Going Home

Flying back to Germany, and that familiar flood of emotions threatens to overtake my determination not to cry for the next 8 hours. When people talk about “home,” at any given time my mind could be taken to a multitude of places…the home K and I are currently investing in, the one I left behind almost five years ago to build a life with my groom, the ones we’ve called home for short seasons, growing and learning about one another, and building relationships that we will cherish for a lifetime. Home may be where the heart is, but in some ways, it’s also where the heart has been. And every time I leave, no matter how painful the goodbye, I’m thankful that there are tears to shed. So once again I let them win…

I’ve met many an Army spouse who couldn’t wait to get away from their family and often never return or struggle to return because going back hurts too much. Their stories and especially our constant “see you laters” remind me to never take our time with the ones we love for granted. I’m grateful that no matter which ocean we reside across, we have nothing but love to return to in more states than I could count on one hand. What a precious gift.

Most of you know that the last couple of months I had the opportunity to be with my family in Arkansas. K flew back to the states for Christmas in Arkansas and New Years in North Carolina. His trip flew by way too quickly, and before we knew it he was on a plane again, headed back to Germany for a month of field training. I could not of been happier to get to spend time loving on family.

I can’t wait to be back with K. The life we are journeying is more than I could ever imagine. But there will always be a part of me that longs to be close enough for a walk with my mom, coffee with my sister, breakfast with dad, game nights, cookouts, recitals, and t-ball games…Some days it feels like we are experiencing so much and missing so much at the same time. So for now, I’ll let myself be a little sad that all that love can’t be in one place, and continue to trust in God’s perfect plans during the separation.

Thank you to everyone who made our visit financially possible and crazy special. I’ll remember it always ❤

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Love Endures All

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I still look over sometimes and can’t believe I get to be his bride.  It’s hard to wrap my mind around how in just four years we’ve survived a deployment and moved our lives from Texas to Georgia to Germany. It’s been a whirlwind of adventure, heartache, and falling deeper in love every day.  We are well aware that we are the lucky ones…Best friends, each other’s biggest fans, and by the grace of God, a lifetime of love ahead of us.

Thank you my K for taking me on this crazy adventure. Thank you for daily pursuing my heart, for celebrating the good days, and recognizing the bad ones.  Thank you for always offering to help even when you’re tired from working too many hours with not enough sleep.  Thank you for opening the car door, always kissing me goodbye, and for my favorite…dancing in the kitchen. Thank you for forgoing your comfy recliner to sit on the couch with me. Thank you for just taking care of things…of us, and never even requesting an ounce of recognition. Thank you for sitting beside me in church every Sunday, praying at our dinner table, and truly loving me the way Jesus loves His bride, the church. I couldn’t ask for a sweeter life.
Happy four years my love! Here’s to many, many more…

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Barcelona Day 2: The Best Views

Did you think I was teasing about posting Days 2 and 3 of our Barcelona trip?
I wasn’t – promise. With a constant flow of research papers and reading assignments, being a full-time grad student doesn’t leave much brain power for blog writing. I’m pressing on though because if you ever decide to visit Barcelona you’ll want this info to look back on!

I’m calling this day 2, but really this was our first full day in Barcelona.

First thing that morning we headed to the nearest bus stop for the Hop On Hop Off Barcelona Bus. At any hop on point you can buy 1 or 2 day bus passes that give you unlimited access to their 3 routes and over 40 stops.

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I’ll admit, when we first got on the bus it was a little overwhelming. Do you get off at the next stop? Is it worth waiting in line to get on the bus to only go a few blocks? Do you stay on and just view a drive by of the sights as you listen to the tour guide (headphones provided)? Once we I chilled out and we found a few places we wanted to visit on the map, we were able to sit back and enjoy riding through the city. We rode the bus just outside the city, and made the climb to the bottom of Mt. Tibidabo. From there, we purchased tickets to ride the funicular to the top of the mountain. I just love that word funicular.

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At 1680 ft, Tibidabo marks the highest summit of the Collserola mountain range that borders the city to the north. We read that this was the place to find the best views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea.

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The trip did not disappoint! If the beautiful church and stunning views weren’t enough to make this lookout spot extra charming, the 1889 Amusement Park put it over the top. The scene simply oozed of whimsy.

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One thing to note – food options are slim at this altitude, meaning prices are high and quality is average. We would suggest bringing along a picnic to avoid paying too much for less than great food.

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We couldn’t help but linger here.

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Eventually we made our way back to the bus and rode for the next hour listening to city history and enjoying our top deck seats and the beautiful weather. We only made a couple of stops – my favorite was to admire the gorgeous Avinguda de la Catedral.

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O and just look at the stunning gates…

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We made our final hop off for the day at Barceloneta Beach. Weatherchannel.com prepped us for temperatures in the low 60s and topping off at around 75 every day.  While ideal temperatures for sightseeing, we had no idea this would be warm enough to have a beach day – sunbathing AND playing in the ocean! We were pretty bummed that we didn’t plan for this. Umbrellas and chairs can be reserved for the day at 10euro each. Mmmm next time…. we did, however, enjoy a walk along the coast line and some good people watching. Check out this elaborate sand castle!

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I might have been most excited that we happened upon an awesome fry stand. A cone of hot fries topped with your choice of awesomeness. Yes please.

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We justified this pre dinner snack after the previous night’s long dilemma in choosing a restaurant. This evening we eventually settled at the Juanita Lala, enjoying plates full of tacos and nachos. Wait, doesn’t everyone have a dinner happy dance?

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After dinner we strolled home slowly soaking up the buzz of the nightlife scene coming alive and still in awe that we had just spent an entire day exploring in Spain.

Barcelona Day 1: Paella and Pizza

In our minds, Barcelona would be sunshine and lazy afternoons, dreamy scenery and beautiful colors.  Yes, it was all of these things but also big and busy. We had no idea how wide the edges of Barcelona stretched and how exhausting the city could be. It was an unforgettable, three day whirlwind of adventure. Stay tuned for what we loved and what we would have done differently. We are having the best time doing life together…

While we scored a sweet deal on our two round trip tickets to Barcelona, the deal meant we had to drive four hours to the Frankfurt-Hahn airport and fly into Gerona airport an hour outside of the city.  We took a bus to station Nord and decided to walk the 20 minutes to our apartment. It’s in these moments that I’m so thankful one of Kaleb’s many skills includes being good with directions!

IMG_0827 It was hard not to stop and gawk at all the new to take in. Even the graffiti was pretty. This one below says “cultivate your city.” You could easily spot the community gardens in full bloom!

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Barcelona is separated into four districts: Barrio Gòtic (gothic quarter), Raval, Borne and Barceloneta, each with their own beauty and personality.  The streets are narrow and street signs can be hard to locate; so after some good searching, we finally found the apartment we booked through airbnb.com located in the quaint Gothic Quarter. Side note – this was a good experience.  Our private room and bathroom was $63/night. While it wasn’t the Hilton, there was plenty of space, the bed was comfy, and you couldn’t beat the great location.  Use our link www.airbnb.com/c/eblankenship1?s=8 to sign up, and we both get 20 Euro to use towards a trip when you book your first night’s stay! We definitely reccomend a site like airbnb or homeaway.com to get a bigger/better place for your dollars.  

The apartment owner gave us a recommendation for dinner; so we dropped our bags and headed out for the evening. We quickly realized that choosing a restaurant for dinner was going to be no easy task. Every turn presented a different option with the same claim to fame – Paellla and Pizza! When our bellies couldn’t take the suspense any longer, we finally settled on Ta Patxi at Carrer de Ferran, 15.

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We were bummed that the tapas didn’t look more appetizing, but the Chicken Paella and Pizza did not disappoint.

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The best part of this dinner was sitting in close quarters to other diners. To our left was a dad and daughter from Ireland and to our right sat a Turkish couple and their two-year old daughter. We spent most of the evening chatting with these families and eventually learned that peek-a-boo is definitely a universal language! After dinner, the crowds pulled us towards the lights and music of Las Ramblas.  We didn’t even realize until the next day that we had stumbled upon perhaps one of Barcelona’s best know markets, Mercat de Sant Josep/ La Boqueria. Fresh fruit juices, exotic candies, and beautiful flowers all vying for our attention. We settled on some candied nuts and fresh juice for a sweet treat as we explored.

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Even after a long day of traveling, the city seemed to exude an infectious energy. Barcelona is by far most alive after dark, and if it wasn’t for their famous siestas, it could easily give New York City a run for the title “the city that never sleeps.” Barcelona Day 2 coming soon!

Sweet 25

Earlier this month I  welcomed the beginning of year 25. I was never one of those kids who wished she was 13, 16, 18, 21. I’ve always just been really happy with my age, but there has also always been something about turning 25 that seemed pivotal to me. I have this idea that when you turn 25 people start taking you seriously.  But of course, that probably only really applies if you don’t still look 18. 😉

It was a special day. My sweet husband woke me up with birthday kisses and a full homemade breakfast. Since we live 30 minutes from post, he doesn’t get to come home after PT and eat breakfast with me like he used to; so he had requested a morning off from PT to stay home and make me breakfast. It was perfect.

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More breakfast goodies awaited me at Bible study that morning. My northern friend, Jessica had made me chocolate gravy – something she hadn’t even heard of until a couple of months ago. I had lunch with new friends, and came home later that day to find that Tasha and the boys had decorated my front porch and left me beautiful flowers. Parents, in-laws and friends sent gifts and cards across the ocean. I remember ending the day with this thought “I wish everyone could feel this loved.” The cool thing is it’s a love that lingers long past my birthday. One that is deep and genuine and life-giving.  Everyone deserves to know that kind of love.

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During Bible study that morning, our pastor’s wife shared some wise words to the group. She challenged us to take a hard look at our lives. What were we doing now that would help us be the women we wanted to be in 5 years…10 years? This got me thinking…what kind of woman do I want to be? In the next 5 years I hope to be a mom. What kind of woman do I want my children to grow under? It didn’t take long before I had a pretty lengthy list. I want to be:

  • brave. The kind of brave who goes to that social event even when it means showing up alone. The kind of brave who says yes to uncertainty. The kind of brave who tries new things, talks to strangers, speaks to a crowd.
  • a truth seeker, truth speaker. I want to know God’s word so well that His truths are always in my heart and on my lips.
  • giving. Kaleb is the giver in this family. He is quick to meet a financial need. I like to call it cautious, but frankly, I’m selfish. I’ve been given so much, and I want to have a heart more willing to give.
  • slow to anger. quick to forgive. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but O how impactful this quality is when practiced in any relationship. Life is too short for hurtful words and grudges.
  • compassionate. I think the older we get sometimes the harder our hearts get. We get jaded by the ugly parts of the world, by the people who hurt us, and end up trading our spirits of love for spirits of bitterness. May my heart never be jaded or bitter.
  • a learner. There is so much I want to learn, I hope I never stop pursuing education.
  • healthy. The older I get, the more I realize how we take care of our bodies when we are young can have a direct impact on how we feel when we begin to age. I want to eat well and move well. But health is so much more than good nutrition and exercise. It’s also taking time to rest, delighting in what we’ve been giving, and choosing joy.
  • a gentle spirit. “You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:4
  • passionate. Whether my passions grow, change, or stay the same, may I always be zealous, emotional, on fire with a purposeful passion.
  • fun. I mean seriously, what’s life without laughing and playing and dancing?  Bring on the fun!

Y’all the list could go on, but I’d be pretty thrilled if I can be all of those things when I celebrate years 30 and 35.  It’s a journey. The important thing to remember is that we can’t get to that place, whatever we might be striving for, in our own strength.  Thankful for my Helper, Healer, Comforter, and constant Guide.

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Love,

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You Only Live Once

It’s hard to believe almost three weeks have gone by since our last post.  We’ve been living in Germany for not quite four months now, but we were talking the other day about how it feels like so much longer.  Not in a bad way, but in a “can’t believe all that has happened and all we’ve seen” kind of way. Ok, let me catch you up on all the fun.

Two weekends ago we had plans to visit Lauren, Kaleb’s cousin, in Landstuhl near the Ramstein Air Force Base about four hours away. She and her husband are stationed in Turkey and getting ready to meet their first baby ANY DAY NOW!  Lauren is participating in the Air Force’s stork nesting program where they send her to Germany for the remainder of her pregnancy to give birth in a more comfortable and safe hospital setting. It’s a great option to have, but unfortunately, her husband doesn’t get to join her until right before the baby is born. Knowing that her time in Germany might get a little lonely, we were excited to visit and hopefully be good company for a day.

Earlier in the week, a friend told me about Hillsong United’s European tour happening in September. That Friday they were performing in Stuttgart, a German town that happened to be in the same direction we would be traveling to visit Lauren. Score!  We already knew we would be tired after this quick weekend; so we questioned whether it was smart to squeeze this in. Then we snapped out of it and remembered we are only in Germany once, and bought those tickets!! K made plans to leave work at a good time, and we made the drive to Stuttgart. Hillsong was incredible of course, and it was neat to see the Germans worshipping right along to the music we know and love. It kind of connects you in a way. I fell in love with their song Broken Vessels that night. “So take this heart Lord; I’ll be your vessel…the world to see Your life in me.”

We love that the Pearsons are always up for a last-minute trip, and decided to join us. After the concert we grabbed late night food at a restaurant across the street and chatted until 1AM. So glad we traded rest for a night full of memories!

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Earlier in the day, I called our hotel to let them know that we would be checking in very late that night. The manager assured me it was no problem and he would leave a key right inside the door for us just to “ring the bell.” We pulled up at right about 1:30 and “rang the bell” for probably 20 minutes, called all the numbers on the door, and even rang the bell at a hotel that wasn’t ours (whoops!)  Almost 2:30 now, and it was looking like we might be sleeping in the car.  Thankfully, we finally received a call back from the manager apologizing that he had fallen asleep.
At only 50 Euro/night, we knew not to expect the Ritz, but when we opened the door to our room we were immediately grateful that we were exhausted and only sleeping here for the night.
Side note – for any of you looking to book a room in Germany any time soon, they always ask if you would like two single beds or a double.  A double is simply the two single beds pushed together. Apparently, they didn’t get our double request.

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We were woken up early to the hotel maid (who spoke zero English) a little frantic that we weren’t out of our room by 8AM.  Thankfully, there was an adorable donut shop right next door that made the whole situation a little more laughable. Nothing like a sugar high to start the day!

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We made it to Landstuhl a little before noon and headed downtown with Lauren for some traditional German food. Yum! Lauren and I had never met, but it’s funny how connecting with someone on Facebook and through a blog can make you feel like you already know them.  We spent the rest of the day at a little fest in the town listening to a German band play American music and trying homemade candies, fresh pork, and hot donuts.

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The next morning we headed back downtown for breakfast at this amazing bakery.  Eggs, bacon, french toast, and chocolate croissants filled our bellies and sent us down the road. We loved our time with Lauren and know she will be such a great mom. Hoping to make it to Turkey at some point to meet Baby J!

More adventures from the last few weeks to come…

Kaleb & Erin

A second car and 3 months down

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind! We finally bought a second car – a 2007 red mazda cx7!! K really didn’t want to get a second American made car for our time in Germany, but the midsize vehicles here are either junkers or way out of our price range.  We are thankful to have found what we did – it’s a great size for K, and will hopefully be a reliable car for our time overseas. We bought it from a soldier stationed at Hohenfels, an Army training base about an hour away.  He was eager to sell since he is getting out of the Army; so we were able to get a pretty great deal!

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The new to us ride!

My second semester of grad school started last week, and I am taking two courses this term, so four for the semester.  Yikes! Classes started out on not the best foot when one of my courses wouldn’t show up in Blackboard.  When the school finally got me access, I had already missed an assignment.  Plus one of my books for the course that I ordered over a month ago still isn’t here! Thankfully, my instructor has been understanding.  The good news is, with a second car and clear responsibilities I feel like I can finally get on some sort of schedule.
I know that working part-time from home and going to school full-time online leaves me at home in front of a computer a lot; so I’ve scheduled things to make sure I get out of the house. Tuesday and Thursday mornings I go to Power Yoga with Jessica, and then head to the library or coffee shop to get some work done. Our church started a ladies Bible study this week; so I will go to that every Wednesday morning. Thankful for flexibility and fulfilling days!

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Lots of late nights and early mornings already. This is my view most days 🙂

Last weekend we hit up the High Ropes Challenge Course at the Boar Rec Center right off post.  The course consisted of 51 obstacles and six zip lines, and was more challenging than we had anticipated. A few bruises and couple of faced fears later, we chalked it up to a really great outing!

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Pearsons, Blankenships, and the Fitzpatricks!

Can’t believe we have already been in Germany for over three months.  It still seems surreal, but we are loving all most of the new experiences. 🙂 I struggled a little this week with missing family.  One morning during my quiet time, the tears started flowing, and I was just real with God about how much I missed my family.  God has never audibly spoken to me, but every once in a while I feel Him whisper over my soul. That particular morning, He so clearly whispered, “I know.” An immediate peace came over my heart as if He was saying “I hear you daughter, and I have great purpose for your temporary sorrow.”
Incredibly thankful for these moments where my Savior so intentionally pursues me.  I can’t help but be excited for the fulfilling of that promise!

Here is a picture I took from the car on the way home from church last Sunday. Wish I would of shaped a photo a couple of weeks ago; these fields were full of sunflowers…imagine the beauty!

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We still cannot believe this is home!

POTTERY FOR DAYS

Last weekend we ventured to Boleslawiec, Poland with two other couples for their Annual Polish Pottery Festival! Friday night we all met up at the Pearsons house to share a lasagna dinner before getting on the road.  We made it to our hotel, Folwark Ksiazecy, right around midnight, and quickly realized that the gate was locked. There was another couple there who only spoke German also trying to get through the gate. An interesting few moments ensued as we tried to communicate, call the hotel, etc… Ready to get to our room and get settled, I decided to jump the gate to find someone who could help us.  Jessica came with me, and after a few minutes of eerie exploring, we came upon a security guard who spoke zero english. Good thing we are pretty experienced at charades 🙂  We eventually discovered that after a certain time, residents of the Folwark must check in at Castle Kliczkow down the road.  We were a little excited when we pulled up to this…

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Photo borrowed from hotel website. It of course didn’t look like this when we showed up at 12:30am, but you get the idea 🙂

Of course our final destination was a little more um…quaint than this place, but we all agreed that staying at the castle would be on our list next time we visit Poland.  Our digs for the evening were more like the below.  We would definitely recommend Folwark though as everything was clean and comfortable and just $50 for the night, including breakfast the next morning! You can’t beat that!

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The next day we headed downtown to the festival. We knew it was going to be a good day when we scored free parking right outside the festival gates! Immediately, we pulled out some zloty (polish currency) from the ATM. [Another reason we like Poland – 1 Polish Zloty = 0.34 US Dollars…you do the math :)] The streets were lined with craft and food vendors and eventually we came upon booth after booth of pottery.

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These pictures were taken early that morning. I wish I would have snapped a shot around 2 that afternoon. The streets were packed! We spent all morning browsing the booths to make sure we found what we really liked before buying anything.  To say it was overwhelming was a bit of an understatement.  So many patterns….so many people!

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We also enjoyed watching the demonstrations of artists both making and firing the pottery.  I love that even though you will find many pieces in one pattern, because each piece is handmade and hand painted right there in Poland, no two pieces are just alike.

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We picked up a fair treat before heading home. Hot waffle with creme, hot fudge and caramel…yes please!

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On the way home, I used our GPS to search for a place for dinner that was along the route.  The guys looked at me with fishy grins when the GPS led us to a MASSIVE mall – woops! 😉 We didn’t have time to look around, but found some fresh Chinese food and peaked in a furniture store before finishing the drive back home.
We can’t show you everything we came home with because several items are gifts, but here are the pieces we picked up for ourselves!

large serving platter

large serving platter

water pitcher

water pitcher

Christmas bowl

Christmas bowl

We don’t want a house full of Polish Pottery, but we both agreed that we would like a few more unique things before heading back to the states. They really are pieces of art!

 

Making time for a slow down

With last weekend a four day, the week seemed to fly by. We both stayed pretty busy, and I even squeezed in a fun outing on Thursday with some ladies from church. We went to Norbert’s Antiques about 25 minutes away to hunt through Norbert’s sheds of cool treasures.  I found this pretty stain glass piece for just 10 Euro that we want to frame and hang over the guest bedroom.

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It was a rough week at work for K – long nights, frustrating situations, and an overall lack of fulfillment in the every day tasks.  But before we knew it, another weekend was upon us, and needless to say, he was ready for some chill time, and I was ready to just be together.

Friday night I made reservations at Eidelweiss, a more upscale German place in Weiden (the closest “big” town to us.) If you know us, you know we rarely eat out; so hitting up a nice place now and then is always a treat. To be honest, I made the reservation partly out of necessity. There wasn’t an opportunity for me to have the car last week; so we were literally out of food. Not an ounce of meat in the freezer or a leftover in the fridge. Sounds like a good excuse for a date to me!
An evening out was just what we needed – our eats included a delicious salad complete with prosciutto wrapped goat cheese, the most amazing tomato soup and a bolognese spaetzle main course that was easily one of the best dishes we’ve eaten since arriving in Germany. The food was definitely picture worthy, but sorry guys, I felt the need to be extra present that night and kept the camera in my purse.  We did snap this dark photo before leaving. Come on… yall know I’m a sucker for a picture 🙂

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Kaleb had to bring a little work home with him; so while he worked Saturday, I set out for some groceries.  That evening a rainstorm came in, and while there were plenty of chores that could have been completed, we both thought it was a great excuse to have a movie night instead.

Sundays are easily a favorite in the Blankenship home, and last Sunday was no exception.  We are falling more in love with Highpoint every week, and are currently enjoying Pastor Duane’s sermon series on prayer.  We’ve never had a pastor who has been so transparent and real as he brings the message!
After church, we had lunch with the pastor and his family along with two other couples, the Pearsons who arrived around the same time we did and the Krusees who have been in Germany for about a year.  It was a great time!
Overall, the weekend was a refreshing time of connecting and recharging for a new week.  Some times we all just need a little slow down to refocus, and let’s be honest…stay sane!

Here’s to slowing down and enjoying the ones we love ❤

Kaleb & Erin

Rafting in the Alps

K had a four day weekend; so we grabbed some friends, loaded up their subaru, and headed for the Alps!

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Haiming, Austria is about a four hour drive from our house and has some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen. It’s crazy to think that in the time it takes us to drive from my hometown in central Arkansas to my grandparents house in northwest Arkansas, we were in another country!

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Many of the countries in Europe require you to purchase a vignette when you cross the border –  basically a little sticker that goes on your windshield that keeps you from obtaining a hefty fine while driving in the country.  Fortunately, Austria’s is only 8.50 Euro. One more reason to travel with friends – sharing costs!
We have quickly discovered that planning a trip is much more complicated in Europe than in the U.S.  Since we have to pay a fee to call other countries; most of the planning is done via email. And since most business employees speak very little English, you sometimes take a gamble when booking lodging etc… So needless to say, when we arrived at the rafting location we were a little confused as to where the camp grounds were.  After finding our host, Maria, we quickly learned that this wouldn’t be traditional camping. The “campground” looked like this:

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Everything was nice; it just wasn’t what we were expecting.  No woods or campfire, but we made due! I was a little bummed to find that our air mattress wouldn’t inflate that night; so I was also ok that we would only be staying just one night at our homely little campground. 🙂 After getting setup, we had a yummy dinner at the local tavern and then went back to our tent for smores improvising and card playing before calling it a night.

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A knife and a lighter got the job done!

The next morning we had a yummy breakfast at the Tavern and then did a little exploring before heading out for the rafting trip!

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Rafting the Inn River was definitely the highlight of the weekend! While it was a beautiful 78 degrees in Austria, the water was still just around 50 degrees; so we were given these awesome wet suits to keep us warm. We all had whitewater rafted before, but this was an experience none of us will forget. Besides the beautiful views, we had a great rafting guide, and the continuous rapids kept our hearts racing and faces smiling the entire time.

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The only bump in the road happened when we were practicing falling into the river and being pulled back into the boat by other rafters.  We think this is when K lost his wedding ring. Although we were both really bummed that his original ring was gone, we were equally thankful that the jeweler we purchased his ring from in AR had our purchase records on file, and a new ring is already being made.  We will both be leaving our rings in a safe place for all future adventures!

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We can’t wait to go back to the Alps! There is so much to see and do in the area. Maybe a ski trip for our next visit? Now that we both have our international driver’s licenses, we can head that way on a whim. Who’s coming with us?!

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