Travel Diary: Mmmm. I love Waffles.

It’s sad, but true… I think I might remember the food on this trip as much as the places and the people. But, who am I kidding… I love eating, no use pretending ;).

Here’s a few food confessions from a novice European traveller:

  • I have become so accustomed to having Espresso every day that I might need to get an actual espresso maker when we get home. It’s that good.
  • Apfelstrudel in Germany (served with some amazing custard-like sauce – a bit nut-meggy) is worth the jet lag.
  • Belgian Waffles in Belgium are nothing like the ones I try to make at home… when combined with nutella (which is actually FROM Belgium! Who knew?!), bananas, and gelato… well, oh my.
  • Paprika Nuts are delicious (also Made in Belgium).
  • Belgian CHOCOLATE. The. End.
  • 4EUR bottles of Bordeaux from the grocery store in France… are VERY, VERY, VERY drinkable.
  • Croissants.

But… quite a lot has been going on other than eating (I am happy to say that the 20,ooo+ steps we are getting every day seem to be accommodating for the above mentioned deliciousness. We are now in Caen, France… and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the amazing significance and beautiful sights we saw around Ypres, Belgium… but you can check out the boys blogs concerning our adventures in Trier and Bouillon on the road to Ypres.

Our first day in Ypres was a treat… partly because we did not get in the car AT ALL! Ypres is a beautiful town, with lovely walking paths, excellent restaurants (Flemish Stew is AMAZING!), and a plethora of tributes and reminders of WWI battles and fallen soldiers.

Panorama of Ypres from the top of the Bell Tower (Cloth Hall)

We began our day at the In Flanders Fields Museum… and 4 hours later came up for air! The museum is housed in the old town Cloth Hall (historic, medieval Ypres was well-known for their beautiful cloth trade, and the central Cloth Hall was a symbol of the prosperous nature of the town), and it is absolutely fantastic. If you are planning on visiting, it is well worth the extra cost to climb to the top of the Bell Tower. We were captivated by the history and significance of this area during WWI, and humbled by the sheer number of lives sacrificed in the battles… over 50,000 of their names are written on the wall of the Menin Gate in Ypres, once a grand entrance to a grand town, and now an historic and striking reminder of its war-torn past, and dedication to peace of this Belgian town.

Menin Gate, Ypres Belgium. The Cloth Hall is visible behind the gate.


Under the Menin Gate, reading some of the 50,000+ names written on the walls. We drove under this gate as we entered the city on our way to our hotel.

We finished this day with a beautiful run in a park surrounding the city. We did get a few strange looks as we ran amid the tourists though… What? People don’t run in Belgium?!

The last days of our pilgrimage in the Flanders area took us through the Belgian countryside, marvelling at the golden fields of wheat and barley, the cattle (every singe one of them a Belgian Blue!), horses (none of them actual Belgians as far as I could tell!), corn, and sleepy towns (each with at least one beautiful, Gothic church), and trying to imagine the moonscape and mud that were the Ypres Salient (front line) – the First, Second, and Third Battles of Ypres, Paschendale, and Vimy Ridge were particularly bloody battles that we were blessed to learn about and to now remember with a higher level of consciousness. What remains is a countryside literally changed by memorials, monuments, and cemeteries devoted to those who died. Many were named and laid to rest as known heroes to their families and countries… but many are laid to rest in unmarked graves. The striking similarity of each of these sites is the feeling of quiet and peace that they evoked in us all. When passing among the graves, I felt the air was a little stiller, a little warmer. I’m not sure what that is… whispers from those lost to never forget is what the signs and interpreters say. Surrounded by Canadian Maple trees, with Canadian Flags billowing, it is hard not to feel sad, proud, and fiercely protective of these fallen heroes. Truly, we must never forget.

In this case, pictures speak far louder than words…

We must never forget… and we must learn to do better, lessons from the past.


The names of the 12,000+ soldiers buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery are written on the walls surrounding the grave sites.


This photo is not staged. I found JJ sitting here… we were all very thoughtful during these visits.


Tyne Cot Cemetery


Rest in Peace.


Cattle graze peacefully beside the graves of fallen Canadian Soldiers at Tyne Cot Cemetery


Over 12,000 Canadian Soldiers are buried here. It is a strikingly beautiful and peaceful place.


The Brooding Soldier (the Second Battle of Ypres monument). This spot marks the beginning of the use of chemical warfare. A dark time in the history of this war… and for all mankind.


Many of the sites of Canadian war dead have been given to Canada by Begium. These government of Canada signs made us feel like we were coming home as we entered the sites.


Langemaark German Cemetery… this site is the final resting place of over 44,000 fallen German Soldiers, buried without the grandeur of Allied soldiers. This too, is a quiet, peaceful place… sons, husbands, and fathers that didn’t make it home.


On a lighter note… read this inscription. …children in Canada learn paper mache… we might need to step up our programs…


CT and JJ have asked to tell of our visits to Hill 62 (strategically important – Canadians fought to hold this hill, but were overtaken in June 1916), and Vimy Ridge (considered impregnable by German defenders, and Canadas Allies, but Canadians captured Vimy none-the-less in April, 1917), so I will leave that to them and give you the links once they are done. We are all spent emotionally after our days in Ypres. Our hearts are full, yet heavy at the same time. We love this place, because it feels a little bit like an extension of our place… just a world away.


Travel Diary: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery and Cologne

On behalf of hubbie, I first need to say that when driving 185 Km/hr for the first time in your life, it is slightly aggravating as families driving their children to school in mini-vans pass you by. Just saying… our children, btw, have taken to this road trip like it is any other road trip we’ve been on (some of you might know, us Irvine’s do A LOT of car time!)… and were oblivious to our speedy adventure as they watched a movie!

Even when travelling faster than a speeding bullet, driving north towards Reichswald Forest War Cemetery (Kleve, GER) was stunning. The German countryside is picturesque… old barns, new barns, farms EVERYWHERE. It is harvest time here for some crops (we guessed Wheat, Barley, and Rye from what we could see, but we can’t be sure… again with the speed!).

My first footsteps on the Cemetery were extremely emotional. I was overcome with the loss… reading the gravestones we were reminded that each one represented a life – many of them young boys (16, 17, 18, 19 years old), and so many unnamed. This was our first taste of the cost of the Great War and it was powerful.

Cole and I reading the gravestones at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Our highest respect to those fallen.

A short walk in the forest was required after visiting the cemetery… giving us all time to reflect on what we had seen… for those of you travelling here in the future with children, I would recommend having some conversation starters ready to help the kids process what they learn and see in these regions (we will be in Flanders next, and visiting many museums and memorials where this will become more important). What we realize is that our children have come here with a glorified version of “war” that is both dangerous and unrealistic. It is also then, very confusing to them as they process emotions of grief, sadness, and loss as they understand more of the truth. We have had some wonderfully candid conversations as a result, and all of our hearts have been broken, and opened enough to yearn for peace for all.

And that was only the morning…

The rest of the day was much lighter. We stopped in Dusseldorf for a small lunch in the marketplace in the center of the city (Currywurst is one of my new favorite foods)… but more importantly, back to the driving… there are A LOT of road signs here that we do not understand. Daily google driving tutorials have become the norm. The boys have suggested a sign reading, “Canadians… doing our best!” as a possible strategy to avoid extreme disapproval from local drivers. It’s like this… Dusseldorf is a large city, the downtown is very busy, parking is difficult, and apparently there is still no excuse for slow or irregular driving… We’re doing our best…

Our day ended with our first tram ride to the center of Cologne…

Our first tram ride… in which the boys asked us, “Could you just pretend that you dont know us and sit over there?” Ummm… OK.

…where we encountered our first Cathedral (1280-1880!).

Kolner Dom – Koln Cathedral
Kolner Dom

The mythology surrounding the middle ages becomes something of reality when you gaze up at these behemoth gothic structures… and this one isn’t even one of the biggest! We ate dinner (our first Schnitzel of this trip… and the boys have quite taken to drinking Maltbier – kids non-alcoholic beer – which tastes a bit like sweetened regular beer… yuck, if you ask me…) overlooking the Rhein River, which was beautiful. And the people-watching… oh, the people watching!!

Looking for some Schnitzel in Koln…

The night finished with a beautiful walk along the river and watching the sunset behind the cathedral. I felt like we were walking in a postcard.

Time for sleep… in a beautiful city.

Travel Diary: Jet Lag is a real thing.

It has been two decades since I travelled across oceans. I remember being tired and somewhat bewildered at the beginning of that journey, but chalked that up to my inexperience as a young traveller on my own. Nope. That was Jet Lag. And so is this!

Our little family was greeted in Frankfurt by 34 Degrees C and humidity. It is HOT here! After approximately 2 hours and 41 minutes (thank you FitBit) of sleep during the “night,” I was feeling a bit tired and foggy… not so my young comrades. JJ (10) has a special way of becoming more and more energized the more exhausted he becomes – to the point of hysteria, actually. So, imagine him after only a couple of hours of sleep. He was moving at Mach 4 for the entire first day on the European continent. I was practicing deep breathing.

CT (12) travelled like a seasoned pro, and slept for a solid 4 or 5 hours… he woke up ready to tackle our adventure, which meant telling us every story he had ever heard about Germany, German people, German history, German food, German Language… bless his heart. I was practicing deep breathing.

Hubbie was on a mission to secure our car, which he did at lightning speed (or so it seemed to the three of us sitting on the airport floor practicing deep breathing). Her name is Skoda. She is lovely and speaks to us kindly when we get lost. She also warns us about traffic, changing speed limits (or lack thereof), and areas of higher pedestrian volume. She is also a little squishy… I packed lightly, but not light enough apparently.

The Skoda car… all loaded up and ready to go!

Note for potential European travellers: we have decided to road trip the entire journey… renting a car for the entire duration of our trip (and in the three countries we were visiting) was actually cheaper (including gas, tolls, and parking), than sporadically renting a car and using trains for longer distances. Definitely look into this option if you are planning a trip of your own.

After driving to Mainz from Frankfurt faster than a speeding bullet (OK, not exactly bullet-speed, but 150 km/hr is nothing to shake a stick at… hello Autobahn… and we were most definitely the slow ones), we arrived at the Novotel Mainz and set to the task of staying awake until 8 pm (our earliest bedtime to “fight” the Jet Lag). We swam in the pool, lounged in the spa, and walked until our feet might fall off… and stayed awake until 8:30!

Then woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3:00 am. Yup. All 4 of us. Jet Lag: 1, Travelling Family: 0.

Melatonin is your friend when travelling.

We did manage to get back to sleep by about 4:00 am and all slept soundly again until 9 am.

Old town Mainz… I was having trouble with camera settings, the boys were smiling brightly one moment earlier!!

A few other tidbits… I am clearly in my homeland… if only for the food. I ate a baguette, salami, brie, and muesli with honey right out of the comb for breakfast. Yes I did. I will do it again tomorrow. Our hotel room coffee maker is an espresso maker. Yes it is. I plan on getting A LOT of steps on this journey to accommodate for these things…

The next leg of our journey takes us to Cologne (Koln)… and hopefully a good night’s sleep… I’ll keep you posted!

Half way there?

How do you feel about turning 40?

Do you feel older?

What are you DOING for your 40th?

Milestone birthdays are funny things.

I don’t tend to get caught up in hype, and I’m not the sort of person that dreads the years going by (quite the opposite, actually), but I’ll be honest… as I walked the path of my 40th year, even I had to fight the urge to jump on the bandwagon and make it “special.”

Except, I fought the urge – I fought the urge to make this past year and the one to come about anything other than the path that has already been so graciously, lovingly, and thoughtfully planned out for me by the One who made me. Things are unfolding just as they should… the good, the bad, and the ugly. And that’s OK with me.

But, for those of you 40-somethings, or going to be 40-somethings that wonder how I might answer all the 40-questions… here it is…

How do I feel about turning 40?

Banff, Alberta 10K… do it!

I feel like a finisher with a lot of run left in me. The first half of my life has been an adventure that I could not have planned for or imagined in all my dreams… and I am grateful beyond measure.

Do I feel older?

hanging with some of my peeps, Fairmont, BC

I feel wiser (but that I have more and more to learn every year that goes by), more comfortable in my skin, like I need to listen to my body well and honour what it tells me… so if that is “older,” then yes… I do. In the best way possible.

What am I DOING for my 40th?

Best. Dog. Ever.

Soul Mate, Marble Canyon, BC… do this too!

I am fiercely loving the people in my life (the little brown furry one too… he’s 105 you know… which makes 40 look pretty pathetic, really…). I’m learning that almost everything comes and goes… so these people, the ones God puts in my life for a long while, or a little while… they matter the most. I’m doing my best to respect that truth.

So… if you are my people, you know who you are and I Love You. I’m grateful for you and I’m blessed to know you. Thank you for all the wonderful birthday wishes. I pray that my everyday would reflect back all that love to you.

If you’re visiting my blog and don’t know me… can I just recommend that you go love your people? It’s one investment you’ll never regret!

Happy EVERY DAY to you all!!

Travel Diary: Europe, Here We Come!

Guten Tag! (That’s almost all the German I’ve got so far)… working on it.

The time has (almost!) come… final preparations for the big European Family Vaca have begun. Three countries,  27 Days, 2 grown-ups (most of the time), 1 kid (all of the time), and one 12 year-old going-on-twenty-eight will embark on a mission to have fun, seek out adventures, gobble up all the yummiest food we can find, meet some lovely (I hope!) new people, and try to remain a joy-filled bunch the whole while. (try… we are not yet sure if travelling brings out the best in all four of us… we’ll see ;))

Before we actually set out on said adventure, I wanted to pop on here and give you a few hints… I’ve had lots of questions about what we have done to prepare for our Epic Adventure (particularly for the two smallest members of the family), so that seemed like a great place to start as a guide for any of you planning similar adventures. So, here we go… what I have learned so far as we have planned this little expedition:

  1. Flights, Flights, Flights. Yes, it is cheaper to take the milk run. Yes, you can save money by altering your departure airport (driving a bit further from home). Yes, every penny counts when travelling on a budget with the family…. BUUUUT… NO, it’s not always worth it to save money on this step. We are flying directly from the city we live closest to into Frankfurt, Germany (about a 9 hour flight). There were other options requiring transfers in various places or flights from airports further from our city, with some cost saving advantage, but… this is our kiddos first Transatlantic flight, and we have no idea how it will go. They are older, so I am not concerned, but the mama in me still wants to make it as painless as possible (OK, more for me than them… I’m not totally selfless that way)… So, do your homework. Look around for alternate departure/arrival cities and you may be pleasantly surprised at the differences in cost available to you. BUUUT… you know yourself and your kids. Sometimes paying extra is worth a clear head and smiley faces… We booked our flights 7 months in advance of our trip.
  2. Accommodation, Accommodation, Accommodation. Thank you Airbnb, VRBO, and the many lovely German, French, and Belgian Hotel Clerks that have already made this trip possible ;). We have a few longer stays during our trip, and for those we chose Airbnb and VRBO accommodations (based on traveller reviews, location, and amenities), but for some of our shorter stays we chose local hotel chains. I would highly recommend calling the hotel directly as we found that they were able to offer us better prices, or accommodation more suitable to our exact needs than was clear on hotel booking sites (hubby and I woke up very early one Tuesday morning to account for the time change and pounded through MANY reservations on the phone… thank you Skype!!). In all cases, the hotel staff were extremely helpful, happy to have a caller from Canada, and mostly spoke English (or could find someone that did)! We had all of our accommodations booked 6 months prior to travel, and could have booked sooner at some locations… who knew that July and August were such popular travel months?!? (yeah… I did… but all of the sudden it was December… I have no excuse). Book early to avoid missing out on some great places… like we did. Oops.
  3. Transportation, Transportation, Transportation. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We are using them all! International travel has become a much simpler endeavour thanks to The Google, TripAdvisor, and online shopping for almost anything. One of my favorite finds (tip from an acquaintance who is an experienced European traveller) is Rome2rio, which has been extremely helpful in organizing the legs of our journey. You’ll hear more about our particular transportation picks as our adventure unfolds, but if you are planning your own trip… starting there is a great choice! We have found that booking car-rentals for Europe online has been a very smooth process. In most cases, we have not booked our train tickets in advance, as we want to be somewhat flexible with travel times.
  4. WHAT TO BRING?? OK, this mama is a last minute packer… like VERY last minute. But in this case, I am breaking out of my personal mold and planning ahead (a bit)! I don’t have a list for you yet, but I do know two things – we will need to carry our bags A LOT, and we will need to be prepared for a WHOLE BUNCH of different adventures requiring everything from casual dinner-wear to beach clothes. AND, everyone is going to carry their own stuff. All. The. Time. Like Always. I’m done with carrying everyone’s everything. I mean it this time. Yeesh… So, that means I am currently on the hunt for a perfect wheeling/back-pack/light-weight/but big-enough-for-a-month bag for each of the littles. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Hubs and I already have good wheeling/backpack options by High Sierra that we like, but they are too big for the boys. Especially since they are carrying them On. Their. Own. Always. I mean it this time… I digress again… So, more to come on this one as the date approaches. I’ll leave you with this though – as we booked accommodation, I did check to be sure that there were laundry services available/near-by in most cases so that we could easily do laundry. We are packing light, family – we ARE!!! (they don’t believe me yet, but they will)

So there you have it, that’s where we’re at so far. Right now (this very day, in fact), I will be going through our itinerary place-by-place and determining which sites and activities have made the final cut (TripAdvisor has been extremely helpful on this front) for this adventure and if I need to purchase tickets in advance. Once that’s done, we just wait! And keep thinking about packing… oh packing, how I loathe thee…

Until next time… I hope you get to plan some great family adventures this summer too… whether in your own backyard or far away. Family times like these are NEVER wasted!

Parents and Schools: Joining Forces

Hello! Greatly neglected blogiverse!!! Well, actually… I’ve been busy over at Mrs. M’s Musing… you know, Teacher School and all that… but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been a little out of touch with this little blog for WAY too long.

There are definitely some great things coming up for us Irvine’s (can anyone say “The-Fam-Jam-Is-Going-To-Europe?”… yes we ARE!!!), and I will be sure to get some Travel Diary posts going on that front very soon. BUT, for now, I am finishing up this semester, and I have some learning to share with you. As part of an independent project, I have been considering this question:

How can we encourage parents and families to be appropriately involved in middle years education to enhance student learning?

As so many of you, like me, are parents just hoping to stay connected with their littles as these crazy middle school years come throttling towards us and almost crush us into tiny little pieces (that was a bit too dramatic, I think), I know that being actively involved in their education is important to you. But you probably wonder sometimes (like me), how is the best way to do that?? Especially when schools often feel a bit like they don’t really want me. At all. It’s a bit disheartening, really. Well, never fear! You matter (like, more than anything else, actually), and schools know you matter! They want you there!! They just don’t know how to do it sometimes.

So! This is our chance… to be leaders in our kids (and our own!) lives. To be proactive, problem-solving parents and find a meaningful way to make a difference where it counts. Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way in this journey to discover how parents can be involved in education:

  • Stay with them! Your kiddos might push you away and they might even say they don’t NEED your help EVER. AGAIN. But, stick with it dear friend. Ask about the homework. Ask to see the assignments. Check the Powerschool. Check the classroom website. READ WITH YOUR KIDS (yes, even the older ones!). Do whatever it takes to know what is going on in that classroom and show that you care. Even if you can’t help them with that crazy algebra question… believe me, it matters that you act like it matters!!!
  • Provide structure and routines in your house to help your kids develop good work habits, good study habits, and take ownership of their learning. Should you do it for them? NO! NEVER! Should you help them to be successful in completing it on their own? YES! ALWAYS!
  • This might seem totally obvious, but I think it’s that important that I will spell it out. Know your kids. Know your kids’ friends. Know who they are and what they do. What do they like? Where do they go? How do they get there? Although your kids don’t want you to hover over them (nor should you!), and be “all up their business!!” they do need to know that you see them. You hear them. You are there for them. Whatever is going on… know about it, and be interested! Believe it or not, this kind of interest and focus on knowing your kids and their friends can do more to improve their chances at succeeding academically and socially than even the best tutors could ever provide. It’s that important.

So, that’s it… enough stuff for you to think about and maybe even try to implement one or two ideas in your home this week. If you are interested in getting more involved in your kids’ school, I have compiled a few great resources to get you started:

  • Parental Involvement Resource created as a result of this independent project showcasing peer-reviewed literature for parents interested in getting involved in their schools, as well as the results of a survey of local teachers and middle school students concerning this issue.
  • Section 22 of The Alberta School Act provides a legislated basis for parental involvement in education and indicates that parents should be actively involved in education to support and enhance student learning.
  • The Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA) is a provincial advocacy group that provides support and resources, knowledge and skill development, and consultation and workshops to enhance meaningful parent contribution and participation in school councils across the province.
  • Reading Rockets is an online resource for parents and teachers that provides various informational articles on topics related to literacy. They have published an informational article on the importance of parental involvement highlighting the following topics:

Of course, you can also always comment on this blog for more information (I have spared you the 25 pages of literature reviewed that influenced this blog post… you’re welcome!).

If you are a teacher, and would like more specific recommendation concerning how you can actively engage the parents in your learning community, please pop over to Mrs. M’s Musing for a blog post written just for you!

And that’s all I’ve got for now folks… 9 days from now, I will be writing the first of 5 final exams… yeah, I’ve gotta go.

Soul Food Sunday: What Time Is It?

I was recently encouraged by a dear friend who wrote this lovely devotional for us. I asked him if he would mind if I doctored it up a bit and shared it with all of you, and he so graciously agreed.

Sometimes the roads we travel are not those we originally set out upon… and that’s ok.

From HC,

Take a look at your wrist watch.  The longer side has many slots, the shorter side has the hook.

Imagine that your journey starts in the first hole on the long end of the strap. As life comes, you journey along the band until you come to a milestone event along the road. The first notch in the strap. You hook the clasp there. Surely you have arrived. Everything fits so perfectly together. The “right” spot for you. The trouble is, that when you turn your wrist over to check the time, you are frustrated to find that the watch just hangs on your wrist – upside down! This is not the “right” spot.

It is easy in that moment, to feel discouraged, to believe that somehow you have made a mistake. Everything seemed perfect! How could this spot be wrong? Take heart! It is not wrong, simply a step along the journey. It is time to unhook, continue to journey, and to look for another notch in the band.

Eventually, you will find yourself at another crossroad or milestone.  It is time to reset. Prayerfully and faithfully, set the clasp again. Thinking that surely this is the “right” time, the “right” place, you turn your wrist to verify the time.  But, the watch is still too loose – it is being used correctly, but it’s not the right setting.

BUT, now you know what to do! Keep learning, keep growing, keep journeying to the next fork in the road. The next milestone. The next decision. This is our journey! Not one of frustration, but of knowing that we are continually closer to the best version of ourselves and to the best life available to us! It is tempting to go back to familiar settings. Don’t. That is the wrong way – it will simply loosen your strap, not lead you closer to where you want to go. Keep moving forward. Always.

This journey called life can be hard. And tiring. And frustrating. We can become so focussed on the events that seem to be the “wrong” fit, that we fail to appreciate all that we are becoming in the process.  Continuing on takes a great effort. But that effort is what it is truly all about! Don’t stop. Don’t be complacent. Look for the next place to HOOK IN – readjust, rethink, persevere. Continue the journey – faithfully, prayerfully.

God has your journey all worked out. He can see the time and is walking along with you every step. You don’t need to worry about “getting there.” He is in charge of that. You are in charge of your forward steps.

So… keep journeying. Keep ticking along. Keep adjusting those settings and eventually, it will all come together. In His time. By His grace. And ultimately for His glory. WATCH it HAPPEN!

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:13

Note: HC is Mr. to the lovely Sarah over at Pure Simple Change