Monday, March 26, 2007

Our Europe Trip - Part VIII - The Voyage Home

The last days of a vacation... Always the ones you don't really want to experience. You start to feel the drag of the every day life again and the first days of the vacation are still too fresh to let go just yet.

However, those days always come and we actually used them well. On Friday we didn't do a whole lot. We started making some adjustments to the many, many pictures we took. Started the initial keep vs. discard procedure and still ended up with about 1000 pictures. That happens in photograpy families. Just part of the deal.

We did drive up to Zeist to meet one of my groomsmen, Pascal, his wife Climmy and their son Ramon. We talked about the upcoming weeks and looked at their wedding pictures. I was even in a few of the shots... ;-) We went out for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Very good food, but I do have a whole new appreciation for non-smoking laws in restaurants and public places. Especially since it affects Jen like a bad hay-fever day.

We talked a bit more after dinner and had a nice drive back home where my parents were still up so we talked a bit more before we decided to call it a day.

On Saturday we went to the market in Helmond. Always a great experience to visit a local market wherever you travel. This time we just shopped for dinner, but I did buy Jen a beautiful bouquet of flowers filled with daisies, calla-lillies and roses. I love being able to buy those kind of things without taking a serious bite out of your budget. Flowers are so much cheaper in Holland, it's almost criminal... ;-)

Saturday night we had an engagement-party for my part of the family. Since most of them won't make it to the wedding in the States it was a great way for the family to congratulate us and to meet Jen (and vise-versa of course).

So the party was the final link in an impressive 10-day vacation which will be remembered forever. What a great time we had, and thanks to the blogs, we'll have a record of it as well. Sometimes IT actually is a good thing. The last couple posts are the proof...

Thanks for all the comments on the previous posts. We loved reading them!!

P.S.: Feel free to comment some more... I promise we keep loving to read them...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Our Europe Trip - Part VII

Another day, another post. The last few days have been a bit more relaxed. Here's a recap of them:

Wed 21-Mar-2007: We did the tour of me. We went to some of the places where I grew-up in and around Helmond. The hospital where I was born, the places where I lived, the places where I went to school, but also the places where mom and dad got married (he, that's part of my history as well ;-) ).

We also trekked-up to Son and Breugel where I lived for 5 years and a city that has an IKEA-store. Since Jen is an IKEA-newbie (never been to an IKEA before...) I had to show her one. Back in the States the closest one is in Pittsburgh, PA so this was a nice opportunity. We loved the storage-solutions they have and we will incorporate a few of them into our new house. Well, it should be my house until the wedding, but everybody knows that such a distinction is a technical one only... ;-)

We had to be home by 7pm since my parents had arranged a wonderful dinner at a Chinese and Japanese restaurant. Having been to China Jen actually found a few inconsistencies with the decor (e.g. the lions weren't positioned correctly), but besides that the food was AMAZING and the ice-cream was a sight to behold since it was served steaming... I think they used frozen nitrogen or some icy substance that steams. Whoever knows it, please let me know the science behind it and I'll adapt the story.

Thu 22-Mar-2007: Today we decided to do some touristy things. Plan was to go see some windmills, the 'Keukenhof' and the beach. We were able to do all three by checking out the windmill inside the 'Keukenhof'.

From Wikipedia: The Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, is the world's largest flower garden. Keukenhof is open from the last week of March to mid-May. The flower garden was the idea in 1949 by the then-mayor of Lisse, a small town south of Amsterdam. The idea was to have a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands and Europe could show off their hybrids. Keukenhof has been the world's largest flower garden that runs throughout spring for over fifty years.

We took a stroll through the park and took many a picture of beautiful flowers and just as important some cute pictures of Jen and I. We laid behind flowers, put her ring inside some flowers (amazing pictures!) and we took some funny shots in the playground. Hey, we still know where to find the kid inside when we see a cool playground... ;-) Looking forward to seeing those pictures since dad has most of them on his camera.

We had made plans to go out to dinner with my sister Ingrid and her boyfriend Bart at 7pm close to Helmond so we left the Keukenhof at 4pm and quickly checked-out the beach before we headed south again. Well, it wasn't enough. The 160 somewhat kilometers (about 100 miles) took us about 3,5 hours thanks to the Dutch traffic jams.

We did finally make it and had some amazing pancakes the size of a large Domino pizza. With all the toppings you'd think of and then some... Very good. Thanks Ingrid and Bart, it was delicious.

For Friday we have nothing planned except dinner with one of my groomsmen, Pascal Bloemers. So a nice and relaxing day we hope to use to get a CD together of all the pictures so far and maybe we can even upload a few of them ;-)

De groeten uit Nederland!

Our Europe Trip - Engagement pictures!!

Here are a few of the pictures from our Paris engagement! According to Jen I'm such a romantic... ;-)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Our Europe Trip - Part VI (the MAIN event)

It’s official! We’re engaged!!!

Today was a day I've waited for all my life, but with special anticipation over the last few months. I asked Jen to marry me and she said YES! :-D

I can’t say that my secret was kept particularly well. Especially since we have already confirmed the following:
• The date (July 29, 2007)
• The time (1:30pm--thanks, mom)
• The place (Lakeside Banquet Center in Navarre, OH—thanks, Colemans)
• Jen tells me there is dress that is white and pretty. I believe her.
• Bridesmaids and Groomsmen and Ushers…oh my!
• The photographer (No, not my dad)
• The guest hotels
• The wedding night hotel (No, not for public disclosure)
• The honeymoon (in Curacao)
• I have a ring (actually, Jen has it)
• And as of this evening, Jen has an engagement ring on her finger!

For those who would appreciate a non-bullet description, this is for you:

We woke up this morning filled with anticipation of this day. Jen knew I was planning to propose, but she didn’t know the details. I enjoyed keeping a least a little bit to myself as she is thoroughly enjoying taunting me by showing everyone around me her “white and pretty” dress.

She was a bit hard to rouse, as she often is after a big day, but I knew she’d get up for this day. We quickly got ready and loaded the car for our five hour trip to Paris. The trip was fairly uneventful, short of a little freak hail and we were grateful to be on the other end of a major accident that closed two of the three lanes in the other direction.

I had planned for my Dad to drive so that I could work on my speech—I am proposing to a writer, after all. But Dad had a headache, so I took the wheel. We arrived in Paris around 5 and Dad and I went to check in while Mom and Jen stayed in the car. I got a slight scare when the front desk said I only had one room at the great rate we found on Priceline. Dad fetched the confirmation from the car and we quickly had both rooms, at an even better price! Kinda nice chance of pace with all the money we’ve had to spend on wedding and house stuff lately.

We got settled into our rooms and I told Jen she could finally put on her dressy clothes. While Jen was getting even more beautiful, my mom was causing a ruckus. Dad and I joked that we would have to tell Jen not to get into the mini-bar because the hotel has an auto bill system where if you pick anything up, you get charged. (Jen likes to touch things). Apparently we should have been more concerned about Mom because she lifted up the entire mini bar, looking for the prices on each item. The hotel must be used to these kinds of things because they were kind enough to take off the 80 Euros worth of charges Mom racked up in less than two minutes.

Our bill back to normal, we headed out toward the Eiffel Tower. Paris in spring time is a bit overrated since it was cold, windy and rainy…with occasional hail. (American Mom, you still wanna go???) Fortunately Jen had a great attitude and just smiled and said she always wanted a picture of Paris in the rain. What a great girl!!

The original plan was to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset, but the before-mentioned less-than-great weather situation caused me to change my plans on the spot. The great thing about Paris is that it is Paris, so the next opportunity was just a few yards (sorry, meters) away in the form of a beautiful flower garden with – surprise, surprise - purple flowers. I decided that that would work just fine. Especially with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

I looked at her, she looked at me and I spoke some kind words (sorry, private for now) and got down on my knee (more about that on some future post) and got out the ring. Oh, yeah… I know Jen is the one with the head-injury, but I almost forgot the ring in the States and again this morning. Thanks to Jen and dad for remembering. Sometimes I can be such a nutty professor!

I think you know the next part… she said YES! Yay! I finally landed my dreamgirl.

When I first had the idea of going to Paris, Jen asked if my parents could be there. That turned out the be the best idea of the day since we now have both excellent video and picture coverage of our most important day so far.

Speaking of which… my mom has fallen asleep while we were typing this up. I think that’s my cue to head back to my room – where dad is probably cutting down a forest – and call it a day. And what a day it was!!

Lord, please continue to bless this union as we are preparing for the next big step. Only 131 days to go…

The Europe Trip - Part V (the uncensored version)

So...if you read my post yesterday, you know that I had some serious business in Amsterdam. Our whole trip to Europe started as a joke when Jen found out that her dad, two sisters, and brother-in-law had a nine hour layover in Amsterdam on their way to Israel to meet up with her sister's inlaws. Jen said, "I don't think it's fair that my dad gets to see Holland before I do." Of course, that sent me to look up inexpensive fares to Holland for Jen and I. That led to my idea of meeting her dad, when after being away from her for three weeks, led to me to thinking I didn't ever want to be away from her, which led to me thinking that a trip to Holland to ask for her dad's blessing would be a pretty good idea.

So, as you may have figured out. He gave it. And he did it in a really cool way.

But took awhile to find the family because they didn't leave the transit area, which is behind security, but we quickly fixed that and were able to make introductions. We made our way to the train ticket area and purchased tickets to downtown Amsterdam.

Once we made it to city center, we took a canal boat tour. Jen and her family really enjoyed the Dutch architecture and historical information spoken in English. (I enjoyed the Dutch, German and French versions, as well). Once the ride was complete, we walked around like tourists and did a little shopping. Of course, Jen was with us, so we made the obligatory stop at a bookstore where we found a Dutch children’s Bible and prayer book. My dad insisted on paying for them, which we thought was really cool because while I’ll use them to teach Jen Dutch now, it will also be our (God willing) child(ren)’s first Bible and prayer book from their Opa. I was able to spent some Euros however, by paying the toilet fees for Jen and her sisters when they didn’t realize you have to pay to use the restrooms!

During lunch we had a chance to record a digital version of our “how we met” story. Perhaps we’ll create a blog about that sometime. In the meantime, American readers can contact Jen’s dad, and European readers can contact my dad for the video. (Just checking to see if our dads are really reading this!)

After lunch, I ditched Jen so I could walk alone with her Dad. Like guys we kinda got down to business pretty quick. He had some idea where the conversation was heading so it made it a lot easier for me… ;-) He asked me what would be an appropriate gift, but that was obviously after he responded that he would gladly give Jen away… and yes, he meant it in the best possible way!! Several things came to mind, but I didn’t give the right answer so I had to wait.

With the serious business out of the way, we went back on tourist mode, heading to the Anne Frank house. Unfortunately, the long line put us in danger of not getting back to the airport in time, so we settled for walking to the Anne Frank house, where we took some pictures of the outside. All of us were humbled by the memories of what happened in that house.

Our day was slightly dampened by some unexpected rain and wind, but we were troopers and had a great time together anyway. It meant a lot to Jen that her dad and sisters (and Andy too) were able to meet me and that I was able to get her dad’s blessing face-to-face. Seeing how much it meant to Jen meant the most to me.

Time was running short so we took the train back to the airport. I had a rare directional alert when I thought I got us all on the wrong train, but alas, I was mistaken and we were on the right track. During the ride back, Jen’s family peppered me with questions from my favorite color to what do I like most about Jen (her sparkling eyes). Jen also entertained us all (and by all, I mean everyone on the train) by reading her Dutch prayer aloud with her own unique Dutch accent.

We decided to load up on a little caffeine before parting ways, so we found a private spot in one of the airport restaurants. Jen’s dad led the conversation by asking me if I remembered the question. I did, but wasn’t sure of his answer. So he pulled out a brown envelope with my name on it. The first thing he took out was a box of SweetHeart candies, little heart shaped confections with phrases on them. He told me that when Jen was young (not so long ago, of course), he would give those to her each Valentine’s day and she would paste the hearts on paper in order to make sentences. She must have played around with them a lot because she’s an amazing writer today. The next thing he gave me was completely unexpected, but really, really, cool, especially because Jen had recently shown me the journal her mom and dad kept while they were married. After her mom left, her dad continued to write in it, and his entries were directed toward God as he read his new daily Bible. The gift her dad gave me was that very worn, very used, very special Bible. Inside, he wrote a special message just for me. Jen’s sister Liz was bawling! Carisa’s well was flowing as well. I think Jen and I were both so shocked we didn’t know what to do. What an amazing, incredible gift. I can’t wait to fix it up a little (it needs some tape) and start the tradition myself.

We finished and took a few pictures before we left. One moment that will stay with me is seeing my mom hug Jen’s dad. That was when I understood how much the day meant to my parents. I know she was shedding tears of joy, but I know she had some sadness as well because I—sorry, we--live so far away.

We got Jen’s family back to the customs line and we headed off for some food before the drive back to Helmond where I started planning for our big day in Paris.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Europe Trip - Part V

The last post was about our relaxing day, today it was serious business. What business? Not going to tell you, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah... ;-) Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow's blog would shed some light on "the business".

Anyway, we went to Amsterdam and we did a canal-boat tour and nearly got blown into a canal by the fierce wind. Oh, I can tell Jen's mind is clearing up since she had the marvelous idea of somehow using the wind to create energy. Who knows, the world might actually "warm" up to that idea ;-) Maybe if they'd mill it around in their minds first... Any thoughts?

In Amsterdam we met up with some of our friends and we had a great time showing them around in their - little - time they had on a flight-layover. They even thought of bringing a gift for us. Very nice!!

We had some Dutch Chinese for dinner (very nice) and on the drive back (we had my parents with us) we kinda chatted about life and other things before we both tuckered-out.


The Europe Trip - Part IV

Another two days have past since the last blogpost. Two very different days to say the least. Saturday was a nice relaxing day of doing basically nothing. We slept in until about 1pm and then slowly got some breakfast and went to check-out a local grocery store. After buying some apple-flavored soda, licorice, ceasar dressing and a few other knick-knacks we wanted to walk to some more stores, but it started to rain so we opted for the car. Too long in the States already ;-)

We found a bookstore (... oy, those stores are going to do me in good some day...) and we found some interesting magazines. We also went to another grocery store and took some pictures of "interesting" items labeled as "American" (until we upload pix, see Jen's Blog).

In the evening we had a nice Dutch dinner; gourmet-style. Again, see Jen's blog...

More in part V.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Europe Trip - Part III

After arriving on Cologne airport (2nd country in 24 hours) we were planning to goto a beautiful German castle in the Moselle region, famous for its castles, wines and the river Moselle. However, the castle 'Burg Eltz' is only open from March 31 through October 31 so it was closed. The drive to it was very nice through lots of small towns, with small, small roads and we stopped at a beautiful vista overlooking the valley with the castle. So after a couple pictures (will be uploaded later) we went looking for a place to get some breakfast (it was only 9am...)

We found a very nice hotel with a restaurant that was open and set down overlooking the Moselle river. We had a very friendly German owner and a delicious breakfast. My Dad and me had a Schnitzel (Country fried steak) and Jen had something that was a mix between waffles and pancakes. Both were very, very good!! After driving through Cochem (a tourist town completely overrun by tourists in the summer) we decided to press on to Luxembourg (3rd country in 24 hours).

In Luxembourg we went to the capital city named... Luxembourg. We strolled around a bit through the city and did some window shopping and also bought some small souvenirs. Then Jen found a bookstore...

The bookstore only had French-language books and since Jen is looking for a couple of langauge versions of the book 'Goodnight Moon' she went looking for it. They didn't have it. However, they did have a book for little kids telling them about parents getting divorced and how to handle it. So buying that one was a no-brainer.

Then we decided to quickly pop into France to up the country-count for the day (4th country in 24 hours). We didn't do much in France this time (more to follow on Monday and Tuesday) other then to drive into it on the Interstate, turn around at the first intersection and drive back into Luxembourg on our way to another castle in Vianden, Luxembourg. We took some awesome shots and went to visit a big water reservoir on top of a hill. Some exercise on a first day in Europe is good to kinda fight-off jet-leg.
At the reservoir Dad took some funny pictures of us and those will also be uploaded a little later.

Time to move again and this time to Belgium (5th country in 24 hours). Here the plan was to visit a big American WW II cemetery and memorial site. We got there at 5.30pm and since the site was officially closed at 5pm the buildings were closed, but the grounds were still open. We had some good talks between us on how pointless was is most of the time, but how much of the current freedom in Europe is a direct result of that. Dad pointed out that the engraving "In memory of those who fought and died for their country" was actually incorrect. It should have read "In memory of those who fought and died for the European liberation". They weren't defending the USA, but liberating Europe. Countries most of them hardly every heard of. It made the sacrifice all the more meaningful... since the love of Christ for his Church was a sacrificial one...

It was time to add one final country to the list, the Netherlands (6th country in 24 hours). We stopped at a grocery store to buy some local candy and get some cash in order to pay a co-worker who had graciously bought a German version of Catan for us. So nice to have people who wish to do little things for you that mean a lot to you. Thank God we still have those people around in our increasingly self-centered society.

It was getting late and time to head to my parents place. I handed over the wheel to Dad - too tired - and don't remember much of the drive to my parents place. Just a blissful sleep. Very nice!

At Mom and Dad we had a very gracious welcome with a beautiful gift for Jen. My Dad had a hanger made which he designed of two Chinese symbols (we think it means good luck and prosperity). Dan, Sara, after the pictures are up just let us know what it means...

The final part of this long, long day was some home-made, ultra-fresh Dutch Apple Pie. With some tea and honey that was our cue to call it quits... Tomorrow will be a very relaxing day with nothing planned but a family dinner at night.

Good Night!!!

ps.: hanger = necklace (thanks Jeff, sorry to confuse!)

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Europe Trip - Part II

Arrived safe. Did 6 countries in 1 day... Very tired. More news tomorrow!!

Well, it's tomorrow now, still very tired, but since I promised more news, here is some more news...

On Thursday we met with my co-worker Jeff for lunch in Beachwood before we left for the airport. Our flight would leave around 3pm so plenty of time. We got to the airport in time and without any delay we made it to our flight. One amazing thing did happen. The baggage allowance is 50lbs per bag and without a scale or even really thinking about it while packing our bags we had 48 and 49lbs for both are bags... Amazing!

The flight to Newark was pretty non-eventful, but after two holding patterns due to heavy traffic (and a prelude of the winter storm on Friday) we landed in plenty of time to make our connecting flight to Cologne, Germany.

Another rather uneventful flight, but since the window seat was empty we had the whole row to ourselves which greatly helped in finding a position to catch some sleep.

We arrived about 40mins early and my Dad was there to pick us up and we were ready for our European Adventure!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Europe Trip - Part I

OK, tomorrow we're leaving for Europe. This will be a very important trip for several reasons:
- Our first trip to Europe together
- Jen meeting my parents and family
- I'm meeting Jens dad and sisters (+ significant others)
- ...
- Meeting with a Dutch Christian publisher
- Giving Jen the 'Niels: the early years' tour

Some of you might know what the '...' is, but for those who don't, check back on Wed Mar 21, 2007. It will explain a few things ;-)

Europe, here we come!!

The Moving Chronicles - Part III

OK, we've made it another couple steps. We've moved most of the kitchen things in. With the addition of the microwave and fridge and now with pots, pans, plates and silverware we're having something that resembles a functioning kitchen. We've also moved all of my clothes, the printer and important paperwork over yesterday.

I've also have all my tools at the house and after buying a nice saw and big hammer we might be able to put the mailbox in after we get back from Europe.

We also have some plans to change some of the carpet, but since we haven't even looked at any potential carpets we want, we'll divert that to after the Europe trip as well.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Moving Chronicles - Part II

Last weekend we moved the Entertainment Center (or Centre pour nous amis Canadienes). That means all the cool stuff from the living room is now in the basement of the new house. The big screen TV and the whole audio-setup is now up-and-running at the house. Yesterday we watched our first movie there; 'March of the Penguins'.

We also bought one of those memory foam mattress toppers... Wow! Amazing stuff. Highly recommended. It makes sleeping a whole different experience.

Today they will be delivering the fridge and the microwave. That will (re-)complete the kitchen as the previous owners took those two appliances with them. Ah well, we got a nice side-by-side fridge and a good microwave.

Another step closer to a livable house...