me…art collector?!

I am now officially an art collector. Oh, I have bought prints and posters over the years. And I confess to owning a Thomas Kincade painting of Venice’s Grand Canal (same light, no flower gardens or english cottages in sight). But I’ve moved up a level now. I have a painting commissioned specifically for me by a professional artist! (I still can’t believe that’s true…)

My new painting by Greg Gutierrez

My new painting by Greg Gutierrez

I participate in a number of on-line artist forums. It is invigorating to see what other artists are doing–whether something I love or things I don’t enjoy, all of it sparks my own creativity. Sometimes I join art swaps or on-going projects. Other times I merely enjoy what others are doing and posting.

A few months ago a bright, cheerful painting was posted. It was from this artist’s “Ward Series.” I was fascinated by the painting…and I was intrigued by the series name. (My mother-in-law’s maiden name was Ward.) I contacted the artist to ask more questions. And I kept looking back at that painting over and over. Every time it made me smile. It made my heart sing!

Eventually, since I had some birthday gift money, I got brave enough to contact Greg Gutierrez and ask how much it would cost for me to buy one of his Ward Series paintings. I was sure it would be far above my means…but was quite excited to find out I was wrong. It took every penny of my birthday money, but, oh how it was worth it!

After receiving my money, Greg bought supplies and started the layers and layers of paint. Color is added even on the sides of the canvas. It takes a few weeks for him to finish these paintings. Greg kept me posted on the process. And finally at the beginning of this week I was told that the package was in the mail.

Detail of Painting--notice it wraps all the way around the sides of the canvas

Detail of Painting–notice it wraps all the way around the sides of the canvas

YAY! I was so excited to rip open the envelope when it arrived this morning. After unwrapping layer after layer of protection, I finally saw the painting made especially for me.

I am now the proud owner of Ward Series #60, by Greg Gutierrez. It hangs right above my desk, where I can look up and enjoy it over and over. Thanks, Greg!

My painting's new home--right above my desk so I see it often!

My painting’s new home–right above my desk so I see it often!

Hmmm…I wonder how long it would take me to save for another painting in the series?!

Take a look HERE at Greg’s on-line gallery and enjoy his colorful, eclectic paintings!

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Seeing More

You know the phenomenon—once you notice something, you suddenly see it everywhere you look. Buy a new (to you) car and the parking lots and roads are filled with that model. See a fashion you would like to try and a zillion others are wearing similar things. Appreciate a certain breed of dog, and that type of dog is frisking along everywhere you go.

In the past few weeks, I have realized anew some fundamentals that affect what I notice in the world around me. Years ago, our middle daughter became interested in raptors (hawks, falcons, eagles, owls, etc.) She has volunteered in a variety of settings to gain experience working with these birds. Because of her interest and because of what we learned from her along the way, our family now notices raptors along the roadways everywhere we travel. We might not know the specific species names, but we enjoy the wonder of seeing the birds perched in trees or on fence posts, or soaring in the air. And the excitement of seeing a hawk swoop to the ground to catch dinner is amazing!

Daughter with a Hawk--at a falconry centre in Yorkshire England

Daughter with a Hawk–at a falconry centre in Yorkshire England

My husband has a private pilot’s license. So for the past 10 years, all of us suddenly notice small planes flying cross country. We see the little green signs with a white airplane on road posts, indicating a nearby airport. We notice runways, even long grassy strips with just a windsock at one end. With a new interest comes new eyes.

Finally, today marks 5 years since the unexpected death of one of our sons. We have become members of a club that no one ever wants to join—parents who walk through the death of a child. Obviously, that has changed us in profound ways. That experience has also given us new eyes. At first, we felt totally alone. We only knew a handful of people who had walked this path before us. Gradually, we realized that there are similarly grieving parents everywhere we go. They are all around us. Unfortunately, we are NOT alone in this journey.

...missing Smiley James...

…missing Smiley James…

Some things that we see more of—new cars or fashions, for example—don’t really need a response. Other things seem to  invite involvement or ask for a response. As we continue to rebuild life without our son, we wonder if and when there might be a role for us to play in reaching out to the “more” that we see in the grieving world.

What things do you see “more” of in your life? Which of these things are just for your enjoyment and which might be inviting a response on your part?

Top 10 Travel Tips

Daughter Anna and I are finishing up small scrapbooks about our 10 week adventure in Europe. One of the pages is a “Top 10.” At first I wondered how in the world I could summarize that length of trip in just 10 lines.

Day 1 of our Travel Adventure

Day 1 of our Travel Adventure

I thought of using one line for each week we were away from home. That didn’t feel right for two reasons: the scrapbook itself was already covering the basics of where we went, what we saw, and what we did during our travels. Plus, we spent seven of the weeks staying (mostly) in one place, living with and helping our friends. Most of the travel action occurred in just three weeks.

One of the things I love about travel is thinking about the trip, both before and after the adventure. I have been pondering on the highs, the lows, the lessons learned, and travel advice I might share with others. I finally decided to combine all of that with the Top 10 list for my little scrapbook (in no particular order).

1. Take time to SEE family heritage in person. This moves dates and facts from the realm of knowledge into personal memory and emotion. I was surprised by the how colorful life was in the Alsace region of France. We also enjoyed exploring the small town (Erbach) along the Rhine River where Emmelhainz used to be a significant name.

Colorful Historic Homes from the Alsace region of France (collected at the Ecomusee)

Colorful Historic Homes from the Alsace region of France (collected at the Ecomusee)

The Emmelhainz Haus in Erbach, Germany

The Emmelhainz Haus in Erbach, Germany

2. ENJOY in person things you have previously enjoyed in print. I confess to being an incurable royalty-watcher. Seeing castles throughout Germany and England felt like fairy-tales coming to life! And, yes, there was a thrill in knowing that the Queen was “in residence” when we were touring Windsor Castle in England…

The Queen's flag flies high over Windsor Castle when she is "in residence."

The Queen’s flag flies high over Windsor Castle when she is “in residence.”

3. Be BRAVE and try using the language. There was an old shopkeeper in the small town I walked to regularly in Germany. I speak no German and he spoke no English, so we did business while fumbling through greetings and using lots of smiles. One day I memorized a question (about mailing cards) from the phrasebook. I’m not sure whose smile was brighter when he exclaimed “Perfect!” (So far from true, I’m sure. But others truly appreciate the effort you make to speak their language.)

4. Don’t forget to PLAY! By having a younger child with me this time, I discovered there are wonderful playgrounds all over Europe. Traveling with a child gave me new eyes to see things I had missed on past visits.

A common toy on German playgrounds.

A common toy on German playgrounds.

5. Get used to WALKING everywhere you go. Trust me, you will miss this when you get back to the States where everything is designed to get around by automobile.

6. In a similar way, Teach your child to be COMFORTABLE with many different means of transportation. We used planes, trains, subways, taxi-cabs, rental cars, and even a bike-cab. We also figured out the variety of ways to pay for parking! Hopefully these things will be less intimidating for my daughter when she eventually travels on her own.

We made in impulsive decision to take a bike cab in Paris--what FUN!

We made an impulsive decision to take a bike cab in Paris–what FUN!

7. Discover the UNEXPECTED. Some of these will be disappointments (such as finding out the room we reserved in a castle was actually across the way in the servants quarters…sigh…). Some of these will be magical. Don’t forget to allow your child’s imagination run wild. Finding “fairy trees” is a favorite memory for my daughter!

The Light Festival in Amsterdam was unexpected MAGIC!

The Light Festival in Amsterdam was unexpected MAGIC!

The "Royal Fairy Academy" was found in Germany.

My daughter discovered the “Royal Fairy Academy” in a small town in Germany.

8. TASTE new things. Yes, there will be things you don’t particularly like (or even things you hate). But you just might find a new “favorite” or two! The only down-side is not being able to get that thing back home.

Some of our favorites from the bakery in Schweinfurt Germany.

Some of our favorites from the bakery in Schweinfurt Germany.

9. Enjoy ADVENTURES that aren’t possible in the USA. Most places in the world allow greater levels of risk to tourists, things that would never be allowed in the States. You can climb steep pyramids with no railings in Mexico, freely wander ancient ruins in England, and explore a maze of tunnels under a castle by candlelight (and thread reeled out by another family) in Germany. Don’t miss the fun—sometimes “scary” makes the best memories!

10. Building MEMORIES together is the absolutely best thing about travel. And there is something extra sweet about watching your youngest child and your oldest child get to know each other better and learn to appreciate the other…

Sharing tastes in music.

Sharing tastes in music.

What about YOU? What are some of your favorite bits of advice for enjoying travel adventures? I’d love to hear your comments…

Exactly Where I Need to Be

I usually post original thoughts here on my blog. However, I saw this on a friend’s blog. I have watched it over and over for the past few days. I love the beauty of the dance. And the words seem to fit quite well with where I am at right now. On the one hand, our family still has NO idea of “what’s next.” On the other hand, I’m doing better (for now, at least) at “BE-living” (my word for 2013), being comfortable with and taking pleasure in the moment, rather than worrying about and focusing on the future.

Hopefully some (if not most) of you will enjoy this video…and the lyrics written below. (I recognize that these lyrics are not “Christian” — but I think the song still holds wisdom for ALL of us.)

(or click here to see video in another window — HOOP Dancer Video)

Exactly by Amy Steinberg

i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am a blessing manifest
i can undress the moment
naked time unwinds beneath my mind
and from within i find the kind of beauty
only i can find
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am surrendering so willingly
to be the perfect me inside this now
and truly how else could it be
destiny she blesses me
when i try to fight or run
i only wind up back at square one
when i think i know what’s best for me
fate she takes me back
to exactly where i need to be
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am divinely timed and shining brightly
yes i believe that there’s a purpose just for me
yes i believe that we are light
and we shine infinitely
i am exactly where i need to be
i need to be exactly where i am
i am not aimlessly existing see
i am in perfect harmony with universal energy
and i am truly free when i accept my own divinity
look at me look at me closely
what exactly do you see
if you are paying attention you will now begin ascension of the mind
why, because if you look at me just right you will see a kiss
for it took a kiss to make this breath exist
the intersection of my mother’s and father’s lips
to touch twist and perfect what came next to produce me
look at me and you will see the breeze
the breeze it took to shake the leaves to make
my mother’s hair move, my father dare touch it and say
please may i have a kiss
yes the breeze made me exist
and if you want to get even deeper into this
when you look at me you will see a cloud
the cloud it took to form the storm to shake the leaves to
inspire the liplock – yes a raindrop will pop up out these words
you heard me right
if you look at me close enough you will see a dark stormy night
and what is night without it’s polar opposite of sunlight
so if you watch the way my hands sway
you’ll see the light of day
and everyday is a testament to the sediment of the earth’s core
it’s ever spinning enormous force so if you look at me just right
you will see a spark of the source
but the most fascinating thing about this, and it’s true
is that if you look at me close enough, you see you
it’s only what you perceive how you believe the space between
you and me
that creates reality
so when i sing you can feel it
when i cry you can heal it
when i speak words you can be the words i speak by singing with me
peace love free
peace love free
peace love free
and when i am alone and full of fear
i just remember the rising sun always appears
everyday miracles that i see
well they take me back to exactly where i need to be

Princess Anna’s Sparkly Birthday

My “baby” daughter, Princess Anna, had a birthday this past weekend.

Anna -- still a Princess, not really my "baby" any more!

Anna — still a Princess, not really my “baby” any more!

Many of you saw my plea on facebook or via email:

Daughter Anna turns 11 on Feb 2nd. We will have a small celebration with the family we are living with in Germany. There will be a big birthday party the following weekend for 2 of the children in this family. Anna understands in her head why we can’t have a big party with lots of guests and gifts for her…but she still gets teary thinking about it. And THAT makes this mama’s heart hurt for her.

So…I want to surprise her during her family “Sparkle Party.” Could you please send me (fb comment, fb message, or email) a short note for Anna, focused on “sparkles” or “glitter” and on how special SHE is? I will type them out, print them, cut them out, and tie each one with sparkly ribbon for her to open all the affirmations on her birthday!

THANK YOU in advance for helping her feel special! (Also, IF you are so inclined, please consider mailing a sparkly card to her for her to get an extra birthday surprise when we get back to Ohio in early March…I will message our address to anyone who wants to do this.)

Anna’s 11th birthday is over—celebrated with lots of SPARKLES! I thought you might like to see photos of four (count ’em, FOUR) days filled with special activities and fun.

Day One–early in the week Anna and I went clothes shopping. She needed new pants and wanted to add some sparkle to her wardrobe. (The shirt in the top photo was from this shopping expedition.)

Searching for a sparkly wardrobe is tons of work

Searching for a sparkly wardrobe is tons of work…

Obviously, we "needed" sweet refreshments to recover from the shopping!

Obviously, we “needed” sweet refreshments to recover from the shopping!

Day Two — My friend took her daughter and Anna for all three of them to get “new ‘do”s. What fun!

Three "New 'Do"s for the "ladies"

“New ‘Do”s for the three “ladies”

Day Three — I took both “big girls” to Bamberg. A day with no responsibilities added to the pleasure of the outing!

We discovered an awesome "pocket playground" where Fairies could vanquish the giant (invisible) spiders.

We discovered an awesome “pocket playground” where Fairy Anna and her friend could vanquish the giant (invisible) spiders.

...and we found an entire fairy village with multiple homes (aka holes) in each tree

…and we found an entire fairy village with multiple homes (aka holes) in each tree.

As we wandered the old part of Bamberg, the girls were Princesses.

As we wandered the old part of Bamberg, the girls were royalty.

We finished the day at an indoor mini water park. (Thanks, Aunt Jan!) Can you find Mermaid Anna?!

We finished the day at an indoor mini water park. (Thanks, Aunt Jan!) Can you find Mermaid Anna?!

Day Four — On Anna’s actual birthday, we continued the annual tradition of taking a photo of Groundhog Anna to record her prediction for Spring’s arrival. I took all 4 kids back to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for a little shopping, some yummy food, and a climb up the medieval walls.

Groundhog Anna in Rothenburg...

Groundhog Anna in Rothenburg…

YAY! No shadow! Spring is on the way...

YAY! No shadow! Spring is on the way…

We visited the Teddy Bear stores and Anna bought a fairy at the "Knights and Fairies" store. (Thanks, Grma June & Grpa Bob!)

We visited the Teddy Bear stores and Anna bought a fairy at the “Knights and Fairies” store. (Thanks, Grma June & Grpa Bob!)

We finished Anna’s SPARKLE celebrations with a little family party at home that evening:

Anna had sparkly decorations and gifts at her birthday dinner.

Anna had sparkly decorations and gifts at her birthday dinner.

We fixed favorite German McDonald's food--Nurnberger sausages, Rosti (potatoes) with applesauce, and some Broccoli to make it healthier!

We fixed favorite German McDonald’s food–Nurnberger sausages, Rosti (potatoes) with applesauce, and some Broccoli to make it healthier!

At 11, "little girl" Anna still delights in sparkly toys...

At 11, “little girl” Anna still delights in sparkly toys…

...and my "one-teen" likes bling, LOTS of bling! (earrings, rings, hair doo-dads, lip-gloss, and more)

…and my “one-teen” likes bling, LOTS of bling! (earrings, rings, hair doo-dads, lip-gloss, and more) (photo taken by Anna’s friend)

At first Anna was bored with the bag filled with little rainbow tied scrolls...but her face lit up when she realized there were 18 different notes celebrating SPARKLE GIRL ANNA! (Thanks, friends and family!)

At first Anna was bored with the bag filled with little rainbow tied scrolls…but her face lit up when she realized there were 18 different notes celebrating SPARKLE GIRL ANNA! (Thanks, friends and family!)

And everyone enjoyed their first (??!!) banana splits for dessert---Happy 11th Birthday, Anna Bananas!

And everyone enjoyed their first (??!!) banana splits for dessert—Happy 11th Birthday, Anna Bananas!

(THANKS to all who helped make this a very special birthday celebration for Anna. Hopefully, these sparkly memories will help her joyfully celebrate her friends at their birthday party this weekend…)

Dive In To The New…

I am linking up with 5 minute Friday. You can read more about it HERE. This week’s prompt is “dive.” I’m starting with a 5 minute write…then adding photos of 2 weeks of wandering in Europe with my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter.

Ready…Set…GO!

Dive in! That’s easy for me. I love to experience new things, meet new people, go new places, try new foods.

Yes, it can be stressful when I’m someplace new. What if I’m on the wrong train? Where do we get off? (I can’t read the signs. After all, they are in German, an unintelligible language to my ears and eyes.) What landmarks do I need to remember to get back to the hostel? Where will I find friendly people who are happy to help poor, confused me?

But…there is a thrill in just diving in. If the water is cold, it is also refreshing. It makes the adrenaline pump, adds excitement to my life.

And this trip? Aaahhhh…I get the fun of traveling with two of my kids. They can enjoy the “dive” with me. And if they get nervous or afraid, hopefully my pleasure can help them overcome their discomfort. Perhaps this is a gift I can give them… Come to think of it, with the ways most of my kids like to wander the world, I must have already given them this gift!

Are you ready? C’mon! Let’s DIVE!

Here are a few photos for each day of our wandering in Germany, Alsace France, and the Netherlands. Photo-evidence of our DIVE In To The New in Europe!

Day One: Travel Day (Tuesday, Dec 18th)

At the airport, ready to DIVE!

At the airport, ready to DIVE!

Just when we were getting bored in the Philly airport (delayed flight), SANTA appeared!

Just when we were getting bored in the Philly airport (delayed flight), SANTA appeared!

Day Two: Frankfurt Germany (Wed, Dec 19th)

We wandered the streets around the youth hostel, and finally met up with Celia late in the afternoon.

We wandered the streets around the youth hostel, and finally met up with Celia late in the afternoon.

An evening in Frankfurt: Jewish Museum, walking along the river walk, and finding yummy indian food for supper...

An evening in Frankfurt: exploring the Jewish Museum, wandering along the river walk, and finding yummy Indian food for supper…

Day Three: Travel to the Rheingau (Thurs, Dec 20)

We rented a car and drove to the Rhein River region. We walked around Frauenstein...and Anna discovered a FAIRY TREE!

We rented a car and drove to the Rhein River region. We walked around Frauenstein…and Anna discovered a FAIRY TREE!

We also laughed at what we later realized was the first Santa trying to break into a house...

We also laughed at what we later realized was the first Santa decoration of many that seemed to be breaking into a house…

We drove to neighboring Erbach (home of Emmelhainz ancestors) and found the family church.

We drove to neighboring Erbach (home of Emmelhainz ancestors) and found the family church.

And we walked the streets of Erbach...where Emmelhainz ancestors had walked for generations...something special about that!

And we walked the streets of Erbach…where Emmelhainz ancestors had walked for generations…something special about that!

Day Four: Christmas Markets in the Rheingau (Fri, Dec 21st)

Our German host took us to Rudesheim in the afternoon, to introduce us to a lovely Christmas Market.

Our German host took us to Rudesheim in the afternoon, to introduce us to a lovely Christmas Market.

Christmas Markets include yummy food, lots of people, wonderful booths of crafts and decorations, and...did I mention the food?!!

Christmas Markets include yummy food, lots of people, wonderful booths of crafts and decorations, and…did I mention the food?!!

In the evening, our host took us to the huge Christmas Market in Weisbaden. I didn't like the crowds...but the lights were beautiful...

In the evening, our host took us to the huge Christmas Market in Weisbaden. I didn’t like the crowds…but the lights were beautiful…

...and Anna loved her ride on the 2nd story of the Carousel!

…and Anna loved her ride on the 2nd story of the Carousel! (Did YOU know there was such a thing??)

Day Five: Emmelhainz Heritage (Sat, Dec 22nd)

We met German Emmelhainz relatives...still living in the family town. They shared stories and old photos.

We met German Emmelhainz relatives…still living in the family town. They shared stories and old photos.

And we were shown the Emmelhainz Haus, an old winepress originally used by the Emmelhainz, and other area landmarks related to family.

And we were shown the Emmelhainz Haus, an old winepress originally used by the Emmelhainz wine-makers, and other area landmarks related to family.

Day Six: Castles and Roman Ruins along the Rhein (Sun, Dec 23rd)

Castles line both sides of the Rhein River...

Castles line both sides of the Rhein River…

Castles line both sides of the Rhein River. We explored Rheinfels Burg, still majestic even as ruins.

We explored Rheinfels Burg in St. Goar, still majestic even as ruins.

For an extra adventure, the tunnels under the castle could be explored by candle light. (And some were pitch black and low-ceilinged...)

For an extra adventure, the tunnels under the castle could be explored by candle light. (And some were pitch black and low-ceilinged…)

I always enjoy taking photos at the same places as daughter Celia...and seeing just how different our "eye"s are for what makes good pictures!

I always enjoy taking photos at the same places as daughter Celia…and seeing just how different our “eye”s are for what makes good pictures!

One of the things I find most fascinating in Europe is the Roman Ruins scattered throughout the countries outside of Italy. (This is a mix of old and older in the riverside town of Boppard.)

One of the things I find most fascinating in Europe is the Roman Ruins scattered throughout the countries outside of Italy. (This is a mix of old and older in the riverside town of Boppard.)

Day Seven: the flooded Rhein and a drive to Alsace Region of France (Christmas Eve)

...and even one castle in the MIDDLE of the river! (usually the island is visible...)

Castles tower above riverbank towns and one castle is in the MIDDLE of the river! (usually the island is visible…)

A German friend tried to convince us that wild and crazy Germans like to picnic in the water! We thought he was joking...until we actually saw some guys climb out to some tables for the fun of it!! (ha-ha!)

A German friend tried to convince us that wild and crazy Germans like to picnic in the water. We thought he was joking…until we actually saw some guys climb out to some tables for the fun of it!! (ha-ha!)

Since the rain finally stopped, we took a break for Anna to play on the awesome playground back in Erbach.

Since the rain finally stopped, we took a break for Anna to play on the awesome playground back in Erbach.

When we finally got to the hotel in France, Anna got her traditional Christmas Eve PJs. (Fortunately she had mentioned the importance of this in the morning...when I had time to run around like a crazy thing in the small town where we stayed; looking to buy some PJs. Whew! Found some!)

When we finally got to the hotel in France, Anna got her traditional Christmas Eve PJs. (Fortunately she had mentioned the importance of this in the morning…when I had time to run around like a crazy thing in the small town where we stayed; looking to buy some PJs. Whew! Found some!)

And for a mix of old and new...I did the traditional sewing of doll clothes late on Christmas Eve, this time with HAND sewing!

And for a mix of old and new…I did the traditional sewing of doll clothes late on Christmas Eve, this time with HAND sewing!

Day Eight: Ecomusee (Living History Museum) in Alsace France (Christmas Day)

The day started with a pile of mixed Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. How weird to not have stockings! How weird to not be with more family! How weird that I had no gifts to open! (This trip was already an amazing gift...)

The day started with a pile of mixed Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. How weird to not have stockings! How weird to not be with more family! How weird that I had no gifts to open! (This trip was already an amazing gift…)

Then we explored the village: with live farm animals, peacocks, and real-true-living-STORKS on the roofs!

Then we explored the village: with live farm animals, peacocks, and real-true-living-STORKS on the roofs!

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It was fun to imagine how my maternal ancestors might have lived in this area of France, before emigrating to America. The buildings were fascinating. If only I could have understood the signs (in French and German).

We finished the evening walking around the museum (in the rain), following actors in a Christmas play, carrying candle lanterns to light our way. It finally FELT like Christmas when we had a community carol sing---the songs still felt right, even when sung in French.

We finished the evening walking around the museum (in the rain), following actors in a Christmas play, carrying candle lanterns to light our way. It finally FELT like Christmas when we had a community carol sing—the songs still felt right, even when sung in French.

Day Nine: Travel Day (Thurs, Dec 26th)

We spent this day driving back to Germany (easy to do with a GPS), returning the rental car, and taking a train to Celia's friend in the Netherlands.

We spent this day driving back to Germany (easy to do with a GPS), returning the rental car, and taking a train to Celia’s friend in the Netherlands.

Even with spending so much time together, we got along pretty well. (It was cool for Anna to get to know her big sister better...)

Even with spending so much time together, we got along pretty well. (It was cool for Anna to get to know her big sister better…)

Day Nine: Maastricht Netherlands (Thurs, Dec 27th)

Maastricht, another fascinating city with a mix of medieval and roman history still visible...

Maastricht, another fascinating city with a mix of medieval and roman history still visible…

According to the stories, this beautiful gate had a horrible use---to kick anyone who was sick completely OUT of the town to try to survive all alone. It was called "Hell's Gate."

According to the stories, this beautiful gate had a horrible use—to kick anyone who was sick completely OUT of the town to try to survive all alone. It was called “Hell’s Gate.”

Although we don't know much about Catholicism, we DO know about the beauty of candles and the wonders of prayer. Anna lit a candle and prayed for some friends while we visited the Basilica in Maastricht.

Although we don’t know much about Catholicism, we DO know about the beauty of candles and the wonders of prayer. Anna lit a candle and prayed for some friends while we visited the Basilica in Maastricht.

I delight in noticing little scenes and gardens and doorways along the streets. I always wonder who else notices these little bits of beauty...

I delight in noticing little scenes and gardens and doorways along the streets. I always wonder who else notices these little bits of beauty…

Day Eleven: Valkenburg Netherlands (Fri, Dec 28th)

We started with a tour of the caves under the castle ruins...

We started with a tour of the human-carved maze of caves under the castle ruins…

Over the generations, the caves were used for defense, for hiding, for storage, and eventually decorated for victorian tourists. The various drawings and carvings tell the history of the area.

Over the generations, the caves were used for defense, for hiding, for storage, and eventually decorated for victorian tourists. The various drawings and carvings tell the history of the area.

From the man-carved depths of the hill, we moved to the man-made fortress above the town.

From the man-carved depths of the hill, we moved to the man-made fortress above the town.

And since we brought umbrellas, it wasn't rainy on this day...it was COLD instead! (But we enjoyed time together and had fun with Celia's friend.)

And since we brought umbrellas, it wasn’t rainy on this day…it was COLD instead! (But we enjoyed time together and had fun with Celia’s friend.)

Day Twelve: Amsterdam (Sat, Dec 29th)

Ohhh...how I loved historic Amsterdam with its canals, houseboats, leaning rows of old houses, and bicycles everywhere...

Ohhh…how I loved historic Amsterdam with its canals, houseboats, leaning rows of old houses, and bicycles everywhere…

Even the modern buildings sprinkled through the historic area had charm!

Even the modern buildings sprinkled through the historic area had charm!

Did you know Van Gogh was from Amsterdam? Nope, neither did I. But the museum exhibit was AWESOME! (loved the mix of sketches and paintings)

Did you know Van Gogh was from Amsterdam? Nope, neither did I. But the museum exhibit was AWESOME! (loved the mix of sketches and paintings)

And the "Illuminade--Festival of Light"? Pure magic as we wandered along a trail of art from lights throughout the historic city...

And the “Illuminade–Festival of Light”? Pure magic as we wandered along a trail of art from lights throughout the historic city…

Day Thirteen: A Vineyard Church Service and a Castle (Sun, Dec 30th)

We enjoyed worshiping in Dutch and English with friends at the Vineyard Church in Amsterdam. The music was inspiring...and the end of the year celebration of what God has done in people's lives, set to a jam-session of joyful blues music, was enthralling...

We enjoyed worshiping in Dutch and English with friends at the Vineyard Church in Amsterdam. The music was inspiring…and the end of the year celebration of what God has done in people’s lives, set to a jam-session of joyful blues music, was enthralling…

We definitely DOVE into this lovely city...and took time to soak up a few last views of canals and leaning houses. (Do I have to get out of this "water"? Can't I stay and "swim" awhile longer?!)

We definitely DOVE into this lovely city…and took time on this day to soak up a few last views of canals and leaning houses. (Do I have to get out of this “water”? Can’t I stay and “swim” awhile longer?!)

For our last night of wandering, we stayed at this genuine castle with a real moat around it! (So sad the exhilaration of "Diving In" is coming to an end...Let's not talk about staying in the servants' quarters instead of the castle, dealing with a very flat tire on the friend's car, and saying goodbye to daughter Celia...okay?)

For our last night of wandering, we stayed at this genuine castle with a real moat around it! (So sad the exhilaration of “Diving In” is coming to an end…Let’s not talk about staying in the servants’ quarters instead of the castle, dealing with a very flat tire on the friend’s car, and saying goodbye to daughter Celia…okay?)

Day Fourteen: One Last Travel Day (Mon, Dec 31st)

We started our travel day at the fanciest starbucks I've ever seen (in the beautiful old train station in Amsterdam)...

We started our travel day at the fanciest Starbucks I’ve ever seen (in the beautiful old train station in Amsterdam)…

We spent the day riding trains and snacking in the train stations...

It was a day spent riding trains and snacking in the train stations…

We spent the day thinking about all we experienced and enjoyed from our DIVE IN TO THE NEW of Europe...

…and pondering all that we experienced and enjoyed from our DIVE IN TO THE NEW of Europe…

And what’s next now that our DIVE is over? Daughter Anna and I are spending the next 7 weeks living with friends as they add a newborn to their active family.  (Hmmm…maybe this is aother opportunity for DIVING, after all?!)

More things to do and places to explore? What FUN!

More things to do and places to explore? What FUN!

When Opportunity Comes Knocking

(This post is linked with 5 Minute Friday—where the host site offers a word, and many bloggers choose to write for 5 minutes on that subject. You can see more posts about “Opportunity” by participating writers HERE.)

I haven’t had much to say here for the past few months. Life has been chaotic in ways that I wasn’t supposed to talk about publicly. I wrote a few entries during that time which I will (probably) eventually post.

Quick summary: funding ran out, vision was not sustainable, job working with at-risk Navajo young people with a mission in a remote area of New Mexico has ended. (You can read a little more about it HERE.)

Needless to say, this has been a stressful time. We have applied for numerous jobs across the country, but so far all doors remain tightly CLOSED. We finally decided to move back to central Ohio in December to live with family until we can figure out what is next for our family.

As we were planning the move, I asked my husband if I should apply to a Starbucks near my parents’ house to help bring in a little income. After all, being a barista can be done early in the morning while my kids are still sleeping, it includes lots of people contact, and caffeine is involved. Seemed like a win-win to me.

My husband just looked at me, commented “do what you want,” and walked out of the room.

A few days later, I asked again. And again, he commented “do what you want,” and changed the subject.

Now, those who know me, know I do NOT have the patience of a saint. So when the same thing happened the next day, I gave a sharp answer: “what I WANT to do is travel the world, but we don’t have any money so that’s not possible. Stop saying I should just do what I want!” But again, my dear husband, just smiled and walked away.

Whew! I’m surprised you didn’t hear on the news about a murder in a remote area of New Mexico!

And then…

And then…a few days later I got a phone call from a friend. She was feeling overwhelmed with 3 young children and another baby on the way. She vented. I was feeling overwhelmed with no clue of our future. I vented. And at the end of the conversation I joked that if they would just pay my airfare to Germany, I would come help them for a month or two as a “mother’s helper.”

She said yes. I almost fell off the bed I was lounging on!

When I talked to my husband about it, he smiled again and said, “isn’t that what you wanted to do?”

And now? My youngest daughter and I are in Germany for a few months. The “doors” toward the future for our family all seem tightly closed right now. But opportunity still came knocking…

Leaving...on a Jet Plane...

Leaving…on a Jet Plane…

(Isn’t God AMAZING?!! I just love this story of His providing…for me and for my friend!)

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