May 31, 2010

Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery

On our way up to Holland we took a little side-trip though Belgium to go to the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.
Over 7000 U.S. soldiers are buried in this cemetery in a little village in South Eastern Belgium. These 7000 soldiers gave their lives on foreign soil to protect the interests of America and our European Allies and never returned home. There are 19 other similar cemeteries in Europe and 3 others in the world that are the final resting place for U.S. soldiers who fought in World War I and II.
For some reason the fact that these soldiers never returned home really moved me. I felt sad that they were not laid to rest on US soil, and that nestled in this little village in Belgium they don't receive the flow of visitors that pass through places like Arlington. I felt like I needed pay my respects to them since many of their family member's may have not had the opportunity. I felt compelled to walk along the crosses and to let them know that they are not forgotten, but honored and appreciated. I was also reminded of the deadly battles that took place here in Europe, the blood that was shed, the cities that were destroyed and the families that were shattered.
Today, I remember those laid to rest on American soil and abroad. I remember those who died fighting for freedom and those who died training to fight. I remember the air crews of 709 and 710 of the 2-25th Avn Regt Wheeler AAF, Hawaii, 431 B. Co 5-101st Fort Campbell, KY and 621 G. Co 1-214th - members of our aviation family who gave their lives.

May 30, 2010

Thou Shall Not Covet

For the past 7 months I have been content living in this stairwell.
We had fabulous neighbors who I enjoyed running into in the laundry room, stairwell, and as either of us would come and go. Our stairwell was clean, the shared laundry room ran smoothly, and I trusted everyone who came and went. The quarters are definitely tight and having one toilet in our apartment is a challenge, but for the most part I was content.
That changed today.
I was cleaning up someone else's mess in one of our common areas and I lost my mind. Reality of living in this apartment for the next 2 years sunk in and I wanted to vomit. For the most part, our new neighbors are rather tidy and respectful of us and our property. There are definitely worse situations out there and we are quite blessed to have an empty stairwell with good neighbors. But all things collided today at just the right time and created a perfect storm.
I was cleaning the mess in the common area with steam coming out of my ears. I hate cleaning up my own kids' bathroom messes, so cleaning up some other random persons' is close to torture. As I was cleaning a strange kid popped in to see what I was doing. He was a friend of our neighbors. Now I was really ticked. I had someone else's bodily fluid on my foot, and now I am face to face with some kid who has no right to be in my basement. Things were bad enough, but when I ran into my neighbor kid rough-housing with a friend right in front of my door I snapped. Where else do neighbors hang out in front of your door? Over the past few weeks the frequency of new kids turning up on my doorstep has increased and my patience with these living conditions has diminished. Argh! Stairwell living.
I came into the house and looked around and that is when I become possessed by the green eyed monster - I'm coveting. Outside my door I face the issues of common areas, inside I face the reality of one toilet.
I'm coveting people with two toilets. I'm coveting people with their own washer and dryer. I'm coveting people who can tell strangers who turn up on their porch to "get lost". I'm coveting people who can put their bikes in the garage instead of hoisting them up 2 flights of stairs each time they want to use them. I'm coveting people with a gas grill.
I want my old house back. The one with 2500 square feet of space, 3 toilets, a 600 square foot master suite with a master bath that had a separate room for the toilet. I want my garage that housed all the bikes our own private patio with a gas grill, dining area, and 6ft brick wall covered with ivy that provided privacy and a beautiful place to spend time on a summer evening.
So, here I am coveting.....and praying that my heart will return to contentment with the blessing of a free place to live instead of mourning the loss of what I had and being jealous of what I don't.

May 23, 2010

What do you stand for?

I was raised in church. As long as I can remember, I went to church. And every church that I have ever been to has had at least one thing in common: when it is time to sing songs, the worship leader asks the audience to "stand". Everyone stands. Sure, there are some that sit down after a few songs or choose not to stand at all, but for the most part everyone stands for worship and then sits down for the message.
The church we attend in Heidelberg is different. We are asked to stand for prayer but rarely, if ever, asked to stand to sing. Some people choose to stand during some songs, others stand the whole time and still others sit the entire time. It is very much a "choose-your-own-adventure" approach to worship.
I'm a little uncomfortable with the situation. I am so used to standing to worship that my body just naturally wants to stand when the music starts to play, however, I'm also afraid that if the people sitting behind me aren't standing they will be forced to view my butt for 30 minutes. I give in to peer pressure. If those around me are sitting, I sit, if they stand, I stand.
Today, something happened that moved me, not just out of my seat but in my heart. A handicapped lady was in a wheelchair at the end of the aisle across from me. After the first verse of the first song she pulled herself out of the chair and with one hand she struggled to hold her broken body up, and with the other she lifted in praise. She didn't last long. She stood until her body was no longer willing to hold her, and then she collapsed back in her chair. Numerous times throughout worship she would hoist herself up and sing as long as she could and then return to her chair. There is no requirement for her to stand, but she wanted to and she pushed aside her physical limitations to worship God in a way that she felt compelled to do.
I don't think you have to stand to worship God, but I want to, and yet I let a little thing like the people around me keep me from doing it. She doesn't let a physical disability stop her what is my excuse?
How many times do I not do something I feel like I should do because it is a little uncomfortable? How many times was is easier, more comfortable for me to stay seated instead of taking a stand? More than I want to admit to, more than I want to count.

May 17, 2010

Success in Mannheim

Today I drove into Mannheim in the van unaided by my GPS and managed to park in a parking garage without hitting anyone or anything and I didn't have a panic attack. This is a huge feat for me. Parking garages are my nemesis. They are made for the average European car, not my over-sized, gas guzzling, road hog of a mini-van. Usually I switch cars with Matt when I need to go into town, but I completely forgot until he already left for the day. I was tempted to go to his work and switch vehicles but that would have added about 40 minutes to the trip, so I braved it - I took on Mannheim in the mini-van and won!
Once safely tucked away in my my parking spot downtown, I set out on foot to find two shops. Mannheim is set up on a quadrant system. This makes finding addresses easy once you know how to use the system. Rather than memorizing streets and directions, you just follow the quadrants. For example, the address of one of my destinations today was P-7, 6. All you have to do is work your way toward P, then find the 7 quadrant and find your shop at number 6. Fabulous system for directionally challenged people such as myself. I found the first shop without any problems, I had the address so it was easy. The second shop was a bit of a challenge. I couldn't remember the address so I ended up walking around entire quads before I made it to my destination.
I finally arrived at the last stop and had such a great experience there, it left a smile on my face for the rest of the day. The two ladies that work in the shop only speak German. They understand English, but they only speak German. I understand a little German, but only speak English. One would think that this would be a disastrous combination, but it was quite the opposite. The ladies spoke to me the entire time I was in there. Sometimes when you know there is a language barrier neither person speaks to the other unless it is required, but not here. The ladies spoke to me about the color of the dress, the fit, they talked about Gabe, and asked me questions about filling out our tax-free paperwork... you name it all German.
It was such a beautiful exchange between two parties who spoke a different language but had a common goal. A metaphor for life. It would be very easy for them to put up a barrier when they discovered I didn't speak German, but they didn't. They didn't have to be friendly or complimentary but they were. It was so refreshing and encouraging to work out the situation and walk away satisfied...not just with my purchase but with the opportunity to build some type of bridge and work things out.
This is one of the reasons why I love it here. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I complete a task, interact with the locals and live to tell about it.

May 12, 2010

Vocabulary Homework

At the beginning of each week Eli is given a set of vocabulary and spelling words. His homework assignment includes writing sentences for each word. Below is a sample of his work this week. I've typed the spelling word in bold.
"I'll toot in your face."
"Should I push Jere off the cliff? Yes!"
"I will put my homework in lava."
"You are the best teacher Ms. Rollins."
"If I could I would not go to school."

Not exactly stellar work from my underachieving 2nd grader. Matt defended Eli, claiming that "toot" shouldn't be a vocabulary or spelling word in the first place. I think the angry sentences derive from Eli's frustration with having double work this week, since he missed school last week, but I still deem them unacceptable. In Eli's absence Matt and I laughed at his creativity but back in the school room, I put on my serious face and chided him for his work.
This is why I double check his homework before he turns it in!

May 11, 2010

You Are Here

I love that little dot on the map that says "You are Here". It leaves nothing to question. As long as you find the dot on the map, you know where you are. There is no guesswork, no room for error, just find the dot and then rest in the knowledge that you are not are here.
I'm here. I know right where I am on this map and it is a good place to be. My husband has a secure, decent paying job that allows me the luxury of staying home with our boys, our family is healthy and generally happy, we have a clean, safe home, we have family and good friends who love and support us, we are free from burdens that weigh us down, my husband is not deployed, and we have the amazing opportunity to travel throughout Europe at a fraction of the cost of living in the States. What more can I ask for?
In these troubled economic times so many people are longing for a job. In these times of disaster people would give so much for a safe place to lay their head at night. People are sick praying for health, people are lonely, cast out by society begging for someone to love them. People are so worried about tomorrow that they can't laugh today. Families are separated by deployments. Vacation is a foreign word to so many. And here I am whining about little things that seem unfair in this moment instead of treasuring the blessings that I have.
I wasted a few hours today being grumpy, but I choose at this moment not to go back down that road but to be thankful for being right where I am.

May 7, 2010

Milk and Milestones

Tonight I dumped a carton of potentially bad milk down the sink. The carton should have had been good for two more weeks, but after receiving a tip from my oldest, I sniffed the milk carton and decided it smelled more like cheese than milk and I tossed it. The thing I don't understand about milk is that the "best by" date is always off. It always goes south before the date said it should. None of us are milk drinkers in this house. Sure there is the occasional bowl of cereal consumed but rarely does anyone voluntarily pour and entire glass of milk to drink. So, our 1/2 gallon of milk occasionally goes bad before it gets consumed and the dumping of milk is not a rare occurrence. Tonight as I was watching the milk slowly pour into the sink, I had a completely non-scientific revelation. A few images flashed before my eyes and then I made the connection: my best friends love milk.
The first image that popped into my head was Rachael asking the waiter at a Spanish Tapas bar if she could have a glass of milk. The waiter looked a little perplexed but granted her wish in time for her to raise her glass of milk to our Sangria and toast in celebration of our friend's birthday. Time after time after time we would have dinner together and Rachael would have a full on big gulp glass of milk and I was always just about as perplexed as the Tapas waiter...milk with dinner?
Next image is Mika pouring a massive glass of milk to go with a slice of cake. Mika and I both love cake, but I prefer to have a cup of Joe with mine and she drinks milk. So one night when we were all living in Clarksville I was serving up cake and Mika got out the milk to go with it. I don't know why this image sticks in my head so much, but I remember hearing the "glug glug glug" of milk pouring and looking over at this huge glass of milk she had prepared for herself. She looked at me and said "what?" That was the first time I realized she was a milk drinker and the first time she found out how grossed out I get at the sight of a glass of milk.
And lastly before those cute little milk mustache ads were popular my sister was sporting those on a daily basis. Although she doesn't drink milk like she used to, the mustache image still sticks in my head and makes me giggle. She loved chocolate milk and plain old milk and would easily drink a gallon on her own before the expiration date. She easily consumed 4-5 tall glasses of milk a day. I don't know how she got it down without throwing up.
In conclusion, my three best friends are milk drinkers therefore it follows that when I am searching for a new friend....I should find out if she likes milk.
And in other news.....Gabe stopped sucking his thumb.
When did this happen? I don't remember the last time I saw him sucking his thumb. It was so cute how he used to put his thumb in his mouth and curl his pointer finger around his nose. We have been encouraging him for 2 years now to stop sucking his thumb but he continued to tell us "no". The dentist assured me everything would be fine and that he would stop when he was ready. I laughed, she clearly doesn't know Gabe - he will never voluntarily give up that thumb. But he did. He just stopped sucking his thumb. I'm a little sad I'll never see him all curled up with his blanket sucking his thumb, or see how he unconsciously would put his thumb in his mouth when he was sad, scared or hurt. He is grown up now, he doesn't need it. It is a big milestone.

May 5, 2010

Scotland - Day 6 - 7

Monday morning we woke up and returned the car then headed out on foot through the city. We did a little shopping and a little window shopping. We stopped by the first department store, I think they claim "in the world" but I'll do some research on that one before I believe it. At any rate it was quite nice! After our shopping excursion we went to the Royal Museum of Scotland, had lunch at a pub, and then stopped by the Bank of Scotland museum. We learned a lot there. Each of three Scotland banks actually print their own notes. They are not printed by a treasury. So, when you go to the Bank of Scotland ATM you get.... Bank of Scotland bills and when you go to the Clydesdale bank you get..... you guessed it Clydesdale bills. However, all coins are minted in England by the treasury. There is a little useless information for you.
After all the museums we made our way to Holyrood park and ran around for a bit and then checked out the Scottish Parliament Building. It is a beautiful building and since we were there, we took the time to learn a little about the Scottish Parliament and some current political activities going on there. Well, Matt and I chatted with the guide while the boys counted all the seats on the Parliament floor and climbed on all the seats in the viewing area.
The next day we toured the Holyrood Palace. It was beautiful! The Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, meaning when she visits Scotland she stays there and holds many official meetings there. Her husband just happens to be the Duke of Edinburgh so it also serves as a handy little spot for him to come hang out when he is in Edinburgh as well. We came back to the flat for lunch and then I took a nap. I can't tell you what happened while I was enjoying my siesta. Nothing was broken so I guess all was fine.
We closed out our evening with a trip back down the Royal Mile for dinner (I had the most delicious local food) and we stopped by a place called "Chocolate Soup". I read somewhere that it had the best hot chocolate ever.... they were right! We wanted to end our time by climbing back up King Arthur's Seat, the 800 meter hill we climbed on day one. We made it up, froze at the top, and enjoyed a view of the city at dusk. I packed up our bags, Matt did the last of the dishes, and we had everything ready for our mid-morning departure.
Then, we checked the news and found out that our flight to Frankfurt was canceled due to Ash issues. Things get complicated here. In short, last night the powers that be closed Scotland Airspace today from 7am - 2pm, then this morning only portions of the airspace were closed leaving Edinburgh open. This is good news! However, our specific flight is still cancelled because the flight coming from Frankfurt to Edinburgh was cancelled and never arrived. So, the actual ash isn't the problem it was the fact that they made this blanket ash cancellation last night even though things ended up changing.
We contacted our flat owners and they graciously agreed to take our money for another night and we rebooked our flight for tomorrow. We are praying that we make it back tomorrow and now planning what to do with our bonus day!

May 2, 2010

Scotland - Day 3-5

We picked up a rental car Friday morning and hit the road. I must say, I am extremely impressed with how well Matt did driving on the right side of the car on the right side of the road. He managed to drive us all over Scotland without getting us in an accident or even a near miss.
We only had a car for the weekend, so we spent as much of our time the past three days exploring outside of Edinburgh. We started with a trip south to see Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abby, some other Abby, and then drove the coastal route back to Edinburgh. The next day we headed North West to tour Stirling Castle, Perth and Tullibardine Scotch Distillery. And our last day with the car, we went North East to St. Andrews and drove the coastal route home. We hoped to drive further north into the highlands but time just didn't allow for it. No worries though, we are already planning our next trip...we want to stay in a cottage in the low highlands and make our way out to some of the Isle's.
We have enjoyed driving through the countryside as much as we enjoyed walking through the city. Both are beautiful and quite different than many of the cities we have been to so far.
We will spend our next two days back in Edinburgh, checking out a few museums, a palace and roam the streets some more taking in the beauty of the city.