Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Two Babies

For the last several months, Niels and I have had two things on our mind: getting pregnant and celebrating Christmas with Dutch Dad and Mom. Two babies. Our baby and the Christ child.

Niels and I know that good things come to those who wait. In fact, Niels' wedding band is engraved with the words, "worth the wait." Almost five months into our marriage, I am certain that Niels was worth every minute of the 35 years, six months, and 14 days I waited to marry him.

Because of our age, we talked about our desire to start our family sooner rather than later. We were thrilled to discover we were pregnant in early October, just 11 weeks after we were married. Our joy was short lived, when we miscarried at 5 1/2 weeks. Niels has been such rock to me in our grief, allowing me my sad days and helping me remember all our blessings. One thing he said that has really helped my mindset is the reminder that God has blessed us with so much this year--travel, finding each other, the financial means to pay for a wedding and two homes all year. He had to save something for next year.

As November turned to December, Niels reminded me of this again. We thought if we were pregnant in December, we would tell his parents by putting notes in their stockings. When my period came, I was disappointed for the missed opportunity. They live 6,000 miles away and we won't see them until next Christmas. This would be their only time to see me pregnant with their first grandchild, even if I wasn't showing yet. I was feeling tired and sick all week and felt bad for not being where I wanted to be with all the holiday planning. I wanted everything to be perfect for our first Christmas together.

Friday morning when I woke up, I was bleeding. We called my OB and they said to go to the ER. It was a busy day, so we ended up being there from 11:30 to almost 9. They were a little worried about my blood pressure, which was 104/45. They took some blood and came back to tell us we were pregnant. We were shocked, excited and nervous. We're 5 1/2 weeks, exactly where we were when we miscarried on October 15.

They discharged me with a diagnosis of either a threatened miscarriage or early ectopic pregnancy. I had orders of bedrest for two days when they would check my HCG levels again. For two days my mind raced with the hope of a Christmas baby after all, and fear that I would miscarry again. In the meantime, our radio played a constant stream of songs about another Christmas baby.

Sunday morning we headed to hospital for my blood test. We waited at the lab for the results. We prayed for a big number. The level should be doubling daily at this point in a healthy pregnancy. But, much to our dismay, the number went down and we were told the baby was not viable. We're devastated, again, but we are together, and because it is not ectopic, I am safe.

Niels parents had their own troubles. Weather and customs delays caused them to miss the last leg of their flight, so instead of arriving on the 23rd, they arrived on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, their luggage has yet to arrive. But they are here and they are safe.

Last night we went to the Christmas Eve service. I was doing pretty well. The pain was tolerable for the moment, and I was able to focus on the service. But when we started singing songs about The Baby, I began to weep for our baby. Niels' mom leaned over, her own cheeks wet with tears, hugged me and said, "I'm so sorry." And after such loss, there really are no other words to say.

Losing two babies this year has changed my perspective of the Christmas story. I identify with Mary more than ever. And I understand the greatness of the Gift. I want so much to hold my babies. I want so much to nurture them in my womb. I want so much to hear their cries as they enter this world. I believe that all life is sacred, and so I celebrate the very short lives they lived.
God didn't give us the son we wanted for Christmas, but He gave us His Son. I wouldn't willingly give up my babies, but God gave up His Son, for the greater good, and the gift of That Baby is life that never ends.

sleep in heavenly peace, little ones

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our First Co-Authorship

In my ongoing effort to learn my dear husband's native tongue, tonight we translated the poem from the beginning of my book into Dutch. So for my new Dutch family, this is for you:

- de uitbarsting-

is als een sterke aardbeving
de wereld schud
gevoed door woede
en alle boosheid
en frustraties
zo lang broedend
onder de oppervlakte
spuit dan plotseling omhoog
in een inferno van haat
of onverschilligheid...
is de wereld kalm
en je denkt
dat het schudden voor bij is
maar dan begint de cyclus opnieuw
je bent vermoeid
je wilt rusten
en dat is wanneer je realiseerd
dat het schudden gestopt is
er is een angstaanjagend gevoel
hangend in de lucht
je aarzelt
om nooit meer iets te geloven
je bent zo moe
en na zolang worstelen
rust je daarom
op het laatste stukje stabiel land
om ook dat in tweeen verdeelt te zien worden
die nooit meer
opnieuw samenkomen
elk nieuw deel
een gedeelte van jouw
en onder je ogen
drijven ze uiteen

- Jen Abbas,
achttien jaar

And for my English reading audience:

-the eruption-

is like a trembling earthquake
the world shakes
rumbling with rage
and all the anger
and frustrations
that have been festering for so long
below the surface
suddenly spew upward
in an inferno of hate
or apathy…
at times
the earth calms
and you think
the turmoil is over
then the cycle begins again
you are weary
you want to rest
and that is when you realize
the shaking has stopped
there is an eerie feeling
lurking in the air
you are hesitant to believe
you are so tired
after struggling for so long
and so you rest
on the one last solid patch of land
only to watch it split in two
that will never
come together
each new patch
supports part of you
and as you watch
they pull away.

-Jen Abbas,
age eighteen

Happy Anniversary, Dutch Mom & Dad!

Today is Dutch Dad and Mom's 38th wedding anniversary! Congrats! We love you!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Year in Review: Christmas 2007 Edition

Christmas 2007

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas from the newly formed de Jong family, American edition!!! It’s been a pretty wonderful year for us, with a few obligatory bumps along the road of wedded bliss. Here’s the China-friendly recap:

2007 began with Niels and Jen on different continents, neither of which being North America. Jen was in China visiting her much loved, much missed adopted family, The Kennedys. At the same time, Niels, with growing affection for Jen, decided that Christmas in the States without Jen would be too lonely, so he headed to the Netherlands to spend the holidays with his family. And Dad was at work. Jen was still a little gun shy about the whole marriage thing (she’s head-injured, so a little slow to recognize a good thing when he’s right in front of her!) A day after Jen arrived in China, an earthquake hit Taiwan, knocking out all internet connection to the States. Literally, the ONE person in the world Jen could reach outside China was Niels. Even before Jen told her parents she was dating someone, Niels got to contact them to let them know Jen was safe in China. By the time both Niels and Jen were on American soil again, they knew there would be no more Christmas’ apart. Yay!

February was a flood of activity and planning. Though not officially engaged yet, Niels and Jen began planning their future together--all while trying to keep the world’s worst kept secret--starting with a sparkly shiny token on Niels’ love. Jen’s ring was purchased in February though it would be a while before it made the trip to her finger. Jen’s mom braved the winter snow to meet Niels and give her approval. She arrived just in time to check out the other big purchase of the month: our new home in North Canton, Ohio. We finished up the month by heading up to Canada to introduce Jen to many of Niels’ friends, including his future best man, Joel and his lovely bride, Carolyn.

Jen and Niels started the month with a weekend at FamilyLife’s marriage conference. We took the pre-married version and Niels made Jen proud by asking all the married guys for advice. We continued our tradition of travel and headed off to Europe for Jen’s first trip to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands and France. She had a great time learning about Dutch language and culture through immersion, but of course, the highlight of the trip came March 20, when Niels proposed to Jen in a purple flower garden at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Now that she was officially betrothed, Jen decided to finally, officially, move to Ohio. Our good friends, the Prices, were kind enough to put a roof over her head. Bailey’s too. It was an emotional trip for Jen, driving away in the Penske truck. She has many happy memories in Grand Rapids and she misses her friends very much. We try to get back up there as much as we can. Now the wedding plans began in earnest, with the most important part being our
pre-marriage counseling with Pastor Jeff. What a great time!

In May we made the trip to Minnesota for our first wedding shower. Niels continued to meet more and more of Jen’s family, including her adorable nephew and godson, CJ. He proudly showed the couple all his treasures with a loud, “TA DA!” We sure wish that cutie was a little closer! Also in the spring, we hosted our first houseguests, the Handys.

In June, we were showered again, this time in Michigan. The rest of the month was flurry of preparation for THE BIG DAY!

We started the month with our last shower, this one with our Ohio friends, timed perfectly to also include THE KENNEDYS, home for a month after their first year in China. We’re sure other things happened in July, but the most important is OUR WEDDING, on July 29. It was an unseasonably warm day, in the mid-90s, so we were all radiant. We have so many special memories of that day and are incredibly grateful for the guests who came from seven states and four countries (three continents) to celebrate with us.

Is there a better way to start a new month (and marriage) than on a sunny Caribbean island? We don’t think so. We spent an amazing week in Curacao, an island in the Dutch Antilles, just North of Venezuela. It’s described as Arizona on the beach, and we think that’s just about right. After we arrived home, our family was finally all living under the same roof: Niels, Jen and our Shih Tzu, Bailey. Bailey was a great help in unwrapping our presents, especially the tissue paper and bubble wrap. Thank you so much for the generous gifts that make our house a home.

Once again, we traveled this month. We took Bailey on the longest road trip of her life, to Vermont, where we witnessed our friends Sean & Jessica say, “I DO!” It was actually the second wedding we attended together, both as a married couple. The first was our friends Jon & Penny, just two weeks after ours. The end of the month found us making our first major decision as a couple. After much Thought and really cool “Coincidences,” we made the decision to spend our Sunday Gatherings at a new place, RiverTree. It’s much like Jen’s former place in Grand Rapids, so we feel right at home. Best of all, we’ve met a wonderful group of friends. One of our new friends actually told Jen about a job that was right up her alley: 5-7 hours a week at the bookstore/library. After sixteen months, Jen is employed! (And it kicks her butt…in a good way).

October was a difficult month for us. It started off well, with the exciting news that we were expecting!!! Our joy was short lived when we miscarried our precious one on October 15. We named her “Jo,” for Just Ours. While Jen was with the doctor, they found a 6cm lump on her right breast. It took several rounds of tests and many anxious weeks before we received the relieving all clear. Thanks, Dad!

American dad visited in November and helped Jen do what she’s been putting off for much too long: apply for Disability. We are grateful for the many hours Jen’s dad spent poring over legal and medical papers and making LOTS of copies, and especially for taking Jen to the office to officially file. We spent Thanksgiving in Arizona with Jen’s mom and Gramma. Niels was quickly put to work with all the “man jobs,” but he received his reward in good ol’ fashioned Minnesota cooking, warm winter temperatures, and an amazing day with Jen road tripping to the Grand Canyon. Wow!

As we write this, the first snow is gently falling. Soon it will be the first Sinterklaas Day for Jen and then the first American Christmas for Niels. We’re looking forward to a second visit from Niels’ parents. We figure we must have been really good for them to come over from Holland twice this year. Last weekend we put up our first tree and under it lies our first Christmas gift to each other: the 2008 updated version of CATAN!

States: AZ, CO, MI, MN, NH, NY, OH, PA, VT
Countries: Belgium, Canada, China, Curacao, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands

Plans for the New Year…
• Single-home ownership
• Becoming parents
• Christmas in Holland
• Trips to…

Top 5 Things We Like To Do:
1. Play Catan, Ticket to Ride, Phase 10, and Gin 13 (Thanks, Gramma)
2. Travel
3. Be Together
4. Watch “Big Bang Theory,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Chuck”
5. Watch DVDs on the big screen at home and at church

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My husband rocks

My husband rocks
exhibit #76,842

I'm sick. I hate being sick. Fortunately, I'm not sick and home alone. My amazing husband is here. Since I've been sick on Thursday night with this creepy crud, Niels woke up early on Friday so he could get into work early, and thus, come home early. I slept. All. Day. Long. Niels came home and I was able to wake up enough to watch The Little Mermaid with him. All typical wonderful husband stuff. But today, Niels really showed his A game.

Our original plan for this weekend was to get some things done around the house. But, knowing that what I really needed was rest, Niels got up and made me breakfast in bed. Later he brought me some nice soothing tea.

We've spent the rest of the day in the guest room (where there's a TV) resting, eating chicken soup and ice cream and watching "America's Next Top Model." (I don't know why reality tv and VH1 documentaries are my go-to shows when I'm sick).

A short while ago, I noticed it was time for me to hit the shower for the first time in three days. I was not looking or smelling my best, and yet, I'm watching "America's Next Top Model" with my husband. Obviously, I'm not feeling well. And yet, in my sickly state, my husband rolls over, gives me a sweet kiss and says, "You're more beautiful to me than any of the women on that show."

Sigh...I love my husband.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Looking for a little help from our GR friends

Greetings from Ohio,

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Niels and I hit our four month anniversary and are loving married life. With one exception. All we want for Christmas (or New Years, or the spring, or soon) is to sell my condo. We're very grateful to have gone from three mortgages to two, but we both vaguely remember having one house payment and would like to experience those days again. We've been very blessed to keep our heads above water on Niels' income as I am still unable to work after head injury #3 last October. (And yes, I finally caved and applied for disability).

We'd greatly appreciate your help in passing the word around about it to anyone you may know who is looking for a good deal. Friends, family, co-workers, neighbors you don't like, anyone is fine with us...as long as they have good credit and are ready to buy! The condo is currently officially off the market over the winter, but we'd be glad to entertain any offers now on a For Sale By Owner basis, as we have a lot more flexibility on the selling price without the realtor commissions. (My mom is a retired Realtor and will walk us through the paperwork).

As you know, the housing market in GR is pretty soft right now and it's a great time to buy. We're very motivated to sell and at this point, really just want to break even.

As a thank you, we're offering a $300 incentive for any referral that results in the sale of our home.

If you don't know of anyone in the market right now, we greatly covet your prayers for a quick sale! Our budget thanks you.

$135,999 (negotiable)

3783 Old Elm Dr SE
Kentwood, MI 49512

1410 square feet
2 bedrooms ~ 2.5 baths

Schools: Kentwood ~ County: Kent

Two story Bailey's Grove townhouse offers the benefits and amenities of a single-family residence, with none of the responsibilities. Enjoy this open floor plan with lots of natural lighting. The spacious kitchen features a bay window breakfast nook, pantry, lots of counter space and beautiful maple cabinets. The twenty-foot ceiling makes the Great Room bright and inviting. Each bedroom has its own full bath and ceiling fans. The master bedroom has a separate vanity, double-mirrored pocket door, and huge walk-in closet. Spacious lower level provides lots of storage space and is plumbed and ready for your finishing touch. There are many beautiful homes to choose from in Bailey’s Grove, but this home includes brand new carpet and padding, fresh paint, a furnace humidifier and plenty of upgrades. Bailey’s Grove is a popular condo community with a pool, walking paths and clubhouse. I would have stayed here forever if I hadn’t married my Ohio sweetheart.

Listing comments...
Well-kept condo with vinyl & brick exterior
New carpet and padding installed August 2006
Most rooms freshly painted in August 2006 and November 2007
Furnace humidifier installed summer of 2004
Private entrance and deck
Master bedroom includes private bath, WIC, ceiling fan, and double-mirrored pocket door
Cathedral ceiling with fan in Great Room
Upgraded maple cabinetry throughout
Upgraded window treatment throughout
Spacious unfinished basement with daylight windows
Sheetrock attached garage with remote
Professionally landscaped
Underground Sprinkling
Snow removal and lawn care provided
Association Pool

View floor plan and photos at:

and here:

Thanks, Mindy for the great idea of posting this message on her blog. GR bloggers, spread the word!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Our first Christmas tree...

We have a little 'rule' in the De Jong household that there will be 'no tree before the turkey'. Back when I was living in the Netherlands it was even stricter since we had the celebration of Sinterklaas on Dec 5, so the tree never went up until after that day. But since turkey day has passed we decided it was time to get our tree. Our first tree as a married couple and our first tree in many, many years for both Jen and me since before this year we never home during Christmas.

We got Bailey, Miles (Jen's car) and a few spider cords (American Translation: bungee cords) and went to Lowes just down the road. We looked at a few Scottish Pines, but decided on a beautiful Douglas Fir. We got the trunk truncated by about 2 inches (so it can absorb the water and nutrients better) and 'installed' it on the roof and secured it with the bungee cords for the short drive home.

At home we moved one of Jen's Amazon bookshelves downstairs to make room for the tree. Once done we put the tree up and started decorating with our symbolic first ornament; a little car stating 'just married' with our two names, followed by ornaments of our initials and a little glass angel representing Jo.

[more to come soon, watched the Vikings demolish Detroit..., but pictures are up...]

Thanksgiving 2007 in Arizona

The wonderful feast of Thanksgiving. This year we particularly looked forward to it since we were going to Arizona to celebrate it with Mom and Grandma Manthei. Weirdly it isn't our first Thanksgiving together, that was last year over a wonderful dinner at our friends - and then home of Jen - the Prices. The other event we celebrated together last year was the Harvest Party organized by our friend Tony. To show you how small of a world this great place is... his parents live in Arizona.

To ease the travels we decided to travel on Thanksgiving Day. Since we left from Akron Canton Airport we only had a 10 minute drive to the airport, which is nice if your plane leaves at 6.50am. We left on-time and after watching some DirecTV on our Frontier flight we arrived in Denver at about 9am where we had the best possible connection. We got off the plane and I dropped the bags in front of the podium since our next flight was departing from the next gate... Jen quickly ran to the bathroom and when she got back our rows were called to board so we weren't in the terminal for more than 10 minutes. Nice !!

The fight to Phoenix was only 2 hours and we filled it with playing some Phase 10. Great game to play while flying. For those interested: the 'Game-master' kicked my behind... Yes, Jen won! (Jen says, "Three years of game therapy have paid off!") Since we didn't check any baggage we were able to get straight to our Super Shuttle after we landed. With the time-change it was barely 10am. Always nice to fly west-bound. We informed Mom that 'the eagle had landed' and - after driving by the city where our friend Tony grew up - we met up with Mom and Grandma at the Dell Web Memorial Hospital in Sun City / Surprise.

On the way to Wickenburg (our destination for the weekend) Mom and Grandma were acting like professional tour-guides and after learning about the 'upside-down' river the Hassyampa River we got to Wickenburg quickly in Grandma's awesome car (more about that later...). We were a bit hungry, but ended up going shopping at ALCO. Apparently some of her daugthers told Grandma that she needed a new TV. So before I knew it I was transformed into Mr. SME. That's Subject-Matter-Expert for the non-acronym inclined among us. She got a nice Flat Screen that we installed quickly. Bonus: Grandma made excellent Belgian Waffles and the new TV was showing Green Bay kicking some Detroit behind... On three TV's at Grandmas. We also got her a new remote. One of those all-in-one' devices, but it didn't work as nice with all the other 'toys' Grandma has. But the TV works fine...

At 5pm we were invited to a nice Thanksgiving dinner at the community center. We were far-and-away the youngest people there since Mom and Grandma live in a 55+ community... We really enjoyed our table-guests and before we knew it we were talking away about me being from Holland and that we got married only 4 months ago. We had a great dinner with all sorts of things, but the funny thing was that our plates looked like the prison-kind... Didn't make the dinner any less enjoyable and tasty, just funny... ;-)

After dinner we went back to Mom's house to watch a movie, but around 6.30pm (local time) we were 'done'. We had about 5 to 6 hours of sleep the night before and had been up for 14 hours by that time so even though there were about 5 great movies on we couldn't get ourselves to watch any. We ended-up in bed by 7pm. When in Rome.... Oh sweet sleep, thou art a Man's best friend.

The next day was our relaxing day. We planned nothing and got up around 10am. Still in Rome, but we ARE on vacation... We got some breakfast and decided to head to the pool. It is late November and for folks from (North-)east of the Rockies outdoor pools in late November don't usually invoke 'warm-and-fuzzy' feelings, but here in the Valley of the Sun it was a perfectly acceptable proposition. The water was even heated... but at 72F / 21C that was only a bonus. We did some exercises from the Aqua Aerobics classes and after about 30 minutes we 'retired' to our book (Niels) and the inside of our eyelids (Jen)... on the side of the pool in the sun... Gotta love AZ.

After being at the pool for a few hours Mom came to check-up on us since she had lunch prepared. Lunch evolved into playing Gin 13. Turned-out to be very similar to our Phase 10 game so we beat Mom every which way we could... sorry, Mom. It's that Game Master thing again. Around 2.30pm we went to visit Mom's other 'son' Bart. Bart is her horse (Palomino???) who is boarded at a range on the north-side of Wickenburg off AZ-93. This was my 2nd time seeing Bart (1st time was in MN over Memorial weekend). He looked beautiful and after feeding Bart we walked over to see some roping. Pretty interesting from a 'city-slicker / dude -perspective.

Around 4pm it was time for dinner with Grandma. Mom decided it was time for some good ol' Minnesota 'Wild Rice Soup'. If this was a test I guess I aced it since I devoured three cups... LOVE that stuff... It is a bit filling so the rest of the dinner took a bit of hit for me, but you can feed me that soup anytime! Since daylight was running out and we wanted to check out the 'letter-rocks' we went for a walk in the desert during sunset. That is one of the most amazing sceneries to enjoy when walking. My beautiful wife and me, seeing the sun set behind the mountains in the background. Before our good friend the Sun decided to call it a day we found the letter rocks and after finding the 'Manthei-family' section we added our 'Jo' just above Grandpa Leo and changed 'JEN' to J&N'.

The photographer in me couldn't let the opportunity pass by to take some nice sunset pictures. Having a camera without a tripod and manual setting proved to be a bit challenging, but the end-result - after some experimenting - wasn't all that bad. Guess that tech-thing called 'Image Stabilization' actually works. One thing to notice... it does get rather chilly in the AZ desert in November so we made our way back to Mom's house where an evening of playing cards was in our future. We decided on Gin 13 again. We had a lot of fun. Mom liked the wine as much as the game so the conversations were rather 'lively' and Mom lived-up to her nickname 'spring-butt' as she couldn't stay at the table for more than 5 minutes at the time. For those interesting in the score... well, we played 4 full games and between Jen and me we won them all!! Around 10pm we called it a night since Saturday was our AZ-travel day.

Today we decided to explore the beautiful surroundings we found ourselves in. Mom gave us a number of things for us to check-out. We walked over to Grandma to get the car. She is really proud of that car since it was the last car Grandpa and her had before he passed away almost 4 years ago. We started with a drive to Yarnell. On our way we took a beautiful drive that slowly climbed up from the valley into the mountains and gave us same amazing Vista's. Sorry nerds, we are not at Best Buy looking at computers, but enjoying the wide and panoramic view of the desert from the side of a mountain. Pretty amazing stuff. At the top of the mountain lays Yarnell. A small town known for her 'Stations of the Cross' depicted outside on the side of a mountain. Good exercise for both body and soul. Also would have been a good spot to have a jacket since a mountain town in the morning was a bit cold... The term 'brrrr' was used... a lot...

The next leg of our journey was towards Prescott. Lots of twists, turns, uphills, downhills, mountain views, valley views... I loved it. Jen, on the other hand, was a little less enthousiastic about it since she's a bit prone to car-sickness so by the time we arrived in Prescott we stopped at a local Safeway supermarket to give here some terra-firma time and we got some goodies for the rest of the trip. We got some baby-carrots, crackers, a Snickers bar and a loaf of French bread. We also got a little snack-present for Mom plus a 2L bottle of 7-Up. Since we had some empty waterbottles we made good use of the 'value' of a 2L bottle over the smaller ones.

Prescott is nice town with a very Alpine feeling coming in from AZ-89 and a very mid-west / western feeling downtown. It is also growing like crazy into Prescott Valley. I don't know, but building towns in the middle of a desert seems a bit odd given the scarce water resources in those environments, but alas. A little after Prescott we took the exit to AZ-89A towards Jerome and Sedona. To make a long story short... I have a new favorite 'winding road'. It rivals the best European mountain drives. Gorgeous.

One of the highlights was the former ghost town of Jerome. It used to be a mining town with a population of 15.000 at its highest earlier this century, but after all the mines closed this little town on the side of the mountain dwindled its way into oblivion with a meager 50 people remaining untill the hippies and later the artists took over this beautiful little village. With its location entirely on the side of the mountain it has a very European feeling to it. Building-style, road layout, location, it was all eerily familiar to me and reminded me so much of the small European mountain villages in France and Italy that I immediately felt 'at-home'. I feel that Jerome probably feels more European to me than Quebec City.

Decending further down the mountain to Cottonwood we made our way towards Sedona and its red rocks. What a neat little city. Nestled into the Oak Creek Canyon, surrounded by those amazing red rocks. It is also the location of the only McDonalds in the world that doesn't have yellow arches because the town council decided the color wouldn't match the surroundings. Instead they are turquoise. We stopped at a local bookstore checking out some local books and took a picture of the 'EU Deli' surround by the red rocks. Since we don't really care for all the New Age stuff that Sedona has plenty of, we went on into the Canyon. Well, I did. Jen took a little nap...

While my beautiful wife was checking out the insides of her eyelid again, I enjoyed another beautiful mountain drive (the Naturalist in my was having a great time!!). The end of the canyon ment another drive up the mountains and a great vista at the end, but since we were only half-way I decided to drive on to our next destination; Flagstaff.

was made famous because a certain highway runs straight to the middle of it and it's located close to a world famous landmark and National Park. The road is Highway 66 and the park is the Grand Canyon. After driving on US-66 for about 5 minutes we took the US-180 towards to the Grand Canyon. That road goes up to 8000ft in elevation and in the winter months gives access to both Nordic and Alpine skiing. Yes, skiing in Arizona... About 45mins later we ended-up at our final destination on the north-bound section of our trip; the mighty Grand Canyon!!!

This is my first time seeing the Grand Canyon 'in the flesh'. I've seen so many pictures and video (including those from my parents on their trip to Vegas a number of years ago), but now I was there myself and with Jen. We again sorely missed our jackets, but with a good sweater it worked. We walked down to the first viewpoint and guess what... Dutchies!! Yep, it doesn't matter where you go in the USA, there are always Dutchies to be found. In May in northern New Hampshire on top of a mountain pass, on top of the WTC in July (when it was still there....) or at the Grand Canyon in November. We're everywhere... Yeah!

After the required photo-ops we checked out the Visitors Center and the bookstore (called 'Bookstore and More'). We found an awesome gift for one of our Bailey-sitters and left around 4.45pm to take the drive to the east-entrance/exit of the park. During that drive we stopped a few times to take in the Canyon at sunset. Absolutely stunning!! Pretty hard to take nice pictures too, but once a get a good one, it's absolutely beautiful.

Since it was now 5.30pm and we left at 8.30am and had to get back to Wickenburg we decided to take the fast-route (US-89 south to I-40 west to I-17 south to AZ-74 to Wickenburg) and only 3 hours later (with a stop at Wendy's for some dinner) we where back where we started some 13 hours and 450 miles ago.

I can honestly say that it was one of the best days of my life... Mountains, driving, spending time with my wife, the Grand Canyon, meeting fellow Dutchies, on vacation, just loved it. Thanks God for creating such a beautiful place to explore and enjoy.

After a day like the one we had yesterday we decided to 'stay-put' today and after a good night sleep and some breakfast we went to church with Mom and Grandma. It was my first Catholic service that I can really remember and it was very different from our regular weekend gatherings. The service itself is very liturgic and structured, but some of the songs were actually pretty recent. Unfortunately the priest did not appear to have a good day since his message on purgatory was delivered like he either didn't believe it or he was just generally not enthusiastic about it. After Church and soul-feeding it was time for some good body-feeding at lunch in a local restaurant. I saw that they had Country Fried Steak (European translation: Schnitzel) so I was good!

One thing Jen and I were hoping to see today was the Minnesota game. We found a local sports bar that was showing the game. During the 2nd half Mom joined us and were able to witness Minnesota give the Giants one of the worst losses in while. Eli Manning will probably wish to erase that game from his memory, but it gave the Vikings a decent shot at the wild-card race.

Feeling good about the outcome of the Viking game Mom gave us a little tour of Wickenburg. She showed us a few places she looked at before moving in to her current home and drove by another ranch she was looking at last year to board Bart. One of the interesting things about Wickenburg is that all the houses are either the Pueblo / Adobe style houses or single-story ranches. Not a single two-story house to be found. Local building code perhaps?

Sunday-night dinner was chicken and wild rice followed by Pure Country, a movie with George Strait. Better than I thought it would be. We topped-off the evening by another round of Gin 13 and packing for the flight home tomorrow. Yep, time to leave the sun and Arizona behind again tomorrow. Sigh...

Since our flight left at about 10.50am, but our Super Shuttle was to pick us up at 7.30am at Dell Web Memorial - and since Grandma had a cataract appointment at 7.45am it was a pretty early rise for us. Luckily we packed everything the night before. The drive to Phoenix was beautiful. Pretty quiet and we were able to see a good ol' AZ sunrise on our last day!

We were at Dell Web around 7.15am and said our goodbyes and following some last-minute photos with Grandma we played some more Gin 13 until the shuttle arrived. We continued our game until we reached the airport. The hour-long drive seemed a lot shorter this way. After a quick bathroom break we checked-out the airport bookstores and magazine stands until it was time to find our gate.

The flight home was pretty uneventful with only a slight delay in Denver, but otherwise not much happened. We played some more cards, Jen slept some more, I read some more and at about 6.30pm we were back in - a rainy - Ohio. One of the good things about coming home after a trip is to see Bailey again. Makes the post-travel blues a lot easier.

All-in-all, a great trip. Thanks Mom and Grandma. Hope to see you again soon!