Friday, September 19, 2008

In Memory of Olivia Marie

Today is a day of very mixed emotions. It’s one of celebration but also one of grief. Rarely are celebrations sad.

Today would have been Olivia’s 1st birthday.

It’s hard to believe that one year has past and it may sound weird but I think we kind of wished time would stand still and the day would really never come. Not because we want to ignore this day or because we’d rather not move on, but because we wanted it to be done right and we aren’t sure what “right” is. We promised ourselves that we would always honor her birth in some way and this will be the first time we have a chance to celebrate her very short earthly life. But as we do that we remain comforted that she continues to live in heaven, aside the God we put our trust in.

We don’t mean for this post to be morbid in any way. The purpose is not to make you sad or for us to seek your condolences. Rather it's only for Olivia and to make certain she is remembered for the child and human she was. We were very torn about whether to post this or not. But at the same time it is our responsibility as Olivia’s parents to celebrate her birth as any parent would. Olivia will never have the chance to carve out a path and meaning for her own life and so that responsibility lies solely with us. What we do BECAUSE of her birth and to honor her memory, is what will define that meaning. That’s a lot of pressure and not something we take lightly.

Going to the hospital at 4:30am one year ago, we were totally unprepared for what was going to happen. We aren’t going to rehash all the details but we will say that if the hospital had not been prepared and given us things to remember her with, we would not have coped as well as we have. They gave us her hand-made baby blanket, hat, photos they took, and number of other memorabilia that at the time we assumed came from the hospital. We learned later, that there is an organization called Heavenly Angles in Need that makes all of these things for babies born prematurely, and then gives them to the local hospitals for the family. Without these, we would have nothing to look back on and we are eternally grateful to them. Because of this, we have made a donation to them in Olivia’s memory so that other families can be as blessed as we were.

We write this mainly so that all of you can remember her just as fondly as we do. She was born with perfect features, from the fingernails, eyebrows, and right down to the toes.

The anger and guilt have mostly passed but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t sad. In reality, this day will always be sad. But we’ll never forget that God created Olivia for a purpose; a purpose that we will help fulfill for the rest of our lives. Of course selfishly we wanted the chance to raise her and watch her grow but she is in heaven now with the Ultimate parent and we couldn’t ask for anything better.

So in the end we can still celebrate the time we had and whisper a "Happy Birthday" to our beautiful baby girl.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Europe Friday (12th) and Sat (13th)

OKAY, well we ended up not really having internet the rest of our trip – so we are going to 'back-blog' for a bit...stay tuned.

Well, back to our Friday (12th) travels (remember this may be lengthy because its also our travel journal)...After feeling a little happier about having dry clothes on we continued onto Kรถln, Germany for a quick stop to look at what is considered, to some, the most amazing Cathedral in Germany. We paid for the English tour of the church, but haven't decided if it was quite worth it. The only cool thing is you get to go into a gated portion of the church that is normally closed to visitors – an alter used for special occasions where relics of the wisemen are kept and where the more important members of the church used to sit. This Cathedral was just amazing, between all the 'chapels' turned burial areas, the unbelievable height, captivating paintings, sculpture and windows – some more than 3x as old as the USA!!! No words can really describe it – but we can tell you that it is worth the stop, even if you just have an hour in your travels to spend admiring it!!

After that – on to Koblenz, one of our stops along the river Rhine. We were pleasantly surprised that our Hotel (Hotel National) was really close to the train station - about a 5 min walk. We were even MORE happy with the fact that we didn't have to maneuver around mold, plugged up sinks or squashed bugs anywhere we went! Nothing fancy – but clean, decent breakfast and pleasant owners....

As you saw in our previous post – our entire room also doubled as a drying rack – Myra was quite sad that some of her 'famous pamphlet' had been destroyed in the hour run through the storm in Bruges – darn souvenirs! After setting in – we wandered down to look at the Rhine and then back to the train station for a real German pretzel appetizers while trying to figure out where to eat. We have to put in a little plug for the place we settled on for anyone heading to Koblenz someday. We ate at Piper's Corner – a Celtic Irish Pub and it was VERY VERY good, of course we had dinner with our beer (or was it the other way around?) For Myra's family – the name of the beer was Franziskaner (for those who don't know her maiden name is Franz).

The next day (Sat) we left our luggage in a locker in Koblenz and took a train to a little town along the Mosel River (Moselkern) with a supposedly 90 minute hike through the woods and up to a fully intact castle, Burg Eltz. It was very interesting and really in the middle of nowhere...The rain was still following us and we were able to do the hike up in 60 min flat. We were lucky and there was enough people for the English tour – yeah! Afterwards, we wanted to be sure to catch the :43 after train leaving, but left the castle with only 58 min to get there. Joe MADE Myra run through the trail (and since she's writing this she'll add that there were cliffs, no railings and a ravine hundreds of feel down) – okay maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration – but we BOTH did try and book it down the trail – we made it back in about 45 min, a little sweaty, but that just secures a seat by ourselves....

Next up, Marksburg Castle – passing through Koblenz we went about 15 min to Baurbach, where Myra's pamplet failed them and didn't have the directions to get there!! After wandering around aimlessly we finally came across the 'train' to take us up the very steep looking road (we heard there was a path but hadn't found it)...Unfortunately, this tour was only in German – we had a lovely sheet to follow along in english. However, the tour got quite boring as the sheet had about two sentences and everywhere we stopped the mean looking tourguide would ramble on for 10 minutes and the 30 German people around us would laugh and nod letting us know we were certainly missing out – or wasting our time. The castle had some different things – the favorite being the toilet that was just a hole that hung over thin air – this was obviously a vulnerable spot in the castle so was locked from inside the castle – yet, I wonder if the King had guards at the bottom to protect his royal behind when nature called? Guess we will never know..

So tricky part – this last little ho-dink train station had NO train schedule – we just hoped that there WAS one sometime going back to Koblenz....after waiting awhile we tried to ask a woman with a Canadian flag on her bag – she was at least able to make us feel good that we would get back. After going BACK to Koblenz, we picked up our luggage (why don't other little train stations have lockers?!) and got BACK on a train to go BACK past Baubach to get to our B&B in St. Goar. After about 15 min walk from the train station we found it at about 8pm!! Yeah – we've finally arrived! We were a little unsure how it would be since it's hard to tell from the internet – but... we HAVE to recommend to ANYONE traveling to the Rhine area – make your homebase in St. Goar and stay at B&B Alexi!! The woman who runs the place is wonderful and speaks great english – the rooms are very modern, clean and bright – ours had a view of the ruins of Burg Rhienfels... The breakfast was great and we were even waited on by her sweet daughter. Again – stay here!!!! :-) to a comfortable bed!

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Wet (still- see Day 2 below) arrival in Koblenz....

After a quick tour of Koln (pictures to come later) we headed to our final destination for the day - Koblenz. Here's a picture of what our room looked like after discovering exactly HOW wet our bags had gotten! For those of you who know how neat and organized Joe is - you can imagine just how much he enjoyed this!!!

Bye Bye Belgium

Day 1: The train got into Bruges at about 10:40am after which we started hoofing it the Market in the center of the city that happens every Wednesday and Saturday. When we got there we decided we had enough time to find our hostel and drop off our bags. We were staying at the Bauhaus hostel. Then we went back to the Market in search of some grub. We bought some local berries which we devoured quickly and then went to a stand in search of some Belgium fries (frites). Yes I know that we just wrote about trying the famous Dutch fries but what kind of fair-minded tourists would we be without trying and comparing them both? Of course, between the fries and baguettes we might be strutting around with 10-15 more pounds than when you last saw us. These fries come with many of the same sauce choices. Joe went for the fries covered in a traditional Flemish Beef Stew with beer based sauce and Myra opted for the most unusual veggie burger and fries with cocktail sauce which wasn't what we think of as cocktail sauce - as with most things around was heavy on the mayo with a little whiskey for flavor. Ok, I should mention we are using this as a journal for ourselves so the details might get a little cumbersome so skim through as you see fit.

Next up was to start the Bruge City Walk which covered climbing thousands of steps (ok, I guess it was only hundreds in reality) up the belltower (Belfort) to get us started.

We swung by the City Hall in Burg Square (political center and religious heart of the city) where they were setting up for an outdoor opera (The Barber of Seville). Tons of beautiful canals along the way and then a stop in the Gruuthhuse Museum (mansion turned museum). The place was filled with artifacts and art (at which Joe took time for a quick stop on the bench nearby) and an AWESOME old guillotine that was able to wake him right back up. Probably one of the highlights was the Church of Our Lady which has the only sculpture by Michelangelo to ever leave Italy (Madonna and Child) while he was alive. I cannot stress how incredible this church was. It's amazing how they constructed it so long ago.

I should also mention (mostly to Natalie) that we passed a genuine Belgian pug! Oh I almost forgot...we stopped for a lovely belgian waffle covered in belgian chocolate!!!

We capped off the day with dinner at the restaurant in our hostel where they give you a three beer sampler for free. One of them was a famous Belgian cherry beer. I have to say over the two days we were there we tried 5 Belgian beers (don't worry moms...some were small sampler sizes) and they were all great. So for those of you worried about a Belgian company taking over Budweiser...I'm convinced they might actually make it a beer worth drinking!!

Day 2: We woke up and decided to tour an old windmill near our hostel (used to crush grain back in the day – very cool for a couple of engineers and old farm boy) and then to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Supposedly they have a phial (housed in a silver tabernacle) that has some of Jesus's blood collected after the crucifixion and given to someone from Bruges in the 13th century for being a brave warrier in defending Jerusalem from the Muslims. They only open the tabernacle every Friday and parade it through town once a year.

Then we rented some bikes and rode through the countryside over to Damme. Just a small, quaint town where we ate baguettes with crab and grey shrimp from the North Sea. In typical Joe and Myra fashion (remembering prying off one bathroom tile resulted in a compete bathroom renovation) we decided to keep going until we got to the North Sea (they have awesome bike paths). We got there about 10.5 miles past Damme. But we loved seeing (and touching of course) the North Sea! Of course then it was time to start the trek back. Also in typical Joe and Myra fashion...we somehow lost track (or they forget to put them up!) of the bike paths sign and ended up in Blakenberge (NOT on our way). In reality it was only a 2 mile detour but we sure whined about it like it was a 17 mile detour. Anyway the trip back was again through the countryside (and a bit of a headwind) and through a cute little town called Lissewege. We finally made it back to Bruges about 6 hours later (5 hours and about 27 miles of biking) and the storm clouds weren't looking good but we still needed a picture to recreate the one we took from our honeymoon when we rented biked to ride down from a volcano in Hawaii. We did it (a bit slower and less flexible now that we're 30) in a small alley in Bruges and then booked it back to the rental place. Yet another detour meant we didn't quite make it there dry. A walk back, a shower, and nice dinner at a spanish restaurant made it all better.

One last night in our smelly and somewhat moldy hostel room (maybe we are too old for this?). We woke up to yet more rain, ate breakfast and were on our way. We had not yet bought any of the traditional Belgian lace so we wanted to walk to the train station rather than take a bus. What a if you are one of the ones that gets a souvenir from Belgium....treasure it because we got SOAKED! We made it to the station in the pouring rain about an hour later and quickly hopped on a train to Brussels. We had decided not to stop and keep going to Cologne (aka, Koln) of course now I see and email from my friend Thom saying to definitely stop in Brussels. I guess we'll save it for next time. We had just enough time to change into dry clothes in Brussels and grab a sandwich (both which made us much more pleasant people!). Now we are on a posh International train to Cologne, Germany. Don't worry Don, Gary & Tuba (if you're reading this) we most likely will be coming back to work someday!

Stay tuned!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Europe - Here We ARE!!!


And we're off!!

Joe's week in Hamburg went well, his presentation wasn't until Friday (yuck) but it was well received and its over now which is the best part. After a week of nothing but technical presentations and networking, I thought my head might explode.

So then on Saturday I went with a couple friends (Jamie and Marteen) that drove me to Den Haag in the Netherlands. It was a great drive though eastern Netherlands stopping in a few small towns (Devenntar, Leiden) and finally ending up in Den Haag. Beautiful towns with beautiful
canals, markets going on everywhere. Unfortunately the camera was in the U.S.

Meanwhile in another land far far away....Myra was in the middle of the Adirondacks for Shelley and Chad's wedding. From what I hear it was amazing!!! The bride was stunning, the groom was well...he was the groom – Luv you new 'cuz. She can say though that the mosquitoes in the Adirondacks are comparable to the size of a VW bus and thank goodness for 'AfterBite'. But in the land of Dutch ... Joe was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his own beautiful bride.

Sunday in the Netherlands was relaxing, slept late, ate some traditional 'pancakes' (pannenkoek)
covered in bacon and kaas (bacon and cheese). Then we went to visit the storm surge barrier protecting the port of Rotterdam. Ok, I'm a dork but it was amazing engineering. Still...,no camera.

Then alas on Monday Joe hopped on the train to Amsterdam to meet Myra at the airport. Before I could turn around I was mauled by what only felt like a linebacker wrapped around my throat, only to find out Myra had spotted me. Wow, shes 'purty' even after flying for 9 hours!! Of course the first words she uttered as she pointed to my coffee was...”I need one of those”. Huh, nice to see you too!

We spent the day in Amsterdam walking around, visiting the house where Anne Frank was in hiding for years before she was captured and died. Lunch at a little cafe on the canal...can't beat it. Somewhat in the center of town is a small little “compound” called . When catholicism was banned in the Netherlands this group of ladies (not quite nuns but close) were secluded in this area and left alone. Inside this Begijnenhof is a small church that we went to visit and after the Pilgrims left Britain in search of religious freedom they first went to Amsterdam. It was in this church that they went and prayed before beginning their Mayflower voyage. We went by the Rijksmuseum (lots of Rembrandt stuff) and Van Gough museum (but opted not to tour due to time and Myra's fading coherency). We walked by the Heineken Brewery which made us a little thirsty so we got a beer and sat by another canal for a bit. After a bit more walking around the town we headed back to the train station, with a detour through the red light district. Honestly, a little disturbing and probably not somewhere we need to go again, but it was an experience.

Myra took a power nap on the train on the way back to Den Haag and after a minor hiccup on the directions we made it back to Jamie's a little after 8:30pm. She had a huge dinner (appetizers, drinks, pasta, dessert) waiting for us. YUM! I recommend “Hotel Jamie” if you're ever in that part of town.

Tuesday Marteen (our personal tour guide and chauffeur...he was awesome!) dropped us off in the town of Delft and we did a little touring around the square by the “New Church” (“new” because this one was built in the 1600's). We were then back on the bus to Deltares (formerly Delft Hydraulics) where they work and where Joe was shopping around for jobs with people (yes thats right....I MIGHT actually graduate soon). We heard a lunch talk from a guy at the USGS (Myra was a trooper and sat through that) and then Joe had some meetings. Then we hopped the bus back to Delft and ate some more pancakes (chocolate and cheese (separately) this time). We bought a few souvenirs and then took the tram back to Den Haag. We just walked around the square and parliament building. We met up with Jamie and Marteen and went to a yummy Thai restaurant (yes, I said Thai). They were such wonderful hosts, tour guides, direction givers, etc. Thanks guys!!! Unfortunately...we didn't take ANY pictures with or of them!

Now we're on the train on our way to Bruges, Beligium. Check back in a few days for more adventures!!