Monday, May 2, 2011

Free Travel - Round Two- the UK

We didn't have to leave until about 2:30 in the afternoon so had a leisurely morning of getting the facility ready to leave, as well as ourselves. We tried to pack extremely light as we were flying Ryan Air and our backpacks will be counted as our ONLY carry-on and can only weigh 10 kilos (about 20 pounds). No purse. No checked bag. So we will be a bit sick of of these few clothes and such we packed after two weeks!

We took a train from Verviers to Achen and another one to Brussels. We finally got to our airport and hoped to eat dinner there but there wasn't much there. We got an expensive microwave cheeseburger for JM and Cliff and I opted for granola bars in our backpacks.we finally went through security when our gate was finally posted. It took forever. We finally get almost to our gate and are stopped to make sure we had only one bag each and that the bag weighed 10 kilos or less. Mine did not. It was three over! That's what happens when you have the mommy bag and a wonderful camera that is a bit heavier than e regular little cameras. So worth having it though. We finally got things juggled between the three back packs and got through to our gate. There we shuffled things back to my backpack so Jon Michael's was notso heavy for him to carry. I know. Dumb, right! We finally got on our plane to Edinburgh and got there about 11:00. Then we took a taxi to our B&B. It was so quaint. We fell into bed and are looking forward to breakfast in the morning since our food tonight was limited!

Night before free travel

April 21, 2011

Finished giving finals this morning. Several kids were finished yesterday and so left early this morning (5:30!). Many more groups left as the day went on. By supper, there were only about five students left and the Thompson clan. We finished up leftovers for dinner and then everyone went about doing laundry and packing. Later we got fries and cokes and spent our evening watching Sound of Music. Two of the girls there went with me on the tour and we had great fun telling bits of the trivia and facts we learned during the tour. The five girls are out early tomorrow. It was a fun memory of our last night before free travel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Germany- Travel Day

We ate breakfast at the hostel and then took three subway trains to the train station. Then we boarded a train and rode for five hours to Cologne, Germany. Standing on the platform waiting for our next train we met the group of students that had gone to Prague and the McLaughlins with the group that had stayed in Frielassing when we went to Berlin. We were all together again and traveled together to Aachen and then changed trains one last time to get to Verviers. We were so glad to get back!

When we got back the McLaughlins got an email from his sister telling him that their mother was in critical condition and suggesting they come on home. It has been hard on them to decide to go but we convinced them we would be fine. They will be leaving on Monday and we will finish out the last few weeks without them. Prayers would be appreciated on their behalf.

Germany - Day Seven

We arrived in Berlin by about 3:00. We had spent all day on trains getting there. Then we took three different subway trains to our hostel.thank goodness it was right at our hostel. This was doubly important since when we emerged from the subway the wind was blowing so hard it took your breath away. It was bitter cold and blowing so hard it about blew you over. We walked leaning way into the wind. We dropped our backpacks off at the youth hostel. We discovered it was very youth oriented and Cliff, Jon Michael, and I were in a room with a sink but we had communal bathrooms down the hall. At least they weren't coed!

We left the hostel and went in search of the Berlin Wall. We walked forever since our group tends to get lost but we finally got there and took pictures. Then some went off to buy tickets, some to explore, and JM and I set off to find the Hard Rock Cafe. We ate a wonderful American meal (I had nachos complete with guacamole and sour cream!)with the gang and had a blast. Then our family and four students took off to see Blue Man Group. It was the same as the New York performances we have seen with a few exceptions. They played with the German language some. It was a blast and it was so neat to see it through Jon Michaels eyes. He loved it!

It was late by the time we get back to the hostel and even though it was loud, we fell asleep with no problem.

Germany - Day Six

Germany - Day Six
April 11, 2011

It was nice to have a day to sleep in. This was a day of free travel and many students took full advantage of it. We had a group that left for Prague yesterday and also the McLaughglins and a couple of students went to visit friends on a military base not far away. We had e rest of the group. Some went hiking, Cliff went to Vienna, some went in to Salzburg to shop, and a good portion of those left stayed and studied, feeling the time pressure of one week of classes with finals and papers and projects. Becky was one of those students and she watched after Jon Michael this afternoon while I treated myself to the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. I was joined by two of the students and we had a lovely afternoon visiting all the sites in the movie. I loved every minute of it. Before I left, my folks gave me some money just for things I normally wouldn't splurge on myself for. this gift has bought this tour, a concert and autographed cd by the violinist, some jewelry and a few other things I probably wouldn't have bought for myself otherwise. I appreciate both thhe money and the loan of my Dad's great camera that he uses to take weddings with. I'm getting pictures I never would have gotten with my little camera. 

It was a wonderful day and I smiled all day just enjoying the lovely countryside, the interesting stories about the country and the filming of the movie, and the great company. It was a bit strange to go from the enormous gravity of Dachau yesterday to the light and fun emotions of the Sound of Music tour today. But life is like that. Emotions and circumstances can change on a dime. I'm just glad I get the chance to experience it all. Bed comes soon tonight since we leave for Berlin at 4:30 am! Back to Verviers on Wednesday. 

Germany - Day Five

Germany- Day Five
April 10, 2011


How do you begin to write about a place such as this? I'd studied about it in school and again when I was a National Pilot Teacher for an adult education curriculum linking the steps that led to the holocaust to those that led to the hate crimes happening in Tennessee. But even that didn't prepare me for walking through the compound, the crematorium, the museum. How can you prepare yourself for standing in the disrobing room, the gas chamber labeled "shower" room with fake shower nozzles, the rooms where the bodies were piled, and the body shaped ovens created for only one reason?

This time I also had my children and husband with me. Jon Michael and I had several long talks about what it was and what he was likely to see there. I left the choice up to him. He decided to go and I left him with the option of leaving at any time just in case. I appreciated how well the memorial site showed the gravity of what happened here without exploiting the horror. I couldn't have taken him any younger or another child that didn't have the maturity he has. Becky was deeply affected by it as well and we are still processing with her and some of the other college students. You want to shield these children from the face of such an evil as this, but you want them to know, to remember, to honor those lost, to know that good was still present in the midst of such evil. The film emphasized that the death toll would have been even higher had they not helped each other and sacrificed for each other. It does make you want to hold each other tight and be thankful, though.

One of the most meaningful events of the day was the worship service we had in one of the small chapels they have there for remembering, worship, and meditation. John gave a brief talk about a God who allows suffering and read some passages, including some from Job. Then he compared the death and suffering of these innocents to Jesus who was innocent and yet suffered and died for our sins. It hit me then that he also died for the sins of those who DID these terrible things. What a loving God we have! We sang songs like Holy Ground, The Greatest Command, and In Christ Alone. The words of the last two verses of In Christ Alone were very powerful. "No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand!" We took communion and I felt it in a different way than ever before. The closing prayer was led in a rough, raw voice by a young man who had been deeply touched but still pushed through with heartfelt love and faith. It is an experience none of us will ever forget.

I had just finished reading a book called "Sarah's Key" that was about a 10 year old girl who had been in the round up of Jews in Paris and sent to an internment camp. It covered the story through her eyes, a child's eyes, that made it especially poignant. A couple of the kids bought it at the gift shop and one has begun reading it. One of my counseling students is writing her report on Logotherapy and Victor Frankl who survived one of the camps. These will all impact their lives. It gives me peace that these tender hearts were touched...outraged...ignited by what happened here. The knowledge will help make sure nothing like this will ever happen again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Germany -Day Four

Germany -Day Four
April 9, 2011

Today was our trip to newschweinstein castle, the castle that Walt Disney modeled the Cinderella castle after. It was like stepping into a fairy tale. We rode a horse drawn carriage up most of the way and then walked through four floors of beautiful furnishings. The view out every window was gorgeous. Then we rode the carriage back down. The rest of the day was spent on trains and buses getting to and from the castle. It was a four hour, fairly uneventful trip getting there but we had a doosy of a time getting back.

It started when we came down the mountain to hear our bus left for the train station in five minutes. W ran to catch it only to find that they had to repair some tracks and the train station was closed. However, the train company sent a bus for us to take us to a working train station elsewhere, free of charge. So we rode for almost an hour to another train station. Our train took us to Munich where we  had missed our intended train and so had about 30 minutes to grab dinner and get on the next train. When our train left, they announced that it would only take us so far and then we would have to get off the train and travel by bus to another station due to track repairs. They crammed us on these buses, our entire group was standing, packed in like sardines. We rode that way in that hot, crowded bus for about 35 minutes. If I had fainted from the heat I would still be standing because there was no place to fall. At one point we couldnt find Bishop, the McLaughlin's youngest son but then we located them. His mom, Debbie, had stayed at the hotel as she was really sick and running a fever. His dad and I had looked after him today. I had last seen him with John but they had gotten separated. We finally arrive at the bus station and pile off. Then we all puke on to a crowded train and spread out all over the train but at least we all found seats. W finally got home about 10:15. They kids had a singing in the grounds of the church across the street with some young girls that had met several of our past groups and asked if we were going to have a singing like other groups. Or kids were happy to oblige! Now we are exhausted and heading to bed for much needed rest. 

Germany -Day Three

Germany - Day three
April 8, 2011

After our hotel breakfast, our group took off for Salzburg, a short ten minute train ride from our town. Our first stop was Mirabell Gardens where we reinacted scenes from the Sound of Music from the gnome garden and the fountain to the arbor and the "Do-re-me" steps. About a dozen of our kids wanted to film them doing the song on the steps, which they did with two of us taking pictures and filming. As they were singing, a huge group of Japanese tourists came up and started filming and taking pictures too! They gave the kids a big round of applause when they finished the song. They did sound pretty good! The kids were so delighted by the whole event! It was so fun.

After looking around Salzburg a while, mozart's house, little Christmas shops and places that sold cuckoo clocks, we got back on a train and headed to the salt mines where we had an afternoon tour. We all wore cute "Ghostbusters" jumpsuits and rode a mining train to the mine. We also slid down log chutes to get to port of the mines. We rode a boat on the lake while they did a light show on the cave walls and saw the process. They we rode a mine train back out. Interesting experience. Jon Michael wasn't sure the log chute was an experience that needed repeating but the rest of his family had a blast!

We ate at a Tex Mex restaurant that night that some of the kids had found. It was mediocre at best but we had good company. We walked back and went to sleep to the sound of the kids playing truth or dare. Brings back dorm memories of trying to sleep on a noisy hall.

Germany - Day Two

Germany -Day Two
April 7, 2011

We were glad to have a later start to our day today, we had breakfast at the hotel and left about 9:20. We caught a train to Konigssee and rode a bus out to where we could take a boatride to the island. We saw Hitler's Eagle's Nest high on a hill from the boat. We dipped our feet in the ice cold water, fed the ducks, relaxed and watched some of our kids set off for some hiking. We rode the boat back and shopped the rest of the afternoon. Then we rode back to the hotel and had cordon bleu for dinner. The kids visited and enjoyed the cool evening out on the patio. We enjoyed their chatter from our open windows. It is so peaceful here. Just to enjoy the beauty of the Alps, a sunset, good friends sharing this amazing experience...I think this is my favorite place of the whole trip to far. 

Germany - Day One

April 6

We had a very early train. We left the facility at 7:15 am. We had an 8 hour train trip to where we were staying in Germany. We rode a little train to Achen, Germany for about 30 minutes, another train for an hour and a half to Brussels, Belgium, then a four hour train to Munich, Germany, and finishing with a two hour trip to Frielassing, Germany close to Salzburg. The plan worked well until we got to Munich and Cliff, Jon Michael, and I got off at the wrong Munich stop. We were sitting in a different car than the others. Our itinerary just said Munich, not which Munich stop. Our connections were so tight we knew we would miss them. We got the next train in 15 minutes and pulled in just after our scheduled train with everyone else pulled out. We got another train in an hour and were met at the train station by John. A short ten minute walk brought us to a charming hotel where we had a view of the Alps from our windows, big fluffy pillows and duvets on the bed and a dinner of schnitzel. Germany has the greenest greens, the bluest blues, and the whitest whites. The gingerbread houses and crisp, clean lines of the whole area makes you feel like you have been swept into a fairy tale.

Just as we sat down for dinner, I looked in the dining room reserved for small groups and saw a sewing machine! I asked our waiter (also the hotel owner) what they were doing and he replied, "patchwork". I  said I knew they were quilters! He said " Come, come, come!" he introduced me to them as an American quilter and they seemed as excited as I was! We chatted for a while and they showed me their projects and the plan for this year's block of the month done in appliqué. When they were beginning their meeting I went back to my dinner of salad, fries and schnitzel as they said their goodbyes and wished me safe journey. It was a trip highlight for sure!

We walked around the town after dinner as the sun granted us beautiful photo ops as it set. W passed a woodcarver's shop and saw birdhouse, and trees transformed into wonderful creatures. We returned to the hotel where we got a lovely nights sleep and awoke to the Alps outside our window to greet the day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Free Travel

We only had three short class days at the facility before everyone went their separate ways for their first free travel (travel where they left in groups to see as much of Europe as they could in a week). The students left us itineraries showing what trains they were taking and destinations and what hotels/hostels they were staying in. Now I had to be just like the rest of the parents. Becky was taking off with 5 of her friends to London and Scotland. We were headed to the south of France and Barcelona, Spain. It is scary and wonderful at the same time. Knowing she will have to figure things out on her own but so exciting as it will make her who she is supposed to be as she learns and grows. So off she went with a new excitement and independence in her eyes and I knew she would come back different and a little more grown. Was it really so long ago that I stood in her shoes?

We left for Avignon, France with the McLaughlins on Thursday morning. We had separate hotels as we had shifted our plans to here when we couldn't get a train to Nice. We stayed in the Hotel Alizea which quickly became known as the A'Sleazia Hotel. Not the best place I've ever stayed but we stayed anyway. Friday was spent with the Mclaughlin's at Pont de Gare which is the largest Roman aqueducts still standing today. It was one of those lovely days for hiking, strolling, picnicking, and photography which is exactly what we did. We had stopped at a grocery before we left and got bread, cheese, fruit, and goodies and ate our lunch at the foot of the gigantic structure. French elderly hikers passed our picnic with friendly shouts of "Bon appetit" and smiles. There was also a fabulous children's interactive museum that the boys enjoyed. We returned and had a lovely dinner at a really nice restaurant. We said our goodbyes as we would go our own ways in the morning. We left our hotel the next morning with high hopes for our next one.

We rode the train to Carcasonne, France. Then took a taxi to the hotel and started smiling as we drove up. We opened the door into the spacious lobby to hear a hearty welcome from a bright and smiling desk clerk. She spoke English well and made us feel so welcome. We walked up to our room to find a spacious apartment! Kitchen, dining area, living room with fold out double bed, bathroom ( actually one toilet room and one bath and sink room) plus a nice bedroom. It was squeaky clean, had working free Internet, friendly staff, a spacious sunlit patio with tables and chairs for lounging around. Ideallic! It was only 2 euros more a night than our last hotel. Hard to believe! Only drawback was it was no where near stores or restaurants and we were starved. We walked around forever and then Cliff sent us back to the hotel and walked to the old city way up the hill and brought back some sandwiches. Later that evening we went into the old city (by taxi) and ate a fabulous dinner at one of the restaurants. I had a real creme brûlée and french onion soup and steak and some flaky potato thing. JM had pasta with salmon and shrimp and Cliff had cassolei.

We slept wonderfully and after a nice breakfast at the hotel, set off to explore the old medieval city. We walked across draw bridges and stood on the walls and shopped the touristy shops. When it got rainy, we bought a whole quiche for lunch and dinner and some sweets and walked back to the hotel. We spent the afternoon napping, reading, knitting, card playing and just relaxing. We had our own church service as the nearest church was almost two hours away, one way. It was very special. We ate our dinner, finishing off the quiche and spent the evening outside on the patio playing cards and knitting. The rain returned and we retreated inside. Tomorrow we leave for Barcelona, Spain! We have heard from several of the kids who have had fun and eventful trips including one engagement! Becky's group is staying with our sweet friends, John and Arlene Galloway in Scotland and says she feels at home. Cant wait to see everyone in a couple of days!

Versailles and Meeting the Mouse

The last two days in Paris flew by. We spent Friday at the Palace of King Louis 14th in Versailles. It was so fascinating to see the grandness and opulence of the palace. The hall of mirrors was spectacular and what I could see of the gardens were grand.Jon Michael and I ran out of time before we could get to the gardens. We listened to an audio guide and time flew. We ended up waiting on one of our students for another 45 minutes as she was waiting at the wrong place. This put everyone in a bit of a foul mood but it all worked out in the end.

Saturday I took Jon Michael to Disneyland Paris! We made the trip with about 8 college kids and had a blast! We all rode Peter Pan together upon entering the park as JM had promised two of the girls that he would ride a ride with them. Then we all split into groups and tried to make the most of our time at the parks. JM had wanted to visit the new Toy Story Playground in Walt Disney Studios so we spent the last three hours of our day there. Pirates of the Carribbean was closed as was a couple of other rides but we still had a great time. JM really wanted to ride the RC Car ride which is basically like one of those big swinging pirate ships except with the toy car in toy story. With warnings to give your bags and belongings to someone to hold and we were alone, I tried to talk my rollar coaster hating son out of it. He pleaded and so I stayed in line outside the ride and waited for him to go alone (a rather scary thing for me to let go). The wait said it was 35 minutes but I was getting really worried when an hour passed and he did not come on the ride. Then I saw him and he strapped in. He made it through the ride with all courage but learned he was much more comfortable with his first assessment of roller coasters! We then went to a live stage production of Stitch Live of LILO and Stitch fame. We realized after waiting in line and about to go in the theatre that it would be in French. We were totally lost! Good cultural experience, though.

We left the park in time to make the hour long train ride back to the hotel to join Cliff and Becky for a cruise down the Seinne. It was still freezing but luckily we were inside the windowed boat and only braved the cold to take a picture or two. It was beautiful and a great way to end our last night in Paris.

What I will take with me from Paris (besides great buys from the market!), is the sound of music the streets, the metro, the restaurants, on the lawn of the Eiffel
tower, everywhere....and I will miss terribly the view of the Eiffel tower blinking and winking at me out of my hotel window.....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Paris-Day Three

After our Parisian breakfast, we hopped a metro over to St Chapelle to see the beautiful little chapel know for it's explosion of color and elaborate stained glass windows depicting stories of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Absolutely breathtaking! It was chilly and threatening rain so we switched our schedule for the day so it was more indoor friendly.

We walked "just 3-4 blocks", which turned out to be several times that, over to the Orsay museum to see impressionist works by such masters as Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Dagas to name a few. After the long walk, Jon Michael, Cliff, and I opted for a quiet lunch in the cafe to rest our feet. Following lunch, Jon Michael and I walked around and I showed him famous pieces he would see in art class in college, told him a little about the artists and the style of art. We made our way back to the hotel for a rest. All the walking and stair climbing entitles us to eat what we want but also encourages little periods of rest to keep up.

Debbie volunteered to keep Jon Michael while Cliff and John and I went to a concert with some of the college kids. It was a chamber ensemble that performed in the intimate space of the small stained glass chapel of St. Chapelle. They performed Adagio by Ablinoni, Pachelbel's Canon, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was magical! Lead violinist Paul Brie was excellent. I bought a signed cd afterward. Cliff and I ate dinner at a quiet little restaurant nearby and then came on back to the hotel. Just two more full days left in Paris...

The Louvre

March 16
The day started a bit colder than yesterday. We had our little Parisian breakfast of juice, tea or coffee, croissant, baguette with butter and jam and then off to the metro for our trip to the Louvre. The former palace was huge with painted ceiling and inlaid marble floors in addition to the impressive collections it housed. Jon Michael and I saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, nd the Venus de Milo, among other works of art. After a morning of fine art, Jon Michael and I ventured out for lunch. We took thhe metro back to the hotels where a street market covered the area around our hotel. We out off lunch a while linger to shop the market. Jon Michael bought me a beautiful necklace with blue beads and I bought assorted other things including some yarn for my friend and I. We bought some pears for a snack later and then went in search of lunch. We settled for a restaurant close to the hotel and split a pizza. Then we just HAD to stop at a little pastry shop for something sweet and delicious. Jon Michael learned he loved eclaires and I had a yummy little pastry filled with whipped cream.

We rested for a while at the hotel and actually both fell asleep for a little nap. We met up with Cliff and the McLaughlins for dinner. We went back to the Latin quarter and enjoyed another wonderful dinner (French onion soup, steak and fries, and chocolate mousse). Then we wandered over to Shakespeare and Co. minus the paparazzi and Cliff and Ethan bought books.

Another wonderful day in Paris!


March 15
Springtime came when we arrived in Paris. The weather was absolutely gorgeous! We dropped our heavy coats and luggage at our tiny hotel and set out on foot for the Eiffel tower. We enjoyed the warmer weather as did most of the French and tourists alike. The grassy lawn at the base of the tower was littered with picnicking families, playing children and couples in love. We took tons of pictures and then decided to do other exploring rather than wait the two to three hours it would take to ride up the tower. We have 5 more days in Paris to ride the lift. So we walked over to Notre Dame and sat for a while in the cathedral listening to the beautiful music and being in awe of the intricate surroundings. It was one of the most peaceful moments I've ever experienced.

We left the cathedral and walked the short distance over to Shakespeare and Co., a famous English bookstore where Earnest Hemmimgway and others used to frequent in days gone by.however, we could not get to it because it was being used today to film Emma Watson in a new perfume commercial for Lancomme. We watched for a while and caught a few glimpses of her. We then wandered over a few streets to eat dinner in the Latin quarter. I had onion soup, chicken kabob with fries, and a wonderful Chocolate mousse! We shopped a little in the stores and then took the metro to the Trocadero stop to see the tower all lit up at night it was so beautiful! At one point, Becky and I were walking through the Eiffel tower when the crowd made oohing and saying noises. Becky said "Mom! We're sparkling!" I looked up and the entire tower was full of twinkling lights! It twinkled for a few minutes and then stopped for a while.

As I lay in my bed at the hotel, I watched the tippy top of the Eiffel tower out my balcony window as it sparkled and shone while I drifted off to sleep.

I lay in my bed and

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm sitting in a shop near the Grand Place sipping a hot tea and having a nibble on the complementary dark chocolate in Brussels. We caught the early train here this morning and saw the Grand Place, Mannequin Pis (yes, the statue of the little boy doing what little boys do) and several in the group got massive waffles piled with chocolate, strawberries,white chocolate and the like. Then we shopped in the inside art deco 1920s mall called the galerie St. Hubert. We are planning a visit to the musical instrument museum here and then the group is going to the European Union to watch Parliment. Children are not allowed so I'm taking the younger boys on an adventure. After three days of cooking and teaching at the facility, a day out is nice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Home to Verviers

March 6

Home to Verviers!

We were awakened at 6:00 a.m. And off the train in Munich by 6:30. We stopped for breakfast in the station and boarded a train (sitting up this time) for Cologne. The trip was about six hours but very pleasant. It also helps that anyone over 26 has to ride in first class so our students were in second class (which was actually very nice) and the two families sat in first class. It was very relaxing and I caught a nap or two and then worked on catching up with my blog.

When we got Cologne, we stopped for a quick lunch at the food courts then boarded a train for Aachen, Germany. It was only a bit under two hours. In Aachen, we ran for our last train to Verviers with only minutes to spare. The train from Aachen wasv20 minutes late so that caused a rush. 30 minutes later we were walking toward the facility in Verviers.we had hoped to run to the store for groceries for supper but everything was closed so we made due with what we had and had a very tasty vegetable beef soup with crackers. There was hardly a serving left and the kids were very complementary. We had our own church service that was very meaningful and then the students studied and pretty quickly went to bed. We were all worn out! Many fond memories of our time in Greece and Italy.


March 5

The plan was to go to Venice today. Cliff found out that the train we had intended to take was sold out and we could leave at 4:30 a.m. (is there a 4:30 a.m.?) which was unacceptable or 12:30. Cliff bought his ticket yesterday but wasn't sure we wanted to go since we would only have two hours there before coming back. When we went to buy our tickets, the 12:30 was sold out and since we have to travel together on our Eurorail pass, we stayed in Florence. We shopped the market and stores, ate ice cream, and rode the bus home. I remembered well the stop we got on at this morning. We took the bus all around the city and ended up back at the train station never passing our stop. It was a nice view but we were still far from home.

We got off and bought another a ticket (which I found out later we didn't have to do but the were only about $1.50), got back on and rode all around the city again....not coming to our stop! I then showed the bus driver where we were trying to go and he said, "you ride with me thirty minutes! I take care of you! Sit! Sit!" so we began our third trip around the city. I stood up after thirty minutes and he shook his head, "no, sit, sit! I tell you!" so I sat for about another 10 minutes where he said, "next stop". At the next stop, he motioned us off and said "now, you walk". I looked at the unfamiliar surroundings, said "gratzi" (thank you in Italian), and got off with JM in tow. Luckily, he and I were able to use our mapskills (homeschooling in practice) and see we were only a couple of blocks away. We got back to the hotel hours before we were to meet and hung out in the lobby since we had already checked out of our room and they were storing our luggage. We did some homeschooling, read books and JM watched a movie. Once the students started arriving, I left him in the care of a couple of great kids and went in search of something to eat for dinner. I came back with sprite, a pizza slice, crackers, and something that looked like a huge pig in a blanket. We shared it all and it was actually quite good.

Our bus came for the group and we rode to the train station (JM and I's fourth time to be there) and boarded our night train. It was quite confusing because we had our numbers worked out (male and female and family car for the two families) only to find out that the three males that were in a car by themselves were going to have to room with a strange woman. So we reshuffled and ended up with three girls in with her and JM, Debbie, and I with another three of our girls.

What were the sleeper cars like?  Imagine a walk in closet just barely big enough to be called a walk in. You open the glass door and there is a narrow standing place. On either side are three bunks with not enough room to sit up and a ladder on the window wall. Yeah, I'm discovering I'm getting a bit claustrophobic in my old age. The bunks are kind of the comfort of covered church pews with a pillow and sheet and blanket. I slept a bit, waking up at every stop and then convincing myself I was not in the tiny coffin sleeping. It is not an experience I'd want to repeat any time soon.

Last night in Rome

March 4
Rome to Florence 

Our bus picked us up at the hotel at 7:00 a.m. We then traveled to Florence. Our bus driver was the same one we had had yesterday. He will never win the friendliest prize.  We made one stop on the way and then completed the three hour trip. Florence was beautiful! We checked into our hotel and Cliff and I had a quaint little suite with bedroom, living room/kitchen, nice roomy bathroom with marble tile floors and walls, and a cobblestone patio with a bistro table and chair set. We could look up from our patio and see Becky's balcony. It was quite charming!

After a brief stop at the hotel we took off walking, very quickly again in hopes of finding a quick take out place for lunch (for 33, right). We were walking toward our museum where we had an after lunch appointment. In the rush on the narrow cobblestone streets and sidewalk, Jon Michael tripped off the sidewalk and fell right on the same knee he had fallen on coming down from the Acropolis. The wound broke open and he began to bleed. We had to pass the word up the line but he kept walking. Finally we stopped and got Neosporin and bandaids on it.  Shortly thereafter, we stopped for a 20 minute grab some food so we can go lunch. We sat on the steps of a church in the little city square we were in and warded off pigeons and beggars while we ate our lunch.

Then it was off on a run again where we arrived at the Academea museum in plenty of time. Early in fact! Inside we saw Byzantine art and the incredible statue of David. It was magnificent! We also visited the wing of the museum that held musical instruments including a Chinese bell. It is a large basin of water made of copper with two handles. You wet your hands a d rub the handles and it makes a humming noise, You can change pitch and timber by pressure and pace. Jon Michael loved it and the rest of us did too.

After we left the museum, the students were going on a walking tour of Florence. It was getting colder and I knew Jon Michael needed to get his cut cleaned up and see exactly what the damage was. He and I took a taxi back to the hotel. I was glad we came back. His bandaid had come off and we had to pull the fibers of his sweat pants out of the wound and rebandage. He ended up cleaning it himself and was amazing.

About 5:00, we set out to find some dinner. The lady at the desk was surprised that I asked about dinner places. She kept saying, "It's 5:00". Then she sent us to a bakery. We didn't want sweets so kept looking. Every food place was closed. We returned to the hotel empty handed. She explained that no place opened for dinner until 7:30. We went back to the room a d JM took a nap while I listened to a book on tape. We went out at 7:45 and found a restaurant but the were just opening up. We were the first customers. JM had pasta with ham and a cream sauce. I had linguini with lobster thinking it would come with tiny chunks of lobster, especially with the low price. WRONG! Here came my plate with the pasta and sauce with a lobster sitting right on top, eyeballs and all! I cracked it open and got out the meat with the plate of tools and such they brought me and then ate an incredible dish! With both pasta dinners, plus our drinks and bread it was only 24 Euros. Not bad! JM had his first taste of lobster. 

By the time we got back from dinner, parts of the group were arriving back. We chatted and shortly went to bed.

Last night before we left Rome, I had gotten the message that my mom had fallen and broken her hip and was in surgery. It was agony being so far away. I did manage to get a call through but the connection was terrible. All I got was that she was out of surgery and doing well. Her room was full of friends and they sounded like they were having a good time. She was still on her magic drugs from surgery and so was in no pain. She is hoping to come home on Friday or Saturday. Prayers would be appreciated.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vatican museums and catacombs

I found out yesterday that mother had fallen and broken her hip. She had surgery before I ever knew it had happened. It is so hard to be so far away when I need to be with her. She came through the surgery well and God has blessed her with many good friends who were taking care of her. Please remember her in your prayers and say an extra thanks for friends who treat you like family and good doctors.

We began our tour at 8:00 am and headed to the Vatican. We toured the museums, the tapestries, statues, paintings, mosaics, and of course, the Sistene Chapel. It was all breathtaking! Then we ate some lunch, shopped in the gift shop, and then boarded the bus for the catacombs. The catacombs were narrow and winding and fascinatinating as we wound through the tunnels. Following that tour, we dropped some off in the downtown area and I took the tired young boys back to the hotel so that John and Debbie could have some child-free time. The boys and I ate at McDonalds again and then came back to the hotel so they could play video games and I could pack. Tomorrow we leave for Florence. Caio!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


March 2, 2011


We were up and on the bus at 7:30 am this morning for the 3 hour bus ride to Pompeii. It rained all the way there and back but quit while we were walking around the ruins. The ruins were amazing. We went into a couple of houses that had been almost palaces and the detail paintings on the walls and mosaic tile floors were awe inspiring. We visited the bath house and the "house of ill repute" where there were small rooms with stone beds and pictures painted on the walls of the "menu". First time I've ever been in one of those establishments. We saw many houses, the marketplace, the buildings for civic leaders of the day and of course, Mt. Vesuvius. This has been a story that always fascinated me and I got to walk through history today. 

We drove through the coastal city of Napoli (Naples) and stopped for pictures and gelatos. We were swarmed by roving street vendors who would not leave us alone. We moved four times and they followed us. Finally, a police officer came and they scattered. We saw the Isle of Capri in the distance and took pictures. We then rode back in the rain. Cliff and John went to get pizzas for dinner and we ate and got in bed. Tomorrow, the Vatican and catacombs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1st in Rome

The tour bus picked us up this morning and drove us through the city and to the Collusium. We toured the Collusium then walked over to the Bascilica, the Forum, and the main square. It was hard to believe we were walking on roads over 2000 years old where chariots rode, gladiators fought and Christians were persecuted. I actually have a picture of my foot on the stone road.

Following that tour, John led us to an area to pick a place for lunch. More pizza and pasta and bread for a great price. Then we walked over to the Pantheon which was beyond gorgeous! Then on to the Piazza Navona where the artists sell their work. Absolutely beautiful paintings, waterspouts, and charcoals. Then what had been a drizzle all day became a major rain and though some chose to go on to other sights, several of us decided to go back to the hotel. We walked forever to the metro station in the freezing cold rain. I wasn't sure we were going to make it but we did. We still had a ways to walk to the hotel after we got to the closest metro station to our hotel and it was still raining so our group decided to stop at McDonalds and eat. It was nice to get out of the weather and eat some warm comfort food. It was still a light rain that followed us on to our hotel but we were soon inside and in warm, dry clothes and extremely proud of our perseverance today! Now it is time for bed!


The same day that I finally reach Italy, my long awaited bucket list location, I receive word that my sweet friend, Donna White passed away. I am overwhelmed with sadness. We traveled together, worked together, cried together, laughed together, and embarrassed my children together. Ah the memories! She had sent me a message just a few days ago on my 50th birthday and we were making plans for her to come to Henderson to visit when I returned. I felt a sense of guilt in my grief to be where I was, doing what I was doing as I knew she would have loved to be in the middle of this trip. But I also knew she would demand that I do everything and enjoy it all. After much processing, I have dedicated this trip to her memory and will continue to embrace it the way she did in her life. Live, laugh, love! This is for you, Donna!

The bus picked us up and took us to the airport where we caught a flight to Rome. After checking in at our hotel (a very nice older hotel with suites, lots of room, and lovely balconies overlooking the city), we set out to see some sights and find dinner. We had our first experience on Rome's fairly new metro (subway) and made it to the Spanish Steps. The area around them were beautiful and, since it was still Carnival, we got to see men on stilts and musicians performing in the streets. We finally settled on a restaurant that gave us a great price and we ordered things like gnocci in tomato sauce with mozzarella, lasagna, pizza to die for, cannelloni, and calzones. We passed it around and enjoyed it all. Best Italian food I've ever had!

We topped off the evening with a trip to the Trevi Fountain which was breathtaking and gelato! It was one of those moments you know you will always remember. We have already gotten so close to the kids and the mood was so joyous you couldn't possibly be sad. And this day of sadness and joy was my first day in my long dreamed about Italy!

Last Full Day in Greece

We started early again today. We walked up the hill to the foot of the Acropolis and then started the climb to the top. All 201 steps NOT including inclines. I'm getting better at this. Maybe I should keep up this walking and climbing when I get home. We stood on Mars Hill where Paul talked to the great philosophers of Athens and it was an emotional moment. Cliff read from the book of Acts about the event and then John McLaughlin lead How Great Thou Art. It was hard to absorb the fact of where I was standing. We went on to the Parthenon and Temples and then made our way down  to the Theater of Epidirus. We finished our walking tour with the new Acropolis Museum with all the antiquities found in the ruins.

We ate lunch in a charming restaurant in the Plaka where we had bread, greek salad, macaroni pie and fries, and finished it all off with ice cream. Then we shopped and spent the rest of the afternoon (only an hour or so) relaxing until we met Barbara, a guide, who took us to the tram and to the other side of Athens to meet with the Church of Christ that meets there. When we got there, we were met by the studies abroad group from Harding University that had friends and acquaintances of some of our students. And I met my college photography teacher and his wife who are now living here and managing the program for Harding. It was good to see Mike and Beth James again. The service was wonderful and we even sang two songs in Greek (poorly since we don't know Greek but we had the tune right!). It has been a long time since I have been so blessed by a service. They treated us to juice and chocolate cookies afterwards. Then we rode the tram back to the Plaka and everyone grabbed dinner and shopped until the stores closed orj went back to the hotel. What a great day! Tomorrow, Italy!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Today we toured the ruins of Corinth. I've never been a huge history buff but it was pretty incredible to be standing in the ruins of the city of Corinth! At one point we were standing in front of the Bema where Paul was put on trial and beaten. One of our boys read the passage about it from Acts and the emotions were very overwhelming. I was a little surprised at my reaction. Then we went to the citadel of Micinea where, yes, once again, we climbed to the top of a very high hill. The view was amazing and worth the strenuous climb. I feel that I can eat whatever I want after all the walking and climbing we are doing.

We ate lunch at a lovely little restaurant in the town. We were served bread, stuffed eggplant which was amazing!, greek salad and roast chicken and friend potatoes. Dessert was some sort of custard in phylo pastry. Very yummy. We drove back along the coast and got back to the hotel in time to walk to the plaka for dinner of gyros again. Good cheap food. I also got the gelato I'd been wanting for a couple of days. More shopping and now catching up on blogging. I'm looking forward to free internet when we get back to the facility. Tomorrow we tour Athens. Goodnight all!

50 and Counting!

Today I turned fifty years Greece. Not a bad way to start my second half a century! We ate dinner with friends, the McLaughlins, in an outdoor cafe in Athens in the Plaka. There were Cliff's Lamb in a clay pot, Debbie's moussaka, John's humus, the boys' spaghetti bolognaise, and my cheese toast (which turned out to be a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich). I was still so full from our lunch. Then we wandered the streets shopping and getting gelato and pastries. It was very chilly and we were glad to get back to our hotel.

We spent the majority of the day in Delphi at the ruins. These countries don't believe in anything on a plain so again we climbed and climbed to the top. It wasn't too bad since we stopped to listen to our guide every few feet. She, Vicki, really knows her stuff and told so many stories from history. When you are standing in a structure thousands of years old, 50 doesn't sound so bad!

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant and had grilled bread with olive oil, cheese pie (several layers of various cheeses in a flaky phylo dough), greek salad, souvlaki (pork shiskabobs), fried potatoes, and vanilla and chocolate ice cream for dessert. At one point they came out with some sort of cake with a big candle that looked like the number one. The whole restaurant sang happy birthday to me with a big "OPA" at the end. The strange part about it was that after I blew the candles out, they whisked the cake away. I assumed that they were going to put it on smaller plates for my table. don't think they understood the American birthday cake thing! We laughed until we cried over that! It was a great birthday for any birthday but perfect for a milestone birthday! We have decided to repeat this celebration the same way every year!

Catching Up

Have to pay for internet at hotel in Greece. Here I am going to try to catch up for several days.

February 24
Today we left for Greece. We got the facility ready to leave and then took a train to Louven, Belgium. From there we took an airport express train to the Brussels Airport. We checked our backpacks and carried our day bags onto the plane. The flight to Athens was just over three hours during which we could BUY a meal or snack and drinks. Jon Michael and I had a coke zero for 2.50 euros because we were so thirsty. I had brought snacks so we had beef jerky, nuts or energy bars. We had eaten our lunch of sandwiches earlier on the first train.

We arrived in Athens and after the scare of one missing backpack which did finally show up, we met Fontini, our tour company manager, and the bus that took us to the Hotel Herodian. We have nice rooms and are at the foot of the Acropolis. In fact, we can see it from our balcony!

By then, we were all starved so headed down to the Plaka and had gyros of chicken or pork that had been cooked on an open spit. It had the traditional yogurt sauce and was amazing! We topped it off with baklava and sat at covered tables at a sidewalk cafe while the rain played on the tarps above our heads. Then we ambled through the streets window shopping and picture taking on the way back to the hotel. I now sit in a dark room with the Acropolis shining on the hill outside my window while my family sleeps. We start early tomorrow for a trip to Delphi so sleep is next on my agenda. Night, sweet friends.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Night Before Greece

The packing and excitement has begun. Tomorrow we catch a train for Brussels where we board a plane for Greece! The laundry is clean and ready to pack. The last class before the trip has been taught. We have served all our leftovers to the kids tonight for dinner and thrown out whatever was left. All that is left is to finish packing, clean up the last dishes from tea time and prepare the facility for being gone for 11 days. 

The past few days have just been class days where I have hardly left the facility. Between teaching and cooking, there hasn't been much time until the evening. Then, other than what we have been cooking, there wasn't much to report. A few of the favorites that we made were potato soup with bacon and onion and lunch today where we had a pasta bar and salad bar. I made a marinara sauce that we served on penne noodles and Debbie made a pesto garlic sauce we served on fettucini. The kids are still so appreciative and grateful for the food we make. The kids are spending a lot of time studying, planning free travel (which is extremely time consuming!), and making random trips to the McDonald's about ten minutes away for Speculoos McFlurries. Speculoos is a wonderful flavor that is made into a spread kind of like peanut butter and also cookies. They put it in chocolate, too, which is especially yummy. 

I was able to work on a chemo cap to relax the other night. The kids had a good time modeling it when it was done. I started on another project, a preemie cap, but I told them they would not be able to model that one. It is still on the knitting needles. Haven't had a chance to get back to it yet. 

There has been quite a bit of laughing and pranks as we settle in here and get to know each other. One of the boys that I have been "sparring" with got me back by covering my computer screen totally with yellow post it notes. There will be retribution. I just have to decide what.

Well, must be about packing and cleaning and maybe even getting a little sleep. Next entry will be from Greece! Night all!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Birthday Surprise

We prepared lunch as much as possible last night and this morning. Then we went to our own Bible class so that it would be in English. John and Arlene Galloway joined us again today. After class, we joined the congregation here for a service that was mostly in French. There was an American man that has lived here for years that translated the sermon for us. Becky had gotten sick again after class so went back to bed. When the service was over, our American translator asked if there were any birthdays this week. The majority of our group turned and looked at me so I felt I had to raise my hand. They had me stand along with a little Belgian girl and they sang "Happy Birthday" in FRENCH, no less. It was priceless!

After the services were dismissed, Debbie and I ran back upstairs to check on dinner. We had made a pasta strata with pasta, alfredo sauce, ham, mushrooms, and cheese on top. Side dishes were a fruit salad and a regular salad. and of course, baguettes. We enjoyed visiting with John and Arlene during the afternoon. After they left I took about a 30 minute nap before scrubbing potatoes. Dinner was leftover Belgian vegetable soup, baked potatoes with fixin's and assorted other leftovers that we needed to use or lose. Unfortunately, the potatoes didn't get quite done. They weren't exactly crunchy but they weren't smooth either. The unbelievable thing is the kids never even complained! This is the best group. I told them we wouldn't be hurt if they microwaved their potatoes, but only a handful did. And they were so sweet about it. I have never seen a group of college kids who were so appreciative of everything we do. It still amazes me that we have 33 people, all with different tastes and preferences and we fix one main dish and a few side dishes every meal and I have never heard the least little complaint. LOVE these kids.

Jon Michael napped almost all afternoon so he may be up with the college kids until curfew. That may have all been part of his evil plan all along. He kept falling asleep in church but so did I. Ha!

A secret project was revealed tonight after dinner by the students. More about that when the time is right. Now we have some students working their work study jobs, some studying, and well, most of them are studying. Which is what I need to do to be ready for class tomorrow. Going to let Jon Michael use the computer for a while and help Debbie prepare for tomorrow's meals. Night all!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Market Day

Yesterday was our first full day of classes (and cooking). For lunch, we served a Belgian vegetable soup with salad and bread. It was so yummy! We made beef carbonade for dinner that we cooked in the roaster all day long. It was certainly a treat. We have such a great group of kids that seem to be appreciative of everything we cook. We then spent the evening chilling out, doing homework, facebooking,  and playing games. These college kids are great about including Jon Michael in their games just like he is one of them. We also had a group watching "The Devil Wears Prada".

This morning I awoke to sounds of poles clanging and merchandise being slid along the streets and sidewalks at 5:30.  Then voices and finally blaring American music ("Celebrate! Good Times! Come ON!"). Market Day had arrived on our street. Students visited the market before leaving town for a day of free travel. Cliff left for Liege to run errands. Jon Michael and I went to the market (where he bought a cool mouse that looks like a space ship) and then on to explore the city of Verviers. We had an interesting lunch at McDonald's, his choice, where they gave us mayonnaise and ketchup to dip our fritz (fries) in. Then we stopped by the grocery and bought snacks and supplies to make Becky a chicken salad. She had stayed at the facility because she didn't feel well. Her strep throat was getting better but she needed the day to rest and recover. We had an easy afternoon of laundry, and enjoying the unusual quiet. Dinner consisted of my first venture to order food in French/English at a Chinese restaurant, no doubt. I did end up with something edible for us and we had oodles left over.

The kids all got back to the facility safely and with wonderful stories. We were also visited by our friends, Arlene and John Galloway, from Scotland. They ate their dinner with us and visited a while before taking off for their bed and breakfast in town. They will join us for church tomorrow and lunch. I'm hoping to finish loading some pictures before bed tonight. More tomorrow!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yes, we have arrived!

On Monday, my son got his first stamp in his passport. It was a long day full of planes, trains, and lots of footwork! Exhausting and wonderful all at the same time. We arrived in Verviers, Belgium after some very smooth flights and baggage claim. Customs even went well. I'll never forget Jon Michael's face as the lady stamped his passport.  After getting off the last plane, we grabbed all our luggage and carted it to the train station and got on one train. Then we got off and switched to another train, still lugging our luggage. The final and hardest part of the journey was after the train arrived in Verviers, Belgium. We had to drag our luggage through the cobblestone streets on a 20 minute brisk parade. It was pretty hilarious when I think of what the Belgians must have thought about our wacky parade. We were very glad to get to the facility.

We pretty much just dropped our luggage off and then were taken to an Italian Pizzaria around the corner from the facility. It was a charming place down an alley. It was decided that we would pay so many Euros per person and they would keep the pizzas, coke, water (plain and sparkling) coming. They brought out an appetizer that was a yummy little ball of something. Then came the pizza with a sausage type thing, cheese and boiled eggs. Then followed margarita pizza with several kinds of cheeses and crushed tomatoes. The third pizza was an unusual salute to the Americans with tomato sauce, FRENCH FRIES covered in cheese! The last pizza had little sliced hot dog things on it. As strange as it all looked, it was marvelous. The kids ate until they couldn't hold anymore and we took about 6 leftover pizzas back to the facility. The rest of the evening was settling in. Debbie and I went to the grocery and got supplies for a snacky healthy type dinner including some of the best pears I've ever had. We had fruit, cheese, bread and sliced carrots and celery with Ranch dressing (we brought the powder with us for our American kids). We all slept well that night. Oh, we also tried to make the kids stay up long enough for an orientation session which I'm not sure the tired kiddos got much out of!

Day two had a half day of classes and then we left with our packed lunches for a short train ride to Aachen, Germany. We saw the Cathedral of Charlamaine. Absolutely beautiful stained glass! We also walked through a Medieval gate. Pictures to follow on Facebook! We got back in time for Debbie and I to make our first full meal. Breakfast is always fresh baked baguettes, cereal, yogurt, etc. For dinner we had Alfredo pasta with grilled sausages (that was the meat on sale!), salad with homemade vinaigrette or Ranch, and lots of baguettes.

Today we had another half day of classes, packed lunches and took off for Namur, Belgium. We hiked up from the bottom to the top. All 218+ stairs, not counting the many steep inclines that weren't even steps. And then we went all the way down those stairs and inclines. I feel like I'm doing the Biggest Loser workout! It was beautiful, though at the top.  Then we ate at a small restaurant known for their desserts. They stuck us in the back, only brought enough water for half the table and then never came back to the table to get our dessert crepe order. It was crazy! Another mad dash, slightly lost, back to the train station. We arrived home in time for tea time.

Many apologies for the length of this first actual trip post. I had some catching up to do.  More to come later! Caio!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Good friends

Last night we enjoyed a fun, relaxing evening with Dawn and Jason Bramblett. We wanted to get together one more time before we left as kind of a farewell. As busy as we have been getting ready to go and they have been since their daughter, Sweet Hallie, had her tonsils out this week, we knew a meal would be a challenge. I had also been talking with Dawn about how our meals were getting weird as we were down to the last of what was in the freezer, fridge, and pantry and didn't need to buy much more. Not as bad as another good friend, Lindee, who had told me about their last meal before they moved where she made the only food left in the house, a couple of cans of sauerkraut and frozen brussel sprouts (they looked at their "meal" laughed and ordered pizza!).

Our clothing is also getting a bit creative as we are trying not to wear what we will be wearing for three months solid in Europe. So, my creative friend, Dawn, had the coolest idea. We had a come as you are/wear what you have/bring what you got/eat what we have dinner. We ended up with a varied menu that we all enjoyed so much! Spinach salad with Feta, apples, and walnuts, a little chili, a little tortilla soup, Asian stirfry using up the meat and veggies we had, cream cheese with pepper jelly and Ritz crackers (she had half a block and I had half a block of cream cheese), Texas Caviar and chips, and a lemon pudding cake for dessert. Everyone enjoyed this strange array of succulent foods so much, I think we should make it a common thing when we return! Thanks for the relaxing evening!

Tonight, my daughter and her friends have arranged a night of midnight bowling...mothers vs. daughters! Another last fling before we leave. Too bad it will end with our daughters crying and the moms doing a happy dance. Yes, I went there!

Also, looking forward to a farewell fondue night on Monday with my book club and a few additional friends. We have also been treated to dinner by a faculty couple that went on this trip last fall as faculty sponsors. Plus a colleague of mine and his wife had us over for dinner. I'm liking this! This I know for sure. I have been blessed with some of the finest people on earth that I am honored to call my friends. I'm taking a bit of all of them with me. Thank you to all of you who have taken an interest in this journey of mine and send me your support and love.

Friday, January 28, 2011

And so it begins...

We haven't even left yet but still I feel a need to start this post. I'm about to take the journey of a lifetime and so much of the journey is starting here with all the endless choices and decisions to be made. Things to buy...people to say a goodbye for now to...lists to double check....lists.....lists.......lists..... The beginning is actually not here but started almost a year ago.

My daughter who was a freshman in college was being urged to go in the studies abroad program at her university with friends was talking about what a great trip it will be. Then she was worried about being homesick, something she has wrestled with to some extent in the past. I jokingly said, "Then I will just have to go!" Turns out that since I'm an instructor who can teach in three content areas (Education, Theatre, and Psychology), I was a good candidate to go. Then things started falling into place so fast. My husband, Cliff, was invited to go as well and a wonderful lady (who had been a freshman when we first moved here to teach) was able to come and take his place for the semester and not leave the theatre program completely without leadership. As we speak, she is already here and the students enjoy her witty and amusing style of teaching very much. So, all this left was a very enthusiastic 11 year old, Jon Michael, who very willingly agreed to homeschooling for three months to attend school in Europe!

Since I was building a counseling practice, I was very concerned to build it up for 6 months and then leave for three. I've been so appreciative of my clients who understand the need to seize an opportunity like this. So, I finally committed to the plan this fall when I had not found a suitable full time job to supplement the growing practice. God has been amazing, providing for us both financially and emotionally as we plodded the very lean path toward our wonderful trip.

To add to the financial stress, we didn't know how much we would have to buy! We needed all weather coats (much different from what we usually wear in Tennessee). We needed boots. We needed warm socks and long underwear. We needed expedition backpacks that would carry all we needed for our free travel including one two week stretch. Oh, and we needed passports....yesterday....Becky and I were okay since we had been doing medical mission trips but Cliff's had expired and Jon Michael had never had one. Cha-ching. Expedited service for passport to get in time for tickets to be ordered at a decent price. Cha-ching. Electric adapters and bags for carrying our lunch, water bottles (oh yeah, we bought these too so they would handle the rough treatment of constant travel), and cameras etc. for day trips. Clothes for layering....lined gloves...hats for size everything...not to mention texts and teaching materials. Thankfully, the text books that Cliff and I were using are available in a downloadable ebook format. I could go on and on but you get the picture. Oh yes, we all had to get our meds written for 3 months and are waiting until the last possible day to get them filled so they will last until we get back IF we can afford to pay for three months worth before we go. HA!

We had some very generous friends and family that donated money (we had a very GREEN Christmas!), backpacks, clothes, etc. The university has been very generous too. My doctor was hoping to find some samples of my meds but mine are all generic and not available as a sample.

I'm going to leave this post for now. Still so much more of the planning process to explore with you, my virtual travelers. But that will have to wait to another time. It is time for sleep since I will be a bit sleep deprived on the trip I'm sure. Stay close and get ready for the trip of a lifetime. I'll post pics and everything. Caio!