Friday, August 30, 2013

Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 3


When last I left you, we were just finishing up the cruise portion of our trip. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to my sister, Jodi, when we docked in Basel, our last stop (actually, she left in the middle of the night, so I'm not sure we properly said goodbye to her at all!). Jodi has a baby (have I mentioned that?) who needed to see her mama. Or maybe it was the other way around.

At any rate, Jodi had planned to stay for a week, then head home.

Sorry, Jodi. You'll have to save Switzerland for another time.

***

So, yes, Switzerland.

If it weren't so danged expensive, I would live here. Truly. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

And I've been to a few places.

As I said, we docked in Basel, sorted out the luggage situation between those who were staying with the group (like us) and those who were heading elsewhere (I honestly don't know how they do that), and boarded a bus to take us into the Old Town.

Here's where I have to stop and say that our guide was lovely, the town was, I think, lovely as well, but I didn't take many pictures because a) I was getting tired and b) it was so. blasted. HOT.

(Are you sensing a theme here?)

Truth be told, we kind of dragged ourselves around Basel, as any good been-on-a-ship-for-a-week-and-we're-getting-a-little-tired-of-arranged-tours kind of tourists would do. Once the tour finished, we sat at an outdoor cafe for as long as we dared and basically just waited until we could get onto our air conditioned bus again.

Lame, I know.

Here's what I got out of Basel.

They have a beautiful medieval church.



In the summer, the church square is used as a huge outdoor movie theatre. I would have actually liked to stay and check that out at night--it looked very cool.


And, as in many places in Europe, nannies drag children around on leashes. On cobblestone streets.


Aren't these some of the most adorable children you've ever seen? That face!


And that's pretty much what I got out of Basel.

Except for Swiss Francs which I got out of the ATM.

After a half a day in Basel, we finally got on to our air conditioned(!) bus to drive about two hours to Lucerne.

Ahhhh, Lucerne.

I had never been there before, but I am fairly certain I will be back. What a beautiful town. Smaller than Zurich, easily walkable, and truly, truly gorgeous.


The famous wooden bridge--lots of history there. Mom, Jenn, and I walked the length of it one night after dinner.


Speaking of dinner . . . this is the restaurant where we ate, Pfistern. Historic and touristy--just how we like 'em! But the food was really good, AND we got to sit right on the water. So fun!


So many of the facades of the old buildings were painted--even the fascia! I was astounded by the Old Town as street after street looked just as they probably looked hundreds of years ago with cobblestone streets and painted buildings.

I really need to go spend more time here.


On Saturdays there is a wonderful outdoor market right along the river, filled with every kind of delicacy you can imagine--from flowers and fruits to fresh vegetables and cheeses. I am convinced that Heaven will have some sort of market like this for us to wander around.

On our second day in Switzerland we took a trip up Mt. Pilatus on the world's oldest and steepest cog wheel train. Just think about that for a minute. Me, who is terrified of heights, stepping on to, not only the steepest climb on a train that you can take, but also in the oldest train cars. Yeah, I was a little scared.

But not as scared as one guy in our group who decided just to hoof it back to Lucerne as fast as he could.


His loss.

Because here is the reward we received when we got to the top.


No, it's not a postcard, even though it looks like one. Truly breathtaking.

Especially at 8,000 feet. (Get it?!)


Three of the most beautiful women to ever grace the top of Mt. Pilatus. :)


Finally, I could not stop taking pictures of this tiny, tiny church sitting up on top of a nearby mountain peak. How I would love to be able to hike there and spend a day worshiping there.

Can you see the cross at the top of the peak?

The next day we boarded a little boat which would take us from one corner of Lake Lucerne to the other. I tried to take some pictures, but they really didn't do it justice.

And, besides, it was just too hot to take pictures. (Good grief! You'd think we were in Death Valley, not Switzerland, by the way I keep talking about how hot it was, but that's how it felt, y'all. It was so surprising and so unusual for Switzerland.)


Once we reached the shore, we boarded busses which would take us on a very memorable drive through the mountains and villages of Switzerland until we reached our final destination, Zurich. On our drive we rode past the Victorinox factory where Swiss Army knives are made--cool!--and the area which inspired Johanna Spyri to write the famous book, Heidi.

You can just imagine how gorgeous that was.

The last stop on our wonderful, amazing trip was Zurich. I had been to Zurich before--for about four hours on a Sunday night before catching a flight out the next morning--and knew how beautiful this city was. It was a special treat to be able to spend a little more time here.

Sadly, and probably because I had been here before, I didn't take many pictures here. It was pouring rain on the day of our tour, so the camera had to stay hidden underneath my jacket. And once the rain stopped, I was just too tired to even bring it out.

Suffice it to say that Zurich is definitely a place you want to put on your bucket list. It is beautiful. What more can I say?

I absolutely fell in love with the way they decorate with herbs and green plants there. Isn't that cool?!

Plus, they have fondue. Which is delicious. And made with my favorite food. I could eat it every day.


Go to Zurich. See it. Experience it. Walk your socks off and eat it up. Zurich is wonderful.


Finally, reluctantly, we got on a plane and headed home.


When I say it was the trip of a lifetime, I really mean it. Never again will I be able to experience just this trip with these special people whom I love and meet the new friends we met and see the exact things we saw. It was absolutely magical, and I'll never forget it.

Thanks, Mom, from the bottom of my heart.

xoxo

Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 1
Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 2

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time to Get to Work


Before my eyes were even open this morning, they hurt. Two days ago a little something lodged its way into my left eye, and before I woke up this morning I knew it was still there. I rubbed and rubbed, trying to get whatever it is to move, but it wouldn’t.

An irritation that just won’t go away.

An itch I can’t scratch. A scratch I can’t soothe.

Like so much of me right now. I’m feeling prickly and fussy and not quite right in my skin.


The phone rings; I jump.

A pebble works its way into my sandal; I complain just a little too loudly.

My head hurts. My feet hurt. My heart hurts.

I try to explain it to my friend while we walk, but the just-right words won’t come. Her words, however, fit perfectly: “It’s like when everyone in your life is trying to push you in a direction you don’t want to go.”

Yeah. That.

Some days.

Some days you want to throw up your hands in surrender. “OK, Life. You win. You want to get the best of me? You did. You are.

Maybe it’s change that does this to me. (Too much of that lately.) Maybe it’s a lack of white space in my life. (Not enough of that.) Maybe it’s concern for the people around me. (Tons of that going on.)  

Maybe it’s selfishness or pride or just who I am.

Maybe it’s all of those things combined.

A million little problems escalate into mountains that should be molehills.

A thousand worries worm their way into my consciousness throughout the day.

A hundred stories about this gone wrong or that gone wrong, all left untold.

It's only a few days, and I'm already looking for an escape.


I pick up my Bible and start reading where I left off. Joseph is in pretty bad straits. He’s been forgotten, alone, abandoned in prison. People have disappointed him. Lied, even. And yet, there is no sense that he has lost hope.

Finally, the day comes when Joseph is remembered, when things start looking up for him. Does he say, “Finally! I’ve been waiting for you to get here! Just look at how horrible my life has been. I so deserve to get out of here”?


No. Joseph just gets busy doing the work God has for him.

Pharaoh has had a dream, and he asks Joseph to interpret it for him. And I stumble across this verse: “’It is beyond my power to do this,’ Joseph replied, ‘But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.’” (Genesis 41:16)

“It is beyond my power to do this.” I can so relate.

It is beyond my power to protect my children when they are away from home. It is beyond my power to solve issues at work. It is beyond my power to help my husband deal with the stress of his job. It is beyond my power to make everyone happy.

So much is beyond my power.

“But God,” says Joseph. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

That’s what I’m looking for—a mind, a heart set at ease. Peace.

Obviously, I’m looking in the wrong places. I’m trying to worry my problems away rather than resting in God. I’m trying to will things to go the way I want rather than trusting that God will make things right. All of this fussing, getting me nowhere.

Beyond my power. . . .

. . . But God.

Time to get to work.


Can you relate? (Tell me you can.) How will you trust God today?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Reviews: So Long Insecurity Teen Edition and One Year Devos for Teen Girls


When Tyndale wrote to ask if I’d review a couple of books for teens, I jumped at the chance. Why not have my own teenager read them and give me some feedback? Julia (who is 15) and I read these books separately, but I’ve combined our thoughts about the books here.

So Long Insecurity Teen Edition by Beth Moore


I read Beth Moore’s original book, So Long Insecurity, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I like the main premise of both books (the one for adults and the one for teens), which is basically that you can be secure in who God made you to be. Insecurity comes when we want something more than what God intended for us—a relationship with Him.

The teen version of the book is laid out in a magazine format with lots of colorful pictures of happy, smiling girls in cute clothes. To be honest, if I were an insecure teen, I’d wonder what those girls had that I didn’t. But, hey, that's just my insecurity talking, right? 

The magazine format didn’t do much for me, but Julia seemed to like it. (She especially got a kick out of seeing a couple of girls from her school who were models in the book.) The articles were fine—just a little “light.” I’d say that this book would be appropriate for girls in the 12-15 year range.

One thing I really liked about the book was the chapter at the end that spells out what a secure girl looks like. For example, “A secure girl lifts up other girls instead of comparing herself to them.” And, “A secure girl doesn’t base her sense of worth on being popular or having that ‘one thing’ she thinks will make her happy.” This really drives the main ideas home and leaves girls thinking about what they should be striving after.

One Year Devos for Teen Girls by Dannah Gresh and Suzy Weibel


Now this is a book I’d love for my girls to read and read and read again. It’s written in your basic devotional format: Bible verse, some real-life stories and examples, and application. Simple, easy to follow, and easy to understand.

The authors tackle some difficult subjects (depression, bullying, homosexuality), but they handle them biblically and, I think, very well. Several entries are devoted to Facebook, which is obviously a relevant topic to teen girls, as well as hyperconnectivity and, of course, boys. All important topics to look at in light of what the Bible has to say about life.

For girls who want to know what God thinks about topics that matter to them today, this devotional is great. It’s fresh, it’s relevant, and it’s no-nonsense biblical wisdom for young women who want to go deeper in their relationship with God.

You can buy these books here. You can connect with Tyndale Teens on Twitter or Instagram, too!

I received two books from Tyndale for this review, but the opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

To Kindergarten Moms . . . and then some


I see you, Mama.

I know you.

I’ve been you.

Today, as you send your kindergartner out the door, maybe for the very first time, emotions are running high.

You’re worried.

You’re excited.

You’re scared.

And so much more.

Most of all, you wonder if you’ve done enough. You wonder if you’ve prepared him to sit still that long (he will). You wonder if she knows her letters (she doesn’t have to). You wonder if you’ve emphasized kindness or courage or faith enough.

And you wonder, somewhere deep down, if you’ve been enough.

I cried that morning when I sent my first baby to kindergarten in her little blue dress and pink tennis shoes and a headband barely attempting to tame those unruly cowlicks. She stood in line behind a huge, cut-out teddy bear on a stick that bore the name of her teacher, Mrs. Nagle, with kids she would later know throughout her high school years.

Her nametag, also in the shape of a teddy bear, said, “Katie W.” Crumpled within five minutes, of course.

I felt slightly helpless as I watched her march into her classroom, all smiles, all “I’ve got this, Mom.”

I was surprised by my tears. Wasn’t I supposed to be happy? This is what I had been looking forward to all summer. Two and a half glorious hours without being peppered with questions or of being asked to read or of breaking up fights with sisters.

Still, I cried.

The other two were slightly easier, but only slightly. Because every time I send a child off to school I wonder, have I been enough?

Have I spent the time I should spend with her? Have I encouraged her in her faith? Have I been the mom she has needed me to be?

Have I . . ?

Here’s what I want you to know, sweet mama. You have.

You have been enough. You ARE enough. You are exactly the mom your kindergartener needs for right now, today, forever.

My own mom spent many years grieving—truly grieving—to the point that being a mom was hard. Today I’m sure she has the same questions we all do: have I been enough? And yet, I can honestly say that I never once, ever, have looked back on my childhood and wished my mom had been more.

She was there. And she was mine.

Dear mama, know this. Believe it. Trust it. You are exactly who your child needs.

Right now.

Today.

Forever.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Good Reads

Happy Sunday! I'm enjoying a few minutes of early morning peace on my porch and thinking about all the good stuff I read this week. Here are a few of my favorites.

A Cautionary Tale for Mothers :: Shelly Miller, Redemption's Beauty. I am so glad to have found Shelly. I resonate with so much of what she writes--and the way she writes it. This sentence really got me in this post: "But the most common mistake many of us make is assuming motherhood as an identity, instead of a gift."

When Dreams Change :: Mary at Giving Up on Perfect. I just love Mary's honesty here and how she's pursuing God. 

Mom of the Year :: 16 Balls in the Air. Read this. Just read it. You will laugh so hard. I know my family did!

Why You Should Stop Waiting for Life to be Perfect :: Shauna Nyquist at the Storyline blog. Shauna is quickly becoming one of my favorite voices out there. I love how she challenges us to find special moments in the everyday.

A Sending Prayer for College Freshmen :: Emily at Chatting at the Sky. School starts for me in a couple of weeks, and since I teach a lot of freshmen students, I found this post to be spot on. I think these words can encourage any college student, though--even the two I'm sending out next week. (*sniff sniff*)

Finally, I have to share this post (Because Love Does :: Ginny Melby at Lies Young Women Believe blog) from one of my former students (and one of Kate's best friends) who had an amazing adventure paddleboarding across Lake Michigan this summer. As her professor, I'm so proud of Ginny's great writing here, but as her friend, I'm more proud of the courageous, beautiful young woman she is. Ginny's family recently received some very difficult news and they are walking through deep waters right now (you can learn more about that here). She shared with me that this paddleboarding trip, while difficult, was nothing compared to what they are going through now, but she firmly believes that God has used this experience to prepare her. Please pray for Ginny's family in the weeks and months ahead. I know it would mean so much to them.

Well, it looks to be a gorgeous early-Fall Sunday around here, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it. Hope you enjoy yours as well. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wondering

We were there to work; they were there for respite.

We enjoyed the scenery; they drank it in, mountain air so crisp and clean and refreshing. So different from the dusty, dirty streets where they lived.

One week. One act of service. One bond that will stretch to eternity.

***

I turn on the news to see those same dusty, dirty streets exploding in fire. Man against man. Emotions running high. Name-calling and gun-slinging and everyone just. so. sure. that their way is the right way.

I hear of churches being burned, their stained glass treasures broken and blackened. Ancient art turned to dust. Sacred pages destroyed, but not forgotten.

Worst of all, I learn of atrocities against these people who want nothing more than to worship in peace.

And I think of them.

Where are they? How are they? Are they still alive? Have they been exposed? Are they even still there?

Every day my heart and my prayers turn to them. And I wonder.

***

It was one week. One week of service five years ago. A few pleasant conversations. But the bond extends beyond the reasons of time and space, here and now. We know of an eternal friendship and the impact is not lost.

These are brothers and sisters, the persecuted. I wonder and I worry and I realize that this could be me, the one being hated, tried, persecuted for my faith.

My mind, it won't stop thinking, praying, wondering where my friends are. 

***

Whatever the outcome, I know that what I have read is true: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And I know that they are safe.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hey there!

Notice anything different?

(If you're reading this from an email subscription, you might want to pop over to the "real thing" to see what I'm talking about.)

We're (well, actually, Kate is) in the middle of tweaking this gorgeous project that she's been working on ALL summer, and the final product should be up tomorrow or Thursday.

I'm so excited! It feels like Christmas!

(In the meantime, head on over to the Mothers of Daughters blog--our August issue is up today. My post is titled, "The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Child This School Year" but I'd love if you'd read the whole thing. Lots of goodness going on there!)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 2

After the beauty of the castles and vineyards of the Rhine Gorge, a place I had always wanted to see, I wasn't expecting much on the rest of the trip.

I do that sometimes--I keep my expectations low so I'm not disappointed. I know, it's dumb.

Sometimes, though, I'm surprised. Pleasantly surprised.

On this trip, that's exactly what happened. I loved the beauty of the castles--the views that morning on the top deck of our ship were stunning and special and I'll never forget them. I really didn't think that scenery could be topped.

I was about to be pleasantly surprised.

Day 5: Heidelberg

I had heard of Heidelberg--who hasn't?--but I knew very little about the town aside from knowing that they had a castle and a university. That could be interesting, given my profession, I thought, but, again, I didn't know what to expect.

Expectations exceeded. Heidelberg was lovely.

Rain threatened that day, and it rained a bit on our drive to the town, but it didn't keep us from trudging around the castle grounds.


Heidelberg castle is definitely worth seeing, if anything for the views.



Check out this sweet little guy peeking around the tree. Don't you just love that?


Heidelberg may be known for having the largest wine cask in the world . . .

(this is in the castle grounds and it holds about 60,000 gallons of wine!)

. . . but I know Heidelberg for having the best iced coffee in the world.


OK, we had cake too.

Day 6: Strasbourg, France

Now, unlike my usual self, I did not do much research prior to this trip. (Sensing a theme here?) I had had kind of a busy summer and, truth be told, I was tired. I knew we would have guides everywhere we went, so I just decided to go along for the ride.

I did, however, look up Strasbourg before I left because I thought I had heard something big about it before. Honestly, I didn't know what I was in for.

Yes, Strasbourg is the home of the EU (the European Union).


(Apparently the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. They're kind of proud of that.)

And, yes, it hosts one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in all of Europe.


But what I didn't know was how absolutely charming every street of Strasbourg would be.

Even in the pouring rain.


Our day started out a little rough as it was truly pouring rain--a deluge, if you will. Our guide persevered, even stopping in a restaurant to borrow a couple of umbrellas, but even with the umbrellas we were soaked to the skin. 

But we were in Strasbourg, so we weren't about to stop. The longer we walked, the more enamored I became. Ancient timbered roofs, cobblestone streets, narrow passageways. Everywhere I turned, the city seemed to take me in.

Eventually the rain stopped, thank goodness, and I was able to really enjoy the beauty of this city. 




After the "official" tour, the four of us looked around the Cathedral for a bit, including a viewing of the Astronomical clock. Once that concluded at 12:40, we were hungry, so we found a small cafe where we could sit outside and enjoy a tarte flambee, a truly Alsatian delicacy. (We all agreed that it tasted just like the Trader Joe's flatbread pizza, only better.)

We had a little time after lunch to wander before our canal tour, so Jenn and I walked through the little streets where we stumbled upon a real French market complete with a butcher, a fruit vendor, a cheese man, and a foie gras dealer. The best, though, was the huge booth full of French linen clothes. (I bought a dress. Fun!)

I think I could have wandered the streets of Strasbourg for days, if not weeks. Every street, every door, every window was different, holding unique stories behind them. 


(I think this is my favorite photo of the entire trip.)

Even the shops were surprising, as one pottery shop we found had wide plank pine floors and old wooden ceiling beams that looked like they had been unfinished and scuffed by weary feet for hundreds of years. I could only imagine who had lived there, walked there, read there, cooked there. Such a beautiful little place!

Later, we took a canal tour around Strasbourg, which was even more beautiful. I could have stayed in Strasbourg a long, long time.

Strasbourg completely captured my heart, and I was sad to leave.

Day 7: Colmar and Riquewier, France

Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any better . . .


we landed in Colmar, France.

Honestly, I didn't know much at all about this part of the trip. (Big surprise, huh?) I had never heard of Colmar, and I certainly had never heard of Riquewier. Again, my hopes weren't very high.

This ended up being, quite possibly, my favorite day of the entire trip.

The Alsace region of France is known for its wine, something I did not know before we left. I mean, I had heard of Alsace, but, again, didn't know much about that region. Now it has moved way up on my list of places I'd like to explore further.

But on to our day in Colmar. . . .

All I can really say is cute. This gorgeous city, known as the capital of Alsatian wine, is charming from north to south, east to west.



(Their largest church, complete with stork's nest in the upper right. And there was an actual stork in it!)


Colmar was where I became obsessed with window boxes. I just love how they dress their windows with herbs, succulents, and boxwood.





One cool thing I learned about Colmar: Bartholdi, the guy who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, was born here. As he was trying to figure out just exactly how to make the statue, he created several prototypes which dot the landscape throughout France. Just outside of Colmar, we came upon this:


She's much shorter and, I think, a little more stout than our own Lady Liberty, but it was neat to see that this symbol of freedom shines in Europe too.

We left Colmar and drove a short distance through some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.


Riqueweir (pronounced Rike-veer)

"I feel like I'm on the set of Beauty and the Beast . . . only in real life!"


I think I said this more than once during our visit to Requieweir. This picturesque little village is set right in the heart of the vineyards. Its one main street heads straight up a hill where a church and steeple sits at the top.

That must be where these folks were heading.


On a Thursday.

Strange.

[edited to add: Guess what! It really WAS strange that people were getting married on a Thursday. Someone from our trip wrote to tell me that these were actually models on a photo shoot. Ha! Thanks, Paul!]

Anyway, as I said, this beautiful little village is set right in the vineyards and boasts several wineries.


We didn't have a lot of time here (sure wish we had had more!), so we looked around a bit, then found a restaurant to sit and relax and enjoy some of their local specialities.

All in all, it was a great day full of pleasant surprises.


Up next . . . Switzerland!