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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I had the pleasure of attending the Rabbit Room Retreat at Laity Lodge last weekend. The weekend included a stop for Texas bar-b-q, sessions on Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor, good conversation over mouth-watering meals, an intimate in-the-round concert, a hike up to a scenic overlook, star gazing in open fields, discussions on community and creativity, time with dear friends, breathtaking scenery, and so much more!

Words don’t begin to express what a magical and restful time I had. Here are some photos instead:

Driving through the Frio River is like a baptism.

Driving through the Frio River is like a baptism.

Great Hall, Laity Lodge

Great Hall, Laity Lodge

Great Hall overlooks the Frio River. The river is an astonishing shade of turquoise.

Great Hall overlooks the Frio River. The river is an astonishing shade of turquoise.

Consider the wildflowers...

Consider the wildflowers…

We had perfect weather for sitting outside.

We had perfect weather for sitting outside.

Wildflowers were in bloom. I was very happy.

Wildflowers were in bloom. I was very happy.

The hike up to Circle Bluff

The hike up to Circle Bluff

One view on the way up

One view on the way up

View from Circle Bluff

View from Circle Bluff

Threshold

Threshold

Blue Hole -- The water is 40' deep here!

Blue Hole — The water is 40′ deep here!

Winding Road

Winding Road

Morel Mushroom

Morel Mushroom

Texas Bluebonnets

Texas Bluebonnets

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

 

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I spent a blissful week in Northern Michigan with my family. Here are some photos:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Can you believe this is Lake Superior? It really is that turquoise!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Upper Peninsula
(That’s Lake Superior!)

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

Old Mission Lighthouse

Old Mission Lighthouse

Glen Lake

Glen Lake

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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There was a 500' drop to the lakeshore!

There was a 500′ drop to the lakeshore!

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Peterson Beach

Peterson Beach

We drove two miles on a narrow gravel through a thick forest to get to this beach. It was a hidden gem!

We drove two miles on a narrow gravel through a thick forest to get to this beach. It was a hidden gem!

The view from our lake house

The view from our lake house

It's not a vacation without some of this!

It’s not a vacation without some of this!

The Cannery at historic Glen Haven

The Cannery at historic Glen Haven

Joel and Belle built sand castles.

Joel and Belle built sand castles.

View of Silver Lake before sunrise on our last day

View of Silver Lake before sunrise on our last day

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Spring, At Last!

Spring weather has finally made an appearance in the upper Midwest! I celebrated its arrival by taking Friday off and going on a little road trip here in Southeastern Minnesota.

First stop, downtown Northfield.

A favorite used bookstore: Monkey See, Monkey Read

A favorite used bookstore: Monkey See, Monkey Read

Doorway

From there, I headed east to the Mississippi. Along the way, I stopped in the town of New Trier, Pop. 112, to take a photo of this church, which sits on a hill overlooking the town.

New Trier

The river came into sight at last. It had been nearly 11 months since I’d been over that way–too long.

Tree and Mississippii

I stopped in Lake City for a late lunch at Rabbit’s Bakery, right across from the marina. People were just starting to come back with their boats. (I think it would be fun to learn to sail on the Mississippi…)

Lake City Marina

Rabbit's

Then, I stopped in Wabasha, home to Grumpy Old Men (which I’ve never seen) and the National Eagle Center. I spent some time browsing their used bookstore, Cliff Books. Then, I grabbed some coffee and watched soaring bald eagles down by the river. At 79 and sunny, it was a perfect day to soar. Even the seagulls were soaring. (Or trying to.)

Wabasha

Backwaters

It was a great way to spend the first warm and sunny day. The rest of the weekend was perfect. I went for a walk, read outside, took Zoey and Dash out on their leashes, and enjoyed the first BBQ of the season.

This weather is more like June than April, but I see a potential for May snow in the near future, so it’s not quite summer yet… One year it snowed on the day I was celebrating my birthday–Memorial Day weekend! It’s the only May snowfall that I can remember. But the 70s should be back by next week, so I think I can handle one more snowfall, so long as it’s not a winter storm. (It can’t be–they ran out of names. ;))

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It’ll be a while before I forget about the evening I spent at a castle in the German countryside.

Roofline

After my brother’s wedding in Ukraine, my parents and I stayed with some relatives who were stationed in Germany. We had a taste of Germany earlier that year when we were stranded due to missing a connecting flight, and were all happy to be able to spend more time in the country that summer.

Karen was a wonderful hostess and tour guide. We explored villages along the Neckar River, visited Strasbourg in France and an Alpine resort town, Garmish. We toured the castle in Heidelberg, the woods surrounding the military base and the Ritter Sport factory. But the most memorable experience was attending a jazz concert and dinner at a nearby castle, Schloss Weitenburg.

When Karen first asked if we’d be interested in the castle dining experience, we were a bit concerned that we hadn’t packed fancy enough clothes. She assured us it didn’t matter. She and her husband Bill, a Marine General, had dined at the castle before, as the Baron was on friendly terms with the US military officials.

A couple of days later, Karen appeared flustered. She just found out that we were sitting at the Baron’s table for dinner. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, having never been to an event at a castle before, but it sounded like a big deal. My bridesmaid dress was out of the question – this wasn’t a ball, after all! – but I did the best I could with what I had packed. We hadn’t exactly envisioned dining with a Baron at his castle when we packed for the trip. Karen lent my mom and me a couple of wraps and Bill lent my dad some dress pants and a jacket.

The evening arrived, and the five of us set off for the castle, which sat on a wooded cliff overlooking the Neckar River Valley. The concert took place in the courtyard, and we had front row seats, right next to the Baron. I don’t remember much about the concert, other than it was enjoyable.

The Baron turned out to be down-to-earth and friendly. After the concert, he gave us a tour of the castle, including his living quarters. As far as castles go, I’d say this one was modest. It wasn’t large or overly gaudy, that is, it was nothing like Neuwachstein. Built in 1062, it’s also considerably older.

View

Over pasta and the house wine, the Baron shared stories of growing up in the castle. The castle had been in the family since the 1600s. Running a castle is hard work and isn’t inexpensive, so part of the castle had been turned into a hotel and a restaurant in the 1950s. Although his elder brother was the rightful heir to the castle, he had chosen a playboy lifestyle in Munich instead of the responsibilities that came with maintaining the family castle. The Baron, however, took the responsibility seriously. He told of how he learned the hospitality business from the ground up. He had started as a busboy at a hotel in Canada and worked his way up.

Restaurant Door

After dinner, we said our goodbyes, but not before posing for a group photo!

Front: Karen, me, my momBack row: Bill, The Baron, my dad

Front row: Karen, me, my mom
Back row: Bill, The Baron, my dad

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My part in this story is small, but it is still a part of my story, and one that changed my life forever.

Who knew, when my younger brother Joel came back from a mission trip to Ukraine with stars in eyes, that less than two years later, my whole family would be boarding a plane for Ukraine, on a different sort of mission? We felt a little bit like the four hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, and even had a ring-bearer among us. My mom was wearing the sky-blue diamond ring that Joel would offer his Ukrainian sweetheart – my sister-in-law-to-be, whom I had yet to meet.

It was the middle of January – not an ideal time to travel to a land with no indoor plumbing. After an exhausting day of travel and a long wait at customs, we walked through the swinging doors at the Kyiv-Borispol airport to be greeted by hundreds of people who were waiting for arrivals. It was surreal. It didn’t take long for Joel to spot Nataliia and her mom in the crowd and soon we were all on our way to their hometown of K- in the church van, a bumpy four-hour drive.

I should probably explain the Ukraine connection. Our church has had a sister church in K- since 1995 and has sent several teams over to hold children’s and teen day camps, among other ministries. I had been hearing about K- and Light of the Gospel Church for nearly 12 years, but this was my first trip.

We arrived at their house on the outskirts of town late Saturday night. This was the house that Nataliia’s brother, Sergiy, was building for them. I was amazed to find out that he had installed indoor plumbing the week before we arrived! I was also amazed, and humbled, by their hospitality, which transcended culture and language barriers. We were family.

Too early the next morning for someone who had just traveled half-way around the world, we piled into Sergiy’s little blue car and rode to church. Even though I had seen photos and video clips of the church over the years, nothing could have prepared me for stepping foot inside the building. It was overwhelming to be in the midst of people praising God in another language. Most of these people had lived through Soviet oppression, some had seen family members marched off to die, and all of them lived without many of the comforts that we enjoy in the US.

One of the more memorable events of the week was the night Joel asked Nataliia’s father for her hand in marriage. We all bundled up and walked, in the dark, to his house on the other side of town. Dark, in Ukraine, is not quite the same as dark here in the US. There were no street lights, and even the lights in the houses and apartment buildings seemed dim. Not all of the cars had headlights, and they whooshed past us, too close for comfort. When we reached his house, we were shown to a room with only a table, chairs, one cabinet in the corner, a gallon jar of honey, and a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. If there was ever a moment when I felt like I had been thrown into a spy thriller, it was then! Her father interrogated Joel, in Ukrainian, as to what his intentions were. I was intimidated, however, Joel seemed to take his questioning in stride. It ended well, and all seven of us piled into her father’s tiny car and rode home. (Seatbelts really aren’t a consideration in Ukraine, though they probably should be…)

We ended up leaving Joel in Ukraine so that he and Nataliia could take care of some paperwork for her future immigration. None of us would have guessed that by the next time we would see each other, Joel and Nataliia would be legally married! It was just a formality, as the church doesn’t recognize government marriages, and vice versa. When we said goodbye at the airport, we were saying goodbye to people who had become like family within just a week’s time. It felt good to be heading home, but it was hard to leave them.

Our travels home included an unintended overnight stay in Frankfurt. At the time we were heading home, there were widespread deadly windstorms all across the European continent. Thankfully we didn’t experience this, but it delayed our flight out of Kyiv, causing us to arrive in Frankfurt much later than scheduled. We raced across the airport (and it’s a huge airport!) to catch our connecting flight, and missed it by about 10 minutes. We waited in a line of hundreds of fellow stranded travelers to be assigned a hotel. I’ll never forget how the guy at the counter let us use his phone to call home. My mom called the church office, and I’m sure that the secretary wasn’t expecting my mom’s response to her, “Oh, hi, Sandy! How are you doing?” (“Uh, we could be better… We’re stuck in Germany.”)

We did finally make it home. And, almost two years and miles of red tape later, so did the rest of the family – all three of them: Joel, Nataliia, and their five-month old daughter!

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