“What is that smell? It stinks here.”

Those were Dylan’s first words when we got off the train in Amsterdam Central, and it came up time and time again as we walked around, mostly passing by “coffee shops.” Though being there with kids was a lot like being in Vegas with kids, we found a lot to do. On day one, drained from waking up at 4:00am to catch our flight, we went to the Anne Frank House and to the city square while we waited to get into our hotel room. The following day we toured the floating flower market, some flea markets, and an amazing brewery, along with Europe’s largest library. Then, on day three we went to the Van Gough Museum. The boys loved that!

We ate a lot of stroop waffles, tried the herring (cooked and raw… Dylan’s favorite was raw), and the food at Febo (deep fired gravy sticks out of a vending machine). We had dutch apple pie at Winkle 44, and burgers at The Butcher, both amazing restaurants.

When it was all said and done, we had a blast… we just had to be careful not to turn down certain streets, and to check before going into “coffee shops.”

Click here to watch a quick video that captures the highlights of our trip 🙂

Evan’s take on the trip:

On Thanksgiving I went to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam we walked a lot. My dad went to get beer and we went to museums. The museum was about Vincent

VanGogh. And we went to the grocery store there. There were lots of different foods like waffle cookies. Would you like Amsterdam?

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Amsterdam: the city that stinks

This Morning’s News

We left Paris three weeks ago, and I’d planned to write separate blogs for each of the attractions we saw. Today I was going to post about The Louvre and Montmartre. Then I woke up to a barrage of messages from loved ones. They were worried and thankful that we weren’t there for what happened yesterday evening.
Dazed and unsure of what the messages were referring to, I got out of bed this morning and googled what happened in Paris. It broke my heart. In a beautiful city, filled with amazing food and even better people, something atrocious happened.
My mind instantly went to the men working at a Turkish restaurant just outside our flat who helped us on the first night we arrived by providing internet access. Then they checked in with us each morning, asking how we were doing. Are they okay? What about the painters and impressionists we chatted with on day three, the guy dressed in a nice suit, most likely on his way to work who stopped when he saw us hopelessly staring at a city map and offered directions. How are they?
I imagine that if they aren’t hurt, they’re scared. They’re angry and confused. I’m angry and confused. I’m mad that this sort of thing goes on. But mostly I’m sad. I’m sad that there are innocent people who were taken down. I’m sad that there are brainwashed people who think killing is the best option.
Then I think of the streets, how quiet they get in the early morning hours as a mist lays heavy all around. The Eiffel tower peeking through to say good morning, and the smell of fresh coffee and cinnamon crepes in the air. I think of the cobblestone sidewalks in Montmartre, the pristine entry to The Louvre where we stood taking pictures before exploring inside. What are those streets and sidewalks like this morning? When people wake up, how will they see the city today? Surely its beauty has been robbed. When the locals and tourists look out their windows, what are they thinking today?
On our second to last day there, Dylan and Evan asked if we could move to Paris next. They fell in love with the city like I did, and like countless others who visited before us. The city was… is warm, kind, and inviting, and one of my favorite places.
Tomorrow I’ll finish writing the series of blogs I started about our time in Paris simply because Paris deserves to be known for its charm and beauty rather than this horrible thing that happened there. But for today I’ll ask you to join me as I mourn with the people there, hope for those who we came to know, and pray for all of the people affected that they experience peace in times of terror and love in times of worry.

Bekkie

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The Eiffel Tower

Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best idea to take on the Eiffel tower on our first day. We’d already done a lot of walking, and the boys were tired. But Tyler and I get stir crazy when we sit for too long, and by too long I mean more than thirty minutes. It took some coaxing, and telling them that we’d get dinner at the end, but we managed to convince the boys to take the 40 minute stroll with us. If we left quickly, kept a solid pace, and didn’t stop we’d be there right at sunset, eek! I was thrilled about the potential pictures.
We started out at a great pace, but about 20 minutes in the boys were over it. Dylan complained about his sore legs and Evan’s mood had shifted from sweet little boy to rotten little monster. The two of them bickered back and forth, Evan decided to stop walking, and they both agreed that they didn’t like Paris anymore.
I reminded them that there would be food at the end of our walk, and offered piggy back rides, which they took. But they’re both getting bigger and the rides only lasted a few blocks.
30 minutes into the walk, we’d stopped so many times I lost count. I tried to encourage the kids, but with each few steps I could feel myself getting dragged into sourpuss station. The sun was setting. My back hurt, and I could see the tower still taunting me in the distance. It was so close yet so far. We were going to miss the shot I’d hoped for. But darn if we didn’t walk all the way for no reason. A shot in the evening was better than turning around… right?
Then the lights came on, first as a soft, yellow glow, then bright white, each light dancing around like sunlight reflecting on the snow. All four of us stopped and marveled at them. When we rounded the corner into the park, we were taken aback by the size of it and all of the intricate, ornate beams. We took a few pictures, sat under it for a while while we ate some snacks, debated taking a cab home, and promised the boys that we’d only make one stop the following day… The Louvre.

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The City of Lights: our first impressions and first day in Paris

Our first view of Paris was late in the evening on Saturday. Exhausted from a day of traveling, I didn’t expect to enjoy the ride to our flat in the 3rd arr.. I wanted more than anything to take a hot shoer and go to bed. But riding in our taxi, I couldn’t help but take it all in, staring, gaping out the windows as we drove past Notre Dame through crowded streets. Restaurants were packed with noisy rugby fans, or so we were told by our driver when we heard the hoots and hollers. Each turn of our taxi revealed another amazing view filled with lights, cobblestone and traditional Parisian architecture. The cab ride itself proved to be worth the cost in what we saw.
When morning came we scurried out as quickly as possible, forgetting that Europe sleeps in on Sunday. The streets were nearly silent and a light, still fog hung in the air. We took our time walking to Notre Dame Cathedral, grabbing warm, cinnamon crepes and coffee for breakfast on the way.
The cathedral was grand to say the least. We counted ourselves lucky that there was no line, and slipped during an early morning church service. Hushed, we made our way around, listening to French recitals of scripture. Each wall was adorned with imagery and culture from its past. Walking a loop around the inside, we were provided the history of Notre Dame, its construction and everything that happened on the inside and out.
And I can’t lie, I did think a little about the hunchback when the bells sounded.

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Up next we walked to the Catacombs. The stroll there proved to be way shorter than the line outside which wrapped around the small block and took nearly two hours. Practicing quick math facts with the boys got us through a good portion of the wait. Then we debated whether or not we should have lunch right after and the boys started jumping in place, fighting with each other, and singing Minecraft songs at the top of their lungs. When we finally went inside, we were ready.
We trailed down eight flights of spiral stairs so quick I thought I’d be sick from spinning. But with droves of other people in front of you and behind you, the pace at which you travel isn’t an option. At the bottom of the stairs we passed through long, damp hallways until we reached the rooms that held the remains of six million people.
The Catacombs, at their construction, served as a solution. With bodies piling up, and mass graves already packed to the brim, the former mines were renovated to hold the remains. Haunting as it was to think about the fact that all these skeletons were once people, seeing the works of art blew me away. There was fountains, figures, and ornate columns all made out of skulls. I marveled at the time and precision it must have taken for the individuals who constructed such a grave.

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The air was thick and cold. Moisture from the roof of the mine dripped and made the ground muddy under our feet. The boys walked through wide their eyes wide, pointing out shapes, or oddly large skulls. Walking ahead of Tyler and I, they liked to spot things and report them back to us so we could take a picture.
We came out of the mines a few blocks away from where we entered, squinting as we adjusted our eyes to the sunlight again. “I think I have dead people on my feet,” Evan announced, looking at his feet. Sure enough, they were covered in mud, but I assured him it wasn’t dead people.
We walked back to our flat for a break before embarking on our third adventure of the day… the Eiffel Tower

Living Our Faith in a New Way

In the past three months my family and I have only attended a church, in the traditional sense, once. Some of you who know us might be thinking “whaaaat?” Knowing us, I would question it too. When we moved, I thought for sure we’d need to find a church to call home. We went into this prepared, knowing that “shopping” for a church family can be challenging. Bekkie and I are looking for a community, depth and scholarly information in the messages, good praise music, as well as an accessible location and a good children’s program the kids want to attend. All this while aligning our family and core spiritual beliefs, and as an added challenge we need services in English! Needless to say, it’s been a rough go.

But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped practicing our faith. Since we haven’t been going to a Sunday church service and I haven’t been attending my weekly men’s group, you might assume that we have become heathens. So far, the opposite has become true. In the last three months I have had to rely on my family and my faith more than I ever had to in the states. I find myself in prayer more, and I read the Bible daily. The biggest change has been a positive one that neither Bekkie nor I saw coming… family communication and time together. We still do our nightly family prayers and we’ve added a daily devotional devotional time with the boys too!

Last weekend we attended a home church. This “church” was filled with a variety of people, from a variety of countries like Norway, Germany, and the United States as well as ages from adults, teens, to elementary aged children. The home church felt safe of judgement and relaxed and inviting and most of all filled with people eager to talk and pray and better Berlin with a Christ focused agenda. We’re meeting other believers, like ourselves and, not only learning from one another, but talking about how we can serve our community. Last weekend, we spent time praying over the refugee situation, discussing what we can do to help, and developing a plan to pull it off.

In all, this experience has offered the opportunity to “use” what we have been hearing/learning from the pulpit or in our small groups and put it into practice. In my opinion, strengthening my faith and our family.
-Tyler

We’re definitely not in Loveland anymore…

When we first moved, we couldn’t wait to immerse ourselves in a new culture. Having lived in Colorado for so long, we knew we were in for a big shock, but some things have really thrown us through a loop, some are easily accepted, and some can get quite frustrating. Here’s ten that we’ve noticed so far:

  1. Public toilets cost 0,50 Euro. Yes, you have to pay to go. So when your out and about let’s say TK-Maxx or out around town and you feel that certain urge you’d better have some change. The only loop hole I’ve found is that it’s a law here restaurants have to let you use the toilets, but not stores.
  2. While we are talking about poop, another fact is that the toilets here don’t fill up with water. When you go number two you always have a epic turd stain that won’t flush away. Some may find this gross, others exciting.
  3. People here remind me of people from the East Coast. Berlin natives describe them as “gruff.” Coloradans would describe them as cold. They don’t say hello or how’s it going because either they don’t care, its just their culture so don’t get offended.
  4. The dogs here are better behaved than your dog. Dogs are allowed to go everywhere, the grocery store, train (U-Bahn or S-Bahn), even department stores. The dogs just hang out; they don’t bark or sniff each other, or follow strangers.
  5. The German idea of American food is horrible.  How hard is it to make a burger? apparently, very. We have yet to eat at an American fast food chain, but when we do I hope it’s done right!
  6. So is movie theater popped corn. Evan and Dylan really wanted to watch Pixels the movie. We took them to the Sony Center for a 3-D American movie, and it was like being state side again. The only disappointment was the popcorn. Deidre Lock, you’d hate their popcorn.  They don’t offer butter as a choice only salty or sweet and they both fall short. Though you can wash the popcorn down with a beer.
  7. And so is salsa. Salsa here is ketchup. The bottle may say salsa, but it’s only ketchup.
  8. Berlin does have waste management under control. They recycle everything and even collect compost.
  9. Their public transportation is wonderful as well! You have so many choices to travel. Trams, underground or above-ground subway, buses and don’t forget their bike lanes which are on the side walk and not in the street. And that’s only travel within city limits. If you add connecting towns and countries then there’s so many more.
  10. Nudity is okay. Bekkie and I get to see this first hand every morning on our runs. Dylan once received advice from a couple of naked girls about how to jump off a tree into a lake. And now Evan has the urge to be naked or asks to be naked every time we go to the lake swimming as well.

Now that things have begun to get real here, with work starting for me and school for the boys, I am getting a bit homesick. There are times I’ll be doing something and suddenly I remember where I am. I’m living on the other side of the world in a completely new and different life with the most important people in my life. I’ve also met some of the greatest people ever too, going through the same process  and experience as me. So you might ask me, “would you still do this knowing what you know now?”, and I’d say “yes” with no hesitation!
-Tyler

Making Friends

“I don’t think I’m going to make any friends in Germany,” Dylan spoke from the back seat of my Camry back in May.
“Why would you say that?” I asked.
He crossed his arms over his chest and glared out the window. “Because I don’t want to.”
“Well, you’re probably right then.” I smiled and added, “But why don’t you want to?”
I pulled up to a stop light and turned to him. He looked back at me. His eyes shifted from defiant to sad. “Because I don’t want my friends here to get mad at me.”
“Oh, buddy. I don’t think they’ll be mad at you for making new friends.” I reached out and touched his knee.
He turned his attention back to the window.

I’ve thought about that conversation more times than I can count since moving here. I hoped he’d come around by the time school started. And on Monday when I dropped him off, I did so with a prayer that he would find at least one friend this week. Someone he can relate to, play with and sit with at lunch. I knew better than to bring up our past conversation, but his words still echoed in my thoughts when I hugged him goodbye.
When school let out I met the boys with enthusiasm, excited to hear how each of their days went.
“I made a new friend!” Evan proclaimed right away.
“That’s great! What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, but he likes Minecraft,” Evan smiled ear to ear.
I laughed. “That’s good, I guess.”
Dylan was quiet though.
“And how was your day?” I asked. “Did you make any new friends?”
“No.” Just one word, no explanation.
“Who did you sit with at lunch?” I probed further.
“Two sixth graders.”
“Did you talk to them?”
“No. They talked to each other.”
I tried not to look as bummed as I felt. “Well, maybe tomorrow, huh?”
He shrugged on his way up the stairs. “Yeah, I’m going to go email my friends from Loveland.”
He still looked okay though. He wasn’t sad, just matter-of-fact.
On Tuesday Evan announced his accumulation of more friends. Dylan reported the same as the day before. I wondered if I should say something, encourage him beyond what I already had. But my gut told me to leave it, to let him get there on his own.
On Wednesday I heard the same report from both kids.
On Thursday, Dylan didn’t want to go to school. Unlike the days leading up to it when he still wore a smile on his face and seemed alright, he moped around the house a bit. He rode his bike slower, and when I dropped him off, he hung back a ways from the other kids.
“Get up there,” I finally said. I couldn’t help it anymore. “Go talk to some kids.”
“I don’t know them,” he told me.
“And you never will if you don’t talk to them.”
Dylan slumped his shoulders and marched forward. I didn’t know whether to feel good or bad about it.
Then in the afternoon, a small piece of paper came home with him. Torn from a notebook, most likely with another kid’s name followed by a phone number and address scrolled across it.
“What’s this?”
A small smile crept to his lips. “I made a friend today. He wants to hang out on Saturday. Is that okay?”
Inside, my heart let for joy. A new friend. “He’s definitely welcome to come over,” I said. “Tell me more about him.”
We sat and chatted, and my heart lifted. As a mom, it doesn’t get much better than seeing your kids happy. Especially when they’ve been bummed and stressed for so long.
Dylan’s smile was back this morning. He rode fast to school, and he hugged me three times at drop off.
-Bekkie

The Barrier: an unexpected lesson

As a month in Berlin draws to a close, I have come to a realization and my heart goes out to the 32 million adults, 14% of Americans; that’s according to the U.S. Dept. of Eduction, who can’t read. As an educator this number blows my mind!

My family and I have been struggling to learn the German language here, and I understand the frustration of an English Language Learner (ELL) in our school systems along with their parents. Not understanding both the written or the spoken pieces of a language has been frustrating. A feeling of anger mixed with just filling inadequate and stupid. Everything from not being able to order off a menu at a restaurant because their are no pictures to being in the checkout line and the clerk asking you a question and my response is a blank stare, hoping I don’t look as stupid as I feel. As a result, just being here these few short weeks has already changed my perception and patience level as a teacher.

In the future I know can relate to and sympathize with those new to education and new to a culture and language. Going through this process has given me new strategies and an appreciation for the opportunities I have had to grow as a educator. I know in time we will continue to learn phrases and vocabulary. With the technology available with various translation apps as well as apps that teach you simple vocabulary and phases, we’re pretty blessed. Also there are many opportunities for language classes within the area which we are going to take. The opportunity is there and we’ll grow and discover more of the German culture and language. And through all of it, I’ll grow stronger and more passionate about education.

-Tyler

Lies, Lies all Lies

Let me start this blog by clearing up a few things. In Germany a person can find peanut butter (though it’s pretty pricey), ziplock bags, tampons, brown sugar, mac and cheese, tortilla chips and chocolate chips. There are plenty of pain meds and vitamins as well. You can order taco seasoning by the case. In other words, the extra 30 pounds worth of luggage we packed after being told we couldn’t find certain things could have been filled with something more useful, like the jacket I decided not to bring, the several shirts Tyler left behind, not to mention the books, oh the books I had to part with.

When we first signed on to move over here, we were warned that Germans do things differently, told to pack things like cooking yeast and chocolate chips (or pick another item from the list above) if we really wanted them. Either that or we’d have to have someone ship them to us. We wouldn’t have access to them for the next two years. Which meant we’d have to find room in our luggage for all these things. And with a luggage allotment of 130 pounds per person, we had some trimming to do.

In our last days stateside we packed, weighed, un packed, repacked and weighed again more times than I can count. We crammed things into carry on bags, backpacks, and wore layers and jackets through the airport. Hot and sweaty in my leather jacket, jeans, two pairs of socks and three shirts, I felt okay because I knew that we were taking what we needed. Our discomfort for a day meant that we’d be all set for the next two years. I took it in stride.

Then we arrived at our new home. We began to unpack. And Mark and Nancy, the couple we’re renting, from started asking questions. They wondered why we brought so many baggies and why the super-sized container of vitamins? We told them about the lists that we got and the stories from others who came before us finding that they couldn’t get what they needed.

Nancy smiled “You can buy all of that here,” she explained.

“All of it?”

“All of it.” Mark chimed in.

The following day, Nancy took me to the grocery story. In minutes I found nearly everything I thought we wouldn’t. I was dumbfounded. I came home and confirmed it with Tyler. Then the two of us decided to tell the masses, in one collective voice… pack your clothes, your jackets… for the love of Pete, bring your books, but do not waste the extra space cramming two years worth of ziplock bags and tampons into your luggage. It’s all here.

Bekkie
*A word of truth: PopTarts are nearly 7 Euros a box, taco shells cost 4 Euros for ten, the salsa selection is limited and a 4 pack of Oreos will run you 1.50 Euros.

Week One

It’s hard to believe we accepted the offer to come work and live in Germany nearly five months ago. At the time it felt like July would never get here. We had so much to do, the list was overwhelming: Sell the house, sell the cars, tell our boys, tell our jobs, cancel our subscriptions… We had to find a place in Berlin, pack what we could and leave what we couldn’t.
Looking back, we we’ve been pretty fortunate. Our house sold in just over a week, as did our cars. We found our home here quickly and discovered that we’re renting from a couple of amazing people who have gone out of their way to make the transition easier on us. Our families and coworkers remained so supportive.
Of course, the boys went back and forth between excited, sad, happy and angry about the pending life change.
On one car trip Dylan turned to me and said, “I don’t think I’m going to make any friends in Germany.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because I don’t want to.”
I laughed a little. “Then you’re probably right, son.”
Two weeks later he told me that he’d be okay making one friend while we’re away.
He wasn’t alone in his mood swings. Each of us had to reconcile the move in our own minds. We had to find a new normal, and since none of us had visited Germany before, we had no clue what that normal would look like.
Now it’s been a week now since we moved and both boys have announced what Tyler and I have been feeling… Germany isn’t as scary or different as we thought. It’s strange, in fact, how even though we’ve gone through such a big change, life looks the same. We are all the same people that we were a week ago, doing the same daily tasks as before. We were adventurous in Colorado, taking every opportunity to get out and explore. We’re doing that here as well.
Life is good. The move, though not without it’s challenges (we’ll write more on those later) did nothing to alter the fact that we love, care for, and fight for each other.
All this to say, after week number one, I think we’re going to be just fine here :).

-Bekkie