Category Archives: Uncategorized

Natural Wonders of Arizona

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20130704_113706-1When Lara was here in the 2011-2012 school year, we took her from coast-to-coast….from Washington DC and New York City….to California and a Baja Mexico cruise to Ensenada, Mexico. But we didn’t show her many natural wonders right here in the state of Arizona. So, on Independence Day/4th of July, we traveled to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is about a 90 minute drive from our home. Our goal was to drive up for the day and be back by about 7pm to see the fireworks here in the Valley. The State Park is surrounded by a forest of pine trees and the bridge is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. It stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point.

We hiked down a short trail to start and then down the 20130704_124511main trail to see the geological wonder in it’s glory.  It was discovered in 1877 by David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge as he was chased by Apaches. Gowan hid for two nights and three days in one of several caves inside the bridge. In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland and settle the land permanently. To learn how the bridge formed, check out http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TONA/feature.html.

20130704_121658Once we hiked to the bottom, which was a pretty steep hike down…. we walked over a bridge, under a slight waterfall and over large boulders. The moisture in the bridge makes the rocks very slippery to walk on. Me, Terry and Travis stayed on the one side while Lara and Brittany went exploring to the other side. Then we just sat in awe and used the backdrop for some beautiful photos.

Afterwards, the hike back up to the car was a good workout. A mile trail all uphill, some areas with natural stairs or stairs made of railroad ties and other areas just dirt trails. We were all huffing and puffing a little…. and we all exercise! I can;t imagine if we were out of shape!

As always… enjoy the photos! An upcoming post covers another natural wonder… our trip to the Grand Canyon!

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The Suite life in Las Vegas

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SAM_0982Living the ‘Suite” life took on a whole new meaning for our kids and for Lara, our former German Exchange Student, who is back with us for her summer vacation. She made a second visit to Las Vegas…but this time it was with her American family! During her 10-month stay in the 2011-2012 school year, she traveled to Vegas with her mother during the last month she was here and her mother was touring the western United States.

The “suite” life didn’t start until we arrived in Vegas… and after a 5 hour drive with the funnest kids around,… our two kids, Brittany and Travis, Lara and one of the girls’ friends, Katie, who is half German, whose German-speaking Grandparents are from Germany. Lara got to know them during her 10-month stay here. Driving with 4 teens/young adults, SAM_1085Bages 16-20, was quite the experience… especially when it came to their luggage resting on the back of the vehicle. The girls were so worried their clothes for Vegas were going to get lost that they were actually comical…looking back to make sure it was all there!

Our room at Mandalay Bay was a 1,450 square foot, 2-bedroom SUITE! It was about $100 more to book the suite than 2 separate rooms… so I grabbed the suite! I mean, really…. how often do you get to live like a celebrity? It ended up being SAM_0973on the 15th floor facing the strip with floor-to-ceiling windows the entire length of the suite! The kids were so excited, walking back and forth from room to room comparing everything! Which bedroom was bigger? Was there really a TV, phone and jacuzzi tub in BOTH bathrooms? Did the drapes open and close on EVERY window with the push of a button? What was in the fully stocked refrigerator? I thought one of their favorite moments was when we saw all the lights of the strip after sunset. We were facing the Luxor, where Lara stayed during her last visit to Vegas. We watched the lights moving up and down the sides of the pyramid and the huge spotlight shooting into the night sky! It was awesome to fall asleep to!

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SAM_1014The girls spent a lot of time at the “beach”, wave pool and lazy river at Mandalay Bay. I think their favorite part was watching the lifeguards! Typical teen girls! Terry and I spent a little time there too enjoying a souvenir cup filled with a Pina Colada or Strawberry Daquiri! Where else can I do that in the middle of the desert when it’s 110 degrees? There were hundreds of lounge chairs in sand so with a little imagination… it felt like a beach… kind of.

SAM_0983Our first night in Vegas was spent at Caesar’s Palace, The Forum Shops and a trip to the Belagio Fountains. Inside the Forum Shops, the kids were in awe of the decor and designer stores. If you haven’t been there, it is like walking the streets of Rome with the architecture and the moonlit skies. Katie had never been to Vegas so it was fun to see her reaction to everything! The H&M store was a popular place for the kids. Lara LOVES H&M. It’s European and she made a point of it to tell us that! She shops SAM_0989there in Germany all the time so she was right at home. In fact, her outfit that night was almost all from H&M…so I snapped a few pictures of her with the mannequins! Afterall, she’s about as tall as they are and the clothes look better on her than the mannequins! My highlight was Lara and Travis in matching sunglasses from H&M!

On the second day… we hung out by the wave pool and just relaxed for once. I thought the girls would have gotten so sunburnt as long as they were out there! In the evening, we walked the passageways from Mandalay Bay thru the Luxor SAM_1038and thru Excalibur… then took the overpass to New York New York where SAM_1052we had dinner in a restaurant called “America”. It had a huge map on the ceiling of America with three-dimensional images representing each state. It was fun for us to look at the states and remember how many Lara had traveled to when she was in America. After dinner, Terry and I went to Blue Man Group Show, which was amazingly different than anything we had ever seen. Travis played arcade games and won a bunch of stuffed animals while the girls went to the M&M store across the street.

SAM_1080Before leaving for home, we made a stop at Circus Circus so the kids could play arcade games and go on rides in the AdventureDome.

Overall, I couldn’t imagine going to Vegas with a better group of kids! From living like Rocks Stars in a Luxury Suite to their funny antics and little videos… to their crazy poses for pictures… they were hilarious!

Enjoy the photos! The next blogs will be our other road trips to see area landmarks! SAM_0971 SAM_0970 SAM_1090

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Life Without Lara

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It’s been 5 weeks since Lara, our Germany Exchange Student, left America. And in just those 5 weeks, our life without Lara is so very different.

Life without Lara means… there is an emptiness. We still refer to her room as “Lara’s Room”. Nothing has changed in her room. Everything is exactly how she left it. I’ve told the kids to go get hangers in her closet. They say they can’t because they are Lara’s hangers. The door is open but there is no activity in and out. It’s just different.

Life without Lara means… we think about her when we go grocery shopping. I walk down the aisles and don’t pick up the things she liked most. And items I do pick up, that Travis and Brittany like too, remind us of her. Brittany and I went to Ulta and TJ Maxx the other day. It felt strange not having Lara with us. Those were the stores we went to most. I used to look across the store and see Lara and Brittany looking at the same things. I was the outsider all the time. Now, I stay close to Brittany’s side. Of course, my taste is different than Lara’s so I may not be as much fun to shop with for Brittany. It’s just different.

Life without Lara means… we are no longer recording TV shows like “Good Eats” and “The Amandas”. It means that extra person isn’t sitting on the right side couch, across from Brittany on the left side couch. Only one blanket and pillow is being used on the left side. The right side is empty. The foot rest is kicked up on the left side. Not on the right side. It may not seem like much to the average person. But to us, it’s just different.

Life without Lara means… we have to remember to feed the fish. Yep. That was Lara’s job. And she was so efficient at it. I remind my husband to feed them or they will starve. It’s one less person to pet and play with the dogs, brush their hair or brush Angel’s stinky teeth. Yep, she did all that…. and she liked it. Well, most of the time. I think that even the dogs think it’s just so different.

Life without Lara means… I don’t have as much office help as I used to have. Lara used to make my magnets to put on our dry erase board that keeps track of all the homes we manage as Rentals. Every week we add more homes, every week we need more magnets and every week, I have to carve out time in my day to make them. And no one is sitting at her desk. Well, sometimes Kirk, our other Property Manager, will sit there but he’s like 6’4″ and a big brully guy. So definitely different than seeing Lara there.

 So many people ask how we are doing without her and if we talk to her at all. The answer is YES! We Facebook poke, Like, or message almost every day. And now that Lara has an Android phone with internet, we can talk via Facebook messages as if we are texting. It’s fun. And we skype. The last skype session was 1 hour 45 minutes!!! We told her we could just set up a camera and be online all the time and it would feel like she was still here! She laughed about that! The biggest problem is the time difference… 9 hours! If we skype right after church on Sunday at Noon, it is 9pm in Germany. That seems to be the best time for us. We giggle, going in out of the room, hold things close up to the camera so she can see it. She goes in the other room to get things to show us and we get to talk to her mother too!

Skyping and facebook help fill the void of Lara being gone but still…. it’s just quieter and different than it was for 10 months when she was here. I think it will always be that way. She became part of the family. But we hang on to the memories and keep in touch almost every single day half way around the world. Yes, life without Lara means… it’s bittersweet… and at the same time… just so different.

One more post to go until we close this Blog. Next…  A Host Mother’s Final Chapter.

Arriving Back Home

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Lara and her Dad

I’m adding in a quick post here after receiving pictures from Lara’s mom of her Homecoming to Germany!  As a Host mother to an exchange student, there is nothing more comforting than seeing pictures of her friends and family welcoming her home…especially her father! Poor kid went from crying at the American airport and then smiling at the Germany airport! And how awesome is it that everyone back home is looking through her Yearbook from High School! Next will be the Blog turned into a book for her family and our family to cherish the memories!!!

Welcome Home Lara… although all of us here in America still miss you like crazy!!

A German Instructor for the German girl’s Driving Lesson

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It can be quite an experience learning how to drive…for anyone. But when you’re from another country, living away from home AND learning how to drive… it could be scary! Well, Lara just survived her American experience of taking driving lessons!

First of all, if you haven’t read why Lara is taking lessons here instead of at home in Germany, be sure to read my Blog Post from November. https://lifewithlara.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/taking-drivers-education-in-america/

When I called the Driving School to schedule her lessons, the lady at the school said they had an Instructor from Germany who has been waiting and waiting for his first German student. Well… it turned out to be Lara! His name was Volkar… and he’s been in America for 10 years.

Her first lesson was Friday. Volkar was supposed to be here at 11:30am. At 11:35am Lara said, “The German is now an American. He is late.” I laughed so hard at that! They soon left and were gone for 3 hours. About an hour or so later I received a call from my friend Kay. She was also Lara’s cabinmate on our Cruise in January.

Kay says, “Is Lara in a Stop-and-Go Driving School Car?” When I told her yes, she said she was driving right by her on the freeway! For a girl who didn’t get much practice on the road, they didn’t waste much time putting her on the freeway! Kay was telling us that she looked like she was doing well behind the wheel and she was going to catch up to them and get a picture! I went into worried Mother mode and told Kay not to distract Lara! I was so nervous for her! Kay said she was a safe distance away! They eventually drove past Lara and waved at her…and took pictures!

The Instructor had a sense of humor and told Lara to look over that she had some friends waving at her. He was funny another time when he told Lara that when someone honks at her as a driving student, she is allowed to honk back! She said she was honked at twice. And she said she honked back! 🙂

Today (Sunday), Lara went out for her second , and final, driving lesson. I got to meet Volkar this time. He was very nice and was still excited that he had a German student. He said they talked English the whole time and when he tried to talk to her in German, she was having a tough time getting the words out. He said he still speaks German at home but understands how she has forgotten her native language. He assured her it will come back when she goes home!

Today they went to downtown Phoenix to maneuver around the one way streets and practice freeway driving some more. There was an event downtown so she had a lot of traffic to deal with and learn how to handle. And then he gave her the driving test. We’re happy to say she passed with a 100% score! Now we just walk into the Department of Motor Vehicles on May 30, when her mother is here, she turns in her score sheet and she gets her license! Yet another new experience in America!

Leaving America in One Month

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No, I’m not counting down until our Exchange Student leaves for Germany. I’m filled with emotions that come with it. Lara has become a true member of our family. After spending every single day with her since August 13th… we’ve actually seen her more than we have other family members that live close by. She has become an integral part of our home.

As she prepares to depart, we laugh about some of the things that have happened over the past 9 months. And Lara has started to talk about some of her favorite things she has done or seen since she’s been here….and the things we haven’t gotten to yet! The list is really long!

We’ve also talked about what’s going to happen when she  goes back to Germany. For example, is she going to forget how to talk German to her friends and family? Is she going to intertwine her English and German? You see, she’s already done that when she skyped with her mother a week ago. They hadn’t skyped since December. Poor Lara was talking German, then English, then German, she forgot words then she would start telling her mother a story completely in English. That’s OK because her mother understands English well. But when she skyped with her Grandparents a couple days later…who only speak Croatian and German…it was a real problem. But she laughed about it.

The Aspect Foundation calendar this month addresses “Pre-Departure”. It says it is a very dramatic period in terms of emotions. And it talks about some ways for all of us to prepare for Lara’s departure.

  • Recognize all of the emotions that are surfacing around the time.
  • Accept the feeling that you have gained a great friendship and that you will also have feelings of loss as this friend leaves.
  • Relinquish your role as host parent, and give your student support in their return to their home.
  • Talk about all the shared memories and how your student has changed.
  • Encourage your student to discuss both his/her joys and fears about what lies ahead.
  • Tell your student what they have brought to your life and give them a special memory to take with them: a letter, photo or something that has special meaning to your situation.

No question about it….it is going to be hard to say good-bye to our new family member. I’m looking forward to her going away party May 31st but I dread the day, June 2, when we go to the airport to say our final good-bye! Thank God for skype and Facebook where we’ll be able to talk to Lara every day.

Coming up this week… Lara turns 16 in America on May 10 but the way they celebrate in Germany is by getting “floured”!