Category Archives: Travel

First night in Haiti

After over a year of serious planning (plus a number of years before that during which the dream took root in my heart), I was actually there.

In Haiti.

The real Haiti, the one that conjures images of dirt and orphanages and voodoo and poverty and primitive living.  Images that are, sadly, all too accurate.

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It was absolutely surreal.  I couldn’t believe I was really there, seeing the thatched-roof huts and middle-aged women peddling bananas and paintings and trinkets on the roadside.  Orphans swarming around my legs like puppies clamoring for attention.

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And yet, despite the crazy knowledge that I was fulfilling a lifelong dream, in a way, it all felt rather…mundane.

I had such romanticized notions of how Haiti would be, how inspirational and heartbreaking and life-altering the experience would be for me.  I had raised support from my church family in order to go, labeling it a “mission trip” and feeling rather noble.

But then I arrived in Port-au-Prince.  My friend and I maneuvered our way through the hectic airport, met up with the orphanage staff that had picked us up, traversed bumpy dirt roads for an hour and a half in a hot, dusty Jeep, and at last arrived.  This orphanage would be our home for two and a half weeks.  Just a blip in our lives, really, but at this moment, it felt like it would be a lo-o-o-ong stay. Suddenly I no longer felt equipped to handle the physical demands or the emotional aspects of volunteering with orphans.

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The kids were soooooooo freaking adorable.  When we first stepped into the nursery, dozens of babies and toddlers met us, faces streaked with snot and dirt, reaching up grubby hands to  be held.  Heart-wrenching.  Precious.  Also kind of terrifying, truth be told.

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Who was I to do anything for these children?  Yes, I could spend a few weeks with them, playing and singing and snuggling, but then I would return to my comfortable life and they would be left here awaiting adoption.  This particular orphanage is run in a very efficient and loving manner, and every effort is made to care for the children as well as get them adopted by loving families as soon as possible.  But given the nature of international adoption and the mountains of paperwork and money required to accomplish this, it takes time.   So my purpose there was to love the kids for a short period of time as a way of bridging the gap between their arrival at the orphanage and their eventual placement with an adoptive family.

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I’m ashamed to admit this next part.

That first night in Haiti, I regretted ever coming there.  I wanted my own bed, my own hot shower, my own home, and everything familiar and comfortable.  I didn’t want to be in Haiti, sharing bunk beds and showering only every other day for ninety seconds, living with a bunch of other volunteers who were undoubtedly better with children than I was.

I was a fraud.

I had traveled all this way, planned for all these months, and now all I wanted was for it to be over.  I wasn’t cut out for this type of service.  I felt like more of a baby than the kids I was assigned to love.

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See her bewildered expression?  That’s pretty much how I felt that first night.

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I’ll return to this story in upcoming posts, but for today, I want to leave you with this thought:  When have you struggled with unmet expectations, particularly when you’ve disappointed yourself?  How do you deal with that kick in the gut, the realization that you may not be all you thought you were?  Do you back away in fear, never to face those situations again?

Or do you persevere, allowing Christ to be the strength you lack?

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Traverse City update

Yesterday was pretty low-key.  We took the kiddo for a stroll along the shore and let him play on the playground there.  In the afternoon, a leisurely drive to see the Mission Point lighthouse was lovely.  After a swim, dinner was at Red Lobster.  I know, it’s lame to eat at chain places when you’re on a trip, but in our defense, we have four nights here, and we had a gift card to use.  It had been too long since I had Cheddar Bay biscuits!  Liam charmed our waitress and all of the others, dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”.

IMGP1477playing on the slide

IMGP1531at the Mission Point Lighthouse beach

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Wednesday–what a fun day!  We decided to venture out of town a bit and check out the Sleeping Bear Dunes, just about a half-hour drive away from us. The morning began overcast and cool, and only got colder as the day continued (down to around 55 at one point, and very windy).  Thank goodness we wore our jeans and brought extra warm clothes for Liam!  He snoozed a little on the way to the dunes, but woke up when we stopped at the Visitors’ Center.  He oohed and aahed at the little museum display inside, showcasing various wildlife of the area including a cougar, owl, and beaver.  (Fake ones, but he still gets super excited to see them!).  Since he loved looking around there so much, we ended up getting him a small stuffed bear as a souvenir of his first family vacation.  He hugged it tight and loved holding it as we drove the few miles further to get to the actual dunes.

I had heard the story of the Sleeping Bear dunes years ago.  I believe my nieces and nephews received a picture book telling about a mama bear and her two cubs who didn’t quite survive the journey with her.  We opted to go directly to the dune climbing area rather than do the scenic drive.  We took turns carrying our own little cub as we climbed this steep wall of sand.  It was just beautiful, both while climbing and at the top.  We foolishly looked at the backpack we’d brought before going up the dune, but decided to leave it in the car.  After all, why would one want bottled water or an extra sweatshirt or a snack after making an arduous sandy climb?  Yeah, we regretted that decision…oh well!  Nate was the tough guy and carried Liam the majority of the ascension.  I kept offering to take him, but he kept declining my help.  So I ran a little bit of the dune…yikes, that was a tough workout!  I wish I had been close to something like this back when I was coaching cross-country!  This place would be such an awesome hill workout for me and the kids!

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So, we reached the top of the dune…and lo and behold, we could now see the next level of dunes!  So of course, being a bit competitive with myself, I insisted we push ahead and get to the next height.  The views from the top were breathtaking!  We couldn’t see more water from the second level, but a rugged, hilly, woodsy area.  It was great watching other visitors making the trek up the dunes, lots of small children running and racing each other, even an elderly woman hiking up with a cane and a helper.  She made it the whole way…we saw a man waiting at the bottom who said she was his extremely determined mother-in-law.

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We thought Liam would be more interested in playing in the sand, but as soon as Nate tried to let him sit down, he pulled his feet up and his hands started shaking.  Maybe he just needs a bit more time to get used to this new stuff…he used to have the same reaction to grass, and now he’s fine with it.  Anyway, he was carried the whole way up and the whole way down the dunes.  By the time we reached the bottom again, it was getting awfully cold, so we put some more layers on the baby and grabbed our snacks from the car.  He loved the gulls as well.

After the dune climb, we drove a few miles down the road to a maritime museum and viewed some old boats and learned about Coast Guard history.  Lots of neat artifacts to see.

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Little dude was worn out and slept on the trip back to the hotel.  Traffic getting back was awful-construction was blocking a lane right in front of the hotel, so it took awhile to get there from half a mile away.  Once there, though,  Liam slept another hour, so we all got some rest.

We chose a very casual diner-type place for dinner called The Cottage, and the food was delicious.  We rounded out the evening with a walk around the restaurant’s neighborhood, a short drive out of town, and ice cream at Sweet Treats, located where we got our pizza the first night.  Liam was so sleepy by the time we got to the ice cream shop, but perked up quickly at his first taste of ice cream.  Wow, he loved that and kept begging for more!

Seeing our son’s excited expressions every time he discovers something new is a joy.  He loves the simple things, evidenced by the way he coos every time the hotel elevator door opens.  He crawls around and gets into everything.  He loves to go after the hotel room drawers (some child locks would have been helpful, that’s for sure)!  Traveling with a toddler is definitely more of a challenge than without one, but it’s totally worth it.

Traverse City: Arrival!

Let me just say for the record: we have the best baby EVER!  He was such a trooper during our day of driving…nearly eight hours strapped in a car seat…took us at least a half an hour after getting to town before we found our hotel…hardly fussed or cried at all.  In fact, during the time he was awake (about half of the trip), he entertained himself with his books and toys and when my husband turned on Volbeat, he lit up like a firefly! (Yes, I’m stealing that line from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.) Anyway, the music thrilled our boy and he began clapping, kicking his legs, and smacking his legs to the beat.  Watching his big goofy grins and listening to his squeals of delight made us forget about how he had made us sit up with him from 2 until 3:30 this morning.

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Our drive was easy, without too much traffic for the most part.  A bit rainy here and there. A simple picnic lunch of cheese, bread, and fruit satisfied our appetites to keep us from succumbing to the temptations of fast food.  We made another quick stop for gas and when Nate came back from paying, he tried to get me to go in and buy something, too.  Why?  Because, he said, the cashier looked and talked exactly like little Joe’s male nanny from Modern Family.  Apparently the boy was very enthusiastic about helping him save money on his drink and candy.  While curious, I didn’t go in the store, so I guess I will just have to take Nate’s word for it!

IMGP1461C’mon, Dad! I can drive!

Anyway.  Back to the day…

You know that feeling of relief when you finally reach your destination? That’s what we experienced when we saw our hotel after changing directions several times in the city, just praying Liam’s good mood would hold out a little bit longer.  We really couldn’t believe he was so calm and happy, just singing to himself as we drove.  Of course our navigation system wasn’t working very well, so we couldn’t count on that to get us there.

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Once in the room, with a clean diaper, the bambino was still just as happy as could be, crawling and toddling around the hotel room.  He is SOOOO close to walking on his own, and we’ve been poised with the camera for days trying to capture the moment when it does occur.  Maybe he will finally break free here in Michigan!

Pizza at the East Bay restaurant, just down the bay shore from the hotel a mile or so, tasted awesome.  Liam got to marvel at the wooden bear sculptures out front and the taxidermy display of wild animals inside the restaurant.  We watched everyone else who came to the place getting ice cream that looked delicious, but of course we did not have room for that after the pizza. A man came in with four children.  We overheard him talking to another fellow, telling him, “Yeah, I have three more at home.”  Wow.  Seven kids.  Bravo, man.  I cannot imagine trying to manage that many people 24/7.  Another TV-land connection: one of the guy’s kids was wearing nothing but a diaper and shoes.  Who knows the reference?  Oh yeah, it’s the little kid from the scary neighbor family down the street in The Middle.  Thankfully, this kid was not carrying around a baby bottle at age seven and swearing like a sailor.

To let Liam burn off some energy after sitting so much today, we had to try out the hotel pool.  It’s nice, there is a hot tub in the same room, but…the pool water is freezing.  We decided to go in anyway, and  Nate and I both even got ourselves fully submerged briefly.  I don’t very often get my husband into a pool, so it was nice he did it for Liam.  We helped the kiddo kick and splash around for a short time and then warmed him up with a bath in our room.  It must have worked, because he is sleeping angelically now, and didn’t fight sleep one bit tonight.

The bay waters here are sparkling and lovely.  I hope to get some photos added later in the week–sorry!

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Impossibly clear blue-green water.  Mountains looming ahead.  Peaceful coves tucked away, almost as if completely apart from civilization.

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While traveling in the mountains of southeastern France two years ago, one day my husband and I found ourselves canoeing on this picturesque lake.  We had reserved our spot through a local travel company, but when we arrived lakeside, the rental place looked abandoned.  Luckily, one guy was actually there and came to talk to us eventually, and although he didn’t seem to know anything about our reservation, he hooked us up with a two-person sit-on-top canoe for a couple of hours.

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It was one of the most serene afternoons of our lives.  We were far from the tourist crowds of Paris, getting exercise and fresh air and quiet time to talk.

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Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be paddling along a peaceful lake’s edge right now, feeling the oars slice smoothly through the still waters.

I know it’s getting colder and winter is on its way.  The really bitter cold hasn’t even begun yet.  It will be at least four or five months until we will be able to get out on the water again.  So it doesn’t bode well for me to already be feeling so anxious to use my kayak.

We only managed to get our boats wet three times over the past summer.  Learning to care for a newborn pretty well occupied our time.  Definitely, we plan to get out on the water much more next summer, but it seems so far in the future right now…

City of Lights

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This was taken in June 2011, when Nate and I visited Paris.  As a French teacher, it was super-important to me that my husband love the city of Paris as much as I do.  This was my third trip there and totally different, the first having been on a study-abroad summer after sophomore year of college and the second in 2000 with my parents.

Seeing Paris with the love of my life was incredible.  We must have walked ten miles that first day in the city, shunning the metro in favor of taking a promenade everywhere.  Staying at an adorable little bed-and-breakfast near the Centre Pompidou, we had an amazingly central jumping-off point for sightseeing.

“All of Paris is like a museum.”

Nate absolutely loved walking the city.   He often would comment on the way you can look up no matter where you are and see gorgeous architecture and art within the buildings of the city itself.  The Eiffel Tower is visible from pretty much everywhere because the rest of the buildings are typically only six floors and it literally towers above them.

Getting off to a fairly late start after sleeping off the jet lag and enjoying a leisurely breakfast of fresh croissants, yogurt, fruit, and coffee, we set out to explore the City of Lights.  We spent a total of six hours browsing the masterpieces of the Louvre and also managed to check out Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and enjoy everything else along the way.  An absolutely exhausting day, the kind of tired where you keep moving on to another activity and then another, and your energy keeps reviving as if by magic until at last you can’t take another step and you collapse into bed.

Musée du Louvre

We saw tourists attempting to cut ahead in line outside the Louvre’s great glass pyramid (fairly pointless given that wait time was only about 15-20 minutes).  We followed the stream of visitors to the Mona Lisa.  Didn’t get very close to it since we didn’t care to push in front of the swarms of schoolchildren and other visitors, but you have to at least see it.

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It’s ridiculous when I recall that when my parents and I were at the Louvre, we searched and searched and could not find the Mona Lisa for the life of us.  This time, she practically slapped us in the face as we walked through the entrance, she was so easy to find.  She is, to most visitors, surprisingly small, and so might be disappointing to those who have built her up in their minds.

I  made sure to show Nate two of my favorite works, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa.

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I am neither an artist nor an art critic.  I simply enjoy art.  I drink it in and appreciate the way it can make me feel.   I enjoy the historical significance of artistic works.  I admire painters and sculptors for their creativity and skill, which I do not possess in the same manner.  So Nate and I, as we explored the halls of the former royal palace that is the Louvre, simply looked at what we wanted to see.

l’Arc de Triomphe

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We pressed on to Napoleon’s triumphal arch, following the Champs-Élysées and picking up a delicious crêpe with Nutella from a street vendor along the way.  A few light sprinkles  came down for a little while, but they didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for this amazing city.  The wind and rain subsided by the time we were ready to leave the arch, so we figured, why not walk a bit more to the Eiffel Tower?

La Tour Eiffel

The iconic symbol of Paris and of France itself, the Eiffel Tower was of course a must-see.  Nate and I zipped along the streets, watching it loom ever larger on the horizon.  Opting not to purchase tickets to ride up to any of the elevator levels, we took a quick look around the tower’s base, craning our necks back to gaze up at the top.

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Twilight was coming, and we continued to toss backwards glances at Gustave Eiffel’s iron creation as we walked back toward our lodging.  The semi-stormy weather combined with sunset colors made for some gorgeous views.

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La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame

100_3574 100_3576Here’s the restaurant where we stopped for dinner after the Eiffel Tower.  Yep, we took pictures of our food.   Mine was a croque-monsieur, basically an open-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich–they’re to die for!  Nate loved and raved about every single meal we had in France.  Whether we were eating a street vendor’s wares or in a real restaurant or a hole-in-the-wall bar, the food was incredible.  I’m pretty sure that even if he had not had the least bit of interest in museums or monuments or culture, he would have been sold on Paris by the food alone.

One last thing to fit into our day: the home of the hunchback and the gargoyles.  Notre-Dame was merely a few blocks from our hotel, so we swung by on our way back home.  We are not great photographers, but still enjoyed the photo op.

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Had we started our day expecting to do all of this, we might have been disappointed if it hadn’t worked out that way.  We just had to take advantage of the extra energy we’d been given.  We set out to tour the Louvre and ended up not only doing that, but getting an awesome tour of some of the greatest highlights of Paris.