ALASKA – Glaciers, Moose & Sunshine

Before I knew about my placement in Oregon, my biggest fear was going to Alaska for a year. There was nothing appealing to me about Alaska. I am a summer kid and I like to have urban life around me. So I thought Alaska and I wouldn’t be a good match. Then I found out I was going to Oregon and only heard that two guys of the program were sent to America’s most northern and western state. I was relieved and felt sorry for the boys. But to be honest that was the last time I thought about Alaska; until May 6th 2015.

I was at work when I received a message from another CBYX participant that I only knew from the seminar in New York in the beginning of the program year. I was certainly surprised reading his message: ‘Hey, do you want to go to Alaska in the middle of June?’

First thought: ‘What the heck?! No!’
Second thought: ‘Well, Alaska… That’s exotic. It’s not too far away from here. Who knows if I will ever get the chance to go again? It could be an adventure!’
And let’s be honest, it doesn’t take a lot to convince me to travel somewhere and so I changed my mind quickly.
I wrote back: ‘Sure, let’s do it!’

One barrier between me and Alaska was asking my boss for days off at work. Here it becomes very handy to work in the travel industry – you could almost call it a business trip. I can only be successful in what I am doing if I go places to give recommendations. Fortunately my boss saw it the same way and told me to grab the opportunity and go.

On May 8th, so only 2 days after I received the initial message, my flight was booked. I was going to Alaska for 6 days! I think I didn’t quite realize it but everyone that I told about it was probably even more excited than I was at that point. Besides the flights we didn’t plan too much and figured that everything would work out anyways. We only reserved a car and talked to the two boys who are placed in Alaska. They kindly offered us to stay with them and show us around their new homes.

Wednesday, June 17th I went straight from work to Portland Airport. Since it was rush hour and it would have been too busy by car, I took the adventure of taking public transportation. Even though the system here in Portland is amazing compared to many other cities in the USA, I never used it a lot since I always had my car. The bus was 3 minutes late – not a big deal and something you expect if you are from Berlin – but this bus driver apologized for being SO late!!! I couldn’t believe that he apologized for being 3 minutes late. He was so nice and I only thought about the grumpy bus drivers in Berlin. I took the bus downtown, hopped into the tram which took me straight to the airport. After a good 1 ½ hours I made it to PDX.

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That’s always the right direction!

 

I boarded my first plane to Seattle at 8 pm. The flight was scheduled to take 50 minutes. Though the pilot announced that it would be a very quick trip today and he was right. From take off to touch down it was only 26 minutes! It certainly was one of the shortest flights ever.

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My happy place!

 

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No blog post without Mount Hood! 🙂

 

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Believe it or not – this is DOWNTOWN Portland. I know, it doesn’t look like it at all

 

I only had an hour to change planes but Seattle Airport is so organized that I didn’t face any problems. At the gate in Seattle I met my travel buddy for the upcoming week, Mathias. It was a bit like back in August on my homestay tour when I didn’t really know my travel companion either but it worked out back then, so I thought it will also this time (and it did!). Mathias is from Munich and spent his year in a small town in Illinois.

Three hours later we exchanged night time in Seattle for daylight in Anchorage at 12:30 am! It was one hour earlier in Alaska and we also flew straight up north where summer nights are endless. It was surreal and my body and mind certainly confused. I have been to Scandinavia in summer before, so I have experienced days without darkness, but it was still so unbelievable. When we landed, the sun just set and since sunrise was only a couple of hours later again, it didn’t get dark.

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First glimpse of Alaska!

 

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Anchorage (Note for Delta Airlines: The windows were so dirty it was impossible to take good pictures)

 

Although it seemed to be a lot earlier, it was almost 2 am after getting our rental car, a Chevrolet Sonic, and checking in to our very simple hostel in downtown Anchorage. Since it is high season in Alaska at the moment, prices are horrendously high for accommodations. Luckily we only needed that one night and stayed the others with the CBYX fellows.

The first night was short and a bit uncomfortable – but we were excited to hit the road and see Alaska. Everyone recommended me not to spend any more time than necessary in Anchorage. It is Alaska’s biggest city with 300.000 residents which makes 40 % of the Alaskan population! Although it is the economic and cultural center of Alaska – though not the state’s capital; that’s Juneau – there is not much to see and do. That’s why we decided to go straight from Anchorage to Valdez. The trip is 300 miles long which took us six hours over Alaska’s major highway 1. On that trip we could only get a rough idea how enormously huge this state is. It is by far the biggest state of the US and just to get an idea; the landmass of Germany fits five times into Alaska!!! Although we stayed in the most populated area of Alaska the whole time, we could see how empty and sparsely populated it is. The 2 German guys told us though that this time of the year it is busy and crowded with tourists compared to the winter months. I can’t imagine what it was like.

Since we didn’t have any pressure to be in Valdez at a certain time, we could take as many photo stops as we liked (a lot) and let the beautiful landscape sink in. On the map it said that there were several small towns along the way. From my point of view I wouldn’t even call them villages, maybe a small settlement. There was really not too much besides stunning nature: mountains, glaciers, rivers, valleys, forests and waterfalls. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine and up to 80 degrees. I didn’t even know that this was possible in Alaska.

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Anchorage to Valdez

 

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Matanuska River

 

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Other way of Matanuska River

 

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My car and my driver

 

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Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the glacier anymore

 

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Mathias and myself

 

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Snow capped mountains

 

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Behind every curve was a new glacier – stunning!

 

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Queen of the road

 

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Bridal Veil Waterfalls – see the rainbow?

 

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Selfie in the sun 🙂

 

In the late afternoon we arrived in Valdez after this scenic and breathtaking drive. To me Valdez is a small town but in Alaskan relations, it is one of the bigger ones. It is located at a fjord of the Prince William Sound which is part of the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean. Valdez has 4,000 residents and since August 2014 one more: Jonas from Germany. I already met Jonas at the preparation camp in Germany and was excited hearing what he has been up to the last 10 months. He studied at the local college with only 50 other students and shares a dorm room with John, a student from Florida.

Both Jonas and John gave us a very warm welcome and after the long car ride, a small hike around Valdez was exactly what we needed. They showed us a little park right next to the harbor. It is a very important one in Alaska because it is ice-free in the winter. We got a first great view of the city and the impressive surrounding.

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Prince William Sound

 

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Again Prince William Sound in Valdez

 

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Valdez’s Harbor

 

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This was the first eagle I have seen, many more followed. They are everywhere in Alaska

 

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Oil…

 

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Mathias, Jonas and I at the harbor

 

In the evening we had dinner with Jonas and enjoyed our first Alaskan beer. It was great catching up with the two German boys because even though we are here with the same program, we are in three different regions of the USA and therefore we made different experiences but also some very, very similar ones. Although Jonas was not head over heels in the beginning about his placement in Alaska, he loves it now even more and is confident to come back and live there. Later that night we got to meet some of his friends with whom we hung out for a while. When we went to bed at 2 it was still daylight. Even with blinds closed it just felt like taking an afternoon nap. Crazy.

I woke up to the brightest sunshine and saw a panoramic mountain view when I looked out of the window. The mountains all have snow covered tops and are very green and lush down in the valley which really surprised me. Jonas told us that this area is part of the temperate rainforest zone. Apparently it rains a lot and temperatures have been unusually high which helped the nature to become this green. Since Jonas had to work for a couple of hours, John took us on a hike after he prepared a good breakfast for us.

We hiked a rough gravel road along the Mineral Creek Valley. The path was not very steep and therefore easy to walk. Besides the creek we saw mountains rising up to over 5,000 feet and many beautiful waterfalls. I don’t know what it is about waterfalls but they just really calm me down and I feel very close to my mind and soul. Those waterfalls just crossed the path and there were no bridges. We just had to find a way to get over to the other side. That was great fun and also a good refreshment because, believe it or not, it was hot! Around noon the sun stood really high and fortunately I put on sunscreen. I never thought that I would be warm in a top and yoga pants while hiking in Alaska, but that’s what happened. We hiked, took pictures, enjoyed the nature and had great conversations. I loved this hike and it was definitely one of my highlights of the whole trip. It was so peaceful and I felt so far away from any civilization, problems or normal life. It was just me and the nature.

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See how lush and green it is?

 

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Waterfall

 

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Mineral Creek

 

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Mathias, John and me

 

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I love waterfalls!

 

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It was warm!

 

After a little lunch break we took off again for the second hike of the day. This time Jonas came along, as well as another friend who was in charge to keep an eye on possible bears. He had a gun with him – just in case he said. I wasn’t sure if I was more afraid of the gun or the bears.

This hike was steeper than the first one though a lot shorter. Our destination was Solomon Lake. I was already a bit tired and exhausted from the first hike and the heat, but it was totally worth going up there!!! The lake was unbelievable; such a rich turquoise color. It looked surreal. We took a long break up there while enjoying the view and the sun. I could have stayed and sat on that wall forever. It was just too pretty to leave.

 

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On the Solomon Gulch Trail

 

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Solomon Lake

 

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LOVED IT!

 

John cooked us Pasta Alfredo for dinner and we took a nap in the early evening. At that point we all felt exhausted and we crushed for a few hours and rested. Since it didn’t get dark either way it didn’t matter when we met Jonas’ friends for a bonfire at the beach. To me it sounded amazing: watching the sunset and warming up around the fire since it did get quite chilly in the evenings. Well, I forgot one big thing: MOSQITOES! EVERYWHERE! It was hard to enjoy anything because those annoying bugs have been all over. Fortunately the locals had bug spray which we could use. Usually I feel like mosquitoes just laugh at you and your ridicolous spray and bite you anyways. But man this stuff worked. I don’t know what I put on my face and probably I also don’t want to know. It worked and that’s all that mattered to me. We gathered around the campfire, one of their friends brought fish which they grilled over a really cool self-made wooden stove and we enjoyed the night that didn’t turn into a night. It was a wonderful end to an unforgettable stay in Valdez, Alaska.

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Downtown Valdez at 11 pm

 

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Midnight

 

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Alaskan gathering

 

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Bonfire at night

 

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Travel Buddies!

 

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June 20th 2015 in Valdez, Alaska at 2 am

 

Early Saturday morning we left Valdez to go on a long road trip to the Kenai Peninsula for the second half of the trip. Our goal of the day was to drive 450 miles in 8 ½ hours. Paved streets are limited in Alaska, so we had to take the exact same route back to Anchorage. Even though it was the same street, it did look very different from another perspective. That day was not as sunny as the day before but we spent the whole day in the car either way. We had to stop for gas a couple of times, which by the way is not as cheap as I expected it. They have oil all over in Alaska, but the gas was still ‘expensive’. 3.59 Dollar per gallon is surely still cheap for Germans but a lot more expensive than in the lower 48s.

We passed Anchorage again without even stopping and had a beautiful drive to the Kenai Peninsula. Highway 1 directs you along the Turnagain Arm, a fjord of Cook Inlet. We had amazing views over the water and saw a more mellow Alaska without as many high mountains and waterfalls. For lunch we stopped at the very idyllic Summit Lake where it was sunny and blue sky again. It was a place to stay and rest longer, but we continued our way until we reached Soldotna.

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Valdez – Soldotna

 

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Thai food truck in the middle of nowhere in Alaska – Hello Globalization!

 

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Happy me 🙂

 

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Summit Lake

 

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Summit Lake Lodge

 

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Lunch break at the lake

 

Soldotna was the temporary home for Chris from Bavaria, the other lucky Alaskan CBYX student. The cities Soldotna and Kenai are very close to each other and a lot bigger than Valdez. It reminded me of a typical small town that could have been anywhere in the USA. They have several grocery stores, bars, restaurants and things to do.

We met Chris at a parking lot because his house was far out in the woods and he was afraid we wouldn’t find it. 10 miles outside of Soldotna we finally made it to the place where we would stay for three nights. At the time we visited Chris, he actually stayed with his college coordinator Diane and her husband Dan. For the last two weeks of his time in Soldotna, he decided to stay with them to spend more time together. And I don’t blame him; Diane and Dan have been the nicest host you could ever imagine. They gave us a very warm welcome and showed us around their house and property. They live in a traditional wooden cabin with a real fire stove for cooking and heating. Dan is retired and very active with carpeting furniture, building houses and being a beekeeper. He has 10 hives and produces his own honey. Diane shares the passion of working outside and takes care of her vegetables and fruits besides working at the local college.

I felt so lucky that we had this authentic home stay experience and met locals who shared their house, their story and the Alaskan lifestyle with us. What a great way to get to know the region instead of staying in a standardized hotel room.

Chris took us out for dinner and to the visitor center where we got to see a fullsize Alaskan moose. It was unfortuantely not real but the size was still very impressive! We then continued to Kenai Beach where we watched the most beautiful sunset. You would NEVER believe that this beach is in Alaska. I have seen beaches like that in California, in Hawaii or somewhere in the Mediterranean, but I couldn’t believe my eyes that this was Alaska!

We continued to follow the sunset and twilight from a very nice bar where we met Chris’ host mom and let this long beautiful day end; with daylight and amazing views.

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Fullsize male moose – kind of big

 

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Unbelievable sunset in Kenai

 

Sunday morning, June 21st we took it easy and Diane prepared the nicest breakfast for us. Besides the classic breakfast food, she served us moose meat. I have never had it before and it tasted quite strong but really good. Moose are a very big version of a deer or an elk and extremely dangerous especially for car drivers. They cause a lot of accidents because they just get out of the dark forests and cross the streets. Around Soldotna there have been signs that said to look out for moose and showed a number of how many moose were killed in the last season through cars. Next to bears, moose are the wild animals people want to see when they are in Alaska. Also Mathias and I always kept our eyes open because we really wanted to see big wild animals after already seeing tons of eagles.

So we had our casual breakfast, ate moose, chatted and all of a sudden Diane said: ‘Look out there in the backyard!’ And there it was: a female moose with her cub walking through their backyard!!! OMG! We couldn’t believe it!!! They were so close! We grabbed our cameras, went outside to get closer and take a good shot. Females don’t get as big as the male animals but this one was already so big. You can only imagine what happens when you hit them with a car. We were so excited that we ate and saw moose within only 5 minutes. What a dark coincidence.

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Good Morning little Moose

 

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How is it going?

 

After all the excitement, we got ready and decided to drive to a small town called Seward on the other side of the peninsula. It is mostly known for Exit Glacier, a massive 4 miles long glacier in the Kenai Mountains. We strolled through downtown Seward and then we drove up to the glacier to start our hike.

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The same moose crossed only minutes later our way on the street

 

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Resurrection Bay in Seward with many clouds

 

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Downtown Seward

 

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Seward with our almost local tour guide Chris

 

There were two hikes and we all didn’t feel as motivated on doing the six hours one since it was already quite late. The shorter one was really cool as well and gave us a great views. I have never been to a glacier before so it was a cool experience seeing this really old and massive ice. There were many tourists around from all over the world and several information boards gave the historic background of the glacier. I was really impressed and shocked that the glacier melts so quickly. Even within the last 15 years it shrunk by several meters. Hopefully the melting of Exit Glacier will slow down a little so that many more generations can see this beautiful natural sight.

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Exit Glacier

 

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Path to the Glacier – all this used to be covered by the glacier as well

 

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So massive!

 

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The Germans made it!

 

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You can tell how small it already looks down there

 

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And there it melts away

 

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Slowly dripping…

 

We took many photos and on our way back down we discovered a little path that took us to a river that was formed through the melting ice. The water was of course very, very clear but also ice cold. All of a sudden I saw a big old chunk of glacier ice in the river. I grabbed it and I seriously don’t remember why I was so excited, but hey I held centuries old ice in my hands. In the following picture you can see my excitement pretty well.

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Exicted to hold glacier ice

 

We were all cracking up and behaved as if we had found a treasure that was lost for hundreds of years. No, it was only a piece of ice, a very old one though. Chris carried it all the way back to the car but at the end of the day it was of course gone. Only memories remained.
On our way back we stopped in a small town called Moose Pass where a small summer festival was going on. We had lunch and looked around the stands before we went back to Soldotna. We took it easy that night and played games; UNO and Sorry (‚Mensch ärger dich nicht‘). Well unfortunately I sucked and the boys both dominated. Even though I hate to lose, we still had so much fun. I fell asleep quickly and dreamt of moose, glaciers and the never ending land of Alaska.

Monday morning we took a trip to Homer in the south of Kenai Peninsula. We stopped at a very pretty beach and watched boats getting in and out of Cook Inlet. Interestingly a lot of towns in Kenai have very Russian sounding names, for example my favorite: Kalifornsky Beach. Apparently there is a big Russian community which is not as surprising since Russia is indeed very close to Alaska. Only a small strait of the Bering Sea is dividing the two countries.

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Cook Inlet, clouds and the peak of Mount Redoubt (3,108 m)

 

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Beautiful beach on the way to Homer

 

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Selfie with Chris

 

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The Alaskan way to get boats out of the water – with tractors

 

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What used to be a fish

 

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Orthodox church on top of the cliff

 

After a one and half hours drive we made it to Homer, a small town to me and again a fairly big one in Alaska. It is called the ‘Halibut Fishing Capital of the World’. Before getting to the city center we stopped at a great look out platform where we had an amazing view of beautiful wild flowers, the beach, the ocean and the snow capped mountains. The combination of all that in the June sunshine was stunning and I kept reminding myself: Anneke, you are in Alaska! I also thought it was really interesting that the vegetation was not that different to what it is in Germany. You could see the same flowers, trees and bushes on the other side of the world. Still, I felt that I was very far away from home.

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Homer, Alaska – Halibut Fishing Capital of the world

 

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Probably one of my favorite pictures of the whole trip. It says it all: Mountains, ocean, wild flowers, blue sky and sunshine

 

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Flowers…

 

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… growing wild…

 

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…in Alaska!

 

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More flowers and also an RV – they have been EVERWHERE in Alaska

 

In Homer we started the day at a gorgeous little cafe called ‚Two Sisters Bakery‘. It is very hidden in a residential area and therefore still an insider tip around locals. I have a thing for cute small cafés, so of course I got really excited about that one as well. They offered a variety of cakes, pies, pastries, soups and salads. We all went for different pastries and coffee which we enjoyed on the patio outside in the sun with a beautiful ocean view.

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Two Sisters Bakery

 

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Brunch in the sun

 

Do you know those moments in life when you don’t realize until later that it was a moment you will think back to for a long time? And then on the opposite those moments where you can already tell in that particular minute that this is one to remember? In that café in Homer, Alaska I knew exactly that I was in the right place at the right time. I just felt deeply satisfied and happy. Sometimes it’s the little things like sitting in a sunny café with lovely company that make me realized how lucky I really am.

From the café it was only a few steps to Bishops Beach, a wide beautiful beach with a grassy area behind. It was perfect for a little walk and another million pictures. When we have been there it was low tide and it was indeed really low. It reminded us of the North Sea and the Wadden Sea in Germany. Later that day we also went to a visitor center where they explained that the tides are really extreme in this area, sometimes up to 24 feet (7 meters) difference.

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Bishops Beach

 

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Look at the wide country without a single person

 

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This is my ‚did-you-finally-take-a-picture?‘ pose 😉

 

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The boys

 

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Beautiful life in Alaska

 

We spend the whole day around Homer, walked around the Homer Spit which is a distinguishing feature of the city. It is a narrow 4.5 mi (7.2 km) long sand spit that extends into the bay. The harbor, many touristy souvenir shops and restaurants are located along the spit.

We enjoyed the beautiful day and got ice cream that we enjoyed in the sun while looking out on the beach. It was surreal and something I would have never expected in Alaska. Tough everyone kept telling us, we were just very lucky. Usually the weather changes a lot more and cold winds and rain dominate the coast.

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Inside a souvenir shop on the Homer Spit – so cute

 

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I have never found polar bears more appropriate for an ice cream store than in Alaska

 

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This is Alaska! Ice cream in the sun on the beach!

 

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Homer Beach

 

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Souvenir shops and restaurants in Homer

 

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I just couldn’t help not taking a picture of that!

 

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Just because it is so stunning – the beach again

 

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Fisher House

 

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Enjoying the sun

 

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Homer’s harbor

 

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The end of Homer Spit – people are actually fishing from the beach!

 

In the late afternoon we met up with two of Chris‘ friends for dinner. We went to a nice pizza place and there it hit me again, we are still in the United States. The pizzas were huge and even though two of us shared one we didn’t even eat half of it. It was seriously ridiculous. The dinner was really fun and it was great hanging out, chatting and laughing with local Alaskans in our age. Great times!

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Pizza with all these fun guys!

 

When we came back at 8 o’clock we found Chris’s host family lying out in the hot sun – at 8 o’clock in the evening!!! I loved it! After the beautiful day I was ready for a revenge of UNO and finally dominated the second round although I am sure the boys would never admit it!

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Dan and Diane sun bathing in the background and Mathias playing with their dog at 8 pm

 

I couldn’t believe that it was already the last night in Alaska. Although the time went by so fast, it also already felt so normal staying and traveling through Alaska. When I fell asleep and recapped the past days, I was just so happy that I decided to go on this rather spontaneous and unplanned trip.

We woke up early in the morning since we still wanted to go to some places before our flight left. Chris took us for breakfast to ‚The Moose is Loose‘, a lovely little café and souvenir shop in the heart of Soldotna. Afterwards he showed us the greenhouse where he is working and on our way back we even got to see his college. It was great getting an insight view of his daily life. Then it was unfortunately already time to say goodbye to Chris. The good thing is that we will all see each other in just a couple of weeks in Washington DC before we all fly back home.

Mathias and I grabbed our car and drove up north, back to Anchorage Airport. We calculated 3 hours for the trip and to be honest we didn’t have too much extra time. At some point we had to pass several constructions that slowed us down and we started worrying. But in the end it was all good and we had just the right amount of time to get gas, return the car, check-in, go through security and find the gate. Our flight to Seattle left on time and we had a smooth flight back to the mainland. On the airport we said our goodbyes and I boarded my plane to Portland. By midnight I eventually laid in my own big comfy bed in West Linn.

The whole trip was so easy and without any problems. In the end it was almost a bit scary how lucky we were with the weather, the hosts, the organization, seeing the moose and so on. Alaska was so much more than I expected and it totally blew me away. The landscape is stunning and really hard to describe with words. I can now understand why both Jonas and Chris enjoyed their year so much. Though I am aware that being there for only 6 days in the summer time is very different than staying in Alaska for a whole year through the long, dark winter. I really admire them for that!
Jonas and Chris both have been the best hosts who took the time to show us around and made us understand why their year in Alaska has been such a good experience. I am glad that we visited them since no other CBYX participant did until then and they were finally able to proudly present their host state. We all had so much fun together and I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions. To me it was the perfect opportunity to go since we could easily mingle with locals and therefore got such an authentic visit. I loved every second and was very sad when the time was already over. I didn’t think that I would ever enjoy it that much. And aren’t those unexpected surprises the best experiences? It is definitely a trip that I will remember for a long, long time. Or let me put it differently: a trip that I will never forget!

THANY YOU Chris, Jonas & my personal driver Mathias. It was amazing!

Anneke

Summer in Oregon

It is officially summer in Oregon! The last two weeks it was almost never under 90 degrees and sometimes temperatures even climbed up to 100 degrees! That means a lot of outdoor activities and fun in the sun but at the same time it means that the adventure in the USA is coming to an end for me. There are many different things that need to get organized before I leave like my road trip in July, closing my bank account, selling my car, organizing all my stuff that I have collected over the year, packing and preparing everything for the departure.
When it turned May I realized, wow only three more months. Then all of a sudden June crept around the corner and I was shocked! Where did time go? In the beginning I thought 12 months will never go by, but here I am – end June! Now there is only one more week in Oregon left before I will travel through the United States. The countdown started!
But let’s take a step back and let me tell you what happened ever since I came back from the wedding in Missouri.
To sum it up, I spent the month of May mostly with small events. I didn’t do any major trips but rather enjoyed daily life with my not-so-new host family. I also got sick for a week and it took me some time to get back on track. So all in all it has been maybe less exciting than some other months but not least nice and enjoyable for me.

On May 2nd for example we went to the Master Garden Show in Canby. This was really cool because it was a super sunny Saturday and Sarah, Ben and I got to spend a lot of time outside. We looked at the most colorful flowers, the strangest crops and ended up buying plants like black raspberries, one that eats bugs and a bunch of different herbs.

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Master Garden Show in Canby

 

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Just mint would be way too boring!

 

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I love that!

 

On May 14th I got a nice invitation from my dear coworker Gail to go to an alumni dinner event at Marylhurst University. She has been a graduate from Marylhurst and well I was at least one semester part of it. Compared to other colleges, this university is rather chic and sophisticated but especially for this event everyone was dressed up. You can certainly say that it was an event to see and to been seen. The guests were divided into three groups that went one after the other to three locations, with different themes, signature drinks, little appetizers and different silent auctions.
We made our way through the Old Library, the Art Gym and Flavia Salon. It was so nice hanging out with Gail because we always only saw each other at work and that day we got to know each other more than only through work related topics. After spending 30 minutes in each location, all the guests went to the commons area where the evening ended with a sit down dinner. We had a three course dinner and it was very delicious. While we ate, the president of the university, different board members and students talked on the stage, and the choir sang. The event was basically to raise money. People were asked to donate money to support the students.
I certainly had a good time even though I did not donate – naughty me. But I am a poor student myself who needs support. At our table sat a couple that was from Oregon but lives in Germany at the moment because he serves in the military. I thought that was so funny because there does not pass one event where you don’t meet a person that is somehow related to Germany. I also got to talk to one of my former instructors from my Cultural and Visual Study class and all in all it was just a lovely evening.

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Cocktail party

 

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Silent auction

 

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Beautiful sit down dinner

 

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Speeches at Marylhurst

 

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My dear Gail and myself

 

On May 16th we went to the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival. My host mom Sarah talked about the event already weeks before it actually happened because she loves to kayak. Before we went, we looked at videos and photos from the previous years but unfortunately this year two important factors were different.
Number 1: The weather. There was no sunshine and it was continuously raining. It was cold, gray and windy. I already felt a bit sick and of course the two small boys also didn’t enjoy it as much this way.
Number 2: The water level. Due to the lack of snow on Mt. Hood this year, the Clackamas River only carries a minimum amount of water. Some people went in the water despite the cold weather, but one could obviously see that they didn’t have as much fun. There was just no way for them to do any of their cool tricks. Instead the rocks that used to be in the water were all above water level.
The setting though was really beautiful. Clackamas River flows through a gorge of the deep forests of Mt. Hood State Park. We also met Sarah’s brother and sister and got to hang out with them for a while. It was nice spending time in the nature but I think we were also all glad when we made it back to the warm and dry car.

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Mysterious Oregon

 

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Wild water rafting – you can see that the water usually is all the way up to the grass!

 

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Sarah and Ben

 

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Tim – my favorite 7-year old 🙂

 

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Lush rainforest

 

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All cuddled up in the car

 

The weekend of May 30th and 31st was probably the first one that would be worth calling summer. Temperatures were around 90 degrees (30 degrees Celsius), the sun was shining bright and we had a free weekend to hang around the neighborhood.
On Saturday we visited the Lake Oswego Farmer’s Market for the first time. The markets around here are open from May through October; so the new season just started. The market in Lake Oswego is known to be a really nice one with fine agricultural products. Over 80 vendors sell mainly homemade crafts and local foods like fruit, vegetables, honey, cheese, nuts, baked goods, seafood, soup, lemonade and even plants from local nurseries. There is also a corner with a bunch of different food trucks and live music. We decided to have lunch after looking around everywhere but it was so difficult to choose what to eat. Everything just looked and smelled delicious. In the end I went for a Gyros sandwich and Sarah for a Philly Cheesesteak. We sat in the sun, enjoyed the food, heard the live music from afar and watched the kids play around us. It was a beautiful day.

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Lake Oswego Farmer’s Market

 

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I love lavender

 

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Blueberries, strawberries, regular cherries and Rainier cherries

 

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Summer saturdays at the market

 

A day later we did almost the same – but this time it was the West Linn Farmer’s Market. This one is just down the street from us. Compared to the Lake Oswego market, this one is a lot smaller and didn’t have as much fine vendors. Ben went in a bouncy house and that way even he had a fantastic time. We went with Sarah’s good friend Sandrine and made our way through the stands with sampling all the different foods: Hummus, strawberries, fudge, almonds… In the afternoon Sandrine invited us to her in-laws‘ house at the river. They live in Lake Oswego, very close to my workplace, directly at the banks of Willamette River. Their house is absolutely gorgeous and they gave us a warm welcome. That day there were a bunch of neighbors, kids, dogs and families around, so we just mingled with everyone. We enjoyed this beautiful day with a soft breeze from the river. This family had everything you could ever ask for on a fun day around the water: kayaks, surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, a slide, a boat, wakeboards… We were able to use their kayaks and so we paddled up and down the river. It was so cool!!! The current is only very little so you don’t have to worry about that. Also from the river you get to see all the waterfront homes with their stunning backyards that you would never see from the street. There were some really impressive ones, right between river, cliffs and forests. With the hot weather and the sun this all just seemed a little too perfect! I loved it and felt once again to be in the right place at the right time.

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Willamette River

 

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Everyone had fun

 

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Old train bridge

 

For the first weekend of June my host family and I planed something really fun – a camping trip. Destination: Crater Lake in Southern Oregon.
My host mom Sarah absolutely loves to camp so she knew what she was doing when she planed the whole trip. She thought about everything we had to pack and take. I really only had to think of my personal belongings. We left Friday morning, June 7th, after pilling and tying all things we needed to the roof. I had the pleasure of sitting between my two host brothers Tim and Ben and then the dog in the trunk who loved resting her head on my shoulders. She usually gets car sick quite easily so I was constantly worried that she would do more than just drool, but she didn’t! Of course the boys got tired of driving for such a long time but all in all it was a fun road trip.
On our way to Crater Lake we took the route via Bend which is the 5th largest metropolitan area of Oregon. It is a really nice small town in a beautiful natural surrounding. We had lunch in the Deschutes Brewery which was really good.

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Ready to go!

 

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Tim is ready

 

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Ben is ready

 

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And Izzy is moe than ready

 

We made our way through a lot of forests but also saw fields, rivers, different mountains (Mount Bachelor, Mount Jefferson, the Sister Mountains) along the way and then took a little break at Detroit Lake. This was one of the most shocking things I have seen in nature. Detroit Lake is a big artificial lake and there used to be a marina and lots of fishing. The only thing we could see though was a dry lake! We had to walk a few minutes to get from the old shoreline to the actual waterline.
The lake has become so small because there is just such a big lack of water. Remember how I was always talking about the great winter with no snow and almost no rain. Well I could see the effects right there. The whole west coast of the USA is suffering from the lack rainfall. Of course people in California notice it a lot more because temperatures are higher than here. But even in Oregon all rivers and lakes only have a very low water level – and it’s only June! I really hope for nature’s sake that next winter there will be more rainfall again. In my opinion we can see global warming right here!
We walked through the rocks and the area that used to be covered by water. I felt like walking on the moon. Once we made it to the water it was all yucky, murky and covered with algae. What a sad experience.

 

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On the horizon you can see water

 

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It coud be beautiful

 

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Tim and Ben playing where the lake used to be

 

In the afternoon we finally made it to south Oregon and famous Crater Lake. The Crater Lake National Park is the only national park in Oregon and is one of the ‚7 wonders of Oregon‘. I read so much about it and always wanted to go, so I was glad we managed to go down there before I am leaving. The history of Crater Lake is actually really interesting since it is not just any lake. As the name already indicates, it is a carter. About 7700 years ago the volcano Mount Mazama erupted and the top collapsed. It is estimated that approximately 720 years were required to fill the lake to its present depth of 594 m (1,949 ft) with rain and snow. That makes it the deepest lake in the United States and the 9th deepest in the world. There are no rivers flowing into or out the lake which makes it isolated. It is known for its clarity and deep blue color. In average you can look down 25 to 35 meters.
They try to protect it from environmental pollution as good as possible. It is for example not allowed to go down to the lake, take a boat or swim. In the high season there are some special boats taking tourists around the lake. But everything is very limited to preserve this one of a kind natural sight.
To our surprise we saw a lot of snow! That weekend was the hottest of the year so far in Oregon with temperatures up to 95 degrees so we actually did not expect to see snow. But up at the rim of the lake it was all over. The kids were super excited and the adults a bit worried since we planned to camp in a tent. Fortunately the camping site was 13 miles away from the lake and at a lower altitude, so temperatures climbed up again to 70 – 75 degrees.

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Beautiful Crater Lake with Wizard Island – a vulcano island

 

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Snow in June!

 

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But it’s slowly melting and normally it is snow free by July

Entering the camping site I had a first big shock: There was a big sign saying that it is not unusual for bears to be around. Campers were asked to put food away to keep them out. There were bears? And there was a possibility they walk around the camping site? And I was supposed to sleep in a little tent only? I was not sure how to feel about that!

The camp side was really cute though and we found a nice spot to put up our tents and our little camp for the weekend. Every site had a picnic table, a fire pit and a metal cupboard to store food that could attract bears.
I put up my little tent where I slept with the dog (Yes, believe it or not – I am best friends with the family’s dog. People that know me will know that I am not a big dog person. But Izzy is the sweetest and I was hoping that she would protect me from the bears!). We went on a little walk around the camping site to collect sticks, wood, moss and everything else that would help us to start a fire.
We spent the evening around the campfire, fighting mosquitoes, watching the stars and eating S’mores.

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Our camp

 

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Tim, Sarah and Ben around the campfire

 

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Our guard dog Izzy

 

The night was a bit hard on the solid forest ground and then Miss Izzy was cold and afraid and decided to lay ON me instead of next to me, plus my thoughts circled around a possible bear attack… But waking up in the morning was great and the night was forgotten immediately. Birds were singing and the sun cracked through the trees. Sarah was already busy with building up a fire and like the whole weekend we gathered around the fire pit. We had a delicious breakfast with eggs and bacon and slowly started the day.

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Mornings in the forest

We got ready to leave the campground and discover Crater Lake. We were not up for any big hikes since we had a 3-year old, a sick 7-year old and a crazy dog with us. But we drove up to the lake and it was so beautiful. The sun with shining and the temperatures were around 70 degrees. The lake was as blue as a lake could be and I think I have never seen such a deep blue color in nature ever before. There are several vista points up on the rim and from there cliffs fall steep down into the water. We enjoyed the beautiful views of this really special lake while taking an easy walk.

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With my favorite 3-year old at Crater Lake 🙂

 

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B-L-U-E

 

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On the right side you can see the historic Crater Lake Lodge

 

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Family picture

We spend the afternoon resting – again around the campfire – laid out in the sun, chatted, snacked and just enjoyed the day off in the nature. After the kids refused to take a nap, we decided to discover the area around the campground. There was a cute little creek down in the valley where we hiked down to. Annie Creek was so clean, pure and COLD! But since the temperatures have been pretty high we enjoyed having our feet in the water and watching the beautiful shallow water.
The evening ended with a nice cook out by my host dad Matt. Usually simple and precooked meals are the thing to eat while you are camping, not so if you go on a trip with a chef. Matt already prepared a bit at home and had everything he needed to cook a delicious dinner for all of us. We had steak fajitas and for dessert of course a lot more S’mores. My favorite!
Before going to bed, Tim and Ben spoiled us with some bedtime stories, dances and songs on the stage of the amphitheater…

 

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Dinner time

 

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Back to the roots – father & son

 

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S’mores in the making

 

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A dog, a boy and a camp

 

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In the amphitheater

 

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Singing with Tim

 

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Ben is telling bedtime stories (with S’mores all over his face)

 

On Sunday we packed all our bags and it is actually surprising how much stuff you can have for just two nights. We put everything on the car, packed the kids and the dog as well.
On our way back we stopped a few times to look at the beautiful nature of Umpqua State Park. I mentioned this so many times but still Oregon’s landscape just amazes me. We passed the most beautiful valleys, rivers, forest and even something you could call desert.

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National Park entrance & exit – Yes there are a few trees in Oregon 😉

 

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Oregon desert

 

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How I will miss those trees

 

We stopped at Clearwater Waterfalls and took a little hike around there. Those vibrant colors of different greens were just amazing and then the fresh water of the waterfall was just perfect to cool down a bit. Of course also the mosquitoes loved this wet rain forest terrain and after only a few minutes we were all covered with bites.

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Clearwater Waterfall

 

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In deep nature

 

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Sarah and her two boys at the waterfall

We took a different route back home and by the time we were in Roseburg we made it back to civilization where we had service again. We stopped for lunch in Eugene which is the home city of the University of Oregon. It is the second largest city in Oregon, quite historical and from what I could see it looked really neat. In the late afternoon we made it back to West Linn and enjoyed the 90 degrees in the backyard by the pool after the long car ride.
What a wonderful trip it was with the whole family. I am glad we could all share this special time and experience together. Thank you to my new lovely host family for making me feel so comfortable!

A few weeks ago my dear coworker and friend Fiona decided to leave Julie’s Travel Desk. She takes a little break from all the stress and continues to work on new projects. Everyone in the office was really, really sad to hear that she was leaving and she will be missed a lot. We had a goodbye party for her on June 9th after work. We all went to Sandi’s house (my boss), had a drink, something to eat, sat outside in her beautiful backyard and had a lovely time hanging out all together outside of work. Although it was Fiona’s goodbye it already made me realize how it’s going to be when I have to say my goodbye very, very soon. Gail gave a nice toast and luckily Fiona will stay around in this area, so they will all still see each other – unlike me…

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Hollis, Sandi, Gail and her mom Marge

 

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Michelle, Melinda, Carolyn, myself & Jamie

 

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Fiona, Michelle & Melinda

 

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My final goodbye to Fiona in the office – I will miss you lots!

 

One big rock that was laying between me and my departure in Oregon was selling my car. You might remember what a challenge it was for me to buy a car since I am honestly not too interested in cars and therefore don’t know anything about them. It has to drive and fortunately mine did for 9 months except one incident in December when I had to fix the alternator.
Now I had to think about a way to sell this little car again. Although there was still some time left, I didn’t want to do it last minute. On Monday, June 8th I put up an ad on Craigslist with all the details. I cleaned it from inside and outside and got it all ready for someone else to buy it. Luckily my host parents Sarah and Matt looked over the ad and so I just had to wait and see what would happen.

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My ad on Craigslist

On the one hand I wanted to sell it for a good price but on the other hand I wanted to keep it as long as possible. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t sell it in time and then had to sell it to a car dealership for a very low price.
The ad was online and actually I thought it looked pretty good and I was confident. But nothing happened. I checked my phone and e-mails but for two days nothing happened and I was already a bit worried that no one tried to haggle over it. Finally on Wednesday, June 10th someone texted me. He wanted to meet up and look at the car the next day. Sarah and Matt agreed on coming with me because I was really nervous. It was my first car ever and I simply didn’t know what to do. Also I was not really comfortable meeting with some random guy on a parking lot.

Thursday, June 11th after work at 7 pm we met at the parking lot of a local grocery store. The guy was really nice and he also brought his wife. They both looked at the car and they seemed to like it. Matt went on a test drive with him and I was just a nervous wreck. On the one hand the hope to sell the car for a good price and on the other one the uncomfortable situation of selling my beloved car weeks before I would leave.
They came back and he did like the car. He asked me how firm I was on the price and since I still had some time left to sell it, I said that I was pretty firm. He discussed with his wife until he came back eventually and said that he would take it – for the price that I put on Craigslist. No haggling, no deep psychological tricks, nothing. Just facts and a straight Yes, I will buy it. I could not believe how easy it was in the end!
I had the title and all necessary documents with me. We signed everything and made a contract. I gave them the keys and that was the last time I have seen my little car. In the end it went so much quicker and easier than I had ever thought. I was really, really happy with the price and over all just relieved!

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When I took this picture, it was already sold – a last goodbye!

 

The whole evening I couldn’t believe it. Whenever I looked at my parking spot it was just empty. My car has a new home now. Although I was a bit sad, I am more relieved now that I got it all done. I ticked off one more thing of my long ‘things-I-need-to-get-done-before-I-am-going-home’ to do list.
As a last homage to my car I would like to say that I am so very happy with my purchase. The car drove me safe back and forth to work, university, downtown, the mountain, the beach, two times to Vancouver and another time up to Seattle. 10.000 miles later I still felt safe in the car and besides the problem with the alternator, it ran always smooth and reliable. Of course I also have some memorable experiences with this car: driving through the snow around Mt. Hood, getting towed in downtown and the broken window after attending the bull riding event. But most important I and the people I took with me were always safe. And in the end that’s all that matters.

Now for my last days of work I have a new vehicle! A good old bike!  🙂
Sarah kindly lets me use hers. It is actually brand new and that way in perfect condition. I do really like to cycle and LOVED it last year in the Netherlands. Though I am not in the Netherlands anymore and believe me, I notice the differences every day now!
Oregon has mountains and is hilly, too hilly if you ask me. Whichever route I take from home to work there are always several hills I need to pass. Also there is not always a bike lane, not to mention an extra traffic light for bikes. Car drivers are by far not as cautious around cyclists either.
It’s a good 9 mile ride one way which I can do in 45 minutes. Of course it’s not around the corner, but it is totally doable. And of course it is only for a couple of times before I have to leave anyways. Whenever I am creeping up one of those hills, all thirsty, sweaty (screw 90 degrees when you have to cycle!) and a million cars and super fit cyclists pass you, I am just talking myself into the following: It is so good for you to be active. It is so much better for the environment. You don’t spend any money on insurance or gas. All these thoughts make me feel a lot better. It is actually great to see, smell and hear the surrounding of summery Oregon.

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My new beautiful vehicle

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Literally from the point where I took the photo, the bike path STARTS and the sign says it ends… fail

 

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Share the road!

 

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They have more of those signs than actual bike paths

 

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This was actually taken in south-east Portland – but I just thought this was the cutest thing ever – placed at a super steep street

 

This was an update on everything that happened lately in my everyday life. Compared to the next month which is going to be insanely busy and exciting, the last two months have been pretty relaxed and I was able to enjoy my second home in Oregon.

Enjoy the summer everyone!
Anneke

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Random picture with the whole family at the vineyard

Back to beautiful Bolivar

If you are 22 years old, five years is a long time, a very long time. 2010 was the last time I was in Bolivar, a small town in the southwest of Missouri. A place I call my second home.
Whoever gets to know me will most likely hear me talking about my time as a high school exchange student in Missouri at some point. For those of you, who have no idea what I am talking about right now, let me fill you in!

In August 2008, after I just turned 16, I left home for the very first time. I was terrified! It was a big step for me to go to a different country where I didn’t know anyone, to talk a language that I knew a little but was not confident with and to be away from my family and usual surrounding for 6 months. When I then found out that I was placed in a small town in Missouri, I cried and let me tell you, not because of joy. I had never heard of that place and all of a sudden it felt real – I had to leave my comfort zone.

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Even though I have to admit that I had a bit of a rough start in Missouri, it didn’t take me long until I started loving my life there. Having this new experience of living the small town life in a rural and conservative Midwestern town in the heart of America, was something I will never forget. I had a fantastic time attending an American high school, had great classes, made many fun friends and joined the volleyball team. I was never good at playing it but looking back it was probably one of the wisest decisions I have ever made. It was at volleyball practice where I met Sara Scott.

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The girls of the volleyball team at Bolivar High School in 2008

 

My organization placed me with a couple that was nice but had huge issues with their relationship. They were about to divorce, were fighting and just didn’t give me a comfortable place to stay. I wasn’t happy with the living situation and talked to my newly made friends about it. Sara Scott was one of them and all of a sudden she became my host sister. She first offered me to stay with her and quickly we could also convince her parents. Being just 16 and handling this whole situation (telling my old host family that I am leaving and introducing myself to the new one) was probably one of the biggest challenges for me. In the end everything just worked out perfectly and only within a few weeks I finally felt welcomed and at home. The Scott family treated me like a daughter and sister, like a niece and a granddaughter. It was them and the community of Bolivar who didn’t only make my stay unforgettable but also gave me a second home on the other side of the world. I am confident and certain to say that the time in Missouri made me part of the person I am today. I made experiences I will tell my grandkids about and met people that I will keep in my heart forever.

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My host family and me at Johnny’s 11th birthday at El Rodeo

 

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High School Homecoming with Hannah, Sara, Kaleigh, Kayla, Breanna and myself

 

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Sara and her high school sweetheart Keith (+ little Johnny)

 

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Family vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

It was this positive experience that encouraged me to go abroad and discover the world. It taught me that one will always find nice people who care and every place can become ‚home‘. I read a saying the other day and I loved it because it is so true and it describes it all:

Home is not a place, it is a feeling.

When I was staying in Bolivar in 2008, Sara was dating her big love Keith. Already back then she talked about getting married and to be honest I never doubted that. For years I talked with Sara about a potential wedding. I told her that I wanted to be there for it but she didn’t get engaged, so I was just waiting patiently for an invitation…
Last summer it eventually happened: Keith proposed to her and the happy wedding planning finally began! From my point of view it was perfect timing – thank you Keith for that! Flying in for the wedding from Germany would have been possible but of course had also involved a lot more planning and money. So I was already in the USA and ‘only’ had to make my way from the Northwest to the Midwest. I asked my boss for a few days off which she kindly approved for this special and for me once in a lifetime event (my sister got married!!!) and my dear co-worker Melinda helped me to find a good flight (benefits of working with people who know about every flight there is in the USA). I packed my dress and the wedding gift and in the blink of an eye I found myself sitting in an air plane from Portland to Kansas City on Wednesday, April 22nd.

The weeks before I went back I was just excited and couldn’t wait to get there but as soon I was in the air some doubts came up. 2010 was the last time I was in Bolivar. Back then I was on a summer vacation with my German family and celebrated my 18th birthday. Since then a lot has changed in my life; I graduated from high school, went to college, traveled and lived abroad several times. I was afraid that Bolivar was very different than I remembered it, that people changed and I couldn’t relive the positive experience.

The flight was pleasant with Southwest Airlines and I was lucky to get a window seat. After 3 and a half hours of passing almost all possible landscapes: forests, mountains, lakes, canyons,desert and lots of flat land, I touched Missourian ground (is that even a word?).

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It was an early morning – I left Portland at 6:30 am.

 

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Beautiful sunrise over Oregon

 

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My dear and beloved Mt. Hood (Mt. Jefferson in the background)

 

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Rocky Mountains

 

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The Midwest – to me that looks so cool!

 

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Made it!

 

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Only in the Midwest… (at Kansas City Airport)

 

Kansas City is almost the exact same size as Portland but I didn’t spend any more time than necessary. I rented a car to drive down the 250 km which took me around 2 and a half hours. I never rented a car all on my own before, but everything worked out and I even got a free upgrade – thank you Alamo! I cruised down south and enjoyed the landscape that is so different than anything here in Oregon. And then it happened: I saw the first sign that said ‘Bolivar’. It was only 55 miles away. I wasn’t really sure what to think.

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My rented car

 

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On the road – Kansas City

 

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Getting closer…

 

I left the highway, drove down the main street and saw Bolivar for the first time after 5 years. It was really overwhelming and I really had to control myself not to start crying. Almost nothing had changed – there are one, two, maybe three new stores or businesses but besides that it looked the exact same. In this second I realized: I came home. I arrived at the Scott’s house where Jill and Johnny (my host mom and brother) welcomed me. When I first hugged them, I couldn’t help it anymore and started crying. I was back – finally.
From the first minute on it wasn’t awkward, it was just normal, just like ‘always’. Johnny was probably the only one though who had really changed. The last time I saw him he was a little 12-year old boy, now he is way taller than I am, but everyone else looked as great as always.

When I arrived the wedding countdown almost came to an end, so there were a million things that needed to get organized, planned, checked… I was so glad to be right in the middle of everything. Wednesday night we took it quite easy though and I only caught up with my host grandparents and eventually also got see Gregg, my host dad, and the main persons of this weekend: Sara and Keith. We were hanging out in the kitchen, had dinner and I can’t say it often enough: it was so normal. I felt like I was 16 again, just got back from high school and volleyball practice.

Thursday I started the day off with Jill who got her nails done and in the meantime I used the time to stroll through downtown Bolivar. Walking those streets made me really realize how much I missed it! For lunch we met in the Mediterranean Restaurant which is fairly new, at least to me. I love Mediterranean food so I was excited for that PLUS we met up with Sara and Hannah. Hannah is Sara’s best friend and therefore I also spent a lot of time with her back in high school. It was great seeing her again! She hasn’t changed a bit besides… the ring on her finger. Hannah is happily married to her high school sweetheart Alex since 1.5 years . After our delicious lunch I joined the two girls and we got coffee, ran some errands and worked on some crafting which Sara had planned for her wedding decoration.

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City hall and main square of Bolivar

 

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Lunch with Jill, Sara and Hannah

 

In the afternoon we got ready for something very exciting: the rehearsal!!! We made our way to the Goodson Missionary Baptist Church which is out in the idyllic countryside. At the rehearsal I met many more people I haven’t seen in ages like my dear host aunt Jodie and her family, the other two bridesmaids Breanna and Sarah as well as all the groomsmen and the groom’s family. It was a big get together.
The boys moved around the benches to make the church more suitable for the wedding, while Sara was working hard on a schedule for her big day. When is what going to happen during the ceremony? Who gets seated when and where? Where do the bridesmaids and the groomsmen stand? All those questions needed an answer. The pastor was there as well and they went through the key scenes of the wedding ceremony. The atmosphere was all relaxed and funny but still just sitting in that church and seeing Sara and Keith up front with the pastor was very emotional to me.

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The engaged couple, Keith and Sara

 

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Moving around benches in the church

 

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The bridesmaids Hannah, Breanna and Sarah, the bride to be and myself

 

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All the boys

 

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Flower girl Payton and wing man Michael

 

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The bridesmaids are ready

 

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Sara and Gregg at the altar

 

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Unity Braid – Practice makes perfect

 

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Already looks quite good to me

 

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The almost married couple

 

After rehearsing and going through everything that was important for Saturday, it was already quite late and we were all starving. In Bolivar there is only one logical answer to this problem: EL RODEO – the local Mexican restaurant. Sara worked there as a waiter for years during high school and college, the Scotts are very good friends with the owners and the food is so delicious. I simply couldn’t wait to go! We were all sitting in that big extra room where I also got a surprise party for my 18th birthday. It was great gathering with everyone and we enjoyed some delicious Fajitas! Sitting there with the same group of people like years ago gave me this very warm and homey feeling, again.

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Having dinner at El Rodeo with everyone

 

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Nothing has changed since high school: Alex & Hannah, Sara & Keith, Breanna & Dale

 

Friday, April 24th was not only the last day before the big wedding but also Sara’s 24th birthday! In the morning Jill and I were running some more errands before we met for lunch with the birthday girl, the bridesmaids, Jennifer (Jill’s friend, close friend of the family and huge helper at the wedding) and Martha (my host grandpa’s new wife who helped a lot with the decoration). We had lunch at another Bolivar local favorite, Kathy’s Pasta. After we ate we made our way back to the church to decorate it. I was amazed how some decoration can change the whole look of the simple church. We were putting pictures of Sara and Keith in golden frames, set up the table for the guest book, inflated some balloons to guide the guests the way from the church to the reception location and made it look as pretty as possible. The result was amazing and I absolutely loved the final look of the church. It was ready for the big event!

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Crafting, Preparing, Cleaning…

 

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The little details

 

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Those girls…

 

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… are my favorite 🙂

 

The whole excitement seemed to make us all really tired though. We girls went back to Walmart to get some last bits and pieces (I probably have been to Walmart five times during the first two days! It’s the place in Bolivar to get everything you would ever need – nothing changed here, it was the same back in high school days). We gave ourselves a treat and went for some chocolate dipped ice cream cones at McDonald’s, just the right way to celebrate Sara’s golden birthday. This was something new I learned. Apparently it’s your golden birthday when the age is the same number as your day of birth. So for example mine already happened: I turned 14 at the 14th of July.
The girls are all so much fun to be around and little moments like getting ice cream were already always my favorite back in the old days. We all went back home to get ready for the evening where we would celebrate Sara’s birthday some more.The girls dropped me off at the Scott’s house and there something very touching happened. We all went inside and while Jill was showing us her dress, we girls were hanging out all over the bed being all tired and exhausted. All of the sudden Sara got up and asked if she could pray with us. We were all holding hands and the words she said were so touching. I just felt so blessed and thankful to be in that circle of wonderful people.

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Look at this happy pile of girls

 

In the evening we all met for dinner and drinks at the Silo Ridge Country Golf Club. It was not only Sara’s last birthday but also her last night as a Scott girl. We had the best time catching up, laughing, taking photos and celebrating Sara’s 24th birthday. Keith surprised her with a really nice ice cream cake which we all enjoyed a lot. We girls gathered to finish up one of the last things Sara wanted for her wedding: ribbon bows around little bubble bottles for their send off after the ceremony. We had 350 bottles to fix but with all the girls helping and having a fun time we got it done in no time!

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Birthday dinner with Sarah and Sara

 

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Sarah and all the boys

 

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Hannah & Alex 🙂

 

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Sarah and her date Joe

 

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With Breanna and Hannah

 

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Fun!

 

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All the girlies

 

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Good old Dale

 

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To the birthday girl!

 

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Gathering of the girls

 

Saturday, April 25th 2015 was the day everyone has been preparing and waiting for: Keith and Sara’s wedding!

My alarm was set for 7:00 o’clock, I took a quick shower and didn’t have to worry about getting ready because therefore we had plenty of time later on. Sara, the bridesmaids and I loaded everything into the car and got ready to leave for the barn at 8:30 am. When we arrived 45 minutes later, there was already a lot going on: people were decorating, moving around tables and making this location the most beautiful it could possibly get. The Weathered Wisdom Barn is just outside of a town called Preston. The reception location is out in the country, all wooden and was built by the Amish. It is now entirely used for weddings. Upstairs there are two separate rooms, one for the bride and one for the groom and their acquaintances.

The hairdresser Julie started to do Sara’s hair, while the girls helped with the organizing and decorating the barn. Jennifer, Sandy and Teresa, all friends of the family, came with their cute ‚Bridal Support‘ – t-shits and brought amazing food and drinks.

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Sara getting ready and the bridesmaids in their Kimono

 

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Wedding mornings…

 

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Hair check. Make up check.

 

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One after another got ready

 

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And also the reception location was about to be ready

 

After Sara’s hair was done Julie started to fix all the bridesmaids’ hair and Lisa came to fix everyone’s makeup. With every minute, every curl and every added makeup it got closer to the final look and everyone started realizing this is the big wedding day. As time passed by more people came to help, the groom and the groomsmen arrived to get ready, Jordan the photographer came and captured the moments of getting ready and final touches of hair and makeup were done before everyone was putting on their dresses. Seeing Sara in her wedding dress for the first time was the first emotional highlight of the day. She just looked so beautiful. She put on her veil and all of a sudden she was a bride – the most beautiful one I have seen. It was a very emotional atmosphere and this small room was filled with so much happiness and blessings.

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There she is! Sara in her wedding dress

 

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Mother and Daughter

 

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The bride and her bridesmaids

 

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First look before the ceremony

 

Everyone looked absolutely stunning and we were more than ready to get this girl married! We left at around 2 o’clock and it took us around 25 minutes to drive from the barn to the church. Sara, her bridesmaids and I were sitting in the car and everyone just followed their own thoughts. There was not too much conversation going on, but everyone was just enjoying this last moments with Sara Scott. We were half way there, when Sara asked us if anyone took the bag with the rings… nope, no one did. Just like the movies! Fortunately wedding planner Jera could turn back around and got the rings. Problem solved!

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Last car selfie before the wedding started

 

When we arrived at the church, it was time to take pictures. For me this was very different because whenever I have been to weddings all the family pictures were taken after the ceremony, but in this case it was taken before. There were countless different options who posed with whom. Bride and groom with parents, with grandparents, with siblings, with aunts, with the whole family………..
Once all this was done, it was time to greet and let in all the guests who made their way out to the church. I had the pleasure to be the guest book attended. This meant that I was standing at the entrance of the church, said hi to everyone before the ushers (Caleb and Clayton, Sara’s cousins) accompanied everyone to their places. I asked the people to sign the guest book and already took some gifts that people brought. Their guestbook was very different to traditional ones though. Keith and Sara decided to let their guests sign a piece of the game Jenga. They will store them all in a big glass vase and I think this will be a lovely memory.

To me the ‚job‘ of being the guest book attendant was more than perfect because that way I got to see each and every person that walked in. I saw so many old faces and it was so great giving lots of hugs and having little catch ups. That was so much fun for me!

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That’s me all dressed up for the wedding at the guest book attended table

 

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My host family! Johnny, Jill, Sara, Keith & Gregg

 

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The church slowly filled up

 

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All females of the wedding party got this beautiful flower corsage

 

At 3:30 I shut the door of the church after the last person walked in. There were so many guests  that not even everyone had a seat and people were standing in the back and all round the sides of the church. We were ready for the ceremony! Lisa started playing the piano while the close members of the bridal and grooms party walked in. The grandparents, the siblings (Johnny escorted me to my place), the parents, the bridesmaids, the groom and the groomsmen, the ring bearer, the flower girl AND then it was time for everyone to stand up. Sara walked down the aisles with Gregg on her said. To me this was so emotional. Usually happy tears don’t come that easy to me, but that day everything was different. Seeing beautiful Sara with her dad and how he gave his daughter to Keith; it was just so touching. I was sitting next to Jill and had the pleasure to follow the ceremony from the front row. I really had to control myself to not let my tears stream down. It was just such a beautiful and happy day!

The ceremony itself was lovely and most importantly both said ‚I do‘!!! Even though Sara was first confused on which finger to put Keith’s ring, but she figured it out and all of a sudden they were husband and wife.

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The bridesmaids and best man Johnny waiting for the bride

 

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The groomsmen waiting for the bride

 

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Jill and I waiting for the bride

 

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And there she walks down the aisle – on the side of her dad

 

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Gregg gives his daughter to Keith

 

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The ceremony begins

 

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Sara eventually got the right hand for Keith’s ring

 

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Husband and Wife

 

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The first kiss!

 

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Mr. and Mrs. Lipsey

 

Sara and Keith escaped into a room next to the main building to wait until all the guests left the church. In that little room it was my first chance to give the newlyweds a huge hug. I was so happy for them! Meanwhile all the guests were forming an aisle outside for Sara and Keith’s send off and got the bubble bottles we prepared the night before.

Eventually Sara and Keith walked through all their family and friends who were blowing bubbles on them. They left in Keith’s car which had paint all over and cans in the back.

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First picture with my married sister

 

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She was so happy and relieved!

 

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The bridesmaids sending the newlyweds off

 

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Just married!

 

We all drove back to the Weathered Wisdom Barn. When we walked in the barn we were welcomed by a perfectly decorated location. The food and drinks were delivered and the waiters were ready to serve. After taking another couple of pictures outside of the married couple, the bridesmaids and the groomsmen, it was time to let the guests in. Within no time every spot was filled and the barn was entirely full.

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The Weathered Wisdom Barn

 

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Decorations all done, ready for the guests

 

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Can you tell that gold was one of the wedding colors?

 

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#lipseylovers

 

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Photoshooting

 

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Probably my favorite picture of me and the girls!!!

 

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Here are all the hungry guests

 

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This was gone in no time – really cool idea though

 

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The wedding cake!

 

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Aunt Jodie and Jill

 

The DJ announced Mr. and Mrs. Lipsey for the first time and they walked through the cheering crowd. By then it was around 5:30 and everyone was starving. There were food stations with pasta, different sliders, dips, cracker, cheese, fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately I almost didn’t eat anything because there were just so many people getting food at the same time. Also all the excitement and catching up with people kept me from eating.

After dinner all the official parts of a wedding needed to be covered: the first dance (which was choreographed to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out loud’), the father-daughter and mother-son dance, the toss of the bouquet (I touched it but Keith’s sister Kristy caught it), cutting of the cake (it didn’t only look amazing but tasted great!!!), speeches by Hannah and Kyle (Hannah’s was so touching and Kyle’s was short and funny), the Dollar Dance (where you pay to dance with either the bride or the groom) and eventually the atmosphere changed from a sit down dinner to a wedding party. Many people were dancing and enjoying themselves. It was great to see all the fun, laughter and how friends and family shared this special day with Sara and Keith. For me it was a bit like a high school reunion – I got the chance to talk to people I haven’t seen in a very long time. The evening went by with a great DJ, lots of dancing, many shared memories and an unforgettable wedding. But let me stop talking and let those photos speak for themselves:

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Mr. & Mrs.

 

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Cutting the cake

 

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First Dance

 

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Look at them

 

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They got their choreography down

 

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So pretty

 

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Father daughter dance

 

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Jill and Hannah! Navy was definitely the color to wear 😉

 

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Keith removing Sara’s garter

 

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Almost there…

 

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He cheated a bit in the end and used his hands

 

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As Keith tossed the garter to the unmarried men, this little guy in the front caught it!

 

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The Dollar Dance

 

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My dear friend Lindsey

 

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Everyone who was still there from the class of 2009

 

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Daaaancing

 

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The most beautiful bride

 

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The gorgeous bridesmaids Breanna and Hannah

 

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I just love them!

 

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It got later and the moves got crazier…

 

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High school friends Dale, Jake and Sara

 

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My dear Hannah. So glad I got to spend so much time with her!

 

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Everyone had the best time!

 

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The center of the party – literally

 

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Taking photos with everyone

 

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They should be the next ones to get married!

 

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My friend Jake

 

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My favorite people!

 

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My second parents Gregg and Jill

 

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My second brother Johnny

 

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The most beautiful couple! Congratulations!

 

A cultural difference is certainly the length of the wedding reception. Whereas in Germany wedding parties won’t stop until very late in the night (open end…), many people already left after dinner and when the dancing started almost only younger people were still there. In Germany weddings are those rare occasions where you will see your grandma, old family friends and neighbors dancing past midnight. This is different here in the US were the DJ stopped playing at around 10 pm (and she already played an hour longer than initially planned). I also asked Americans here in Oregon about this and they agreed that weddings in the USA don’t tend to last as long as in Germany.

I left with Jill and Jennifer to go back home and we left Sara and Keith behind who spent their first night as a married couple in the barn. When I was lying in my bed, I recapped the beautiful day in my head. Deep down in my heart I felt so endlessly happy and I fell asleep with a big smile on my face. A day I will never forget.

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Goodnight Mr. and Mrs. Lipsey

 

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One last kiss

 

Sunday, April 26th started really slow. We slept in and took it easy that morning, talked about everything that has happened and recovered from all the excitement. Jill kindly prepared Biscuits and Gravy on my special request. It was them who introduced me to this one of a kind delicious breakfast. Gregg and Jill almost always prepared it on Sundays before church and ever since I love it. Outside of the Midwest it is quite difficult to get and outside of the USA it is impossible. I can do it myself and did it a few times at home but nothing is better than the original. Yummy!

At noon it was time to get ready for a baptism. My host cousin Molly’s stepdaughter Rachel got baptized. So we all gathered at the river for this event. Even Sara and Keith made it – on their first day of marriage. While the community sang and prayed, Rachel and another man walked into the river to get baptized by the same pastor that only married Sara and Keith the day before. Even though it was freezing that day it was really nice to be at the ceremony. We shook hands with everyone and it was great seeing some people from church again. My host grandma invited the whole family to have lunch together. She does that every Sunday and I think it is such a nice tradition. We went to Smith’s Restaurant. We were quite a big party and that way it took them forever to serve our food. We already joked around that this is more of a dinner than a lunch. It didn’t bother me too much since I was just around everyone and got to spend precious time together which was the most important to me.

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Baptism at the river

 

After lunch Gregg and Jill took me to see my friend Delaney. She has been a very dear friend to me when I lived there and we had always lots of fun together. I was so glad that it worked out to see each other. She was still the same sweet blond curly girl that I remember but her life also changed a lot since the last time I saw her. She is not only a wife but also mother to a very sweet little boy. I am so happy I got to meet her little 9 months old and it was so great catching up. Obviously there was a lot to talk about since our lives were filled with so many adventures though really different ones.

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My sweet friend Delaney

 

In the late afternoon the new connected families met at the Scott’s house to watch Sara and Keith unwrapping all their wedding presents. Man, did they get many gifts?? It took them a decent amount of time to open every single box and card. They got everything that they could ever possibly use in their new house, many gift cards and also some really sweet crafted and handmade gifts. People are so talented and got really creative.

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Yes they did get ’some‘ gifts

 

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Opening ALL these gifts

 

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People were so generous!

 

Once everything was opened and kind of organized, it was dinner time. No one besides me was really hungry but since it was my last night I asked (or rather made them) to go to El Rodeo once again. It is my favorite place in Bolivar and therefore I just had to go another time. Who knew when I would get the next opportunity? In the end only Gregg, Keith and I were eating something and everyone else watched. I had my favorite dish that I used to eat every single time back in the days: Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla. The best I have ever had anywhere in the world! Again (and I know I repeat myself), it was just so nice chatting, laughing and making memories with the family.

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With the family at El Rodeo

 

In the evening while sitting on the couch and watching TV, I had a familiar feeling inside me. It was the feeling of January 6th 2009 – the last night of my stay. I felt happy and comfortable on the one hand because I was home and very sad on the other one, knowing I had to leave very soon. Goodbyes are the worst, especially if you don’t know the next time you will see each other.

Monday morning, April 27th I packed all my stuff together and went on a breakfast date with Jill, Sara and Keith. Once again I had Biscuits and Gravy. The newlyweds got all excited because the next day they were leaving for their honeymoon to Jamaica. I said my goodbyes to Sara and Keith and only a bit later to Jill and Gregg. It was time for me to leave and catch my plane in Kansas City. Of course I was sad that the time in Bolivar was already over but other feelings dominated. I was thankful for the opportunity to be part of the amazing weeding, I was happy that everyone was so welcoming and made me feel at home again, I was grateful for every moment that I spent with people that I love and that showed me that it is possible to have a home away from home. All the doubts I had before  were gone. Nothing had changes at all, not even after 5 long years!

I drove back north to Kansas City in my super chic car and recapped the exciting and intense past five days and realized one thing: I am so lucky and never would have thought on August 6th 2008 when I first ever heard of Bolivar, Missouri that this town and it’s warm hearted people can make me feel the way they do today.

I got the last window seat on my Southwest Airlines flight and got ready to take off to Portland. Before I turned off my phone I saw that I received three texts:

One from Jill, who send over many sweet words about our time together,
One from Sarah (my host mom in Oregon), who said that she was looking forward picking me up from the airport in Portland,
And one from my REAL mom, Heike,  who wished me a good and safe flight. I was in touch with her the whole weekend and I think she was probably as excited as I was. She knows all the people that I was telling stories about and was so excited for me to be back there.

I had three ‘moms’ who cared and shared their love. It meant so much to me!

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Getting ready to leave

We took off and my little journey into the past ended. Thank you to everyone who made the five days unforgettable – you know who you are!!! Last but not least CONGRATULATIONS to the newly married Sara and Keith Lipsey! All the best for the rest of your life and I can’t wait to see you grow old together! You two are amazing and I love you lots and lots!

Bye Bye Bolivar – I will see you again one day!

Anneke

I will end this super long blog post with impressions from 40,000 feet.

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Jackson Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

 

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Canyon in Idaho

 

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Stunning!

 

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Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams

 

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Wind power in Oregon

 

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The Dalles, OR at Columbia River

 

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Forest, Forest, Forest

 

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Famous Mount St. Helens

 

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Columbia Gorge

 

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The river is the border between Oregon and Washington. Everyhting behind the river is Washington State.

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