Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016: Update & Review

Happy Holidays to all our friends and family around the world!   The second half of this year has literally slipped through my fingers.  We have all been busy little bees here in Germany, as I am sure all of you have been in all of your own corners of the world.   I would like to use this platform to give you an update/review of 2016: Finley Life.


In February, Teddy (currently age 12) transferred into the 6th-grade in a competitive, fast-paced German school.  His diligence and determination to overcome the adversity of an education in a foreign language truly paid off.  He is earning fantastic grades in Math, Science, French, English and German.  He is learning French in a German-speaking class.  In other words, he must translate all the words from French into German, and then to English for deeper understanding.  Teddy just started basketball season with the Americans on base.  Teddy has the opportunity to play on a team with his two best friends whose dad is coaching the team.  Teddy also enjoys going to a Parkour class in our village once a week.  Teddy has a new interest in politics and is extremely interested in learning about various political figures, as well as how the system works.  


In August Patrick (currently age 11) began his 4th year in German primary school.  He is "top dog" this year, as a 4th-grader.  Patrick always has a line of friends at our gate starting at 7:15 with friends who want to walk to school with him, until 6 pm when it is time to call him in for the night.  He speaks fantastic conversational German, speaking more German most days than he does English.  Patrick is the captain of his school soccer club this year!  Each child in the club must be asked to be a member.  Patrick played little league baseball in the Spring.  His favorite positions were shortstop and second base.  Patrick loves to play just about any sport with soccer as his favorite.  He also loves riding his skateboard and just chilling with his friends.  


Rowan (currently age 9) is in the 3rd grade at the German primary school.  Rowan has a shy side but according to her teacher, is well liked among her classmates.  She is an extremely bright girl and a fast learner.  Her teacher is always telling us how impressed she is with how fast she picks up on things.  Rowan loves to ride bikes and rollerblade with her friends. Just this week we visited a Christmas market and we all ice skated.  I kept following Rowan around the ice and enjoyed watching her just skate by herself, practice jumping, and holding her arms to the side with one leg kicked back.  Rowan is extremely imaginative and often caught up in her own beautiful world.  She loves all music, dancing, singing, tumbling, and is a strong Math and German student.  


Liam (currently age 6) is in the 1st grade at German primary school.  This is a big year for Liam.  German children do not start formal schooling until the 1st grade.  This is the first year school has not been all about play for Liam.  He is adjusting quite well.  Liam loves being in the school with his older siblings.  When walking past the school I often see Liam playing soccer with Patrick and the other boys in the schoolyard!  Liam loves to play with the older kids, and Patrick is always there to include him.  Liam is learning how to read and write in German for the very first time.  As difficult as this task is, he is also learning to read and write in English at home.  Despite how complicated this can be at times, I am amazed at how he keeps all the rules straight.  He is making incredible progress!  Liam wants to join a soccer team and possibly learn martial arts.  He loves to build legos, and make things out of any materials he can find around the house.  He is the next Macgyver!  


Daniel is enjoying the challenges and rewards as the director of IT with 5th Signal Command "Dragon Warriors."  In January, Daniel had the opportunity to take a work trip back to Fort Huachuca and spend some precious time with his family.  When he is not busy defending the cyberspace domain for the European and African Theaters of operation, he likes to work out, read, and maintain the garden.  


Earlier this year I finally finished my degree in Communications and this fall began working on a graduate degree in Educational Technology through Arizona State University.  I can complete my coursework from home and still be here for the kids with school, homework, after-school activities, etc.  I still try to run, however, I am not as consistent as I need to be (New Years Resolution).  I have also had the opportunity to work as a freelance writer for a local newspaper called the Kaiserslautern American.  I have written on a number of subjects from travel, health and wellness, to local news.  

In Conclusion...

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to share some words of wisdom.  I told the kids I was writing a little yearly update to our loved ones and asked if they had any tips for a happy and successful new year.  Here were their responses:

"Expect the worst and hope for the best."  Teddy, age 12

"Even when you feel alone, you never really are alone in your heart."  -Patrick, age 11

"Make sure to pack all the things you need the night before."  -Rowan, age 9

"Pay attention!"  -Liam, age 7

It is a new year.  365 days.  Which means 365 new chances.  This is the beginning of anything we want.  A new year, new chances, new experiences, new knowledge, and new goals mean nothing if we are stay within our comfort zones.  

With these pearls of wisdom in mind, dream big. Love with all your heart.  Find peace in difficult moments.  Be generous with others. May the new year bring you amazing opportunities, joyful experiences, and beautiful moments.  

Rape Seed Fields, May 2016

Goslar, Germany August 2016

Mallorca Spain All-Inclusive with The Harms

This past Fall break we decided to take it easy and book a fun beach vacation to Mallorca Spain.  We had been wanting to take a trip with our good friends, Kathy, Matt, Damien, Jenna, Jonathan, and Dominic Harms.  With 4 kids, two sets of parents, and one set of grandparents traveling (Marylou and Jim), an all-inclusive was the perfect setting.

Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Island archipelago which is part of Spain and located in the Mediterranean.  The island is an extremely popular destination for people from Germany and the UK looking to kick back and take it easy.

We spent every day relaxing poolside, cruising the waterslides, walking the small town, hanging on the beach, sipping beer and wine, and had the opportunity to eat some real Spanish paella on two separate occasions.  The kids were so excited to fly on a plane with their friends and do a "real" vacation together.  What can beat that?!  It was truly a restful trip.

Rowan and Dominic eating ice cream poolside

Toes in the Med

Bury your buddy

This kid is always in a tree!

Daniel and Patrick


Liam and his friend Ewing from Scotland!  They hung out every day all day!

Guess these piggies didn't make it back from market.


Paddle ball

Little piggies


Patrick told me, "I am making Trump's wall."

August 2016: Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Goslar, Germany

After moving to Europe in 2013, Daniel and I sat down to come up with a sort of "bucket list" of places we want to visit before our departure.  Of course, with time, this list has gotten bigger and bigger.  One place we both really wanted to visit was Russia.  However, Russia is not an easy place to decide to just go and see.  We decided the easiest way to see Northern Europe and Russia was with a cruise.  Daniel and I have never been drawn to cruising.  One aspect of travel we like is freedom.  Cruising kind of restricts that freedom.  Nevertheless, we booked a 7-day cruise with MSC Cruises to Copenhagen Denmark, Helsinki Finland, Tallinn Estonia, and Saint Petersburg, Russia.  Daniel's parents Jim and Marylou decided this trip sounded interesting enough to join us!
Our first port of call was in Helsinki Finland.  Finland is actually not very old.  We have good friends here in Weilerbach that are actually Finnish, and she has told me, "The ice did not recede that long ago!"  We had a relatively short time to spend in Helsinki so we quickly made the trek by foot into town.  We visited a local market where we were able to experience local fish and potatoes.  Daniel and the boys were able to get their hands on a few hunting knives as souvenirs with reindeer antler handles.  Once we make our way back to the states these boys will have no problems finding a utensil to gut a deer!  

Our second port of call was Saint Petersburg Russia.  This was the defining moment for Daniel and I.  We really could not wait to get a bird's eye view of this country.  The only way to get off the boat into Saint Petersburg was with a tour group.  Apparently getting a tourist visa for Russia is extremely difficult and time-consuming.  We booked an all day tour around the city and into the Hermitage Art Museum.    When getting off the boat and going through customs, the customs agent took quite some time looking at our passports.  The agent started to ask questions, wondering where we were traveling from, what we do for a living. 

We toured Peter and Paul Cathedral, built under Peter the Great.  The cathedral houses almost all the remains of Russian emperors and empresses including Catherine the Great. In this same area was Fort Alexander, which we really wish we could have toured.  However, the tour guide told us not anyone can just tour the fort as you must behave appropriately, meaning absolutely no children can visit.   

We ate lunch in an old hotel.  We were served a quiche dish, tomato soup, beef stroganoff, and a shot of vodka.  Everything seemed very planned.  We were surprised to see the lack of commercialism in the city.  It was hard to tell what buildings were stores, as there really were no signs.  We were hoping to have some time to walk the street.  We were instructed we would stop at one gift shop to buy gifts.  We were given no time to walk around or check out the city on our own.

We stopped for a quick stop at The Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood, where Emperor Alexander the II was assassinated in 1881.  Our last stop was at the Hermitage Museum.  We actually were given a fairly thorough tour of this museum.  As anyone can imagine, 2 and a half hours on an art museum tour would be rough on any adult, not to mention 4 children.  However, I was amazed at how patient and well behaved the kids were through this part of the trip.  They could not have been more patient!  

I would hate to sound ungrateful for this opportunity to go into Russia, however, I cannot help but feel like Russia was somewhat "hidden" from us.  It almost felt as though they were only letting us see the parts they were willing for us to see.  

When leaving and going back through customs, we ran into a bit of a snag.  To make a long story short, we were made to wait, were made to think we might possibly miss ship's movement, and were asked some invasive questions.  Needless to say, I am glad to have had the opportunity to see Russia but will probably not being visiting again anytime soon!

The next port we hit was my personal favorite, Tallinn, Estonia.  We had all day in this gorgeous city.  Tallinn was founded in 1248, but has evidence of civilization over 5000 years old, making it the oldest Northern capital in Europe.  With its gorgeous old town, Tallinn is known as the Silicon Valley of Europe.  It has the highest number of startups per person and is where Skype was started. 

Our last port was Copenhagen, Denmark.  We had the opportunity to spend an entire day walking through the old fishing village and even witnessed the changing of the guard at the palace.  We had one of the best meals we have ever had here in Denmark, which was of course fish!  The meal was incredible.  

On our way back home, we hit my most favorite city on the entire trip: Goslar Germany!  Goslar is an old mining town dating back to the 10th century.  Henry I, the Holy Roman Emperor was attracted to this city because of its silver.  Goslar is home to a gorgeous imperial castle, built as a summer home for Henry III.  His heart is buried in Goslar, while his body is in Speyer Cathedral.  Goslar has an exceptionally large number of half-timbered houses: 1500 built from the 15th century on.   The city is definitely a must-see.

All in all, we are glad to mark this trip off of our bucket list.  Mission accomplished!

The family in Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki mit Oma

These boys crack me up.

Wins award for best hair on the trip

Cold Baltic water.

Blind man in Estonia playing interesting instrument.  He was incredible!

Tallinn, Estonia city wall

Denmark.  The steeple on that church are dragon's tails.

Spilled blood church.  My sweet girl.

Peter and Paul Cathedral, Emperor and Empress tombs.

Tallinn, Estonia.  Grandma & Pop

Estonia Old Town street

Tallinn, Estonia

Copenhagen, Denmark

Love this little person.

Helsinki Finland

Cracking jokes in Helsinki

A few of my traveling companions

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Changing of the guard in Copenhagen

Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg 

Saint Petersburg

A few salty sailors learning how to salute from the Salt Dog himself.

Spilled Blood Church

Spilled Blood Church

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Enjoying a brew in Copenhagen

Paddy Pumpkins in Copenhagen

Killer hair and eyes.  

Family in Goslar

Family in Copenhagen

Daniel enjoying a brew in the streets of Goslar

Wrestling on the Imperial lawn

Me and my main squeeze, Copenhagen Denmark

Paddy and Daniel in Goslar

Personalities shining through

Cobblestone streets, half timbered homes of Goslar

Don't mess with these two tough guys from SV

Trampolines in Copenhagen.

Trampolines in Copenhagen