received back in March and hospitality we were blessed with on our trip to Va, create a little on-line photo gallery for Eli's pictures that he takes, do some laundry, mop the kitchen floor - it is simply disgusting, return library books, blog about our fabulous weekend in The Netherlands and our side trip to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium, make final preparations for Scotland, pray that the air is clear enough for us to fly to Scotland, figure out what to make for dinner that requires very little dishes because the dish washer is broken, eat lunch, pick up my parents from the train station, call Mika (yeah she got M. Felix's birth cert and ss card so all looks good for flying here with Tom in May) call Rachael and encourage her, call my sister and find out how her birthday went, plan our trip to Trier this weekend, watch what happened Sunday on The Amazing Race, oh and figure out what is happening in the world since I'm so out of the loop......and on and on.
So many things to do and I can't seem to find the time to do any of them!

Apr 13, 2010

Switzlerland

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My parents arrived on April 9th and after spending a day recovering from 24 hours of travel, we were ready to hit the road. We left the morning of the 10th to go to Interlaken, Switzerland. We spent two days in Interlaken and surroundings and then stopped in Luzern, Switzerland on the way home. We all loved Switzerland. It was beautiful, clean, and all around a lovely place to be.

Apr 6, 2010

Going Rogue

Last fall I started attending a women's bible study organized by our post chapel. Or shall I say disorganized by the post chapel? It was a mess. I have no idea what was going on behind the scenes but what I encountered at each meeting was a disorganized, floundering mess that felt strained and not welcoming. The group was trying to follow the pattern of the international organization PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) but they simply didn't have the volunteers, leadership, or funding to really do it right. Rather than cutting out all the fru-fru and just continuing with a simple bible study, they kept up the sad attempt of the fru-fru and added to it a negative spirit that ended up taking away from the study itself.
At the end of the fall semester, the president had been booted, there was a mix up in leadership, and it was all way more than I was interested in being a part of. I finished out the semester and decided not to go back for the Spring session. I wasn't alone.
While I was glad to be done with that fiasco, I was still missing the opportunity to be involved in a small group bible study. In the following months I occasionally found myself in conversations with friends who were equally displeased with the mess over a the chapel but still interested in a bible study. Every once in a while someone would casually say "we should just start our own bible study." Well, today we finally did it!
This morning was the first official meeting of the Rogue Women's bible study. That isn't our official name, but I think it is catchy. A few weeks ago we set our meeting dates and time, decided on a study, and invited anyone else we knew that might be interested. We had 6 ladies show today and there are three more who couldn't make it today but have expressed interest.
On the surface, this is a handful of ladies meeting weekly to study God's word and learn how to better apply it to our lives. But this is also a handful of ladies that decided not to sit back and go idle while waiting for something that meets our needs to come along, or to settle for something that is already established. This is a handful of ladies who were willing to step out and make something happen.
We went rogue, and so far, so good!

Apr 5, 2010

h-i-t-s

Who would have thought that the hardest word in the English language to learn how to read is "hits?"
We had a rather volatile homeschool reading lesson today. It started out fine, then went downhill with the introduction of the word hits.
Gabe simply could not grasp the fact that h-i makes the sound "hi." Over and over again he said "ki" or "thi" or "shi" and then he would go back to "ki" - I think he likes that sound combination.
Once I thought we finally mastered "hi", I introduced "ts" and things got worse. He started saying "hid", "kiss", "kite", "hug", "said" and basically any other word he could think of.
I hate to admit it, but I completely lost my cool.
I backed up and reviewed the k and h sounds, but that wasn't really working. Then I drew a heart with the letter h next to it and kite next to the letter k. I thought the pictures would help give him clues to the letter sounds. I was wrong. The lesson was spiraling out of control. I was yelling "what does this say?" while pointing to an h and then "what does this say?" while pointing to a k. When he got it right a few times, I would add in a new factor, like the next sound, and everything he was just able to do was lost.
We both took a time out, me in the kitchen getting coffee, him in the bathroom to wipe his tears and nose, and then returned to the lesson. We got through it, but I'm pretty confident he still doesn't know a k from an h and an hour or so later I showed him the word "hits" again and he was clueless. The 30 minutes of pounding it into his head was pointless.
One thing we did both learn from our reading lesson today was I seriously lack the patience required to teach simple lessons to a child when the child isn't "getting it". When Gabe is catching on, we are a great team. We roll through our lessons, do reading, writing, math, story time, and science, with a few art projects thrown in there to keep things fun. However, when he doesn't understand something or just can't remember what he has already learned, tears fall, I get really frustrated and I thank God for teachers.

Apr 4, 2010

Online Shopping

I do a lot of online shopping. The only store here that accepts the weak US dollar is the PX. Although it is nice that we have place to shop, my trips there usually end up being a big disappointment. So, I buy online.
If I shop smart I get free shipping, don't pay taxes, and find things for a good price. However there are a few drawbacks to online shopping. Sometimes, I end up buying things that I don't really need in order to get free shipping. Example: yesterday I wanted to buy these pins for a map I'm working on (the little flag ones to show all the places in the world that you have been) and a set of measuring cups, because believe it or not, I can't get those here. Well I had $19.99 worth of goodies in my virtual shopping cart, but in order to get free shipping I needed to spend $5 more. I added a pancake turner to the cart and pushed "buy". A pancake turner. I'm not saying it can't be used, but I also cannot say that it was really high on the list of things I NEED.
The other problem is I am easily distracted while shopping. Today, I was searching for a gift for my sister's birthday and next thing I know, I bought fabric and a poster for the boys' room, shoes for me, pajamas for the boys, and absolutely nothing for my sister. I actually walked away from the computer and thought "why did I start shopping in the first place?" It is so easy to go from the clothes section to the kitchen to the dining room to cute little antique finds and vintage junk. It is like Target but better because nobody is walking around with the darn price tag machines that go "blingbling" all the time.

Apr 3, 2010

Congratulations to Tom and Mika!

Tom and Mika welcomed their adorable baby boy Mason Felix today at 12:00 Pacific. The baby weighed in at 7lbs 8ounces and is 21 inches long. Mika and the baby are both doing well.

Apr 2, 2010

Naps

1. Naps are awesome.
2. Take naps when you can.
3. When given the choice between cleaning the house and taking a nap: take a nap.
4. When given the choice between doing laundry and taking a nap: start the laundry, begin nap, wake up to transfer clothes to dryer, then continue with nap.
5. Set a timer to limit your nap to 20-45 minutes. More than that starts heading toward too much sleep.
6. Sleeping in a cozy bed will give you a better nap, but sleeping on the couch with a fuzzy blanket will give you a more rewarding nap experience. When you wake up uncomfortable, it is a sign that you should get up.
7. Always snuggle with your kiddos when they are napping. It is a good excuse to nap.
8. Brush your teeth and rub out nap-face as much as possible when you wake up from your nap. People who didn't get a nap will be jealous and judge you.
9. Sunday naps are obligatory.
10. Don't nap before noon. It throws off your whole day.