Monday, February 26, 2007

A new experience, yet again...

We have one experience that was quite the highlight of our trip and I have not had a chance to write about it yet...on our last Sunday in California we went to an inner city African American Baptist Church in Modesto. We had really been hoping for an opportunity to visit an African American church but just hadn't had a chance to yet. It was a great experience for everyone...the church had about 150 people in attendance and we were welcomed warmly with lots of hugs and handshaking! Our international family seems to cause a stirring no matter where we go! The service began with several lively songs led by a robed choir and joined by a drummer and organist like nothing you have ever heard, then the children in the church dressed up as influential African American people throughout history to commemorate black history month. Within the first hour of the service a lady gave the announcements and then introduced the first time visitors, our family included, then everyone came to hug us or shake our hand to welcome us! After the choir sang a couple songs the pastor got up and asked us if we would come forward to be prayed for...he felt like there was no "coincidence" that we joined their fellowship that day and he wanted to pray over us as we continued our journey home and wherever the Lord may take us. (We found it very interesting that as first time visitors we were put on the spot more than once during the morning service and yet because of that we felt extremely welcomed...something to consider.)

A visiting pastor gave the sermon with four points that our kids can repeat well since the points were repeated so many times...God's Prenatal Care, Providing Care, Protecting Care, and Preserving Care. The kids all listened intently even though by the time the sermon began we were already two hours into the service! We had walked through the doors of the church a little before 11am and left a little before 2pm!!

The kids all had some insight into this Sunday of new experience...Ann Marie was surprised that there were churches in America like the churches in Sierra Leone, not only in church service but a building full of black people...Ethan was pleased at the warm welcome and lots of handshaking...Tyler couldn't believe he had sat through three hours of church and wasn't bored, not to mention that he remembered what the pastor spoke about...Kailee, Alyssum, and Adams enjoyed their kid's church class and the girls didn't seem to hardly notice that they were in the minority being white (or as they say, "tan"). It truly felt as though we had stepped off the plane into a different country and culture and yet we worshiped together and felt as though we belonged!

What a day it was for everyone with lots of fun conversation to follow for many days!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Home again

The travelers have returned...from sunny California to the frozen cold of Alaska, but I have to say it was beautiful today as the sun shone off the crystal white snow! We thoroughly enjoyed our big trip and are not worn out or tired of being crammed together in our motor home (as many have asked us!) But we are glad to be home to see family and friends, and we've got some catching up to do for business and school (for some reason I don't think any of us are looking forward to that!) Our next few days will be filled with unpacking, laundry, and cleaning before we begin school again on Monday.

Please continue to pray for the Germains as they make their way back to Alaska on the highway. They are planning to stop in Haines and Juneau to visit family and friends before coming back to Homer the first week of March.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Visiting in Washington & Oregon

What fun it was to get together with a group of people whose connection is adoption from Sierra Leone! We all went to Deanna's house Sunday afternoon and got to reconnect with some friends and meet some new friends too for a mini All As One reunion! The kids had a lot of fun playing for the afternoon and into the evening while the adults got a chance to visit and get to know other families whose lives have been touched by children in Sierra Leone. There was one special little Sierra Leonean baby girl there who is 6 months old and is here on a medical visa to get her cleft lip and palate repaired. I enjoyed feeding baby Mariama with her special bottle and seeing her suck on her finger tucked up in her lip. It was fun to see what Adams would have looked like as a baby...I have a picture of him sucking on his finger as well! I was holding the baby and Adams came up, pointed to her lip and said that is what his lip looked like. I thought he was such a smart little boy until Steve told me someone else had told him that's what he had looked like as a baby! It was still great to see him maybe understand a little and then to hear him talk about having surgery on the big ship! We all had so much fun at our mini All As One reunion!

The reunion was in Spanaway, Washington (for those of you who are keeping track on the map), and that's as far north as we travel
ed before heading back down south. Let me back up a little, Sunday morning we went to a small Foursquare church in Rochester (we filled up one side of the church and maxed out their Sunday School!), Sunday afternoon was the reunion, then Sunday night we parked in a Fred Meyers parking lot in Spanaway to spend the night. Monday morning we headed south but first we made a stop at a Harley Davidson store to do some browsing! :) Our next stop of the day was at the Mt. St. Helens visitor center so that we could learn a little about the volcanic activity of Mt. St. Helens (gotta get our schoolin' for the day!). Then we got back on the road and made our next stop in the city of St. Helens to stay at Jenn's grandma's house for a few days. It was a good place to relax and not have such a busy schedule for the end of our big trip. While in St. Helens we scheduled some time to visit with a few friends that were close by. On Tuesday we visited with Stephanie (friend and neighbor of Stacey's back at home in Alaska...during my grade school years), she lives in St. Helens with her husband and three boys. We hadn't seen each other since we were newly married, so it was fun to catch up a bit and introduce our children. Stephanie's mom Peggy also joined us and we caught her up on the happenings in Homer. Wednesday we drove to Portland and visited with Chuck and Nancy Chapman over lunch at the Wycliffe office where they both work. We got to tour the office and see what their part is in Wycliffe these days. Thursday we were supposed to meet up with the Lyda's but their kids got sick so we had to cancel. When we were not catching up with friends in the area the kids were busy helping the Germain kids put together their many new Lego sets that they had gotten for Christmas. They were very busy with Legos for several days, but we were very thankful for the many Legos since it happened to be pouring down rain and not good weather to be doing much else!

Friday morning we said good-bye to the Germains(they are headed north to do a little more visiting before traveling back to Homer) and headed south again...our destination is Oakdale, California at Aunt Janet's house to pack and clean up the motorhome. By Friday night we made it to Anderson, California and sp
ent the night in a WalMart parking lot. Saturday morning we did some shopping and then continued our travels south. Sunday afternoon we plan to go to Aunt Janet's to begin our packing and cleaning. Monday will be more of the same while the kids run and play outside at her house or next door with the cousins. It sure was nice this morning to wake to sunshine and warmth, not too sure we are ready for snow and cold again! Tuesday evening we fly out of Sacramento, California and get into Anchorage at 1am on Wednesday Thanks to those of you who have been praying for safe travels for us...we have had a great time and a very refreshing time for us as a family. Some probably thought our motorhome would get small after six weeks with eight of us, but we have done great (yes, we have had our moments of frustration and needing a little more space)and have thoroughly enjoyed our time together seeing new places and visiting so many people! We are so thankful for the opportunity that we got to take this BIG TRIP with our family!!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Motorhome life!

Just thought I would share a few pictures of what our life is like in the motorhome...we have had so much fun renting a motorhome and traveling around! Being on the road for six weeks has been alot of fun because we have our home away from home with us all the time...our motorhome. I was just thinking today how roomy our little home feels now and boy is our house going to feel huge when we get home!! The kids have adapted well to our home on wheels and always seem to find plenty to do without arguing and picking on each other (too much!). As we have been traveling with the Germains the last couple weeks we trade kids during our long drives and the kids have enjoyed playing games together and just doing something different for a change. We have cooked alot of our own meals in the motorhomes which has saved us alot of money on this trip and is just healthier too! We do our own breakfast and lunch, but then for dinner we cook the meal together for our families. Our meals are simple, but the kids enjoy whatever we fix.

Friday night was movie night as we were driving so that is what these couple pictur
es are from... It was lil' Tylers turn to visit in our motorhome so he got to come for movie night! (Adams and Tyler are quite the inseparable pair. We can often find them walking hand and hand and chatting like two long time friends! They are just too cute...we call them the chocolate and vanilla twins!)

Friday we drove from Clearlake which is northwest of Sacramento to the I5 then drove the straight line up the I5 through California into Oregon and stopped for the night just outside of Portland. This morning we made a stop in St. Helens where Jen's grandma lives and then continued on up the I5 to Washington. Tonight we are staying at the Outback RV park in Rochester, WA. We are catching up on laundry, showers, and internet!

We are approaching our last week of our "big trip" (it can't be over yet?) and are going to be doing some visiting this week in the Washington/Oregon area. Tomorrow we are going to a Sierra Leone/All As One get together at Deanna's house in Spanaway, WA. There is supposed to be 40-50 people there including quite a few kids from the All As One Center in Sierra Leone that have been adopted by other families in the area. We will also be visiting more friends in the area before we head back to California towards the end of the week.

I can't believe our big trip is coming to an end! It has been an adventure none of us
will ever forget...we have learned so much from the many places we have visited and the fun things we have gotten to do, and the best part has been the people we have gotten to connect with on this trip. Each day has been a new adventure from the smallest little thing like going across a bridge or seeing the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon. In this picture the kids are raising their arms like in a roller coaster ride except we are just driving on an overpass in Portland! Always something exciting and never a dull moment!!

San Fransisco

After leaving the aquarium in Monterey we continued up the coast and slept overnight at a rest stop. I think the guys just like to think they can park with the 'big boys' at the truck stops and check out all the trucks! :) At the truck stops we get to listen to trucks come and go all night long, but amazingly we all sleep just fine and are rested for the next day! On Thursday we drove into San Fransisco so that Jenn could connect with her friend Liz who is on staff with San Fransisco YWAM which is downtown San Fransisco (their mission is to work with the homeless street people). We parked our motorhomes at Golden Gate Park because there is not big enough parking for motorhomes downtown and then walked to the nearest subway station. When we are walking anywhere we travel with buddies so that everyone is accounted would think it would be easy to lose track of 13 kids or at least one or two of them, but we all do a great job of staying together and keeping track of each other. We boarded the subway and enjoyed our ride through San Fransisco and then down under the city in the subway system. We got off the subway and then had to walk several blocks to YWAM. We had lunch with Liz at a Thai restaurant, said our goodbyes, and began our return journey walking through the streets and back on the subway to get to our motorhomes. It seems like no matter what we do it turns out to be a grand adventure for everyone and we all learn and see something new! Walking the streets in San Fransisco, riding the subway, and seeing the homeless people was a new experience for all the kids. Oh, and did I mention that it was raining all day as we walked the streets...we were all kind of wet when we returned to our motorhomes but had such a fun day no one seemed to mind! We drove out of San Fransisco and continued on up the coast so that Joe and Jen could meet up with a couple for dinner in Clearlake before we continued on our trip to Oregon and Washington.

Monterey Bay Aquarium & Friends

Okay, let's do some catching up after our busy week in San Diego!! Monday was a day of cleaning motorhomes, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, fueling up and getting propane for the motorhomes, and swimming in the pool. Tuesday morning the motorhomes got a wash on the outside before we headed down the road. We took off from San Diego and headed up the coast towards Monterey. On Wednesday we got to the Monterey Bay Aquarium just before lunch so we ate lunch and then headed to the aquarium. Part of going to the aquarium was to meet up with another adoptive family that adopted from All As One in Sierra Leone. It was so much fun to meet up with Lorie and her daughter Hawa who is 10 years old. Ann Marie and Tonia remembered her from the Center and it was fun to see them interact with each other. The kids also really enjoyed the aquarium...sharks, otters, bat rays, birds, tuna, sun fish, jelly fish, octopus, and lots and lots of different kids of fish! Ethan and Tyler got to touch the bat rays and said they felt very soft and kind of slimy! It was a fun stop on our way up the coast, not just the aquarium which was a great learning experience, but also the opportunity for our kids to reconnect with friends from Sierra Leone!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Sunday is a day of rest so we decided going to the beach in Mexico would be a good way to rest! It was a beautiful warm sunny day and just looked like a great day for the beach. We can't take our rented motorhome to Mexico so we all piled into the Germain's motorhome for our 30 minute ride to the beach. The border is only a few minutes away but the beach we were going to was 20 miles after the border. We entered Mexico at the Tiajauna/San Diego border and then went to Rosarito to go to the beach. This day turned out to be so full of new experiences for many of our kids! Ethan, Tyler, Kailee, and Alyssum had never played in the ocean before where it was actually warm enough to play in the water and they absolutely loved it! Ethan and Tyler played in the surf for over two hours! Kailee, Alyssum, and Adams enjoyed the water, but they really enjoy building sand castles on the beach. I think we could have spent a week there and they would have found plenty to do! Ann Marie, Steve and I just enjoyed watching everyone play and just relaxed on the beach!

The ride home back to the border was the part that made the biggest impression on all the kids and especially those that have never seen pieced together houses and adults and children selling things on the street just to survive. Ann Marie seemed to enjoy feeling right at home in surroundings that reminded her of Sierra Leone, but Ethan, Tyler, and Kailee were wide eyed and full of questions as we passed the houses and then as we slowed down closer to the border and people would come up to the motorhome to sell us all sorts of things. There were also older people and children begging and we handed out some extra pieces of pizza to a couple kids. We can tell our kids all about what it is like in another country, but there certainly is nothing quite like experiencing it first hand. Then there was the seriousness of the border crossing and having to answer a few questions. Really not a big deal, but when some kids have never seen that before it can be a little scary the first time. It was a great day and so full of adventure and new sights for everyone!

San Diego Wild Animal Park

On Friday we decided to do animals again, to give us a break between the two days at Legoland. The Wild Animal Park is huge compared to the zoo...the zoo is 120 acres and the wild animal park is 1,800 acres! We were kind of worried after all the walking we did at the zoo and that was only 120 acres, what was 1,800 acres going to be like!? By looking at the map of the Wild Animal Park it looked like we were going to be doing alot of walking, so we started out by going to the Lion camp. It turned out not to be as far as it looked on the map and we got to see lions up close! We walked to see the giraffes and an elephant show, plus several more animals then we got aboard the train that takes you all around the park. That was the best way to see most of the park and all the animals out in their natural habitat. It was like riding across the plains of Africa because alot of the animals were together in huge open fields, but where they were fed was along the edges so we got to see lots of animals up close. We got to see baby rhinos and a baby elephant as well as many more animals! We also got to see the park workers begin training a young kangaroo to be around people. The kids did really well at listening to the park workers and being quiet so as not to frighten the young kangaroo. Well it was another fun filled day full of adventure!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Legoland, California

Thursday was the day chosen for Legoland and boy did we have some excited kids!! None of our kids had ever been to a theme park so they were excited to see what this was all about! We woke early, drove about an hour to Legoland, and were half an hour early for the opening of the park. It was a little chilly (as you can see from the hoods on everyone in the picture!), but did warm up as the day moved along. The first thing we did was head to some of the rides for the younger kids...gentle rollercoaster, Fairy Tale land boat, Jeep safari jungle, and several more...then as we moved our way around the park we came to some of the older kids rides...dragon rollercoaster, driving school with Volvo cars on a real streets with stop lights, boat rides with water bombs, and a robotic arm that flung a person around! Actually even the younger kids got to go on most of the older kid rides as long as an adult or older child rode with them. The kids all had so much fun even though they had tired feet by the end of the day!

Big kids, little kids, and the kids at heart all really enjoyed Miniland, USA
. It is various cities from around the USA built completely out of Legos. We were all so amazed at how creative people can be with Legos and how realistic it all looked! It was so much fun to just wander around and look at all the detail of the buildings, cars, people, streets, and so much more. Actually all around Legoland so many things were built out of Legos that everyone almost had just as much fun looking at the different Lego creations! The pictures here of the motorhomes at a Daytona race look so realistic, but are just one of many Lego creations at Miniland, USA. Pretty hard to tell that you are looking at Legos?

Adams thought the tourist in the red shirt with the cameras looked alot like his daddy! Steve has a camera around his neck all the time! But then Steve wondered if he was talking about the belly as well as the cameras!! :)

Well, since we didn't get to do everything we wanted to at Legoland in one day, we decided to go for another day. So on Saturday we went back to Legoland to do a couple of the favorite rides again, then do several that we missed, and to do the Build and Test where the kids build their own cars and race them down a track. Some of the kids had money to spend so we went shopping for new Legos too!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

San Diego Zoo

Wednesday morning we awoke to clear skies , sunshine, and bright hopes for a warm day at the zoo! Didn't quite turn out to be a warm day but we had lots of fun and saw lots of animals (but thankfully we didn't get rained on!). We had heard reports that we would be doing lots of walking at the San Diego Zoo because there were alot of hills...those reports were correct! As soon as we arrived at the zoo we rode on the top of a double decker bus to give us a good idea of what animals were at the zoo...the kids really enjoyed riding up so high on the bus! Then we began to do some walking to see pandas, gorillas, giraffes, lots of exotic birds, crocodiles, bears, lots of horned and hoofed animals from Africa and Asia, monkeys, meerkats, and so many more! Each day we packed our own sandwiches for lunch so we ate our lunch at the "Tree House" and then began walking again. I think probably the favorite part of the day was when we ended with riding back and forth on the Skyfari Aerial Tram...our tickets were for unlimited use, so we used it well! From the vantage point of the tram you could see overtop the whole zoo and get a bird's eye view of many of the animals. We saw probably more action from the animals overtop than we did in all our hiking around the zoo! Once again we had some very tired kids, but we had alot of fun and learned so much!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Museums in Balboa Park, San Diego

San Diego here we come...ready or not eight Veldstra's and nine Germain's are hitting the big city of San Diego for a week of fun! Before we left on this trip we purchased Go San Diego cards on-line...they were good for entrance for five days into LOTS of museums, San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, Legoland, and so much more. So since Tuesday was forecasted for rain we decided to make that the museum day at Balboa Park. Our first stop was at the model train museum...amazing layouts for several different scales of trains. The kids and the parents enjoyed looking at all the detail and work that was put into the model train layouts.

Our next museum of the day was the Aerospace Museum...probably everyone's favorite. It started out with the beginning of flight and continued on through the age of space today. So many originals and replicas of many famous airplanes and space craft from over the ages. I think Steve, Ethan, and Joe probably enjoyed all the aircraft the most, but the rest of us had fun too! There was one area where the younger kids could climb in several airplanes and pretend they were flying too...I think that was the younger eleven kids favorite part of the museum! We all learned alot and all the kids were great troopers!

Our next stop of the day was the motor home with the younger kids and the moms while Steve and Joe took Ethan, Tyler, and Joziah to the Automotive museum. I heard lots of reports of neat cars and motorcycles.

Everyone had a fun day, but we were all worn out at the end of the day and so ready for bed!

Visiting and on to San Diego

Okay this one is for Aunt Theresa!! Almost all of your nieces and nephews in one picture! We went to church with the Cross family and then spent the afternoon having lunch and letting the kids play. They all had a great time together.

Later in the afternoon we met up with Joe and Jenn and kids and we all headed for San Diego. We decided to just get a couple hours down the road then get going in the morning for the rest of the trip. It was only a six hour drive, but we needed time in the daylight in San Diego to figure out where we were going to stay and we didn't really want to try to navigate the city in the dark. Just before Yuma we pulled over in a truck stop and slept with all the noisy trucks driving by on the Interstate. Amazingly we slept fairly well and got up rested and ready for a new day of adventure!

We arrived in San Diego mid-day and headed for our campsite on the beach. It was rather cold and windy but our kids enjoyed running on the beach and collecting a few shells. When we made the reservations for this campground though we did not realize that it did not have any facilities for water or pumping. We tend to run out of water and fill our tanks really fast with eight of us in the motor home! So despite the beauty of the beach we started looking for another place to stay for our week in San Diego. We found a great family friendly place called La Pacifica(only 3 miles from the Mexico border)...came with full hook-up, heated pool, and much more. After our busy day we were all ready to find a place to rest and be ready for our busy week ahead of us.