Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Night of Vacation

We've been gone nearly a month now, and tomorrow morning we'll head back to the airport and take flight back across the Atlantic Ocean toward home. There will be many hours in the air, eight time zones crossed, and a few hours and customs to pass through in Washington D.C. before the final flight to Colorado.

So much has happened this month, it will take many posts to share it all. The first step, once we return home, will be to download my camera of all the priceless photos I've taken. I'm grateful for the digital camera we have, since I already know we have beautiful images to share, and I'll do some slide shows that capture the best of our memories—I hope.

Our first week with the kids and grandkids was wonderful, and then John and I left for Paris together. It surpassed any expectations I had. I can honestly say it was one of the more remarkable cities I've visited, and I didn't feel hampered by my ignorance of the language. People treated us beautifully. I did learn to say "Good day, do you speak English?" in French, which probably helped quite a bit. Most people did, at least enough for our needs. I can hardly wait to share our visit to Paris with you all.

Shortly after our return to The Netherlands, we all boarded a jet together and flew to Stockholm, Sweden. Ben put his back out just before we left, so he was in a considerable amount of pain. It made getting baggage and children from place to place a little crazy. That's part of the Sweden story, but it's just a side bar to several days that were great despite Ben's pain and rainy weather.

We took a cruise from there, and the story will continue with tales of Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. What an amazing city that was! You'll see by the photos. We walked our legs off, but there was so much to see that it was worth it.

Our day at sea would seem to have been a time when the camera might not be used, but my photos that day were wonderful as well, from the grandchildren, to photos of the fiords we were passing through, and capped off by a spectacular sunset. It was heavenly.

We returned for another couple of days in Stockholm, where we got the news that my step father of 30 years had been transfered to a Hospice Home for his final days. I knew we wouldn't be able to make it back to my Mom before he passed away, and it saddened me. We waited and prayed as we continued on, flying back to Amsterdam on the 20th, four days before Papa John passed away.

So it's been a long month, and we'll be taking another trip to California to see Mom after we get home. The memorial service is being delayed so family can gather. It'll be on the 16th of September. Hopefully our jet lag and laundry will be memories by the time we pull out of the driveway to head out there. And I'll have at least one or two cities posted. Tomorrow is for flying. Tonight is for sleeping. Goodnight, Moon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

No. We're not in Colorado, either. We're back in Amsterdam after three days in Paris. I'll do a city by city detailed account with photos when we return home, but I did want to update you on some of the highlights while they're fresh.

We had no reason to fear being Americans without any French language skills. The people we met were charming and friendly. Our time there was beyond special, if not without trials. Getting out of Amsterdam proved to be a trial because the metro line we were to take no longer connected to our destination due to work on the line. None of us knew that, however, and every time we got on one of the trams, it let us off at the next stop. We made it to Amsterdam Central Station with 30 minutes to spare, but there are no signs telling people where to go for which train, so you have to ask. No one knew—and John needed a bathroom. We finally decided to stop looking for one of those and continue looking for the train.

We wound up on a track that I was sure was the right place. Someone in a uniform came along, and I thought I'd verify with him by showing him our tickets. He said, No, go over there and pointed across the rails to the other side of the track. We had ten minutes before the train was to leave, so we rushed down the track, a set of stairs, a concourse, then up another set of stairs and down that track. It took five minutes to get to the top. No one was there. I looked across to where we had been and saw a train was now boarding. I yelled across at a different man in uniform. Is that the train to Paris? Yes, he said. It leaves in four minutes. Hurry! We ran all the way back, suitcases bumping down the stairs, and were out of breath, and the last the board the train before it pulled out 30 seconds after we got on. John got to use the W.C. on board.

The train station in Paris is very different. Everything is well marked. You would have to be an idiot to get lost there, I think. We had no trouble finding our way from the train to the metro, nor did I have any difficulty buying tickets for two two-day Metro passes and a one way Metro ticket each for our trip that evening to the hotel.

Some of the images I'll keep in my head forever from Paris are the man playing violin in the Metro station while he waited for his train to come. The trio practicing with keyboard, sax, and horn that we rode with long enough one of the days to hear Blue Moon and Hello Dolly. They were really good. Reading signs and realizing I could understand some of them. Watching John try to find a cup of American coffee. He'd end up drinking espresso and being polite about it, but he never did find what he was looking for. The bread! I'll probably dream about the breads we ate... baguettes, croissants, breads I have no idea what their sweet little French names were. They'll all live in my heart forever, absolutely delicious.

One thing we realized when we got on the train is that my beautiful raincoat got lost somewhere—probably on the last train they crammed us into on our way to Central Station. It was standing room only, and they were starting and stopping at full speed. People were falling into each other, and John took my hat and raincoat along with all the baggage to keep me from getting hurt, so I'd have two hands to hold onto the pole with. He's a good guy like that. We met a wonderful clerk in a boutique next to the hotel after getting caught in a rainstorm. She had nothing under 400 euros, and I told her that was over my means. She gave me directions to a store near the Louvre. Wait until you see my Paris raincoat! I've never had anything so beautifully made. And that kind lady was right. We paid 68 euros for it. I can't get over the detailing on it.

When I revisit the cities one by one (with photos) I'll go into details on The Louvre and The Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumphe and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, just know that I wouldn't trade these memories. And I'm so grateful I have John for my traveling companion. He's the best.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy Days

We've been enjoying our first few days in The Netherlands with the kids. Unfortunately, Ben has had to work, since it's been mid-week, but we've seen him in the evenings for dinner and usually a movie and conversation at night. One of the highlights is always their bedtime routine with the children. We're lucky to have them raising our grandchildren. They're great parents.

What makes their bedtime routine so special is that it's a family affair. In most homes, including ours when the children were small, bedtime involves parents telling the children it's time to go to bed and the little ones arguing about it and bouncing out of bed for a while until both children and parents are exhausted. While this is going on, the parents attempt to talk or watch television.

Here, bedtime is something to look forward to. They climb the stairs together, Mama and Daddy supervise the choice of pajamas and help with brushing of teeth and other necessary chores. Then the fun begins. First they read a scripture, followed by a story. The children take turns picking out what story is going to be read. Then they each choose two songs to sing together, and everyone sings along. After that, each one takes a turn describing the most special part of their day. This is followed up with bedtime prayers and tucking in the little ones. Daddy then produces a children's travel type spill-proof bottle of water for each of them, and it goes on the corner of their headboards. A final kiss goodnight, the covers are pulled up, and the children are down for the count. It's really beautiful.

During the day Ruth is constantly picking up toys, cooking, and doing craft projects with the girls. Day before yesterday she let us sort colors from a box of Fruit Loops into little cups. Then we transferred each color into a plastic baggie and mashed them up with a rolling pin, then put them back into the cups. Each of us (yes, Grandma made a picture, too) got a sheet of construction paper. We'd paint with glue and sprinkle Fruit Loops onto it. Shake the extra back into the bowl and then glue paint where you want the next color. It was really fun. The pictures, once dry, got hung in the entry way for Daddy's loud exclamations of amazement.

Today John and I will travel (alone!) to Paris. We're taking the train, and we're both moderately terrified. Neither of us speak French, of course. I get lost really easily, so can't be left alone anywhere. It wasn't always this way, but certainly is now. (Have a few seizures and see what changes for you...) Ben made all the travel arrangements—train and hotel, so that's half the battle. We just have to figure out how to get from the train station to the hotel, and from there to everything we want to see.

You'll probably get updates, since the Concorde La Fayette, our hotel, has free WiFi. I wish we had thought to pack the GPS. Or maybe it wouldn't work over here. I think we would have had to buy maps. Probably worth it. At least I've got the iPad to help now. I think I can find anything on it that I could on a computer. Oh. It is a computer. It's so small and portable I almost forgot. The whole house is sleeping, and I'm sitting at the kitchen table posting a blog on my iPad. How sweet it is. Thank you, John. He thought it was a smart decision for my writing, and he's definitely be correct.

So as you are all heading into the end of your Friday, we're starting our Saturday here. Blessings to us all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Early to Bed

I actually went to bed at 8 o'clock tonight. We leave the house at 4:15 a.m. tomorrow to catch a ride with our good neighbor Doug to the local bus connection that will take us to Denver International Airport. From there we'll be on the 10:03 United flight to Houston where we'll change planes and continue on to The Netherlands. We'll land the next morning in Amsterdam at 8:20 in the morning.

Now it's almost 10, two hours later, and sleep has evaded me. I have mental images of grandchildren running up to greet me, warm hugs from my son and daughter-in-law warming my soul. I guess I can sleep on the plane. I've got a Karen Kingsbury novel all queued up on my iPod to keep me company on the plane if I don't sleep, but since we arrive in the morning, I hope I'll drift off at some point. Still, I'm sure an afternoon nap will be in order the day we arrive.

Swallowing my pride, I decided to take along my cane for use in the airport. My hip has been giving me fits lately. It's painful, which I'm used to, but it's also been collapsing under me unexpectedly at times, which is disconcerting to say the least. It won't hurt to have the extra support if I need it. The can is light weight and collapsable for when it's not in use. If there are stairs, or we hit rough weather on the cruise ship, I may find I'm glad I took it. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I'm also taking along some extra empty zip lock baggies so I can ask for ice if the hip or my shoulders get really bad on the plane.

I'm asking myself the same pre-travel question as always. What am I forgetting? The only thing I'm sure of this time (so far) is wrapping paper for Kate's 3rd birthday gifts. I already warned Ruth, and she says we'll handle that when we arrive. At least I'm happy with the presents, and I can always use tin foil. My mom often used tin foil with pennies taped onto it. As a kid, I thought that was awesome.

We had friends from church over tonight, and it made me think about how difficult it is for me, as an adult, to make close friends. I can count on my fingers the number of tight friendships I have. Still, those I count as friends remain that way indefinitely, because I don't put up a mask. What they see is what they get. Tammy and Matt didn't stay long, but we made plans for S'Mores when we get back. We originally met them through the Financial Peace class we took. That class was a blessing in many ways. Matt is one of the men John works with now in the sound booth at church. It's so nice when both halves of the couples really like each other. I'm glad we got to see each other before we leave.

It'll be difficult to post much while we're gone, but I'll try to write once in a while. Photos of the trip will come after our return on the 27th, most likely few if any earlier than that. I hope you each have blessings in your life during this next month. I know I will—new places to visit, and my arms full of grandchildren.