Back to School Blues

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Today is the big day. It’s been written on our family calendar for months. It’s a day of anticipation and dread. It’s the first day of school. As a Stay At Home Dad it means the return of taxi driver to my daily routine. As well as alarm clock and lunch-preparer for my kids. Today is a day that I both dread and celebrate, but not for the reasons many parents do. As a former student (a long time ago) and former teacher (not as long ago) I loved the first day of school. There was a sense of optimism and possibility and freshness. A new year with a new teacher and mix of old and new friends. Getting to see friends and colleagues again after the summer break. It almost made the chore of getting everything ready worth it. Almost. After all, it was still school. It also meant the end of staying up late and sleeping in. Playing at the park, hiking at Mt. Rainier, going to week-long camp, and vacationing in Europe, to name a few. Doing nothing and enjoying it. Replaced by getting up early (rude alarm clock) and homework or lesson planning and correcting papers.

What I don’t understand, though, are the parents who are celebrating that their kids are finally out of their hair. Fruit of the Loom (makers of fine underwear) even started a #TGIBTS (Thank Goodness It’s Back To School) campaign to capitalize on this sentiment among parents (although it was aimed at moms). It makes me sad that there are some moms and dads who genuinely celebrate the absence of their kids. I’m going to miss my kids while they’re at school. It’s going to be quiet(er) with only a four year old and one year old at home all day long. What ever will I do with all of my newly-found free time? HA HA HA! As much as the teasing and such between my kids is a little bit annoying, I love having them at home. They bring so much joy to my life on a daily basis. I’m going to miss the fun that we have just doing life together. Yet, I love that they get to go and learn and be with friends and teachers and experience things that I cannot give them. I loved being a student (even though at times I had to work hard) and had a lot of fun in school. While I wasn’t a fan of the significant homework and studying in high school and college I understood it to be a part of my “job” as a student. I hope that my kids will view their educational opportunity in the same way. If anything, I celebrate the new and fun things that my kids will learn this coming year.

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The only bit of dread that I have is in wishing I had done more with my kids during their time off. Did we do enough fun stuff to make up for the days where we did basically nothing? Did they get to do something memorable enough that they can write about it for their first assignment in English class? Will they look back on their Summer 2014 as fondly as I do? I hope that they each can answer yes to all those questions. But, in the minds of my kids, I’m sure they’re probably already starting the countdown. 180 school days to go. June 11, 2015 can’t come soon enough.

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Honesty, Always The Best Policy

I was listening to American Pie on my iPhone while driving three of my kids the final 75 miles to our home in Washington from our four day road trip to Northern California. The traffic was light and the sky was blue when out of the blue the music stopped and my phone rang. Even though I didn’t recognize the number I answered it since I already had my headphones in my ears. I’m glad I did. It was the manager of the La Quinta Inn & Suites we had stayed at the night before in Eugene, Oregon, calling to inform me that the person who had cleaned our room after we left found a blue iPod touch. He wanted to know if it belonged to us. I knew that my daughter had one like that and a quick question in her direction confirmed it. She didn’t even know that she had left it behind, thinking it was in her bag. After I told the manager it was, indeed, our device, he told me that he would get it in the mail to us later that day. I thanked him again for his call and hung up.

I glanced over at my daughter who was looking kind of sheepish, not knowing if I was going to be upset with her or lecture her. I wasn’t and I didn’t. I told her that I wasn’t at all upset with her. Accidents happen. Heck, I’d even given the room one last visual inspection before we left that morning and I hadn’t seen her forgotten iPod. There was no need for a lecture. She felt bad enough and there wasn’t anything that I needed to say. I just told her she was fortunate that the person cleaning the room was so honest. She smiled knowingly and I put my headphones back in and listened to some more tunes as we continued toward home. As I drove, I thought about how interesting it was that I was so surprised that the hotel employee had been so honest with my daughter’s iPod. After all, that device cost her several hundred dollars (she saved up for it and bought it on her own) and could have easily been sold on eBay or Craigslist for a nice “bonus” for that person who is likely making near minimum wage. But, instead, that person chose to do the right thing. No one would’ve known if he or she had pocketed that device. Instead, that person had integrity. You know, doing the right thing even when no one else is around. Seems like that’s a lost character trait these days. This particular employee, however, got it right. I believe that is a reflection on the company and the management that hired him or her.

I’m not getting any compensation from La Quinta for writing this blog post. They don’t even know that I’m a blogger or that I’m writing this. I’m not even going to make this into a formal review of the hotel, although it was nice. I got a clean room and my kids and I enjoyed the pool, hot tub and comfy beds. The hotel held up its end of the deal. Enough about that. But what really struck a chord with me was how this cleaning person had taken the iPod to the manager who then called me. My daughter learned a lesson without the pain of losing a valuable device while I was encouraged that there are still good, honest people still out there. I’m grateful for their honesty and integrity and will happily bring my family back to La Quinta Inn & Suites on future trips because of this positive experience. Ultimately, the reason I want to share this story with you is that a good report that is publicly shared on social media is the best way that I can say “THANK YOU” to the people involved whose actions ensured a “touching” reunion for my daughter and her forgotten iPod.

Still Crazy After All These Years

A few weeks after I graduated from high school in June of 1991 I was on an airplane with 11 other people from my hometown to spend nearly a month in Europe. We went to Sweden, Denmark, England and Scotland, making new friends and memories along the way. That trip also marked the last time I saw my friend Andy who lived in the small town of Witham, a short train ride northeast of London. Andy and I had become friends a year before when he traveled to America with a Witham Boys Brigade group that was hosted by the Brigade in Neenah, Wisconsin, where I lived. We had hit it off immediately in 1990 as both of us were athletic and competitive, not to mention exceedingly good looking! We both looked forward to renewing our friendship the following summer when my Brigade group made the long trip across the pond. We shared many memorable moments over the course of just a few short weeks during the summers of 1990 and 1991. Since that was before widespread email and Facebook we were forced to keep in touch the old fashioned way…by writing letters. That worked for a while but, as we were both attending university, the frequency of our exchanges slowed until we lost touch completely.

Fast forward fifteen years to 2006. I received an email from someone at Brigade in my hometown that a guy by the name of Andy from England had contacted them, asking about me. That email included Andy’s contact information, so the ball was in my court to reestablish contact. A ton of memories flooded my mind. Camp Onaway (the week-long camp Andy attended with me in 1991), Six Flags Great America, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame tour, jokes and pranks, touring London, and, of course, a little bit of guilt for falling out of touch with my friend. That evening I sent Andy an email. He invited me to check out this new thing called Facebook so that we could share pictures of our families with one another. I had heard of it, and, even though I didn’t know much about it, I thought I’d check it out. Well, you know what’s happened with that platform since then. I even invited Andy to participate in a Fantasy Football league that I run because I knew of his passion for American football. Even though his favorite team is the Miami Dolphins I figured he’d be a good addition to our league. Besides, who wouldn’t want to try to engage a British bloke in a bit of trans-Atlantic smack talk? It was bloody brilliant! I’m pretty sure he won the league title in only his second or third year in the league…defeating me in the playoffs along the way. Both of us talked of wanting to get together again but both of us were married and had young children, meaning that a trip would likely have to wait for some time.

That time just arrived with my trip with my daughter to Europe. We’re currently 38,000 feet above Canada on our way back to Seattle after three weeks on holiday. Andy and his wife, Melissa, graciously opened their home to my daughter, E, and me for our last weekend in Europe. While I certainly enjoyed my time with E seeing sights in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, I was always most looking forward to catching up with Andy and meeting his wife and three children. Andy had agreed to pick us up from the train station closest to his town after he finished work that Friday afternoon. Through the wonders of free wifi at a local fro-yo place we exchanged texts that pinpointed the location and time where he would get us. As we waited for him I began to wonder if we would be able to pick up our friendship after 23 years. Would it feel natural or forced? As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.

Andy pulled up in his car and put out his hand which I ignored and gave him a hug. Not sure if the Brits hug much, but this American is a hugger. After a short drive we arrived at his house and were greeted by his family. While he had warned them that I’m tall, I guess seeing someone have to duck under the door elicits giggles of amazement just like in America. Once past the initial greetings we started in on our wonderful feast of pizza. The best part of the evening was just visiting with my friend and his family, who welcomed us warmly. Even better, Andy’s oldest daughter and my daughter seemed to click, just like he and I had 24 years ago. After the youngest two kids went to bed, the girls (mom included) watched a movie in another room while Andy and I kept on catching up. We talked about all sorts of things, silly stuff like sports (he taught me about cricket and I taught him about baseball) and serious stuff like the passing of our fathers (mine in 2007, his in 2010), how our moms were doing and the joys and challenges of being a father and husband. The conversation flowed naturally and easily as if we had been friends since childhood. And that was just the first evening.

We spent all of Saturday doing things as a large group. Touring an old English estate and taking in an outdoor performance of “La Boheme” opera. Our families continued to bond as Andy’s four year old daughter took a particular liking to E and spent much of the opera snuggled in her lap. Near the end of the performance she grew of being there and started to collect sticks from the ground. I decided to intervene and invented a game where she and I took turns lining the sticks up in a row. She took to it immediately and was no longer bored. Andy seemed bemused by my game and I was glad that my dad instinct was able to help entertain his four year old until the show was over. It was a similar “game” that I’d successfully used at restaurants using sugar packets. Score one for the SAHD bag of tricks.

After a delicious full English breakfast prepared (for the second day in a row, I might add) by Mel on Sunday morning, we left for a day of sight seeing in London. Andy and his daughter accompanied us as we saw many of the iconic London sights: Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Horse Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Again, both the dads and the daughters got along splendidly. The girls had, without planning it, dressed almost identically. They laughed and posed for countless pictures together. They had fun teasing each other about their failed attempts to talk with an American or British accent. Finally, though, it was time to wrap up our wonderful time together. We took the Tube to the station nearest our hotel and walked up the stairs together. As we walked both Andy and I grew quiet. I know that I had a rush of emotions welling up inside of me. I stopped a couple of blocks short of our hotel and suggested that Andy and his daughter could head back to his wife and kids, that we would be able to get back easily. I wanted to say much more to my dear friend about how much his friendship over the years had meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, a heartfelt hug conveyed the message between two misty-eyed blokes. I choked out the sentiment that we shouldn’t let 23 years pass between our next visit. For the sake of our friendship and that of our daughters!

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10 Lessons from Two Weeks in Europe

I’m typing this from my comfy Eurostar train seat in the Chunnel under the English Channel, heading for London. My daughter and I have been away from home since 25 June and we go home again 15 July. We’ve had an amazing trip with stops in Brussels, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and London. Being a long time fan of a certain late night host (don’t want to name names in case it’s a copyright infringement), here are my Top Ten Lessons Learned from Two Weeks in Europe.

  1. Mass transit is awesome. We’ve used trains to get all over Europe and it’s been a pleasant and efficient way to travel. There’s no way we could’ve traveled to so many countries if I had been trying to drive us all over the place. While it’s not cheap, it’s nice not to have to drive or worry about finding parking. It’s also great to be able to take a short nap on the train, which is generally frowned upon while driving. Getting used to the nuances of each city’s system was another story, but we usually got the general hang of it by the second day.
  2. I really appreciate the availability of bathrooms in most restaurants and stores in the U.S. that are clean and free. Having to pay to use a Water Closet is overrated.
  3. Europeans smoke. A lot. Everywhere. It’s really annoying. Ok, let me put this in a positive light. I am so thankful for the “no smoking” laws in the States. While there are still many instances in the US where I encounter second-hand smoke it’s nothing compared to here.
  4. Holy cow is Europe ever expensive! Or, maybe the US Dollar just sucks. Either way, YIKES! How much would you expect to pay for a 20 oz. bottle of Coke in the US, maybe $1.75 or $2? Try double that (or more) over here. Drink water instead. Except…there are not very many drinking fountains (bubblers for some of you) to fill up water bottles. There were a bunch in Italy, but not so much in the other countries we visited. And I really don’t care for buying bottled water for my daily travels or even when dining out. Speaking of dining out…
  5. Ordering a meal from a waitress who doesn’t speak English is a bit difficult. And I wish it wasn’t so awkward to ask if the tip is included in the bill. I did find out from a restaurant employee in Florence (on our last day in Italy, of course) that “Italians never tip” since it’s included in the bill. Yet, in France it wasn’t. Or was it? I really don’t know because I got two different answers from two workers in the same Irish establishment in Paris. Come on Europe, make up your mind. I don’t want to be rude but I also don’t want to be a sucker and tip when it’s already been included.
  6. Tourists are easy marks. We stick out even if we try to blend in. There’s no way around it. Embrace it and be prepared to get asked for money by every beggar in every Metro station. And whatever you do, don’t accept flowers from a nice guy in a public area. He’s not being nice. He’s going to expect you to pay him for his, um, “niceness”. Same for the girl in the train station who will find you wandering in the station and ask you sweetly if she can help you. If you let her help you out then you can expect she’s not helping you simply out of the goodness of her heart. She’s going to expect to be paid for her 5-10 minutes of assistance. Although, if you look at it as a chance to skip the long lines at the ticket counter and a learning opportunity (how to use the automated ticket machine) then it’s not such a bad deal. Be warned.
  7. Sandals might not have been the best idea for a three week trip. Not because there’s so much walking. Nope, they’ve been just fine for all the walking. Because they stink. Literally. Probably doesn’t help that I’ve gotten them wet from the rainy places and they’ve never fully dried out. My shoes and feet are so smelly every evening that I have to wash my feet with soap and water and put the offending footwear as far away from my daughter as possible. I also douse them with baby powder nightly. Still doesn’t fully cover the smell. Oops. I’d consider buying some shoes but doubt I could find anything in a size 16.
  8. Basketball is a universal language. I saw some teenagers playing hoops at a park near our hotel in Paris and watched them for a few minutes. A few of them approached me and invited me to play with them. They were enamored with my height (over 2 meters!) and ability to dunk without much effort (yay 9’ rim) despite wearing my stinky sandals. One boy gave me the nickname of “Easy” because I kept making so many mid and long range jumpers without much (apparent) effort. They also wanted to know if I knew LeBron James because we’re both from America.
  9. Sometimes after waiting in line for an hour or two to enter a specific tourist attraction (that happens to be historical) it doesn’t live up to expectations. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Vatican/Sistine Chape, Mona Lisa and Palace of Versailles. Sometimes it does click (Eiffel Tower, Venice, David statue) and it makes it all worth it. You just never know.
  10. I’m pretty sure that people taking selfies EVERYWHERE is just about as annoying as all the smokers ruining the nice clean air I want to breathe. Of course, if you can’t snap your mug in front of whatever thing you’re seeing and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter then it didn’t really happen, right?

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Note: I typed this on 10 July but neglected to post it until now (14 July) because we were having so much fun in London.

We’ll Always Have Paris

Have you ever run into a friend from your past in an unexpected place? Maybe you went to an amusement park or concert and saw someone you went to high school with and one of you commented about what a small world it is. Try this one on for size. Walking from our hotel in a random neighborhood in Paris, France, my daughter and I ran into some friends that we went to church with nine years ago when we were living in Mason City, Iowa. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe what we were all feeling after I greeted them from about fifteen feet away by saying loudly, “I go all the way to Paris and who do I see but the Muyskens family?”. After all five of them (parents and three daughters) whirled their heads to see who just called their name out in Paris, we exchanged hugs and excited “What are you doing here?” silliness. Duh! We’re all on vacation. Yet, here we both were. I’d kept in touch with Dennis and Susan over the last nine years since we last lived in Iowa. The last time I saw them was in 2009, when I took my oldest went back for a weekend with one of her best friends there. While we remained on friendly terms (exchanged Christmas letters/photos) ours was more of a Facebook friendship where we kind of kept in touch but that was about it. And then, this.

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A chance meeting in Paris. They had literally just arrived that morning after taking an overnight direct flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were on their first outing from their hotel, trying to find the nearby Metro stop. Only, they had gone the wrong direction (toward us). Likewise, my daughter and I had just found our hotel after taking the overnight train to Paris from Milan. After our showers we decided that we were hungry and the hotel clerk said that there were restaurants to the left or to the right from the hotel. We opted to go to the right since that was the direction of the Metro stop we would need later to go to the Eiffel Tower. It was at the corner of that street, a block from our hotel, that we chanced upon our friends. Since we were all hungry we decided to grab lunch together at the cafe which was across the street. What followed was a lot of head shaking and What are the odds?! moments. It was great to see my friends again. It’s amazing how quickly kids grow up when the last time you saw them was nine years prior. The Muyskens girls were just finishing 1st, 4th and 8th grades back in 2005 when we moved. Now the oldest is a college graduate, looking forward to teaching art in the fall. The next daughter is in college, a double major (bio and chem) looking at med school. The youngest is a junior in high school. Crazy! Of course, it goes both ways. Susan was my daughter E’s preschool teacher for two years. Of course, E, at age 14, didn’t realize that this was the famous Mrs. Muyskens from preschool and was even more shocked when I told her that fact. 

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Since we’d had so much fun catching up at lunch we decided to accept their kind invitation to tag along on their trip to the Eiffel Tower. (It’s what we’d planned to do anyhow, but better with friends!) I think it was especially nice for my daughter to be able to have this fun time with three other girls roughly her age instead of just me. We get along well but I’m sure she enjoyed the time with other teens. At any rate, the tower was huge. Bigger in real life that I thought it would be. So interesting to finally see such an iconic European structure. We had hoped to go to the top but the lines were about 3 hours long. No thanks! But walking underneath it was also pretty cool. Thinking about how it was built and all the iron needed to do it. What an engineering marvel. After a delicious ice cream/sorbet break and some cartwheels and bridges in front of the tower we meandered found some other impressive buildings – palaces and cathedrals and such – and just enjoyed our unexpected afternoon together. Seriously. If either of us had left our hotels 30 seconds sooner or later we wouldn’t have seen one another! 

At about 5:30 local time, which was 10:30 am Minnesota time, we decided to have dinner together before heading back to our respective hotels, as some of the Muyskens family were starting to feel the effects of jet-lag. After dinner we navigated through the Metro to the stop near our hotels. When we got to our parting spot we stopped to say good bye. Only this time my daughter had made three new friends so the “kids” also participated in the good-bye hugs. Being the clown that I am and not wanting to dwell in the sadness of the farewell moment too long, I spontaneously said with all the dramatic flair I could muster (which isn’t much, I might add), “We’ll always have Paris!“. It received the desired reaction and we left. Our separate European vacations forever entwined by a chance encounter in the City of Light. Au revoir!

The Hills are Alive…With the Sound of Munich

It’s Monday morning and we’re on the 8:12 train, heading for the Austrian Alps on our way from Salzburg, Austria to Venice, Italy. My 14 year old daughter (E) and I left Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday and still have over two weeks left on our European vacation. Here are a few of the highlights/lessons learned from our first five days.

  1. It’s always best to be patient and polite. Despite a multitude of travel problems getting out of Seattle (cancelled flight, missed connections, no electronic ticket, long wait on hold…) I was able to keep my cool and not get frustrated at the people or circumstances. It was a good opportunity to extend grace to others even when inside I felt like releasing a Walt Whitman-like “barbaric yawp”.
  2. #1 is easier said than done, especially when you’re really really tired and just want to sleep somewhere that is comfortable. But we did it.
  3. American “passion” for the World Cup is nothing compared to the “PASSION” of Europeans. Yikes. They’re simply mad about it here. Cup Crazy. And it doesn’t matter if their team is any good, as demonstrated by the large crowd of people in London-Heathrow who gathered in front of the TVs to watch the U.S.-Germany game on 26 June. We arrived at our hotel in Brussels just before the start of Belgium’s last game and could hear the cheers and groans of the fans from our room. The loud cheering and horns just after midnight were a little annoying but an indicator of the passion they have for their team. The fever is everywhere. We spent two days in Germany and one in Austria and saw signs, posters, shirts, hats and more all over the place. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is the fervor of NFL fans for their teams, but on a national scale. (Bears fans, think about how you would’ve felt if you’d beaten the Packers in the NFC title game in 2011. Or how you felt in 1985.)
  4. There are a lot of really nice people out there who are willing to talk and visit. We’ve met so many people in just five days of traveling. Thanks to the 10 1/2 hour delay in Seattle we chatted with several fellow passengers who we wouldn’t have known if our flight had been on schedule. A kind lady on the train to Munich sat next to me and helped translate the announcements and even helped us find a hotel upon our arrival. Turns out that she’s a Literature professor at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia, back in Germany for some research this summer. While in Germany I met some people from Australia and some from Bulgaria. I learned that I’m terrible at deciphering accents. Except for American accents. Which leads me to my next point.
  5. Americans are obnoxious tourists. Case in point: while at a small bakery/café in rural Austria on Sunday, the loudest group was a table of five Americans. Completely unaware that their obscenity-laced conversation was dominating the entire room. Come on, people. We can be better than that. I’d expect such self-absorbed behavior from middle schoolers, not from grown adults.
  6. I’m tall. No. REALLY TALL! So tall that lots of people feel the need to point it out to me. I’m not remotely bothered by it. More entertained. At the train station in Cologne a guy who came around begging for money proceeded to dramatically point out how tall I am. Yeah, I’m 5’20” and I wear clown shoes. Move on.
  7. I wore a Packers football shirt on our trip to see castles in Bavaria. It was fun to see so many people say “Go Packers” upon seeing my shirt. Met people from Madison, Waukesha, Waupaca and Appleton. One guy from Atlanta, older and retired, asked me where I was from in Wisconsin. He knew Neenah (the city where I grew up) and all the cities in the Fox Valley…even Little Chute, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Combined Locks. Apparently he did a lot of business up there back in his day. What a small world. Then there was the guy from the suburbs of Chicago who saw my shirt…but what could he say? Turns out he’s a really nice guy (despite his taste in football team) and we had a pleasant conversation on our hike to the bus stop from the castle.
  8. I can understand why a lot of Germans settled in the Midwest when they came to the United States years ago. The rolling countryside of Bavaria is just like what you see in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seeing the green fields, cows and barns seemed just like “home”.
  9. The public transportation here in Europe is amazing. We’ve taken trains everywhere and it’s been terrific. No hassles about parking. I can read or blog (like I am now) or enjoy the scenery. There is always a nearby WC for when nature calls. And you can rest. E has discovered that sleeping on trains is a great way to fight jet-lag. You just can’t do that if you’re driving. Too bad we Americans are so obsessed with our cars. And I’m certainly guilty of that.
  10. Solar power. I wonder how much less reliance on fossil fuels we would have in America if we put solar panels on top of our buildings? It’s so common here. There were even solar farms with hundreds of panels in dozens of rows. The technology exists. Why don’t we use it?
  11. Europeans seem to get a lot of lifestyle exercise. Our legs are already sore from all of the walking we’ve been doing and we’ve only been here for four days. A ten to fifteen minute walk is not considered a big deal over here. Maybe I should try to implement some of that mentality in my own life. Build in extra time for walking. Or biking. There are also a lot of bikers, including parents pulling young children. Even in the rain.
  12. A good breakfast is a very good thing. We’ve enjoyed the fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and sausages every morning so far.
  13. I can understand more German than I thought I would. My Spanish minor from college isn’t helping me much, but there are quite a few words that I pick up from time to time when hearing German announcements or reading sign
  14. Rude cell phone users know no nationality. They’re everywhere. Trains. Cafes. Shops. Hotel lobbies. Sidewalks. Bus stops. Even castles and gardens. The lady in the train compartment with us is now on her third call. Seriously.
  15. Speaking of cell phones…it’s been nice not having cell coverage here. Unplugged vacation (at least during the day) is quite a throwback. While having a smart phone is nice it’s been pleasant to use it just as a camera during the day. I will admit that there have been multiple times that I would’ve googled something to find out more about where we were but couldn’t since I have no coverage here. Yet, we still managed.
  16. Don’t buy stinky cheese and then put it in your backpack. Even if it’s wrapped and double-bagged in Zip-Lock bags it’s still going to stink. It was going to be my lunch today but I don’t think my fellow passengers on the train would be very happy if I opened it up. Although, if that lady next to me starts on her cell phone again…
  17. I really love history. I knew that already but it’s being confirmed on this trip. And, it appears that E loves it as well. She impressed our tour guide (who happens to be a history professor in Switzerland) with her knowledge on our trip to the castles in Bavaria. While over half our tour group rudely talked during his short historical presentation (on the train to the castles), E was really into it and he was pleased. So much that on the way back after the tours he came over and spent a lot of extra time telling us more details and sharing interesting tidbits with us that the rest of the group didn’t hear. Which reminds me, history is fascinating when presented properly. It’s too bad that so many people hate history because of the boring way it’s often taught in schools. Hearing about how King Ludwig of Bavaria sold his kingdom to King Bismarck of Prussia for money to build his famous Neuschwanstein Castle was incredible. But, that’s not all to the story. It gets better. Yet, we only learned that information because our tour guide happens to love history and shared his passion with us. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that, to this day, King Ludwig is still despised and hated by the people of Bavaria. And that his castle, made famous by Walt Disney, is a symbol of greed and selfishness to the locals while a beautiful tourist spot for almost everyone else. Also, in the nearby small town of Füssen there is a statue of the uncle of King Ludwig who removed Ludwig from the throne. Every day a new wreath or crown of some sort is placed upon his head by the local people, as display of their affection for him, even though these events all took place over 125 years ago. Now, THAT is history coming alive.
  18. I miss my family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving this trip and the break from the daily responsibilities of being a Stay At Home Dad. But, seeing little kids with their parents makes me miss my own kids that are at back in the States. I especially miss the snuggling and cuddling of my little girls, ages 4 and 1. But, then I hear the same cute kids fussing, fighting or screaming and I don’t miss them quite as much. I really appreciate FaceTime. It’s nice to see my family for at least a few moments.
  19. Of course, visiting so many romantic spots here makes me miss my own true-love, but I doubt anyone wants me to go on about that. If they’re reading this, I’m sure my own kids are losing their appetites at the very thought. I love her and am thankful for her hard work at home to care for our kids (with the help of her mom – thanks!) and to fund this trip.
  20. Finally, I’m reminded of the importance of this one on one time with my daughter. She’s really a great person and I like being around her. The memories that we’re making on this trip are priceless and precious. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks holds in store for us.

Check out many more photos of our trip on the Big Cheese Dad Facebook page. Watch for daily additions to the Europe Trip 2014 album. We’re going to be in Italy for the next week, followed by a few days in Paris before finishing our trip in London.

Big Cheese Takes Flight

Over the next three weeks you’re going to notice a bit of a change in my blog. I’m off for nearly three weeks in Europe with my sharp Little Cheese, aged 14 years, but not on a wood plank! Many thanks to Mrs. Big Cheese and MIL Big Cheese for watching the Cheese Curds in my absence. We are whey excited to visit Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. Watch this space for updates of our European vacation.

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Yeah, that’s my head hitting the ceiling. Pretty much the way it always is on airplanes.

Psych! After over 90 minutes on board, waiting for some mechanical issues to be resolved, we deplaned and are in the gate area. Still in Seattle. The good news is that the problems were discovered on the ground as opposed to in the air. Pretty sure we’re going to miss our connecting flights to Brussels later this afternoon.